View Full Version : River Road rode

01-07-2008, 06:38 PM
On one of the days that blended together in the desert I took off on a solo journey on River Road in Big Bend National Park. Riding with the group is great fun, but sometimes I like to get out with my trusty XR and just strike out on my own. River Road was a blast when run from east to west. The eastern section of the road was mostly flat and easy. The challenges get greater the farther west you ride.

The Road stretches for 51 miles, I picked it up where it leaves pavement roughly 5 miles east of Rio Grand Village, and a couple of miles east of this:



As you leave pavement look closely at the bluff to your right, there are rock house ruins that blend in with the desert that is slowly swallowing them up.
The road goes on for a few miles, mostly flat. Bopping along I resisted the urge to twist the right grip and blast through the flats. The payoff was found in being able to do a bobble head impression as I rolled along at thirty or less and soak up the scenes as they went by the goggles like a movie, only better because I was there.



About three and a half miles into the trip you can see a small village way off to your left, on the other side of the river. It is San Vicente, Mexico. There are ruins on the north side of what used to be San Vicente Texas, both are in the shadow of, and get their names from Sierra San Vicente:

The first wash of the trip comes up and gives a tiny hint of things to come. The approach and the exit are firm and packed from travel by four wheeled vehicles. Somehow all of the loose stuff hangs out on the hillside itself, ready to give way and hamper traction as you climb. This was one of the easy ones, and the picture seems to hide the steepness very well.


There is a road going off to the left, about five miles in. My guidebook warns that this road is closed to both foot and vehicular traffic due to law enforcement and safety issues. It looked pretty well travelled for a closed road, I rolled on by, glad that there was no cross traffic.

About nine miles in there is another road to the left. This one is open for foot traffic, yet there were lots of 4X4 tracks headed in. I parked the bike and walked on in, hoping to see Rooney's ruins. This is what I found... at first....


Something about the ruins just did not look right. One thing I had noticed about the buildings from 100 or more years ago in the area was how they almost always used the side of a steep hill as one of the walls. Another was that the building materials were always very close at hand. This rock ruin looked out of place. The walls were thin, loosely stacked, and looked like river rocks hauled from a good distance. After snapping a couple of pictures I decided to walk farther south to see what I could see. I found the real Rooney ruins about a quarter of a mile past the rock house.


This looked right, the west wall was the steep hillside, the north wall had the ruins of the fire place. The walls were thick, tightly stacked, and made from rocks that were easily found within mere yards of the place. This also matched up with the picture in the guidebook. I have no idea what the deal is with the other rock ruin, to my eye it looks out of place. Here is the view from the front door looking out at Rooney's ruins, how is this for a front yard?


Shortly after leaving Rooney's you meet up with Glenn Springs road. This marks the transition from East River Road to West River Road. About forty miles of fun and adventure lay ahead, starting with Glenn Draw.

The road gets looser, the washes get steeper, and the dust and dirt stick to everything (as you can tell by the debris on my lens in that shot. For the next nine miles I was having fun with the washes, loose gravel, dried mud flats and lots of Jeep and 4X4 traffic going my same direction. It was like pretending I was Mouse McCoy as I overtook the slower four wheeled vehicles. Most of them made room, some had to get blasted by. It was so much fun that I did not stop again for about nine miles, just as I got to this:


The abandoned mine is something to see.


I spent a good bit of an hour walking amongst the ruins.



I was intrigued by the design of the refining ovens, they consisted of a building with three or four small fire boxes adjacent. The chimney sizes seemed very large above the fireboxes.




As happens on fun rides like this time and daylight were running away from me. I realized that I had been on the road for over two hours, and only covered about 19 miles. I had over 32 to go, and would be lucky to have three hours of light left. I had been warned about the western end of this road, rumor has it that it would not be fun solo in the dark, Time to boogey.


Tracks from four wheeled vehicles could still be seen, but they were not as sharp or recent as the eastern tracks. Most of the four wheeled travelers turned off on Glenn Springs or Black Gap roads. Flat stretches that were packed like the one above could go for a couple of miles between ridges and washes and I was able to make time on them. Coming to the ridges the road does some nice switchbacks as it climbs, here is one looking back southwest as the switchback reached the crest of the ridge.


I did not stop at the loose stuff for pictures. In between the two shots above I found some loose gravel that went for about two miles. It was second gear, back wheel spinning and clawing, constant swapping side to side, and this was still only a preview of goodies to come.

At about mile 35 I headed down a side road that actually had a marker. It led to the Johnson Ranch ruins. At one time Johnson Ranch had the largest adobe structure in the area. The foundation of the house and a bit of the exterior walls are all that remain. There is a bit of an old car abandoned there too, it is in a few pieces.



As I moved in to get a shot of the new residents of the car, the sound of the bees swarming went up in pitch and volume, and a thought occured to me... I wondered if the so called killer bees were in the area, and if they swarmed me, what my chances were of getting away.


I snapped my shot and moved away in a quiet, non threatening way. Below the ruins are a couple of primitive camp sites in the flood plain. On one trip there I would like to pack in camping gear on the bike and stay overnight. I was almost out of film, and time at this point so I decided to get a shot of my trusty dusty steed before leaving Johnson Ranch.


The next 15 miles were the best. Steep ridges, rocky washes with large round loose rock which would pitch the bike sideways again and again. The phenomenon where the loose pea gravel stays on the steep slopes still boggles me. I would think all that loose stuff would roll to the bottom, but it stays on the steep slopes, all the way up and all the way down. The only part of my bike I would change for sure before repeating this trip would be the back tire. For about 150 yards the gravel was smaller than pea gravel, and 12 to 14 inches deep. I had to do a Fred Flintstone imitation to get through. Both feet on the ground paddling while the tire spun in first gear, tossing a rooster tail of gravel, but barely driving forward.

As the shadows got long I rolled down the last hill towards pavement just north of Castelon. The sign warns folks going the other way that only high clearance 4X4s with extra water, tires, and spare parts should attempt to continue.


I saw no 4X4s on the last 20 miles of the road. Came across a couple of KTM 950s going east. They were wishing for smaller bikes after coming through the best (worst) of the obstacles. I also met two intrepid bicyclists a few miles from the west end of the road. They had been going for hours to get that far in. I warned them about the rocky wash I had just climbed out of. I hope they had enough daylight left to get back out.

Here is what is left of my back tire:


Next time ( and the many times after that) I will have a fresher tire for the adventure. I got a sense of accomplishment from rolling those 51 miles of dirt, rocks, gravel, and ruts, having to rely on my skills, judgement, and equipment to get through on my own.


01-07-2008, 07:01 PM
:clap: Good stuff!!

The Bruce
01-07-2008, 08:17 PM
Nice ride. :clap: The road left me wishing for a lighter bike too. Now I have one. :trust:

01-07-2008, 08:58 PM
I just can't wait for the Ride the Rio so I can get down there and see it all for myself. Great pics Ed!!!

01-07-2008, 10:36 PM
:thumb: Thanks for the report and pictures! Your XR is a great bike for riding in the park. I haven't ridden that road in many years and I've been thinking about doing it again next month. However, after hearing about the deep gravel I'm having second thoughts because that would be very difficult on my heavy GS. But if I get brave enough to do it, I'll start on the western side to get the tough part over with first.

01-07-2008, 11:26 PM
:clap: Good stuff!!


01-08-2008, 06:47 AM
I can't what for R'sRtR. :rider:

Cagiva 549
01-08-2008, 07:05 AM
Some day I need to ride all the way to RGV , I have ridden the west end a couple of times and when I get to Black Gap road I turn north , I just cant help my self. The 950 was awsome on it last year . SEYA

01-08-2008, 07:09 AM
Really nice,been a year to long for me.
Hopefully I'll change that soon.

The Bruce
01-08-2008, 07:30 AM
:thumb: Thanks for the report and pictures! Your XR is a great bike for riding in the park. I haven't ridden that road in many years and I've been thinking about doing it again next month. However, after hearing about the deep gravel I'm having second thoughts because that would be very difficult on my heavy GS. But if I get brave enough to do it, I'll start on the western side to get the tough part over with first.

Here's my report (http://www.twtex.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520) from taking the Tiger. Just my experience with a heavy bike on River Road. ;-)

01-08-2008, 08:04 AM
Here's my report (http://www.twtex.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520) from taking the Tiger. Just my experience with a heavy bike on River Road. ;-)
Bruce, I read and enjoyed your report of the trip on the Tiger. Those pics in the gravel are perfect! I think that was the stretch where I plodded along in second, swapping side to side all the way. Without full knobbies I was not able to keep the 250's front wheel on top either... So much fun I can't wait to do it again!

The Bruce
01-08-2008, 08:12 AM
One of the guys I rode with would stay back to help me pick up the beast when it went down. The other two, KTM 525 and KLR would ride ahead and find places they thought I would fall and set up with cameras at the ready. :lol2: They were disappointed. Then the started playing games like shut off the fuel and see how far they could go before running dry. I did get a lot of teasing about plodding along with the outriggers deployed but a quick jab with a foot would straighten her out most of the time. It was a challenge and we made it through but I wouldn't want to do it again on the Tiger. Overall a good time.

01-08-2008, 08:37 AM
Thats what good freinds are for right:lol2:

The Bruce
01-08-2008, 08:50 AM
Thats what good freinds are for right:lol2:

Oh yeah! :clap:

Rman of 237
01-18-2008, 10:17 PM
Just caught this one. Great report Ed, thanks for posting. I hope to get out there with the 440 this Spring. I'm a history buff so the ruins and the mine and such are the kind of things I enjoy looking for. I can't get enough of that stuff.:clap: Did you ever find out what the story was on the newer structure?

01-19-2008, 07:52 AM
Great report and pictures, Ed. Read it earlier but forgot to give you the :thumb:

01-19-2008, 08:07 AM
Thanks for the pics and report.....I plan on doing that ride this year.....awesome stuff!!

01-19-2008, 08:14 PM
Ed, what is the external frame on the back of your bike? Is it custom?

01-19-2008, 10:24 PM
Hoop, it is a purpose built rack for the XR-250. The guy that made it makes them for just about every dual sport, or convertable to dual sport bike you can think of.

He is great to do business with too. I emailed him, he called me back in about ten minutes to confirm what I wanted to order. Then he shipped it and asked me to fit it to the bike and make sure it was right.... and then send him a check to pay for it.

Here (http://www.cycleracks.com/) is a link to his web site. If you need one, I most definately recommend this guy supply it.

01-20-2008, 08:53 PM
Thanks. Does the rack get in your way while riding? The pics on his website make it look pretty wide. Has it survived any crashes? Any idea how much it weighs? I'm looking for a better solution than my probillet rack.

Rman of 237
01-20-2008, 09:56 PM
Thanks. Does the rack get in your way while riding? The pics on his website make it look pretty wide. Has it survived any crashes? Any idea how much it weighs? I'm looking for a better solution than my probillet rack.
The pic on his website when you click the XR250/400etc is my 440!!:trust: Same bike as my avatar!!!;-)
It becomes part of the bike. There's not a tougher rack on the market!!:thumb: