Big Bend 

A Collection of  Photographs
from Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park

Fresno/Sauceda Loop Epic Trail

Big Bend Ranch State Park

On December 13 and 14, 2014, I toured BBRSP solo on a mountain bike following the Fresno/Sauceda Loop Epic Trail. The “epic” designation was made to the loop by the International Mountain Biking Association because it is a technically and physically challenging, mostly singletrack trail in a natural setting, and because of its length.

The loop is 59 miles long and starts at the East Contrabando Trailhead near the Warnock ranger station on Hwy 170 near Lajitas and goes north through Fresno Canyon to Sauceda. The Sauceda Park Headquarters is 26 miles from the start and has a bunkhouse where I spent the night. The return follows the Old Madrid Falls Road and Primero Arroya back to Fresno Canyon and the East Contrabando Trail to Hwy 170.

The elevation gain was about 2000 ft. from Warnock Center to the highest point of 4400+ ft at Pila Montoya 24 miles away. The trail yields 3900 ft. of climbing overall. The outbound portion is somewhat technical, but mostly gradual grades on single track and old jeep roads. The return was much more intense with a lot of everything: steep, technical sections, lots of soft sand in stream beds, jeep roads and fast single track. 

New IMBA-Epic-map%20Small

IMBA’s Epic Trail Map
I took the route from the East Contrabando Trailhead via Chimney Rock, Ricon and Pila Montoya to Sauceda and returned to the same point taking the westerly route via Pila de los Muchachos and Madrid House.

I took my time, about 7-1/4 hours outgoing and 6-3/4 on the return. Wheels-rolling times were about 4-3/4 and 4 hours, respectively. It is possible to do it much faster. In fact, a few do the whole thing in a day. But age and common sense caused me to take it easy, hiking the bike when prudent and avoiding serious injury. My objective of staying upright was met, but the ocotillo and other thorny things along the trail gave the legs quite a workover.

There were some areas of abundant water, especially around Madrid house, with recent rains replenishing springs. However, none of the windmill stock tanks except one had any water, so it’s important to take enough water to be independent. Each day I started out with 5 liters and used 3-1/2. Had the weather been warmer, all of the water would have been used, so I probably would have needed to take another liter. Here is a list of the stuff I took for the ride.

Overnight accommodations are available at Saucedo. There is a bunkhouse with clean bedding, showers, towels, and cooking facilities (but no food), all for $35.00 plus park fee. The bunkhouse has two single beds each in several cubicles with separate quarters for men and women.

I saw no one on the trails for two days. The park ranger at Warnock Center (the start) took all my important information and emailed it to the ranger station at the other end (Saucedo), and they were expecting me. The same was done on the return.

Very little wildlife was to be seen, just one deer and no signs of bear or lion (thankfully), although both are in the park.

December weather was perfect for riding: mid 60’s, sunny, light breezes.

Doing the loop again is always a possibility, but the chances are growing dimmer with each passing year!

The photos below were taken with a Sony RSX-100III and iPhone 4S.

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December 2020
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© Tom Lebsack 2022

Banner photo: Sierra del Carmen at sunset from overlook at Rio Grande Village