RV Trip 10.12 – Marathon, Big Bend Ranch SP, Fort Leaton – Feb 19-24, 2023

When we left Seminole Canyon SP the first stop was just down the road where we saw the Pecos River High Bridge. Originally, they built bridges over the Pecos River (before it connected into the Rio Grande) for the Southern Pacific Railway, but the railway bridges were moved further north and then in 1957 they built this highway bridge that is 1310’ across and 273’ above the river, making it the highest highway bridge in Texas! Along our drive to Marathon, we crossed Eagles Nest Creek which looked very cool and had a quick stop at the Judge Roy Bean Museum and Visitor Centre in Langtry to get some maps and information. There wasn’t really anything else to see along the way to Marathon other than Texas Ranch gates. In Marathon we had booked into the Marathon Motel and RV park, mainly because we weren’t sure where we were going next and because they had night sky parties (the town is a Class 1 Dark Sky community, that’s the darkest you can get) where you could look through telescopes at the stars. After checking in we walked into town just in time to try a few local beers at the Brick Vault Brewery. They had already sold out of their Texas BBQ Brisket, but they still had beer. Then we stopped into the White Buffalo bar in the Gage Hotel (built in 1926-27 for cattleman Alfred Gage, the Gage family still seems to own a lot of businesses in Marathon) for another drink and a huge plate of nachos, which turned out to be our dinner. The hotel was busy because it was the President’s Day Holiday weekend.  It was cloudy that night, so we waited until the next night for the star party.

The next day we did some blog work and then walked into town to go see the Gage Gardens that the brewery server had told us about. However, we stopped first to see the actual Brick Vault (circa 1886) that the brewery was named after that was behind the brewery (which used to be a Gulf gas station). Gage Gardens is a 27-acre park that contains plants that are native to the Big Bend region. Not much was in bloom at this time of year but it certainly would be spectacular in the spring. As we walked back to the RV park, we saw some Aliens signs so something mysterious is going on in this town😉 That evening at 7 we went to the star party area and Andy and Bill started to tell us all about the night sky and then line up the mega telescope so we could see things. We started off with Venus and Jupiter as they were the first bright objects to appear in the sky. It was really cool to see the rings on Jupiter and the moons around it. Next, we looked at the M42 Nebula below Orion’s belt which is one of the brightest nebulae, and Andy’s favourite. Next was Castor which is part of the Gemini constellation and when you looked at it through the telescope you could actually see that it was 2 stars so close together that they appear as one bright star to the naked eye. We also learned that in essence Earth is in the middle of the Milky Way so in fact we really can’t see all the Milky Way as it is all around Earth. Lastly, we saw Rigel which is a blue star (blue stars are hot, red stars are cold). Overall, we really enjoyed the star party even though the clouds were impacting what we could see.

Marathon is the main jumping off point for people to visit Big Bend National Park. Since we had visited that park on a prior trip we decided to go to Big Bend Ranch SP instead. It is the largest State Park in Texas with 311,000 acres and has some really rugged remote areas. In my research I found there was a dirt road that led into the interior of the park and there was a campsite called Aqua Adentro Equestrian Pens that indicated RVs could camp there. I emailed the park and they said yes a 25’ RV could get there but the road was fairly washboard so we decided to book the campsite for 3 nights, with no services. On the day we left Marathon we went west first to Alpine so we could fill up on diesel, propane, and groceries. We really liked the Porter’s grocery store in Alpine the last time and they had just completed a major renovation in the store with new floors, aisles, checkouts, and even self scan checkout’s! We got lots of great items including some Ghost Pepper cheese that was nice and spicy😉 The one advantage of going to Alpine was that we took a different road south and it was quite scenic, although the winds were picking up so the drive was tricky.

We drove through Terlingua and proceeded to the Barton Warnock visitor centre to get our camping permit. The girl who checked us in was freaking out when we said where we were going. She told us that to get to Aqua Adentro Pens it was a 2.5 hour drive (it was 1:30 pm) and then she took a conniption when we said we had a 25’ RV. I assured her that we had driven dirt roads with our RV before and that whoever had emailed me said we would be fine. However her reaction started to make us nervous for what we were about to do! Anyway, we proceeded along the scenic River Road which is listed as the most scenic road in all of Texas according to National Geographic.  The road hugs the Rio Grande so we weren’t far from Mexico.  One hill was like being at the top of a roller coaster, straight up then straight down, Sharon let out a little scream when we reached the top! A couple we had met mentioned the Closed Canyon trail and the Hoodoos trail along this road so we stopped at both to walk them. We were lucky at the Closed Canyon trail as the sun came out at the perfect time to shine down the narrow canyon walls making for spectacular colours. The sand flies were out but the views made it worth it. We walked to the end of the canyon and then returned. The Hoodoos were interesting but less spectacular than the Closed Canyon and the sand flies were even worse because you were walking along the Rio Grande Riverbank.

We completed River Road and finally got to the dirt road turn off at the western end of the park. The road started off as a wide dirt county road with lots of washboard sections and eventually got to the main park road which became quite narrow in sections with lots more washboard and even some large rocks to avoid. I took it slow and luckily, we didn’t encounter any vehicles going the opposite direction. It was 32 kms from the start of the road to Aqua Adentro Pens which was our campsite, and it took about 1.5 hours to drive that far! Ranchers had sold the land to the park in 1988 so it was called Pens as they still had the fencing and the cattle ramp that would have been used to load up the trucks. The park receives less than 10” of rain per year and is listed as an International Dark Sky Park. After dinner we went out and the stars were spectacular, especially the Orion constellation. We tried a bunch of different camera settings and eventually got a reasonable shot of the constellation.

Dirt road into Big Bend Ranch SP

In the morning we woke up to several Javelina’s snooping around the campsite. For our first full day we decided to walk the Rancho Viejo trail that was close to our campsite and then we wanted to turn onto the Yedra Trail and go to Cueva Larga which was a small cave with some pictographs. I had looked at the map in Alltrails the night before as I had downloaded it in advance (no cell service in the park) and it showed all the map details. However, in the morning for some unknown reason it would show the trail details but would not show me the map no matter what I tried. We headed off on Rancho Viejo hoping the trails would have signs but unfortunately nothing was marked. We went in about 6 kms seeing some old signs of the ranching days and eventually came to the turn for the Yedra Trail and started to follow it but then it simply disappeared in the desert! If the Alltrails map had worked, we could have used that to navigate but without the map and without any trail markings we didn’t want to follow the cows (we saw 3) off into the desert. We ate our lunch and then returned the same way we had come in. Our total was just over 11 kms but we were completely drained by the time we got back to the RV as the desert sun was beating down on us the whole way since there was no shade anywhere along the trail. We were glad we had not tried to Mountain bike the trail as we would have sunk down in the sand in the creek beds, there were some large rocks, and the cactus were close to the trail (we used our hiking poles to go through them). It was disappointing that we couldn’t follow our plan, but we did see 3 Mule Deer as we got close to the campsite. That evening the stars were amazing again and we saw the moon close to planet Jupiter.

On our second full day we had initially thought we would do some Mountain Biking but then I remembered that there was a very large hill to get to the Ojito Adentro trailhead, so we decided to walk the main road and then take the trail into the spring and oasis. I had read some of the Alltrails reviews for this trail and everyone mentioned that you should do the rock scramble at the end to get all the way back to the base of the spring and waterfall. It’s so bizarre to see how bright the Cottonwood trees look against the contrasting rock cliffs due to presence of a small amount of water. There wasn’t any water flowing over the falls as the area was in drought conditions (plus there is very little rain in the first place) but the area was still beautiful with ferns growing along the wall. On the way out we saw a strangely dressed (or barely dressed) young women hiking in and it was a little disconcerting to see the gun tucked into her short shorts, although I guess understandable as she was by herself. She didn’t seem to know anything about the hiking trails and was asking us for guidance since she said “you two look like hikers”😉  After Ojito Adentro we walked further down the road to the Canon de Los Bandidos to see the viewpoint and then returned up the big hill to get back to the campsite. That afternoon we relaxed (which we don’t do well😉) and enjoyed the shade of our campsite shelter and had badly needed showers after the desert hiking. The one good thing about walking the 10 kms was that I saw how they worked the small pull over areas so I felt more confident that when we drove back out the next day, we could negotiate any cars that might be coming the opposite direction in the narrow sections (which did occur). That evening we had our best sunset for our stay at Big Bend Ranch SP.

The next morning, we waited until the ranger truck coming into the park to work at the ranger station had passed our location and then we left at 8:10 am to hopefully avoid anyone else coming in along the road. However, we did encounter 2 cars coming but luckily, they were in sections where we could relatively easily pass each other. It was about the same 1.5 hours to complete the dirt road (now the RV is very dirty) and get back on to pavement to head west to Presidio so we could visit Fort Leaton State Historic Site. This site is one of the largest and finest historic adobe structures in Texas. The fort was a trading post on the US-Mexico Border in the 1800’s. Juana Pedrasa and Ben Leaton established the trading post in 1848 along with their 3 children and Ben’s partner John Burgess. There were some journals that described several murders that took place between 1851 when Ben suddenly passed away and 1872 when the Burgesses managed the fort and they continued to manage it until 1927. It deteriorated over time as the railway eventually became the trading route, so Fort Leaton became unneeded. Texas State Parks acquired the fort in 1967 and did extensive restoration work which was completed in 1978. There was a short video on the history of the fort and some exhibits and then we did a self guided tour of the various rooms and the grounds. The most interesting and unique artifact was Carreta wagon in the corral area. The Spanish brought these carts to the US region in 1590 and a fully loaded Carreta would need 10 to 12 oxen to pull it!

We will stop this blog here and carry on with the remaining Texas State Parks in the next blog.


  • The Pecos river looks a little low, then the dry Eagle’s Nest Creek confirms my suspicion. The fountain at Marathon Motel & RV Park looks like they are set to baptise people. So if the white buffalo drools on you, does that bring you good luck?

    Liked by 1 person

  • OK, I’m now disappointed. You have pictures of every rock, cactus and bush, but you didn’t get a picture (tell her selfies for your posts!) of this barely dressed young woman???!!! What’s wrong with you?…LOL.. Oh, right, Sharon is with you..hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We try to limit a blog to under 100 photos so that’s the main reason we broke it into 2 chunks. But you’re right we covered a large area too😉


  • Oh Danny – your comments are hysterical – especially the one about the young woman hiking and no photos!!! What an incredible landscape. It makes me wonder how people even decided to land there and make a life in those conditions. I enjoyed seeing the Buick Vault brewery, an immediately recognizable gas station. Very cool!! And I loved the road sign showing the UFO hitting the plane…teehee!!!

    I would not have enjoyed those washboard roads and I did try to watch the video but got dizzy again!

    Nina would enjoy the two dimensional racoon on the ground.

    Don’t let the cactus stab you!


    Liked by 1 person

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