Wednesday the 13th I left Austin after work and some final packing around 6:00 P.M. and got to Ozona around 10:00. Next morning I kind of let Google navigate me, wanting to stay well away from US 285; ended up going East and North of it, to near Odessa, then coming into the Guadalupe Mountains/Lincoln National Forest via Carlsbad. Only in one small section, around Eunice, did I experience much oil field traffic.
Arrived Dog Canyon 1:00 P.M. MST on Thursday. I was a little discombobulated since I have never arrived there so early in the day: Because of the distance, I generally arrive shortly before sundown but since I’d left from Ozona I had a significantly shorter drive.
I left austin a bit late Friday (November 7), right at 9. This put my ETA at big bend at 17:30 and that’s exactly when i got into Panther Junction. Got a bag of ice in Marathon. Turns out they’d had 4 inches of rain the day before. Several roads were closed, so there were backcountry sites available but none throughout the period. The lady at the counter was very helpful; she gave me Chilicotal first night, then Paint Gap Hills #2 the next 4 nights with the understanding i could come in an change at a later time. She said the wet conditions had driven a lot of campers to the closer in sites, but things should be drying out soon.
Chilitcotal was very nice. Near Rice Tank, new, on a ridge with fantastic views in all directions. (There used to be two campsites at Rice Tank; now only one. See why below.) Saw almost nobody; A motorcyclist coming in around sunset, and I think maybe a couple of folks going to/from the Pine Canyon sites, but didn’t come my way down Glenn Springs Rd.
Next night, Saturday, I broke camp and headed to Paint Gap Hills #2; a dissappointment. Someone had been camping there during the deluge and left huge 4-5 inch ruts in almost all of the available area. Although somewhat dry now, I was hard pressed to find a decent spot for my tent.
Tuesday morning (11/11) I happened upon a ranger at HQ. Said he’d been here 25 years. Said he’d picked the site for Chilicotal. I asked about the re-jiggering of the campsites; he said there were basically 3 reasons. 1) some were at traiheads, 2) double sites really didn’t work and 3) all the best sites were often Indian camp sites too and therefore archeological sites. Also overheard him talking about grasses here; said buffalo grass “invasive and we’re losing the battle.” Also said they’ve learned through trial and error how to reseed; said some sites you can see where they stack dead brush up to keep the soil cooler for seeds to germinate.
It’s taken me a few years to figure this out. I’ve had a cheap old tarp in the past which I’ve almost never used; then, before my John Muir Trail hike I picked up a ultra-light Sil-Tarp (below) which was marginally effective but I still never really got the hang of pinning it down in the wind.
And then here, below, is the cheap one I got in Hanksville, because it rained almost every day in the Escalante National Monument. But these cheap tarps are also unwieldy in the wind and tend to collect rather than shield rain.
I purchased a Kelty tarp a couple of years ago; have had difficulty in anchoring it for a couple of years, but this last time in Utah I finally got it staked down well (the pic at the top of this post). In a big wind, I still had to anchor one peg with a stool and a large water bag on top of it to make sure it didn’t pull out.
Tarps can be crucial for enjoying your car camping experience; less so for backpacking I think, because when you’re backpacking, you’re going to be on the move the next day anyway. But car camping, you’re probably going to stay put for a few days; the tarp can keep you protected from intermittent showers with little discomfort; you can cook underneath them, hang out, snooze, whatever. Beats the heck out of spending sixteen hours in a tent because of rain.