East of El Paso, the Rio Grande carves a scenic path south of the Solitario Flatiron Mountains, through Santa Elena Canyon, and at the base of the Sierra Del Carmen as it turns northward. On the U.S. side of the river, the diverse geological structures spanning the Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) and Big Bend National Park (BBNP) prevent uniformity, keeping things interesting for the traveler. Across the brown river, Mexico stands tall and beautiful, providing an alluring backdrop of seemingly unobtainable mountains.
For the adventurers seeking unpaved roads and 4x4 trails, these two parks, as well as surrounding territories, do not disappoint. Nestled between the two parks, the eccentric Texan communities of Terlingua and Lajitas offer unique dining experiences and night life. As with any locale off the beaten path, never assume a constant. Yes, each town has a gas station. That does not mean fuel is always available. Bring extra fuel canisters.
One can never get enough of the Big Bend region. Rare birds, frequent coyote sightings, and colorful sunsets illuminating the mountains redefines the meaning of being one with nature. Find the right spot and camping becomes a treat as the sun goes down and the stars bring the night to life.
An annual gathering of off-roaders and rock hunters usually occurs over the Christmas and New Year’s timeframe. For the Yota crowd, the event is organized in the Texas section of FJCruiserForums.com. Camp is based in the hilly Rancho Topanga Campground west of Terlingua. In 2015, an additional gathering took place over Thanksgiving week and I jumped at the opportunity.
The day before Thanksgiving, with passports in hand, we set out to cross the border into Mexico. The village of Boquillas del Carmen sits atop a hill above the Rio Grande. For years, tourists were able to park their vehicles in BBNP and cross the river via a small ferry to enjoy a cerveza or a pure cane sugar soft drink in Mexico. After 9/11, the border closed and the small village suffered financially.
The U.S. built a border patrol station and port of entry in BBNP at the exact spot, re-opening the border in April 2013. Despite the added bureaucracy, and the passport requirement, it is still worth the effort to take the excursion and enjoy some Mexican hospitality while taking in the scenery of Boquillas Canyon. We climbed into the ferry and crossed the river. Upon arrival, we paid the famous Singing Mexican, Victor, our $5 for the ferry ride and another chunk of cash for the donkey transport up the hill. I wasn’t keen on riding a mule, so I upgraded to a horse for an additional $5.
Dining, drinks, and shopping are typically all that occurs. Our group, made up mostly of rock hunters, went the extra mile…literally. We hired a local guide to take us to the Cave of Crystals. What that meant was we climbed into his pickup truck (some of us sat in the bed) and endured a trip to the trail head via 4x4 roads in a decades-old 2WD truck. We hiked up and down the hills for almost 2 miles toward Boquillas Canyon. Although the cave is near the river, it faces south and is thus hidden from one of the popular trails on the U.S. side. This neat little cave is completely made of crystals: floor, roof, and walls. Well worth the hike.
For Thanksgiving Day, we ventured up the 4.5 mile Christmas Mountains trail. These mountains are just north of BBNP on land owned by the University of Texas. While camping is not permitted, visitors can obtain a day use permit. Our guide, David Aurzada, led us with his yellow FJ Cruiser. The rough road kept us under 5 mph on average, or maybe it was the astounding scenery that slowed us. The route winds through valleys, across the sides of mountains, at the edges of steep cliffs, and eventually terminates at a high overlook at an elevation of 5,400 ft, which is quite high for Texas. We spent nearly an hour taking in the fabulous views of the mountains below.
The return trip was on the same trail, yet it felt completely different as the weather changed, the clouds cleared, and more mountainous scenery was revealed. Upon arrival at David’s cabin, we feasted on traditional Thanksgiving fare while discussing other trails we plan to conquer in the future.
While many people were venturing to their favorite retailers for Black Friday, we chose to hit the famed Black Gap trail in BBNP (cover photo). High clearance and 4WD is certainly a must for various sections. Tanya Cole guided us in her red FJ Cruiser on the 38-mile route. We visited the fascinating Marsical Mine remains. After we exited the unpaved roads, we drove up to the Chisos Basin where clouds greeted us as fog dancing around the peaks.
For our final day of off-roading, we first hit the Las Burras Loop 4x4 trail in BBRSP, which is only one of many 4x4 roads in this park. The tip of the loop stops near high caves.
After lunch in at the famed Lajitas Resort, we headed to the county roads north of Terlingua: a network of unpaved roads winding through medium sized canyons and smaller mountains. We did a 26-mile run that became a bit more challenging as darkness took over. As I led us back to civilization, my 7-inch Zero Dark LED lights lit up a black cat that was too big to be a house cat, but the head wasn’t quite big enough for a panther. What the heck did I see? Possibly a Jaguarundi. Google it.
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Two weeks ago, AT Overland (aka Adventure Trailers) announced their all-new Habitat tent-camper-shell for the 2nd Gen (2005-2015) 5' or 6' bed Tacoma Trucks.
SPC / Light Racing recently revealed a major upgrade to their bulletproof Upper Control Arms for Toyota Cruisers & Trucks.
There has been plenty of discussion, wonder, and speculation about Victor Sheppard's 2007 Tundra. It recently hit 1,000,000 miles on the odometer (which subsquently has stopped working). Our colleague Tim Esterdahl wrote the initial story for Truck Trend last month.
We're having a great start to 2016, and we'd like to share!
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We're a couple of years into the TRD Pro enhanced off-road performance Toyota Trucks (and SUVs), and the newest offering from our friends at corporate Toyota USA was announced today.
The 3rd Generation Tacoma will get the TRD Pro treatment for 2017, according to Toyota. This package of factory-added (and warrantied) options is still without a price, but the previous TRD Pro Package was only about $1,400 more than a similary outfitted truck, so this package should come in at a similar price point.
With every vehicle I have ever owned, there are always some things that just don't make sense. When I decided to buy a Tundra, my ﬁrst stop was the Toyota website, then the dealership to feel and touch.
For those of us that contribute to TCT Magazine and for those of you that read TCT Magazine the DzLove of Off Roadingdz is in our blood. We love to simply Dzget out theredz and get away from our busy city lives, see what few have seen, and take in a surreal sunset or sunrise... or both! The deeper we go or the higher we climb may find us wanting more from the vehicles we drive. To achieve the desired result or travel to the most remote locations requires us to modify or improve our vehicles. This same desire is shared by the family that makes up Low Range Off Road.
Toytec’s 2016 Tacoma fitted with 35” Cooper STT Pro, InSain Fab front bumper, BajaDesigns LED lighting and much more, was an instant crowd favorite.
Nature’s fall foliage backdrop illuminated the trails and the VOR gathering with shades of orange, gold, and crimson. It was photographically addicting to capture the reflection of the season on top of trucks painted metal surfaces. The beautiful surroundings made the trails long as you cannot help but stop to collect photographs.
While traveling the rugged roads of Vermont and the VOR trail systems, it was easy to find muddy terrain and the need to be prepared for rescue. These conditions made for some fun obstacles and some extra difficulty in directing vehicles through the terrain. While driving through the mud, I often felt like I was on ice or snow; when I veer right, I felt the vehicle disobey and veer to the left.
TCT stayed in the heart of the rally by camping in CVT roof top tents in the center of the Lillie Brook Farm, open to its attendees for the entirety of the event. It was very fascinating to see the vast assemblage of different makes and models in attendance at the Vermont Overland Rally. The makes we observed included Toyota, Jeep, Range Rover, Dodge, Mercedes and even Subaru.
The main attractions for the Rally included group off road tours (VOR mapped) and classes for off-road preparedness: extreme recovery techniques, preparing yourself and your vehicle for an expedition, vehicle conversions, CPR and first aid, vehicle maintenance, documentation for media and winning VOT information. Additional features included workshops for kids, vendors, overland movies, dinners which included local foods and produce (Lillie Brook Farm), a raffle and a bon fire.
The highlight of our tour at the Vermont Overland Rally was conversing with members of OEX (Overland Experts) and observing their rare Toyota vehicles which include a Toyota Hilux D-4 TDI and a Toyota Land Cruiser 150 Prado D4-D diesel. Their field of work includes training the public and the military in off-road rescue and preparedness.
The Vermont Overland Rally encompasses challenges and tools for stock vehicles and beginner drivers, to fully loaded vehicles and advanced knowledgeable drivers. If you plan to visit the beautiful and bountiful Northeast, give Vermont Overland Rally a try. Rain or shine, you can wheel as much or as little as you want, stay behind and take a lesson, or just hang out and relax to enjoy the scenery and hospitality. We at TCT, had a memorable time and look forward to what 2016 has to offer.