Our Piper Arrow
The Big House is the old ranch house of what used to be a private working ranch. The house was built in the early 1900s and has 3 rooms that rent for $100 a night. That seems a little pricey but I can appreciate what it must take to operate a 3-room hotel in such a remote location, and of course it's still less expensive than staying at Lajitas. The park also has a bunkhouse with separate quarters for men and women for $35/night. Meals are available at the bunkhouse, with arrangements made in advance, for $25/day. That IS a good deal.
Runway 8/26 is asphalt, 5500 x 80 feet, and is in good condition (with a few weeds poking through). There are about 10 tie-downs at the west end; bring your own ropes. The wind sock is also at the west end. The wind in this area is most often out of the west so you will usually use runway 26. It is not lighted and there is no fuel available. There are mountains in the area but no significant obstructions nearby. The runway is almost a mile from the ranch but they will come out and pick you up. Just call before arrival and fly over the ranch before you land. AirNav.com reports 50 operations a year (1985). A park employee said they have someone fly in about once every week or two and there are a couple of fly-ins annually when there are many planes at the same time.
The airport was built by a former owner and is maintained by the park.
The Flight to Big Bend Ranch
Navigating to the ranch by GPS was easy. The private airstrip (3TE3) was not in our Garmin database so I added a user waypoint named 3TE3. If you don't have a GPS you'd better be up on your pilotage skills. There is no radar service, no ATC, few VORs, no ADFs, and few airports with fuel. If you see a river with water in it, it's probably the Rio Grande; cross it and you're in Mexico. The flight from Ozona to the ranch was spectacular. The region possesses dramatic geological features and many are best appreciated from the air.
Upon arrival, we flew low around the ranch before landing. A park employee arrived shortly and took us to the office for check-in and then to the Big House.
At Big Bend Ranch
See The Big House.
See Sauceda Nature Trail.
See Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch... Just some photos around Sauceda.
We were up early the following day and headed to the bunkhouse for breakfast which is served from 7:30 to 8:00 am. After breakfast we headed off for another walk down a creek bed out in front of the ranch compound which we had seen from the air. The flat terrain quickly turned into a rocky canyon with pools of water, a few trees and many birds.
Back at the ranch, we were the only guests receiving lunch at the bunkhouse, which was served at 12 noon.
After lunch, we walked 1.3 miles west down the road to the trailhead for Cinco Tenajas.
The trail is only 0.9 mile long and leads to an overlook where you can see down into the canyon where the tenajas are located. Then the trail leads down the hill where you can walk down the creek bed to the tenajas. We were pretty tired on the walk back to the ranch headquarters. We saw only one car on the road on our way to the trailhead and none on the way back. We walked 6.5 miles today.
See Cinco Tenajas.
The Return Flight
A video of the Takeoff from Big Bend Ranch Airport.
A video of Skimming through the Cloud Tops IFR between San Angelo and Georgetown.
The area has breathtaking beauty but it is not pristine. Ranching in the Big Bend turned a vast grassland into a vast desert. The higher elevations were once pine forests, harvested for local building materials. It doesn't seem likely that there will be a recovery. The park continues to run cattle on the property, though in small numbers. A semiannual cattle drive (one is in April) is one of the activities offered to guests. The geological features are more durable. Evidence of volcanic activity is everywhere. Mountains and mesas of dark stone line the horizon and contrast strikingly with the sky and clouds. The nighttime sky is also an impressive sight due to the dry air, altitude, and absence of light pollution.