2017: Big Bend

Burro Mesa Pour-Off

March 3


Our next hike would be a test for me -- the four-mile round-trip to the top of Burro Mesa Pouroff. I hadn't walked that far in quite a while. As it turned out, it would be more of a test than I thought. More about that later.

Chicken coop. Adobe wall.

First, though, we stopped for an easy half-mile loop to see the ruins of the Sam Nail Ranch, the former home of a rancher between 1918 and 1933 until the state of Texas began acquiring property for a park. There isn't a lot to see -- the remains of a chicken coop, one still-standing adobe wall of the house, and a very tall old windmill.

The windmill is still pumping water 85 years later, creating a small oasis in the surrounding desert which includes the non-native fig and pecan trees that the Nails planted, as well as some impressive cactus and agave plants.

After our stop at the old ranch, we drove a short distance down the road to our main target for the day. Burro Mesa Pouroff is a water drainage point from the mesa to the desert floor 100 feet below. It is dry most of the time, but intermittent water flow over millions of years has created an impressive geologic formation. The Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff trail leads through small drainage canyons to the top of the pouroff.

I knew the trail would be longer than I was accustomed to, but it had additional difficulties for me. The early part was slogging through gravely sand; then the footing became rocky and uneven, followed by some scrambling down over larger and larger rockfalls. Thank goodness I brought my helper!

About two-thirds of the way along we found a small arch formation.

Finally the canyon narrowed into the top of the pouroff. We could see light shining around a sharp left-hand turn, but my way was blocked by a fifteen-foot dropoff with no discernible way down, much less a way back up. A younger, fitter couple with a length of rope could have negotiated it, but we were zero-for-three and decided to turn back with our bones intact, if not our dignity.

Photo finish. Pouroff corner. Almost made it!

The trail in had been more challenging than I expected, but although I was tired, retracing our steps went smoothly. I even had enough energy for a brief celebration at the trailhead sign.

A separate, half-mile trail leads to the bottom of the pouroff, where the view is more spectacular. I thought I might be too tired for this one, but I didn't know if we'd be driving this way again. So we drove a couple of miles down the road to the short flat trail through the desert where we were treated to views of the dramatic bluffs on that side of Burro Mesa.

After a wide-open trail that seemed longer than half a mile to my wobbly legs, we finally reached the payoff; and it was worth it. The dramatic bored-out section of the cliff seemed much higher than the reported 100 feet, as illustrated by our miniature figures at the bottom. All in all, a very fine day of hiking.