We rose at the McKittrick Ridge campsite the following morning to clouds. It had been quite windy the previous night and a few times it sounded like rain outside, but despite all of that, the ground was relatively dry. We ate a hurried breakfast, taking the tent down first in case the bottom fell out of the sky, so that the tent wouldn’t be wet later. I asked Patrice and Justin if they were awake so they could get up if they wanted to get back down to the McKittrick Visitors Center before the rain came. We were expecting at least a 70% chance of rain for the day, as per what the rangers told us when we picked up our backcountry permits. Luckily our day was relatively smooth and then downhill to Dog Canyon.
The wind was kicking pretty good when we left but we also saw hints of the sun reflecting off of the mountains to the west and for about thirty minutes it appeared that perhaps the day might not be so terrible. The topography for the day was supposed to be relatively smooth with a few minor ‘ups’ in there. We crossed another small knife edge and the wind whipped straight across and I was thankful there wasn’t rain involved with the wind at the moment. Atop a few of the small hills we climbed I thought it was very beautiful, pine covered and rustic, good places to stealth camp. I wished we hadn’t been racing the rain so we could have stopped to snap a few shots.
We were on top of the ridge shortly before descending a bit to walk along the edge of the ridge on the south side, blocked from most of the wind by the mountain on our north. Midway through this walk the sprinkles started and we put our pack covers on to keep our gear dry. Up went the zippers on our rain jackets and the hoods to cover our heads. It wasn’t terrible until the trail made a turn around the curve of the mountain to the north and we got hit full force with the wind and the rain.
The trail junction for the Tejas Trail and McKittrick Ridge Trail came quicker than we anticipated and I was excited that we had only about four miles left to descend to Dog Canyon. Luckily the rain ceased for the most part at this point and the clouds seemed to calm. We spotted a mule deer buck at one point across a small gap on another hill and we stopped to admire it for a few seconds before moving on. Down below we spotted a building but thought it might not be in the right direction and that it was potentially too far to be the Dog Canyon visitors center. (turns out it was the visitors center)
The trail followed around to the mountain we saw the mule deer at and then a bit further we spotted three other deer. The terrain was this point was smoothly downhill and very nice. Even if we were to come back this was it wasn’t terribly steep, an ‘up’ yes, but nothing horrible. To the north was New Mexico and it seemed that the terrain mellowed out a bit for awhile.
Down and down around the switchbacks we went until we finally came to the bottom of the canyon where we followed an on and off creek. On and off because sometimes it was wet and other places it wasn’t. At one point I thought I heard a voice and sure enough just around the bend we encountered hikers heading up the canyon for a day hike.
In addition to day hikers we ended up seeing two backpackers heading up and all I could think was that I was glad it wasn’t me because I knew what the weather was supposed to be all day. We later found out those same hikers turned back after encountering sleet at the higher elevations later on that day.
At the visitors center we sat down at the picnic table out front to wait for the ranger on duty. She returned shortly and informed us we could just self pay for a campsite. The campground was relatively quiet so we had our pick of campsites. We were half hoping for a soda machine because there had been one at the Pine Springs campground but alas, no soda machine.
It wasn’t even 11 a.m. but we ate a first lunch (second lunch came later) and saw that more clouds were rolling in so we set off to find a campsite and pitch the tent. Good thing because during our nap several storms rolled through. I was very glad to be in a tent!
After our nap we did a little exploring and I went off down the nature trail to see what I could find.
Overall it was a relaxing day and I enjoyed it a lot. We tucked in early for the night; not much to do after dark when it is cold, might as well get in the tent. It does make for some long nights, though!
Next we’ll follow the Bush Mountain Trail to the Marcus Trail and then to the Tejas Trail.