Penetrating Dead Horse Mountains with Hidden Dagger Adventures
by Shawna Graves
Close up of a Rostrata
Yucca bloom .
Every corner of Dead Horse Ranch is on a mission to wow its visitors . Just getting there is an adventure . The 10,000 acre , privately owned ranch is nestled alongside the eastern slopes of one of Big Bend National Park ’ s most imposing and mysterious mountain ranges , the Sierra Del Caballo Muerto or Dead Horse Mountains , and the ranch ’ s namesake .
If you ’ ve been to Big Bend National Park , you may have noticed the Dead Horse Mountains , visible to the east from Persimmon Gap Entrance Station and trending slightly southeast all the way to the border . They ’ re part of a bigger chain , the Sierra Del Carmen , extending into Mexico beyond Boquillas .
From the park , one can easily imagine how the Dead Horse Mountains earned their menacing moniker . The western slopes appear unscalable , parched and devoid of vegetation . One of the more accessible hikes into its southern reach takes visitors to a breathtaking water feature : Ernst Tinaja . A tinaja is a depression worn into bedrock that fills with seasonal rains , leaving a water source in dry times . Ernst Tinaja is one of the park ’ s widest and deepest such features , an underground cup whose smooth lip kisses the surface , tempting passersby with a drink . It ’ s never gone dry ; a Godsend , one would think . But there ’ s a steep drop to the water ’ s surface , made steeper with drought conditions . Any animal thirsty enough to scale the rim is in grave danger of slipping in , never to escape . The slippery edges of Ernst Tinaja show scars of struggles past , and the bottom is littered with bones , so the rumor goes . It ’ s a warning that , in Dead Horse Mountains , simply quenching one ’ s thirst can be a deadly act .
But the Big Bend is a land of contrasts , and a ranch that shares the Dead Horse name does not necessarily share its fate . In fact , Dead Horse Ranch looks like a whole new world compared to what most visitors have seen of the Big Bend , and a pair of healthy ranch horses pastured full time there lend irony to its name .
Located on the eastern side of the mountain range , the ranch has a recorded average of 16-17 inches of rainfall per year . That ’ s on the high side for the Chihuahuan desert , a wealth reserved for sky islands like Fort Davis and the Chisos Basin on a good year . The ranch is helped out by its proximity to the Sierra del Carmen . With elevations of almost 9,000 feet , the Del Carmen creates a rain shadow effect , siphoning off the larger ration of incoming moisture for itself , with leftovers going to the Big Bend region . It seems that the parts of the Dead Horse Mountains ’ eastern slopes where the ranch is located benefit from this phenomenon , while the western slopes do not .
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Cenizo Summer 2021