No. 3 Maravillas Canyon
Black Gap Wildlife Management Area
If you’re a solitude seeker, then the Black Gap WMA is paradise: it has no potable water, no bathrooms, no cell reception, and no other services. Located just east of Big Bend National Park, this sprawling 103,000-acre preserve, which includes a federally protected stretch of the Rio Grande, has served as a game research facility since it was founded, in 1948. But outside hunting season, the area has become a hidden playground for birders, mountain bikers, and fishermen. There’s a mix of primitive upland, hunting, and fishing camps and three hundred miles of unpaved jeep roads that beckon serious two- and four-wheeled explorers.
Though the area is generally uncrowded, it’s wise to register for a campsite—a piece of planning I realized I’d failed to do on a recent visit, when I arrived and began unloading my tent and mountain bike. Before I knew it, half a dozen anglers from Odessa with a claim on “my” space were descending with beer coolers, cots, boats, and their own expectations of privacy. Once or twice a year, one explained, he and his buddies caravan to this corner of the Trans-Pecos to pursue channel catfish. “It’s a damn ugly spot,” he snorted, hitching his pants over a prodigious gut. I grinned. He had to be joking.
But figuring these guys wanted no part of seeing me in spandex shorts, I beat a quick retreat. Swinging my leg over the bike saddle, I took off, chasing the shadows along a steep and rocky stretch of double track that undulated like the spine of a dragon. I passed signs marking the Desert Bighorn Experiment Area, where a celebrated reintroduction effort has brought bighorn sheep back to Texas. The strawberry pitaya were abloom, sprinkling the land with pretty pink flowers. On my way back to camp, Maravillas Canyon started to turn gold in the sunset, and my overheated brain turned the Spanish word—meaning “wonders”—over and over until it resembled a Billy Crystal routine: “Mar-rah-vee-yass.” Marvelous, indeed.
Getting There: From Fort Stockton, travel 98 miles south on U.S. 385, through Marathon, to FM 2627. Take FM 2627 about 17 miles to Black Gap WMA headquarters. From March 1 to August 31, access to Maravillas Canyon and the headquarters campground is restricted; during certain weekends the WMA is also reserved for public hunts. Always call ahead to verify hours and access (432-364-2228). All visitors must have either an annual hunting license ($48) or a limited-use permit ($12), available from Texas Parks and Wildlife.