Reclaiming The Rosillos, Texas

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14449A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Reclaim and improve various area of the park for wildlife
  • Restore grasslands, plant trees, and do other services as needed
  • Enjoy views unmarred by fencing and utility poles that were removed on previous trips


  • All instructions, tools, and inspiration
  • Great meals and camaraderie
  • Leader-led hikes


DatesFeb 22–Mar 1, 2014
StaffJames Moody

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Some 400 miles west of San Antonio, on its way from the Colorado Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande makes a sweeping, U-shaped turn to carve out a series of deep canyons and circumscribe an area as a large as Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. Long believed an impenetrable wasteland -- it wasn't mapped until 1899 -- the area was avoided by explorers and lawmen alike, but revered as a refuge by outlaws and Indians.

Today it is known as the Big Bend Country, and its southern portion now holds Big Bend National Park. Established in 1944, the park encompasses more than 800,000 acres and is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and 400 species of birds, as well as antelope, mule and white-tailed deer, banded gecko, rattlesnake, javelina, coyote, black bear, elk, and mountain lion.

The former Harte Ranch, acquired by the park in 1989, is located in the northern foothills of the Rosillos Mountains. Most of our efforts prior to 2010 were concentrated in and around this mountain range. Projects now include various other areas of the park as fencing, phone lines, and other Rosillos-targeted projects — with the exception of grasslands restoration — have been completed.

The Project

This will be our 21st year to work in the park. Over the past years,  we have been involved in a variety of projects, including helping with the extraction of dinosaur bones and working on the now opened border crossing at Boquillas in 2011. Through our long association with the park we have completed the removal of more than 75 miles of barbed wire fencing, removed 28 miles of old telephone poles and wires, and performed extensive restoration of grasslands in areas badly damaged by overgrazing. In 2010, we performed multiple projects from one side of the park to the other. We cut lower branches from cottonwood trees for re-planting along the Rio Grande (“Sticks to Trees” we called it); removed a large area of tamarisk on the banks of the Rio Grande; cut raw material for the re-roofing of a historic old house that was constructed below ground level; and continued the re-vegetation project. Believe it or not, many of the “sticks” we cut from the cottonwood trees are now well on their way to becoming full-fledged trees in their own right. The border crossing we worked on will be open for the first time during this project since 9/11 so finally we’ll be able to cross over into Mexico. Please note that a passport or other federally recognized international travel document will be required for re-entry into the United States.

Reclamation is a time-consuming process in a desert. "Reclaiming the Rosillos" will remain an integral part of our work effort for several years to come with the grasslands re-veg project. During our first years of this project we worked in conjunction with a staff funded by a federal grant. That grant ran out several years ago, leaving the bulk of this work to us and increasing the importance of our efforts. Basically that work consists of reseeding barren areas created by mismanagement of the land prior to it becoming a national park. This man-made devastation was caused by well-intentioned land policies now known to be unsound. Unintentional as it may have been, the result is the same: land so barren not even creosote will grow. A special strategy has been developed to maximize revegetation efforts in the harsh conditions of the desert Southwest.

For many years prior to 2010, we worked from a base camp at the foot of a limestone escarpment in the Harte Ranch area of the park, where we hiked or carpooled to our work sites each day. Because of the shortage of housing for Homeland Security personnel, we now work out of a smaller, but more conveniently located house in a scenic spot near the K-Bar campsites, allowing us greater flexibility in selecting work projects. The trip leader will provide all the necessary details and directions prior to the trip to reach the campsite, which is off a maintained dirt road a mile or less from a main park road. As always, we will receive instruction and supervision on safe work practices from trip leaders as well as any rangers who may assist us. We'll be flexible and accomplish as much as we can while having good times, satisfying volunteer experiences, and creating great memories.


Participants are welcome to arrive beginning Friday afternoon, February 21. The first official day of the trip, Saturday, February 22, and the following day, Sunday, February 23, are free days for exploring the park and group hikes will be offered for those who wish to participate. Participants who did not arrive on Friday may show up any time on Saturday as the ranch is within a couple of miles of park headquarters. Please notify the group leader of your approximate arrival time so that all participants can be accounted for.

Each day, including free days, will start with breakfast (approximately 7 a.m.). Lunch will be packed at breakfast and carried to the worksite (on work days) or to your hiking destination (on free days). Of the five weekdays during the trip, we will be working four and taking one day off. That date is typically Wednesday. Details will be worked out as the trip dates draw nearer.

Those who are confirmed on the trip will receive trip bulletins from the leader with more specific information as it becomes available. Please write, text, email, or call the trip leader directly with all questions about the trip; please do not contact the National Park Service as this will greatly delay any response. The trip leader can be reached at 817-688-3656.



Getting There

There is no public transportation to or through the park. It is 325 miles from El Paso, 550 miles from Fort Worth, 220 miles from Odessa, and 410 miles from San Antonio. Your transportation to the road head is not included in the price of this service trip.

It will require a great deal of driving to reach the park from most locations. Carpooling is not only cost-effective, but also a great way to get to know some of the other participants. Frequently, participants share rent car expenses from airports in El Paso, Midland-Odessa or, occasionally, Dallas/Fort Worth or San Antonio. As we get closer to the trip, we'll compile a list of participants' travel plans to facilitate carpooling and rent car sharing.

Accommodations and Food

Typically we have dinner together at The Basin Restaurant on the Friday evening prior to the official first day of the trip. The food there is actually quite good. The first group meal on site will be breakfast on day one (February 22) and the last meal will be breakfast on the last day of the trip. Trip staff will prepare the menus for the week and will be in charge of the selected cook crew for each day. Each participant will be on the cook crew for one day. All efforts will be made to provide substantial, well-balanced meals. Please indicate any food allergies on your medical form. Breakfasts on free days may be somewhat more simple than on work days so the participants on the cooking crew can also take advantage of the group hiking opportunities.

Participants are responsible for their own mess kits (a plate, bowl, and drinking cup) and utensils. As a conservation matter, please bring a hard plastic lunch container (such as Tupperware). We cannot provide plastic baggies.

Trip Difficulty

Please note that while this trip is well within the capabilities of most men and women of virtually any age, it is rated moderate to strenuous for three reasons: (1) the possibility of daily hikes to the worksite and the work itself, (2) the dry heat and sun in the desert, and (3) the possibility of high altitude (which adds to the effect of the hiking and the heat). We'll pace ourselves and drink plenty of water. Having the appropriate gear (hiking boots, hat, long sleeves, and pants) will serve you well. At this time of year the weather is unpredictable. Dressing in layers provides you the option of keeping warm if the weather turns cold or keeping protected from the sun if it’s hot. You can get a sunburn even on a cool, cloudy day.

All participants must have a current tetanus shot.

Equipment and Clothing

The park has the necessary tools for our use on the project. Safety glasses may also be required, depending on the project. You can borrow some from the park, or you may wear your own sunglasses. A good pair (or two) of work gloves is essential; leather is best but canvas is also OK. Either is preferable to cloth. More personal equipment information will be provided closer to the date of the trip and is also included on the trip-specific website maintained by the leader (See Websites, below).

On Sierra Club outings, participants furnish their own personal equipment, including items such as boots, day packs, sleeping bags, tents, a basic first-aid kit, toiletries, and eating utensils. The Sierra Club furnishes all shared group gear, including stoves, cookware and cooking utensils, a group first-aid kit, and food, unless otherwise noted in the trip brochure.

Trip staff is trained and certified in wilderness first aid and carry first-aid kits. Please report any injury to the leader or an assistant leader.

Temperatures in West Texas at this time of year can — and typically do — vary from below 30 degrees at night to over 90 during the day. While we all hope for mild, clear days, and cool, comfortable nights, rain can sweep in at any time, as we learned in 2004 when our departure was delayed a day and a half due to flash flooding. Gear should be appropriate for three-season conditions. Clothing should be selected for comfort and appropriateness. Dressing in layers is recommended for cool mornings. Weather is unpredictable in desert mountains. Be prepared for the unusual.



Trails Illustrated Topographical Map #225: "Big Bend National Park."


Big Bend, The Official National Park Handbook.

Langford, J.O., Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story.

Maxwell, Ross A., The Big Bend of the Rio Grande, Guidebook #7.

The Sierra Club Guide to the National Parks: Desert Southwest.

Wauer, Roland, Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier.

Books on the Big Bend are available on site and online from the Big Bend Natural History Association (


Reclaiming The Rosillos official trip web site:

Big Bend National Park:

This is hardly a complete listing of available references; such a listing would require an additional brochure. Countless books are available for purchase at the park.


Natural drainages were altered by early ranchers when constructing stock ponds for their livestock. In some instances, berms were formed by the dirt excavated for the ponds, which deflected the natural course of the water, depriving some areas of needed moisture and funneling vast amounts of water across other areas. This rapid runoff during desert flash floods created deep gullies and resulted in extensive soil loss. One of our jobs will be to halt the damage being done to this fragile environment and to work toward reclaiming it as vibrant grassland. Removal of exotic vegetation and replanting of native trees along the river will also be a plus for the environment there as will any other project the NPS needs us to do.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



James Moody has been on this trip 20 times: as participant, assistant leader, and for the past 10 years, as leader. He’s a retired journalist and edited the newsletter for the Greater Fort Worth Group of the Sierra Club for two decades, as well as having served six years on its executive board. He’s hiked and backpacked approximately 3,000 miles in the Texas Trans-Pecos and has led the Top of Texas Service Project in Guadalupe Mountains NP since its inception in 1999. He was selected for the 2007 Environmental Reporting Award by the Lone Star Chapter, was this year’s recipient of the top outings leader award from the Lone Star Chapter, and has three times been named on the Sierra Club’s National Honor Roll of Trip Leaders. He re-certifies as a wilderness first responder every two-three years.

Assistant Leader:

Mike Garr is a recently retired firefighter from Michigan who now calls the Texas Hill Country home. He formerly served as cook and as assistant leader for both this trip and the Top of Texas service project in the Guadalupe Mountains. Mike has been an EMT as well as a wilderness first responder and has led a number of service projects in other parts of the country before becoming certified as a Southwest Service Project outings leader. He now again leads service projects in other states.

Assistant Leader:

Charlie Clapper is retired from a 39-year National Park Service career in planning and design. His Sierra Club service trip experience includes the Big Bend trip since 2003 and multiple times on the Guadalupe Mountain service trip, of which he is now also assistant leader. His personal interests include hiking, camping, and canoeing. While living in Santa Fe, he enjoyed hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains/Pecos Wilderness. He has visited 275 National Parks — almost as many as his wife Heather, also retired from a NPS career. Charlie lives in Williamsburg, VA.

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