OverviewThe Christmas Mountains are a compact range situated north of the Big Bend National Park's west entrance in far-south Brewster County. The mountains are visible from state highway TX-118 looking east, roughly where the highway starts to wind through the foothills (heading south) north of Terlingua/Study Butte. The entire range covers about 15 square miles but does rise dramatically from the desert floor; the summit is 5,728 feet, with nearly 2,400 feet of clean prominence.
For years now the peak and the range have been in a limbo/tug-of-war regarding ownership, public access and deed restrictions. The downisde is that for the most part, access has been denied "officially" until very recently.
Although not (yet) part of the Big Bend National Park, the Christmas Mountains "boundary" does abut against the BBNP's northern boundary for about a mile, and access has recently been allowed into the Christmas Mountain this way, although for the most part, it's remoteness will keep all but the hardiest hikers away.
Good news, April 2011!! Recently, the Terlingua Ranch re-opened for business. You can now sign a waiver for entrance onto the Old Mine Road Trail and into the heart of the Christmas Mountains! I want to thank Dr. Paul Burger for alerting me to this great news.
Please view the Terlingua Ranch website for information about this waiver. Also, I personally recommend the Terlingua Ranch as a place to stay. My wife and I stayed there back in 2005, and loved the cabins and remoteness of the place. They have a cafe open, too. It really is a great place and region to explore.
Red TapeThere is a group called the Christmas Mountains Association (CMA). They have some sort of purview over the range. Their contact information is given below. The Terlingua Ranch and the CMA are not the same entity, although I assume that they know one another very well (and probably a few people belong to both).
Short story: the CMA manages the range through a lease agreement with the Texas General Land Office (GLO) which actually owns the peak/range. At one time the peak/range were purchased by a land conservancy group that placed an untold amount of deed restrictions and covenants, essentially barring any development and also placing severe restrictions on recreational use. (Interesting to note that hiking is not expressly forbidden.)
It seems like a natural fit for the Big Bend National Park to buy the land and incorporate it into the NPS. This is the assumption of everyone in the area - it seems to be a matter of time. But there are roadblocks: such a purchase must be done at the Federal level and requires a lengthy pre-survey of flora/fauna/etc. And since access into the range is "on the other side" from BBNP, they have their own reasons for being somewhat reticent to jump right in.
It gets kind of confusing. I actually got "in trouble" from the CMA when they discovered my "illegal" ascent in 2005. Here's their mailing address, in case you want to say hi:
CHRISTMAS MOUNTAINS ASSOCIATION
PO BOX 216
There is no website or phone number I know of for the group.
Please note: contacting the CMA is not a requirement for access onto the old mine road anymore. Get your waiver/permit from the Terlingua Ranch and have it with you, and you should have no trouble.
The HikeOnce you are at the Terlingua Ranch main offices, you'll be able to see the old mine road snaking up a hillside to the southwest about a mile away. Local roads lead to this mine road. There is a small area to park, then you just hike up this road to its end directly south of the summit, then follow game paths over rocky terrain to the top.
Navigation is cake. No big trees to block views. You'll know what to do.
Plea from "surgent": please stick to the road/trail and be as good a guest as you can. No littering, and pack out all trash. This is a great new development, allowing access onto the peak, so let's show our thanks by being very courteous and clean.
My trip report (www.surgent.net)
Terlingua Ranch. Christmas Mountains and Corazon Peak (the pointy one to the right)
Aproaching the top.