The Dorgan-Sublett Trail on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive in Big Bend National Park features three crumbling, abandoned adobe and stone home sites and the foundation of a fourth home site.
The ruins of the old ranch buildings are visible from the road and for many years they beckoned park visitors to pull off the road and blaze their own trail through the brush to check them out up close. Over the years, various social trails were created and the surrounding hillsides suffered from accelerated erosion. Finally in 2008, the official Dorgan-Sublett Trail was established between the Cottonwood Campground and Santa Elena Canyon Overlook.
The Dorgan-Sublett Trail, one of the newest trails in Big Bend National Park, is an out-and-back, 0.9 mile round-trip trail that passes three historic structures, all of which are part of the Rancho Estelle Historic District and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
The Homes Of James Sublett
The first ruin on the trail, sitting on a small hill just past the trailhead, is a stone farmhouse owned by James and Melissa Sublett, who first settled in the area in 1913.
Sublett is recognized for introducing mechanized farming into the Big Bend. In 1914, the Subletts moved into the Alvino house in Castolon, cleared much of the land, and installed the area’s first irrigation system supplied by a water wheel. Sublett hired Mexican laborers to plant the new fields with sorghum, corn, alfalfa, and other livestock feed crops.
By 1918 with a growing farm business in place, Sublett purchased 2,560 acres in this area and called it Grand Canyon Farms. He built a large adobe house on top of the hill and a smaller house below, known as La Casita, where the farm hands that worked on the farm lived.
While only the foundation remains of the Sublett’s adobe house, their stone farmhouse and La Casita survive. At the trail fork, you can visit La Casita to the right or continue up the hill to see the foundation of the original Sublett house and visit the Dorgan House.
The Dorgan House
The last and largest ruin on the Dorgan-Sublett Trail is the Dorgan House. It was once the home of Albert W. Dorgan, a business associate and eventual son-in-law of James Sublett. Together they bought 640 acres and developed an extensive irrigated farming project along the Rio Grande floodplain.
In the 1930s, Dorgan and his wife built their 1,200 square foot, single story, adobe and stone house on the ranch property. The home boasted a large living room, three smaller rooms, large windows at the front, hand-hewn cottonwood timbers, and a petrified wood fireplace.
Today all that remains of the home is the front entrance wall and the petrified wood fireplace.
Becoming Part Of The National Park
Grand Canyon Farms was eventually renamed Rancho Estelle. The Dorgans moved away from their Big Bend ranch in 1938 and leased the property in 1941 to A.F. Robinson who opened the Mexitex resort, hoping to benefit from the new national park. The resort failed and Dorgan sold his holdings for inclusion in Big Bend National Park.
Know Before You Go
The Dorgan-Sublett Trail is off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive:
- The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a 30 mile adventure through the Chihuahuan Desert landscape of Big Bend National Park to the banks of the Rio Grande.
- Ross Maxwell Drive is an out and back road that begins near the park’s Maverick Entrance and has many vista points, scenic pullouts, educational displays, and short hikes.
About Big Bend National Park:
- Big Bend National Park is located in Brewster County, southwest Texas. The name Big Bend refers to the great U-turn the Rio Grande makes in Southwest Texas.
- Park entrances are open 24 hours daily, all year. Entrance fee stations have variable seasons and hours.
- Admission fees are valid for seven days and are $30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle, $15/individual/bicyclist/pedestrian.
- There are five Visitor Centers in Big Bend National Park: Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, Castolon, Persimmon Gap, and Rio Grande Village.
- Download the Big Bend National Park maps.
- Big Bend National Park has more than 150 miles of hiking trails, including desert hikes in the Chihuahuan Desert, mountain hikes in the Chisos Mountains, and river hikes along the Rio Grande.
- Convenience stores are available and open year-round at Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Basin, and in the historic La Harmonia store at Castolon.
- Gas stations are located at Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village, and outside the park in Study Butte and Stillwell’s Ranch. Diesel is available at Panther Junction and outside the park in Study Butte.
- Pets are not allowed on trails, off roads, or on the river. Your pet can only go where your car can go and must be on a leash no longer than six feet in length or in a cage at all times. Pet etiquette and park regulations require that you always clean up after your pet and dispose of waste in trash receptacles.