When we went to Big Bend we made the decision that, since it was an hour away, we were going to spend one very long day and call that good. Our stay “near” Guadalupe Mountains National Park was that same hour away, but we went three times. All I can say is it was easier to enjoy hiking and exploring because it was cooler!
We didn’t know why Guadalupe Mountains was special. We didn’t even know how to say the name Guadalupe – was it Guada-loop or Guadalu-pay? I heard one ranger say Guadalu-pay so that is that.
So, why is it special? Guadalupe Mountains are the world’s premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian era, 260 – 270 million years ago. A vast sea covered what is now New Mexico and west Texas. When the sea evaporated, lifeforms were buried in sediment. Millions of years later continental lift exposed the reef. Geologists come from around the world to study and explore this area. That is as scientific as I’m going to get.
Much of the park is designated wilderness, accessible only by trail. There are four vehicle access points, three on the east side and one in the north.
The primary visitor center is at Pine Springs. There are multiple trailheads departing from Pine Springs, one up Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas at 8751 feet. (Come on Texas – I thought you did everything bigger…only 8751 feet? That’s all you got?)
There is another trail to the Guadalupe Mountains version of El Capitan.
We took the Pinery Trail which led to a mid-1800s Butterfield stagecoach station. The Butterfield Overland Mail Route was the first reliable mail route from St. Louis, MO to San Francisco, CA. It took 25 days to cover the difficult 2700 mile route.
We also visited the Frijole Ranch area of the park.
This ranch site was occupied from the 1870s and was owned by several families that modified and added on to the home. Two springs are in the immediate area – the first spring, right in the yard, provides six gallons per minute.
The second is Manzanita Springs a short walk away. This area has five springs in a three mile radius – amazing!
Another day we traveled to McKittrick Canyon for a seven mile hike. The canyon was acquired by Wallace Pratt in 1930 after a visit to the area left him “smitten”. The family eventually donated 5632 acres at the heart of McKittrick Canyon to promote the establishment of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The entrance and trail into McKittrick Canyon. See the bluffs at the top – THAT is why Guadalupe Mountains National Park is important. That used to be underwater and is fossil rich.
Always looking for those signature shots – another stairway to heaven.
We crossed two shallow streams enroute to the Pratt cabin.
The Pratt family built their Stone Cabin in 1931-32. Notice the stone roof.
A little further on was The Grotto.
Just a bit further was the Hunter Ranch Line Cabin – built in 1924.
The scenery changed a lot from deep in the canyon as we walked out.
In and out was about seven miles. The time was well spent.
On our third trip into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, was accessed from the north – the park’s border with New Mexico.
First we drove through the Lincoln National Forest en-route to Sitting Bull Falls.
Two streams of water were flowing over the rocks into a pool at the base. On a warmer day we could have relaxed in the pool.
We saw these guys. We assume they are aoudad like we saw at Hueco Tanks. There is a little information online of aoudad being hunted in this area.
The CCC built picnic shelters here in the 1930s and two of the originals are still standing. There are a dozen or so more of a newer vintage.
We drove on and saw the clouds just rolling over the side of the hills.
We crossed into Texas one more time. This sign was understated but it was there 🙂
Our last excursion in Guadalupe Mountains National Park was to Dog Canyon. Again, there are significant hikes that depart from the small visitor center but we opted for a shorter nature trail through the sweet grass.
We saw deer.
We would not have expected that we would spend so much more time to Guadalupe Mountains National Park than in Big Bend. They are very different but both worthy indeed.
A book series I listened to for many years has, as a main character, a female ranger from Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Anna Pigeon solves mysteries as she works across the country in national parks. The reader gets a mystery and learns about a national park. The premise was so good. The last few books in the 19 book series have shifted to a very dark tone and I don’t read them anymore, but I do miss them.
I looked up which of the books had been set in Guadalupe Mountains and found that it was the first, Track of the Cat. Following our visits to the Guadalupe Mountains I listened to it again and thoroughly enjoyed visualizing the spaces and places described in the book. It hurt my ears, however, to hear the reader say Guada-LOOP throughout the book.
It takes a bit of effort to get to both Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks but we recommend them to you.