Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
"If this is the desert, then why have I got on a long sleeved shirt and why am I making bootprints in the mud!"
After many weeks of planning our adventures led us to the West Texas hikers Mecca.....Guadalupe Mountains National Park! Ray Aldridge, the Outdoor Club Backpacking VP, arranged and organized this trip for us and it was a wonderful trip.
Initially we had more interest in this trip that we would be able to accommodate, as the National Park Service limits group size to 10 people or less in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but we would only have 3 people to actually make the trip :( It was everyone's loss as the three of us, Steve Austin, Ray Aldridge, and myself, had a wonderful trip!
We met at Texins Activity Center at 6:00am on Friday May 23rd and transferred our equipment into Ray's very comfortable Pontiac Bonneville. If you have to do a long road trip, I can highly recommend a Bonneville :) We finally hit the road around 6:30am and headed toward West Texas. We arrived at the Guadalupe Mountains NP Visitors Center about 2:30pm, some 8 hours later. Not a bad drive at all.
As we entered the park, we noticed the "FULL" word next to the tent icon on the Pine Springs Campgrounds sign. What luck! We were left with only one real option....hike up the mountain that night and camp. We were all pretty tired from the drive, when we secured our backcountry hiking permits! The main reason for staying in the campgrounds for the first night was so that we could acclimatize ourselves to the higher elevation of 5500 feet above sea level. The lack of being able to do this would show on the way up the mountain. With rain from an afternoon thunderstorm in our faces, along with some very small hail on occassion, webegan our ascent! We had heard that the initial ascent from the Pine Springs Campground trailhead was tough, but all three of us found out that BRUTAL was the most appropriate adjective!
We were carrying 3 gallons of water each since there was no water available in the high country. This amounted to one gallon per person per day and meant that our backpacks would weight around 50 to 55 lbs each!
Some 4 hours later we would arrive at the Tejas/Bush Mountain/Bowl Trail intersection, situated at the very top of the mountain trail, some 2,000 feet above our starting point at the Visitor's Center! 2,000 feet in less than 4 miles, with the majority of this elevation gain being the last three miles(not too bad for some unnamed mountaineering types, but extremely tough on us humans :)) Carrying a 55 lbs. pack was tough.
We were all very excited that we had made this difficult climb and still had a little gas left in the tank. Another .2 miles to the west along the Bush Mountain Trail, we finally reached the Pine Top campsites. We were tired, sore, and ready for some much needed rest.
I had never been to this National Park before, and to be very honest, did not have very high hopes of finding anything truly special here. Oh was I ever wrong! We would start in the typical Chihuahuan Desert surroundings covered with yucca, prickly pear cactus, cholla cactus and other desert shrubs, but as reached the top and beyond, we witnessed a most dramatic change. The top of the mountain was covered in dense Ponderosa pine, southwestern white pine, Douglas-fir, and aspen.
As we were setting our tents and preparing for our evening meal at the Pine Top campsites, we had some friendly visitor's come to join us.....a small herd of mule deer! We were told at the Visitor's Center that the deer at Pine Top were very friendly, but this was a big surprise!
Ray snapped some pictures of these food begging four-legged denizen, but we did as instructed and did not feed them. It was a very serene meal with these beautiful animals lingering only a few feet from us the rest of the evening. There was an excellent sunset on the mountains to the south and a view of the best anvil-shaped thunderstorm we'd ever seen to the southeast. We finished dinner, laughed a bit, and decided to turn in early. Sleep would come quickly after this long day!
In the morning our four-legged friends returned. Ray awoke to see one of the deer licking the salt from my sweaty backpack. Being a curious beast it then licked my fuel bottle for my stove. Ray said it shook its head and then ran off! I guess it won't be licking any red cylinders for a while :)
After breakfast we day hiked over to Hunter's Peak, one of the highest point in Texas, at 8,368 ft. This overlook is often said to be the "best view in Texas"! The view was as described. As we sat atop our rocky perch, we watched as the White-throated Swift's streaked through the skies at blazing speeds! We were mesmerized by their speed and agility as they flew all around us, sometimes coming within a few feet of us as they screamed past us at incredible speeds. Another unique and memorable moment of this trip. We also were surprised to see that a mule deer some 1000ft below us was looking right at us: Pretty wierd! This was a 2.4 mile round trip day hike from Pine Top campsite. Upon our return we packed up and headed for our next destination, the Mescalero campsites, 3.7 miles to the north on the Tejas Trail.
We arrived at Mescalero around 12:30 pm and had a quick lunch, set up tents, and prepared for a 9.6 mile round trip day hike to McKittrick Ridge for a look down into the famed McKittrick Canyon. The hike over from Mescalero was a mix of open high country with endless views and dense forests which offered a welcome reprieve from the sun. This 4.8 mile jaunt took about 2 hours, and it offered another very scenic view of the canyon and valley below.
Stopping a half a mile past the McKittrick Ridge campsites, we took off our hiking boots, laid our socks out to dry in the sun, and soaked up the view for about 30 minutes. It is moments like this that remind me why I work so hard to get up to places like these :)
Rested and sore we decided to head back for dinner and to turn in early again. Steve, with some pretty sickening blisters from his new boots, amazingly led the way back at a rapid pace. I followed. Ray, daydreaming about Nestea plunge commercials at this point, brought up the rear[Ray's explaination of his thoughts....not mine!].
Along the rocky trail heading back I was almost bitten by a rattlesnake! I never saw it, but it was right next to the trail in a bush rattling up a storm!!! I jumped out of my skin before sanity sank in and I remembered to remain still. I yelled at Ray who was a few feet behind me to stop and wait until we could make sure the rattler was gone. We pitched some small rocks into the bush to chase it away from this hiding place and allow us to proceed safely on our way. This is as close to a rattlesnake as I have ever been and hopeful will ever be again! One of the dangers of getting outdoors, but it was the first time in my life to ever get even close to one. It was scary for a moment, but things happen :)
We returned to Mescalero to assess our water situation, as we were running a bit low. We had brought the 3 gallon rations that we were told we needed by the National Park Rangers, but we had used more than we had realized.
We were to hike over to the Bush Mountain campsites on Sunday morning, but we were down to less than a gallon of water each, which still had to last us until we got back the Visitor's Center on Monday morning, and we still needed to cook dinner, which would take at least half a liter of our precious water reserves. We debated about not eating dinner to conserve the water, but decided that this was not a good idea as we would need the energy to get off the mountain, especially after hiking 15.7 miles on this day! We were some hiking fools :) So we decided to eat dinner, enjoy the evening, and head out a day early, rather than run short on water, or ration it to the point where we would feel uncomfortable and put a negative aspect on our otherwise wonderful experience in the Guadalupe Mountains.
On Sunday morning we awoke very early and retraced the Tejas Trail back down the mountain. The winds were cold on the mountain this day and long sleeves were in order, but Steve was the only one smart enough to actually put one on! The winds were quite strong at times, but they always blow hard in this area. Ray pointed out a large centipede to me as we descended the Tejas Trail, near our termination point. I really did not know these creatures were so big!
After we turned in our backpacking permit at the Visitor's Center, to let them know that we returned safely from the trip and we were actually leaving a day early, we headed back to civilization, water, and a Sonic Mega-chesseburger, that was waiting on us in Pecos, Texas! Sell my clothes I'm goin' to heaven! :)
We also had some cultural experiences that were shared with us on a bathroom wall in a Texaco station in Pecos. Two people, of different nationalities, were having an argument about proper grammar usage when writing graffiti!!! If you ever pass through Pecos,Texas headed toward the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, be sure to check out this eloquent usage of the english language on the wall of the Men's restroom! What made it even funnier was the fact that each of us came out of the restroom laughing without ever discussing what we had read before the next person entered the restroom. When we all returned to the car, we realized that we each had read the same graffiti, and also caught the argument! We rehashed this epidsode many times over again and again on the trail and on the way back to Dallas. Truly a trip highlight :)
We all three had a great time, hiked approx. 25.8 miles over the two days, and enjoyed sites that few people ever will know even exist. When you awake in the morning with sore back, aching leg muscles and feet, and all of the other hardships you endure when you backpack to these remote places, you often ask yourself why am I doing this. It becomes all to obvious the instant that you peer down to the valley below and the world beyond from this lofty perch you have attained. Oh the pain may linger for a day or so, but the memories will last an eternity. Thanks for sharing these memories with me Steve and Ray!