Welcome to Texas, where everything is bigger, right? I debated how to present Guadalupe Mountains National Park to my readers (I decided by the day) because I spent three and overwhelmed myself with activities. Regardless, I barely scratched the surface. This is a park I will certainly return to.
From Carlsbad I drove to middle of no where Texas in the rain. Literally, I think the closest “town” is 35 miles away. Iso-Iso-Iso-lation. Love it.
I immediately went to the visitors center, picked out my RV spot, awkwardly bungeed a tarp up in a 50 mph wind storm, and made friends with the rangers. Because the weather was less than ideal, I took a rest day and blogged from the welcome center (they had free wifi, rad)!
A little history (I watched the video in the visitors center):
The Guadalupe Mountains are an example of an ancient marine fossil reef that formed 260-270 million years ago (that’s a really long time)! During that time the tropical ocean covered portions of what is now Texas and New Mexico. It took millions of years to form the 400 mile long horseshoe shaped Capitan Reef. Eventually the sea evaporated and the reef was entombed in a thick blanket of sediments and mineral salts until one day a mountain building uplift exposed the parts of it we see and can climb today. I mean how cool is that? This is why we need to protect our planet. Congress designated 47,000 acres of the Guadalupe Mountains for protection under the 1964 Wilderness Act making it the largest wilderness area in Texas.
The next day…game on. I had things and stuff I definitely wanted to do. Climbing Guadalupe Peak, the Texas high point (8,749′) was top on that list.
During this trip I went to sleep with the sun and awoke with the sun, which is good because Guadalupe Mountains National Park cannot decide if it lives in mountain time or central time, so I never quite knew what time it was. I have never felt so healthy and in tune as I did when I was living in this natural circadian rhythm.
I joyfully started up Guadalupe Peak in a heavy fog/light drizzle.
I wore many layers, like I was starting up a Colorado 14er on a crisp morning but it was jungle humid and reminded me of Hawaii.
The gains were no joke. Texas trails are sustained steep and loose with zero reprieve. Despite having my heavier camera pack and the difficult trail conditions, I moved quickly and made good time to the summit. The fog lifted as I climbed which made for a spectacular inversion. I later discovered this is rare and I am lucky to have experienced it.
I had the trail and the summit all to myself. In Texas early start times are not a thing, win for me.
So of course I danced around like a dip shit.
It was only 8:30 in the morning and I only had one thing on my mind, El Capitan which sits next to Guadalupe Peak. I am a bush wacker, I see something I want to climb, and I climb it. Trails be damned! Unless you are in Texas and then it’s totally normal to be shut down.
I am still nursing an ankle injury. It’s still shaky situation but I had to at least try to get El Capitan. Initially I descended off the wrong ridge because the terrain appeared a little more lax. It was not, and dumped me back onto a switchback of Guadalupe Peak trail. I then re-climbed 400ish feet to attempt the other ridge I had been eyeing. I broke out my one pole and started the most disgusting bush-wack of my life. Immediately, I was stabbed by that horrid Agave plant. Injected in the calf with an inch long dagger, I stopped on the ridiculously steep slope, broke out my first aid kit and pulled the thorn out with tweezers. I could not get it with my hand because it has a super slippery outer texture.
This is a rather large one, the smaller ones hide themselves, are easier to brush up against, and have stabbers equally as terrifying. I was making little progress as the desert shrubbery is impossible to navigate. I was zig-zagging at the same elevation which went on for eternity. Next I ran into an Agave that stabbed through my shoe. Once again I had to preform thorn removal precariously perched on the side of an unforgiving slope. But on-wards I stubbornly continued, fueled by determination. I then heard the unmistakable sound of a black tailed rattle snake. Nope. I slowly climbed out of hell back onto the trail where I proceeded to re-roll my ankle. Winning! It popped back and only hurt for 5 seconds, YAY!
I tucked my tail between my legs and bopped back down to camp listening to my favorite playlist. Rejection is a funny thing, it only hurts when you don’t try. Guadalupe Peak and my failed attempt at El Capitan gave me 9.6 miles with 3,500 feet of gain.
I made lunch at camp and decide more exploration was in order.
I made friends with one ranger in particular, Mike, who is lovely. He advised me to go do the Salt Basin loop trail via an old road a little ways outside the park. I had a hard time finding it but when I did I was very pleased. Coordinates are 31.86331N and 104.83668W. Once again I had the whole place to myself. This loop gives incredible views of El Capitan and Salt Basin.
This was one of my favorite trails. I was able to find some scrambling and sit and eat snacks while enjoying tremendous views. Some of my best times in the park did not come from planned activities but from random things Mike suggested.
This loop is 5.2 miles with 900 feet of gain and was on the more runnable side of trail I met in the southwest. Ranger Mike later shared these photos with me, taken from an area I ran through.
I went back to camp and made friends with all my neighbors. My first day in the park was a delight.
“Real freedom lies in wilderness, not in civilization”