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5 Days In The Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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    5 Days In The Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    Historically & in my line of work over the years, the week between Christmas & New Year's is almost always a dead week in terms of activity. Needless to say, this year was no exception particularly with the Wuhan and there was no way I was gonna stick around town stuffing my pie hole with more Christmas snacks and goodies, putting away all my wife's holiday decorations or binging on more Hunter reruns!

    I had been wanting to get back out in the woods for some trail time & I had 3 destinations in mind... Big Bend, another section hike on the Ozark Highlands Trail or the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The more I read about the GMNP, the more fun it sounded... plus, I've always liked the desert landscape & setting, which is very similar to Big Bend and I'd never been there. Time to start planning my trip!

    Like we do for any of our bike trips, there is a lot to do to get ready for backpacking on the trail once you've figured out your destination... what trails to hike, what gear & clothing to take, meal prep and how much to take and in the case of GMNP, water!!! The GMNP is a very fragile environment and encompasses the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef and is home to the 4 highest peaks in Texas, with the highest being Guadalupe Peak at 8750'. The Park Service restricts the use of any natural resources available in the Park while you're on the trail, with the 3 main ones being no fires (with the exception of cooking meals on a backpacking stove), no streams or creeks in the entire Park can be used as a water source and hammock camping is not allowed at any of the backcountry campsites. Hold on a sec... say what??? That means you have to carry all your own water while you're out? Holy crap! Not having a fire at night or hanging a hammock is one thing but to haul all your own water really put a whole new twist on an outing. The Rangers recommend 1 gallon per person, per day... and 1 gallon of water weighs just over 9 lbs. I haven't carried a pack that weighs much more than 20 lbs. in 25 years, so this was going to be fun... NOT!

    At home, I'd planned for 4 days/3 nights on the trail with one water resupply point at the Dog Canyon Ranger Station, which made for a big loop trip. But by the time I got out there, the weather outlook had changed from 4 days of perfect weather to big time snow & nasty weather forecasted right in the middle of my hike. In the GMNP, if your backpacking in the backcountry, you have to meet with a Ranger to review your itinerary & get a backcountry permit for camping. While I met with the Ranger & discussed my plan & the weather change, he told me "while we can't tell you not to go out, we strongly recommend you reconsider. At the higher elevations where you'll be, there will be rain & snow and temps will be in the teens & with winds gusting at 60 mph, the wind chill will make it even colder". 60 mph winds? Holy crap! Well that gave some cause to think... what to do?

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    My Original Planned Trip

    Since I drove straight to the Ranger Station from home, I thought I'd get a campsite at the Pine Springs Campground which is nearby & close to the trailhead so I could figure out what to do. The Ranger kindly informed me there were no sites available but I could drive to nearby New Mexico & camp on BLM land for free. Sweet! Once I found the 'campsite', it was nothing but a gravel parking lot! Not my idea of an ideal spot to camp. Since it was so late in the day, I decided to search for a motel nearby & found one in Whites City, which is where Carlsbad Caverns is located. Nice. The motel wasn't the Taj Mahal but it was a notch higher in quality than the Gordon, so for the next 4 nights I bathed myself in the luxury accommodations of the Whites City Caverns Motel. In view of the weather change, I decided to do a couple of day hikes & an overnight hike & camp at 7700' at the McKittrick Ridge campsite. On the day snow, rain & crappy weather was supposed to come around, I decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns.

    Day 1 - Day Hike to Guadalupe Peak

    Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8750' in elevation & the most popular trail in the Park. As it is & has been with the Wuhan still plaguing mankind, there were quite a few people on the trail, but it was still a fun hike and took me about 6.5 hours to get to the peak & back to the truck. The weather was perfect & the wind was blowing pretty hard at the summit so it was kinda chilly. The roundtrip distance on the map is 8.4 miles, over 3,000 feet of elevation and rated 'strenuous'. I took a small pack loaded with a few trail items, some lunch, snacks & mi agua.

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    Top Of Texas

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    Guadalupe Peak Trail With El Capitan In The Background

    Day 2 - Carlsbad Caverns

    This was the day the weather forecast was supposed to be so bad & for once, the weatherman was right! It started pretty early in the morning & got progressively worse as the day wore on. I was glad I chose to do Carlsbad Caverns instead on being up on a mountain top. By the time I was finished with my tour, it was super windy & lots of snow coming down. Thankfully, my motel was only 7 miles from the Caverns which made it pretty convenient not having to drive too far in the snow.

    When I was a kid growing up in AL, I fell in with some spelunkers at my workplace and spent a summer & fall crawling around caves all over north AL, so seeing stalactites & stalagmites was no big deal but the sheer size of some of the cave formations and the cave itself was pretty incredible. It's hard to imagine how much work effort & total man hours went into developing the Caverns into a National Monument & tourist destination. A pretty amazing place for sure.

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    Cave Draperies

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    When I came out of the Caverns about 2 hours later, this was what greeted me. Thankfully and since I didn't do a multi-day trip, I had the meals I brought for the trail to dine on during my stay at the motel. Sweet.

    Last edited by McFly; 1 week ago.
    "Everybody knows you never go full retard". - Kirk Lazarus

    Day 3 - Loop Day Hike Through The Bowl

    The next morning was a balmy 23 deg. when I left the motel bound for GMNP where I would do a big loop hike... from the Pine Springs Visitor Center up the Tejas Trail to the Bowl Trail & Hunter Peak (8350'), then back down the mountain on Bear Canyon Trail to the Frejole Trail back to the Pine Springs Visitor Center, about 11.5 miles & 3,000' of elevation gain. I packed another day pack & took off right at 8:30am. I chose to do this loop trail because it takes you through an area called 'The Bowl' which is a 2 mile wide depression that contains a lush, highcountry coniferous forest of pine and Douglas fir and is protected by the surrounding mountains. It was cool seeing & hiking in the snow left over from the day before, in a desert setting. Not a cloud in the sky & the air was cool and crisp... the makings for a perfect day.

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    Tejas/Bowl/Bear Canyon/Frijole Loop

    Once I got on the Tejas Trail proper after leaving the Visitor Center, it was obvious there was going to be fewer people out hiking these trails and for about 2.5 hours, I had the trail all to myself. It had been quite a while since I'd hiked in fresh snow & it was cool seeing all the animal tracks crisscrossing the trail in the fresh snow... lots of activity in the desert! After about 4 hours, I made it to the Tejas Trail & Bowl Trail junction, right about time for lunch. I mentioned earlier that the Guadalupe Mountains are home to a Permian Reef which is essentially a marine fossil reef and part of what's known as the Capitan Reef. From the GMNP brochure,.. The Capitan Reef is a 400 mile long, horseshoe shaped reef where over millions of years, calcareous sponges, algae, and other lime recreating marine organisms precipitated from the seawater. Eventually, the sea evaporated and as the reef subsided, it was buried in a thick blanket of sediments and mineral salts. The reef was entombed for millions of years until a mountain building uplift exposed part of it. It's kind of mind boggling to know that where I had my lunch on a mountaintop, used to be at the bottom of an ancient ocean that formed 260 million years ago. Wow.

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    Looking Back At The Tejas Trail

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    Another View Of The Tejas Trail

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    Mountaintop Fossil Remains

    After my lunch at the trail junction, I headed off on the Bowl Trail towards Hunter Peak. I was hiking in ankle deep snow for at least a mile and I was the only one on the trail. I did eventually run into another hiker... a kid from North Carolina who was off of school and on his way back from California taking his time getting back home. The hike up Hunter Peak wasn't too tough but there was a lot of snow and some ice, so some of it was pretty tricky going getting to the summit.

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    Hunter Peak Summit View

    After the hike up Hunter Peak, it was time to get on the Bear Canyon trail & down the mountain. I'm glad I was hiking down the mountain on the Bear Canyon trail rather than hiking up... it's very steep & narrow & would be a pretty tough hike going up. After about 1.5 hours, I made it to the Frijole Trail and from there it was another 45 minutes to an hour getting back to the Visitor Center & the truck. Great day hike for sure.

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    Looking Back Towards Bear Canyon

    Once I got to the truck, it was back to the little motel in WhItes City for some R & R. During my stay, I found a TV station whose exclusive content was/is old 50's & 60's western TV shows & movies. Nice. It's fun watching all those old shows & realizing that most all modern weekly TV shows & dramas have pretty much the same plots & storylines, even after all the years since they were originally aired. When I got back to the motel, I found the card key to my room didn't work, so I had to walk down to the office to get a new one. When I got there, the gal behind the counter told me they had cancelled my room even though I had reserved my room for another night the afternoon before, so there was some kind of communication mix up. The gal then said, "the maid service found all your stuff still in the room & since you hadn't reserved your room for another night, we thought you had gotten lost or hurt on your hike... I was about to call the State Police"! Dang! After all the drama, I spent the rest of the evening getting all the gear ready I would need for my next day's overnighter up to McKittrick Ridge.

    Day 4 - Overnighter On McKittrick Ridge

    After checking out of the motel, I headed for McKittrick Canyon, which is 8 miles from the GMNP entrance and a 'day use only' area. McKittrick Canyon is a standout attraction in the GMNP due to its remote location and the diversity of plant & animal life in its tiny ecosystem. If interested, here's a great description of the Canyon, its history & inhabitants. Since it's a day use only area, the gates don't open until 8am and I got on trail right at 8:30am. The trail leading up to the ridge & to the campsite destination is 7.4 miles according to the map and since this was only an overnight excursion, I had all my gear and just enough food for lunch on the trail, dinner that evening, along with some trails snacks & a gallon of water. I'm guessing all of that in my pack probably weighed close to 25-26 lbs. & the hike from the trailhead to the ridge is an elevation climb of over 2700'. For most of the morning, the trail was in the shadows so a lot of the snow that fell 2 days before, was still on the ground. This made for some pretty tricky hiking with ice on the narrow trail at higher elevations. Some of it was so bad, I didn't want to risk a fall or worse by doing any video.

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    McKittrick Canyon

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    Looking Back Down The Canyon

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    Looking Way Back Down The Canyon From 6000'

    I made it to the ridge after about 4 hours or so & man, was there a LOT of snow still up there. Once I was at the top, I thought the campsite would be right there or not too far away, but it wasn't and it wound up being about another quarter mile to a half mile away. As I hiked through the snow, I began to spot what turned out to be mountain lion tracks right on the trail... and I was in an area that had a lot of brush & trees, a perfect setting for an ambush! Kinda freaky & I was a little nervous for sure & was on guard until I got through the area. Not long after my Mountain Man experience, I got to the campsite. Whew! As I stood there ready to hike down the trail leading to the campsite, I noticed the snow on the trail was undisturbed... except for more mountain lion tracks!! Holy crap! They were all over the trail & back where all the campsites were but as I continued to survey the area, it seemed to me that the tracks were not fresh, maybe a day old or so, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned. But it was too late to back out after an all day hike, so I went about my business of finding a site & getting ready for what was forecasted to be a cold & windy night.

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    Holy Crap!

    Yikes! Mountain Lion Tracks In The Snow

    Evening Digs setup

    After what turned out to be a long, cold & really windy night without a fire, I decided I would skip breakfast & get off the mountain. I pitched the tarp pretty low so it provided plenty of protection even though it took a pretty good battering by the wind all through the night. It might have been different if the high $ air pad I bought for the trip hadn't failed during the night. After about 2 hours of being all snug & comfy under the tarp, I woke up thinking, "man, my back's cold". Turns out the air pad failed while I slept & wouldn't hold air, so I had to sleep the rest of the night on the cold ground. The only thing that saved my bacon, was a 1/4" cell foam pad I brought along that did provide a little insulation from the cold ground. Man, was I pissed!! And of course, my water bottles froze up during the night but I was able to get a little bit to drink before the bottle spout froze up. But all's well that ends well as they say & I managed to survive a night in the wild.

    Day 5 - Time To Head Home

    The Morning After...

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    Goodbye To McKittrick Canyon

    Once I got back on the trail down the mountain, the wind was blowing really hard and I felt like I was getting pushed around a few times. I got back to the truck at about 2:30pm & was kinda glad to be done... I'd only hiked about 35 miles over 4 days, plus all my food was gone & I was kinda ready to sleep in a bed again. After I dumped all my stuff in the truck & changed into some street clothes, I took off for home.

    What started out to be a trip with a lot of questions about the destination & trails, turned out to be a great trip thanks in large part to the weather change at the last minute. My kids were making fun of me since I wasn't camping on the trail & stayed in a motel... they called it 'glamping'. The GMNP was much more fun than I thought it would be and It's hard to fathom that these mountains were once at the bottom of some ancient ocean millions of years ago & that they're still around for us to enjoy today. Another rare treasure found in the great state of Texas!
    Last edited by McFly; 1 week ago.
    "Everybody knows you never go full retard". - Kirk Lazarus


      Damn fine post!!! Love the pics and the vids... That was a good way to forget about work and politics for a while...Thanks for taking the time..


        2016 R1200RS


          Been there this last year when I was at Ft. Bliss. I think I posted some pics here of the ride. Fantastic vistas.
          Get to the Organ Mountain on the other side next to Las Cruses. Beautiful. Even Cloudcroft.
          Chattanooga, TN
          Certified Hooligan.
          2018 S1000XR, 2014 R1200GSAw, 2015 Husqvarna FE501S


            Awesome! Thanks for sharing.


              Talk about making lemonade! Beautiful country. Nice trip and of course a fantastic write up. That's waaay tooo cold for me.
              2018 BMW S1000R
              2000 BMW K1200 RS
              2017 Honda CRF250 L ABS

              "Where you stand depends on where you sit"
              Rufus E Miles JR.


                Is this motorcycle friendly? Bill??

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                  Originally posted by justjoe View Post
                  Is this motorcycle friendly? Bill??
                  If you zoom in you can see Bill on his bike

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                  2016 R1200RS


                    Incredible adventure and awesome photography, Curt... thanks for sharing!!


                      Curt, for an old guy, you're really amazing. Your write-ups are terrific.