From March 9 to 17, 2002, our family traveled with Boy Scout Troop 77 of Lago Vista on a nine-day visit to the Wild West. For in the Guadalupe Mountains of far west Texas, the country truly is wild.
On the way to the Guadalupe Mountains we camped at Monahans Sandhills State Park and visited the American Airpower Heritage Museum (of the Commemorative Air Force née Confederate Air Force), the Permian Basin Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Odessa Meteor Crater. Once we reached our desert campsite near the Guadalupes, we took a side trip one afternoon to explore the serene depths of Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. After leaving the Guadalupes we camped at the cool waters of Balmorhea State Park at the base of the Davis Mountains. On the way home our family stopped by Fort Davis National Historic Site, where my grandmother lived briefly nearly a century ago shortly after the fort was deactivated. Finally we visited the brand new visitor center at McDonald Observatory west of Fort Davis.
During the portion of the trip in the Guadalupe Mountains, we hiked a total of 30 miles, 15 of which were with backpacks. Since there was no water in the high country and we were going to spend one night camped high up in the ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest-covered mountains, we had to carry all our water in our backpacks. My backpack started out at 60 pounds. By the time we had completely crossed the Guadalupe range 15 miles later the following afternoon, I weighed my pack again and it was down to 37 pounds. But the odd thing is, it felt like it still weighed nearly the same as when we started! One thing I learned is that backpacking can be a rather effective weight reduction program. By the time I got home I had lost 8 pounds (a welcome turn of events)!
On one of the two day hikes I talked Ganya into climbing Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest mountain in Texas. There was a 4.2-mile trail to the summit which steadily climbed nearly 3000 feet from the valley floor. After that rather grueling 8.4 mile round trip, I couldn't get her to hike any of the other trails with us. (Wonder why?) Our other day hike was an easy 6.8-mile round trip trek into McKittrick Canyon, the place renowned as "the most beautiful spot in Texas."
I found it somewhat surprising to learn that the primary Spring Break week in March is the week with the highest attendance each year at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, or at least so they said. That was the bad news. The good news was that while the tiny campground at Pine Springs was full, the trails certainly weren't even close to crowded. The further good news was that the week turned out to be relatively warm for that time of year, which was far from a given before we started. One family of backpackers we met at the Dog Canyon trailhead on the north side of Guadalupe Mountains NP said they were in the same area during Spring Break the previous year and it got down to around 16 degrees Fahrenheit at night. With the kind of howling wind that blows almost unceasingly, a temperature that low would have been dangerously cold. Yet there they were, just back from completing another high country overnighter one year later. In our case, the day we backpacked up into the Guadalupe Mountains high country happened to be unseasonably warm, the warmest day since the previous fall according to a ranger I talked to. But did we ever have wind, every single day! Not just wind, but WIND. The only question each day was whether the wind would be strong or super strong.
In addition to birds, the only substantial wildlife we saw while hiking were about 15 mule deer, plus a few ground squirrels. There are also elk, black bears, turkeys, and numerous other animals but we didn't see any of them, as they're quite elusive--especially the bears. On the long drive home, we took a sightseeing detour through the southern part of the Texas Hill Country west of San Antonio where we saw wild turkeys twice while driving along the backroads.
It was a great week!
Odessa Meteor Crater (4)
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Midland-Odessa (6)
American Airpower Heritage Museum, Midland-Odessa (12)
Monahans Sandhills State Park (12)
Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains (2)
Side Trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park (15)
Climbing Guadalupe Peak (Elev. 2667 meters, highest point in Texas) - 8.4 miles
Climbing Guadalupe Peak (21)
Top of Texas! - Guadalupe Peak Summit (27)
Guadalupe Peak Descent (8)
Mile Marker 5 - Base campsite on BLM land just north of New Mexico border (18)
Backpacking Aross the Guadalupe Mountain Range - 15 miles
Climbing into the Guadalupe Range from Dog Canyon (22)
Hiking and Camping in the Guadalupe High Country (20)
Onward through "The Bowl" (23)
"Grandest View in Texas" - Side Hike up Hunter Peak (21)
Descent to Pine Springs via the Tejas Trail (37)
McKittrick Canyon - 6.8 miles
McKittrick Canyon Day Hike - Going In (36)
McKittrick Canyon Day Hike - Coming Out (33)
Farewell Guadalupes & El Capitan (6)
Balmorhea State Park (13)
Fort Davis National Historic Site (3)
McDonald Observatory (16)
Ozona, Texas (5)
Trip Schedule (partial)
Map of Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Odessa Meteor Crater
American Airpower Heritage Museum
Monahans Sandhills State Park
Balmorhea State Park
Fort Davis National Historic Site