Updated: Feb 17, 2021
I hope everyone is enjoying the end of their weekend and the start of September! I can't believe it! Colton and I have spent the last few weeks getting further acquainted with RV living and life here in New Mexico. Our air conditioning in the RV has already broken once (during an upper 90 degree day), leaving me to cuddle a bag of frozen veggies most of the afternoon. Thankfully after a few YouTube videos, Colton has it up and running again!
The dogs seem to be adjusting well, too. The only issue I've noticed is they've seemed a little confused on where to go to the bathroom without grass on the ground everywhere like back home in Ohio. It is a very desert-like atmosphere, but I love exploring places like this.
Part of our adjusting has been hugely centered around exploring/hiking as much as we can. That is, after all, the biggest factor that sucked me into trying travel nursing. My first contract position is in a small hospital in Alamogordo, which is a stone's throw from White Sands National Park. I'll be writing about that soon, I'm sure. But if you know anything about me, it should come as no surprise that I have a written out list of all the hiking destinations I'd like to visit while we're located here in New Mexico. But since the Labor Day Weekend presented us with 3 free days, we decided to drive 3 hours south to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Address
400 Pine Canyon Salt Flat, TX 79847
This is the 19th national park I've been to on my quest to visit all 62 in the U.S. After a few minutes researching the park, I immediately set my sights on conquering the number one rated hike in the entire park, Guadalupe Peak. This strenuous trail climbs nearly 3,000 feet in elevation to the highest point in the entire state of Texas. Guadalupe Peak will be the topic of this post, but I did want to share a little bit about this park before diving in!
I found out online Guadalupe Mountains is one of the least visited national parks in the country. That fact baffled me even prior to seeing the park with my own eyes. Mountains of any kind are worth visiting in my opinion. And after stepping foot there for myself, I still don't get it. This park offers absolutely breathtaking views that no picture will ever do justice. If you have the chance to visit, you won't regret it!
Dating back to nearly 300 million years ago, a reef was formed around the Delaware Sea. The inner fossil reef was exposed as the rock eroded from wind and rain. This process formed what we now refer to as the Guadalupe Mountains. This park covers over 86,000 acres and is home to various plantlife as well as all 4 of the highest peaks in the state of Texas.
If you want to learn more about the extensive geologic history of the park, click here:
Guadalupe Peak Trail
Trail Length: 8.1 miles
Trail Type: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 2,867 feet
Trail Rating: Strenuous
Finding the trailhead is quite easy. A right turn out of Pine Springs Visitor Center will lead you to the parking lot. It is a very short drive from the visitor center, but there are signs to guide drivers to the trailhead as well. There are also bathrooms at the parking lot.
The visitor center was closed and from what I gathered during our visit, it has been that way since the pandemic struck. This means that there are no rangers at the entrance accepting fees to visit the park. There was a box available at the trailhead to pay, so if you do visit the park (or any park for that matter) that has this as an option, please do so. Parks, just like everything else, have been hit hard by covid-19.
There were also maps of the park and trails available at the trailhead!
Guadalupe Peak Trail
From the very start of the trail, there are pretty amazing views. Various types of cacti line the path and a look to the right presents views of more of the Guadalupe Mountains.
I'm going to be really honest with you; the first 1.5-2 miles are the hardest part of the trail. And that's putting it lightly since the entire trail is rated as strenuous. These first few miles are saturated with the one thing hiker's dread most: switchbacks. If you happen to be unfamiliar with the term, switchbacks are essentially a steep incline with frequent 180 degree turns in a trail that commonly scales a mountain. These beginning switchbacks are especially brutal because rocky steps also occur simultaneously as hikers ascend up the mountain.
It also does not take long to feel the effects of the difference in altitude. I quickly noticed I couldn't take in as full of a breath, which made the climbing switchbacks exceptionally difficult.
These first few miles on the trail run along what I would describe as an exposed cliff edge. That tidbit is not to scare anyone away; I felt totally safe, even as other hikers passed us on the trail. What proved to be the most disheartening was looking up and catching a glimpse of far off hikers (much further along the trail than us), still climbing up these relentless swtichbacks.
As the elevation changes, so does the plantlife. The next section of the trail provides a bit of shade and level ground as hikers walk alongside some pine trees. It is somewhat short-lived, so take advantage of the picturesque area.
Rocky inclines continue as you make your way closer, but there isn't a true view of Guadalupe Peak until you are much closer.
We kept thinking we were almost to the peak before the trail would curve and grant us views of multiple other peaks, much higher than our current location. This occurrence is known as a "false summit," and has a way of toying with hiker's emotions.
I'm being completely honest when I say this trail tested my confidence and my mental drive to continue more times than once.
You've reached the halfway point when the trail opens up to a grassy valley. Temperatures at these higher altitudes can be 15-20 degrees cooler than at the trailhead. Winds can also be much stronger. Unexpected storms are known to pop up, so it is recommended to be off of the summit by early afternoon.
You will cross a cliff-side wooden bridge before the final ascent. Here is where you will finally spot the true, Guadalupe Peak in the distance.
While the final ascent supplies some of the most beautiful views on the trail, it remains very challenging. My favorite part of the entire journey (other than reaching the top) was seeing the back of El Capitan. This mountain is what I consider the visitor's welcoming view as they enter the park. Sitting at 8,085 feet, this mountain is the 10th highest peak in Texas and appears to be a watchtower over all of west Texas.
The summit is marked by a stainless steel pyramid. This pyramid was constructed in 1958 by American Airlines to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail, a stagecoach route which ran along the south of the mountain.
A metal ammunition box can be found at the base of the pyramid for hikers to sign, commemorating their successful voyage to the summit. Signing it while taking in a 360 degree view of The Lone Star State is a pretty neat moment.
Can you spot our names in the picture below?
After hikers have had their fill of the summit, they must retrace the trail back. While it definitely was less challenging then the constant climb upward, the trek back proved to be (like always) tiring for the joints. I cannot stress enough that trekking poles are life-savers for steep descents.
Find your own pair of supportive, reliable trekking poles here: https://amzn.to/3kiSBJP
Keep in Mind
-Cell phone service is spotty and unreliable in the park- always tell someone (not accompanying you on the trail) where you are going and when you plan to return
-Make it a habit to carry the park/trail map with you as you hike
-Unpredictable weather can happen, check the radar prior to your hike
-There is no gasoline available in the park
-Campgrounds in the park (RV and tent accessible) are dry camping only. No amenities are available, just restrooms and potable water
-Plan your trip ahead of time to ensure it is a successful one, ensure you have the equipment, water, and stamina necessary to complete this hike
-Even if you apply sunscreen before the trek, bring it with you and reapply- the back of my arms and neck got real crispy!
Thanks for reading! I hope this blog post inspired you to climb to Guadalupe Peak- and if not, I hope you at least want to visit the park. Living in New Mexico has been a great experience so far. There are so many different landscapes and places to explore within just a short drive. I cannot wait to see where else we'll adventure during our time here. I'll make sure to always share my favorites with you!