Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
In the fall of 2017, my good friend and I attempted to drive out to the Guadalupe Mountains three times. The first time, I had conflict come up. The second time, Hurricane Harvey struck the gulf coast and we did not feel it appropriate to run to the mountains at this time. You know what they say about third time’s the charm. On our third weekend attempt, we finally got ourselves in a car and made the nine-hour trek out to the Guads.
While a good portion of the drive from San Antonio out west is typical Texas (think lots of flat fields, not much to look at), the further out west one travels the more diverse the scenery becomes. The drive started out flat, then turned more hill country, then flat again, and then all of a sudden there were huge hills around us. An undulating road carried us through fields upon fields of wind turbines. Who knew Texas held so much wind energy potential?
We went I-10 to Fort Stockon, where we stopped to get food at Sonic. Then we drove through Pecos to Orla, both of which were purely oil towns with flat roads, oil rigs, and not much else. The hills reappeared shortly after Orla though.
We got our first glimpse of El Capitan and Guadalupe Peak around 7:45 with perfect timing as the sun was setting. The setting sun behind the mountain made the silhouette appear as if in front of a great pink fire. It truly was stunning, so of course we pulled off on the side of the road to more safely admire it. We arrived at the Pine Springs Campground around 8:30pm, set up camp, and went to bed. Note that when wandering around this place (or any place in Texas) in the dusk or the dark, rattlesnakes are very much a thing. I almost stepped on one.
The next morning we were granted a beautiful sunrise over the mountains surrounding our campsite. We were also able to better see our surroundings, as the night before it had been dark and stormy when we arrived. The Pine Springs Campground is nestled in between mountains, with the Guadalupe Peak Trail very nearby. After making coffee and breakfast, we set off on the 8.5 mile hike to Guadalupe Peak. The peak is the highest point in Texas at around 8500 feet. This altitude definitely made it difficult at the beginning, but luckily the altitude also made it much cooler in temperature. We were draped in either fog or rain on and off for the entire hike, but this added to the scenery. We had sweeping views of the mountains, the rolling hills, and the nearby salt flats for majority of the hike.
At the peak, half of the sky cleared up to allow us to see the salt flats and El Capitan. It was super windy and probably 50 degrees. We ate lunch on the peak before climbing back down (and getting rained on again). The hike took us about five hours to complete, so we still had lots of time left in the day.
We went to the visitor’s center, then drove into Carlsbad, NM to go to the nearby Carlsbad Caverns. This Southern part of New Mexico kind of looked like the scenery from Napoleon Dynamite; wide, flat land with grass and yellow flowers and mountains in the background with the road cutting right through it all. We drove up a curving road through the dry mountains to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns NP. It was very crowded so we didn’t go too far down into the caves, but it was very cool. Both temperature wise and scenery wise. We went into the gift shop, then drove back up to GMNP. Very shortly after we got back, a huge storm blew in in a matter of minutes. We watched from the safety of the car as the sky grew darker by the minute. For the rest of the night it kept on raining on and off. We saw a full double rainbow across the sky. We drove around towards Dell, TX to look at a scenic overlook and El Capitan when all of a sudden more storms from the East blew in. We debated packing up and driving back but we decided to stay the night. The sky was so cool (along with the air), lit up with flashes of lightning almost every minute for an hour.
All in all, it was a lot of driving for one full day, but it was totally worth it and I would love to go back to the Guadalupe Mountains someday.
https://www.nps.gov/gumo/index.htm –> Guadalupe Mountains National Park