Guadalupe National Park

I would be willing to bet most Ohioans have never heard of Guadalupe Mountains National Park let alone put it on their travel destination list. Aside from my goal of visiting all the national parks, it really entered my consciousness as the highest peak in Texas. Now that I have experienced its arid beauty, I think is a shame more folks don’t know of the area. Although I certainly didn’t hate the lack of crowds!

My arrival at the park was delayed by horrible winds. I was staying north of Carlsbad and being buffeted by 35mph gusts that gave me a touch of motion sickness while reading in the trailer. Weather forecasts for the Guadalupe Mountain region called for gusts up to 60mph. As much as I love sticking to a plan, I also know when to prioritize safety. I rarely worry about weather in terms of comfort, but it didn’t seem wise to drive in those winds. So I opted to book another night at Lake Brantley and visit Carlsbad Caverns as a day trip rather than on the way to Guadalupe.

Ultimately, this gave me only one full day at the park rather than two. I had decided earlier, I wasn’t going to attempt the summit of the peak. At my current fitness level, the nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain (and loss) would probably leave me pretty sore for a couple days and I have lots of activity planned for the days ahead. But I hoped to do a couple smaller hikes.

I had reservations at the Pine Springs Campground. The tent campground seems pretty decent, but the RV campground is not much more than reserving a parking spot. Several wide but shallow spots line the parking lot with a few pull-throughs centered in the lot. I opted for one of the back-in spots because I hoped it would give Blue an option for a sun nap. I read carefully that the spots were limited to trailers of 22 feet. Fortunately, I knew I measured at 21 feet, 9 inches. Unfortunately, I missed that the spot I booked had a height limit of 8 feet. Furthermore, I was so intent on getting the trailer right on the line in order to have room for the truck, I failed to notice the tree branch even as I backed in. I’m afraid I did some damage to my ladder. One of these days, I’m going to remember to look up.

I got on and changed my reservation to the next, tree-free, site. Again, I did a lovely job putting the trailer right on the line. Then I remembered my slide out. All-in-all, it took nearly 30 minutes of backing and circling to get myself situated – a very frustrating experience. So I decided to make it an easy afternoon and checked out the very small visitor center. I checked the process for the entry pass (just need to display my annual pass) and asked about good birding spots. 

I killed the rest of the afternoon walking Blue. Guadalupe is one of the parks that does not allow dogs on trails, but there is a short path that connects the campground to the visitor center and a nature trail that extends behind the visitor center than Blue was able to use. This was a great way to give Blue some exercise and check out some of the surrounding landscape. I ran my Merlin app to listen for new and interesting birds and was therefore able to catch a large flock of Pinyon Jays ascend into the sky at sunset.

I intended to hike at least a few miles of McKittrick canyon on my full day, but wanted to get a good walk in for Blue first. I brought my binoculars, of course, and was racking up species while Blue racked up smells. The birds were so plentiful, that I decided to try to get a few shots with my camera before heading out for my hike. Four hours and several lifers later and I was still scanning the trees. It was now well into the afternoon and I hadn’t had lunch. It was an amazing morning, but I did want to see more of the national park than the campground. So I grabbed some food and headed to the canyon.

I heard a ranger say she believed McKittrick is the reason the park is a national park. While the sun doesn’t set in the area until 6pm (the park is on Mountain time), the gate at the entrance to the canyon was very clear that it would be locked at 5pm. I parked at the trailhead about 2:45. I would have loved to hike to Pratt Cabin at about 2.25 miles in, but I gave myself a hard turnaround time of 3:30. This brought me to a stream crossing at 1.5 miles in. The scenery was surreal and I am so glad I made the trip, limited as it was.

By evening, most of the parking lot/campground had cleared out. The winds picked up again. In reading reviews, it was becoming very clear that the gusts that had kept me away are pretty common for the region. It was a cold night with expected lows in the teens, so I was cuddled in bed. I was listening to a vehicle make rounds in the nearly deserted lot. It circled a few times, with odd pauses, and it got my nerves working, anticipating what might be happening. The hesitation in their plans at the late hour put me on edge. My hyper nerves strained my ear and suddenly I heard the “tink” of my door latch. I knew I was being paranoid, and all reason pointed to the noises being the result of the trailer settling in the extreme temperatures, but I also knew I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t visually confirm I had locked the door. I climbed out of bed and turned on the light. My attuned senses had run through many worst case scenarios in the last few minutes, but had failed to prepare me for what I saw. A mouse was clinging to the door, Spiderman-style, his paw sprawled across the screen mesh and his eyes looking at me in panic!

It took my brain a few minutes to problem solve options for dealing with this bit of nature inside of my trailer. His fight or flight kicked in a bit more quickly and he darted under the bathroom door. Once I armed myself with shoes and a sweatshirt, I opened that door and realized I had left the door under the bathroom sink open to allow for warmer air to enter some of the back spaces in an attempt to keep the pipes from freezing. But this space is apparently also not airtight to outside creatures. Being the over-prepared camper, I did have some mouse traps with me. I set a couple, but felt pretty confident my visitor was looking to escape the cold night. He no more wanted to share living space than I did. Postscript to this story: what did my 65 pound ferocious hunting dog do during this incident? Slept, of course!

Saturday morning saw the parking lot fill much more quickly. By the time I left my campsite, the lot was nearly full with day-hikers. This is definitely a hiking park with lots of challenging adventures. I would love to return with a group and/or plan to take on some of the hikes. But for now, I am happy I got to experience the bit of the park I did.

I also want to make a note that there is no gas in the region. I filled up in Carlsbad and coasted into El Paso on fumes. If I wanted to explore the region more, I definitely would have had to fill up in White City even though gas is very expensive there. Just know that the nearest gas is 40+ miles to the north and 90+ miles to the south (if going to El Paso).

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