May 13, 2010

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

From Carlsbad Caverns, we dropped down into the western edge of Texas to visit the highest mountains in that state. They are very proud of anything "biggest" in Texas, and so there were tons of signs, books, and other stuff in the area emphasizing this fact.

The Guadalupe Mountains are an 8500 foot sky island of forest rising above the stark and desolate Chihuahuan Desert below. This limestone range of the Permian Era three primary areas; McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Peak, and "The Bowl".

McKittrick Canyon contains a year-round stream that supports a riparian forest of big-toothed maple, velvet ash, Texas walnut, oaks, willows, cottonwoods, and the famous Texas Madrone.

Distinctive Bark of the Texas Madrone

Because of the deciduous nature of this forest, it is famous for having the best fall colors in the state. Above the riparian zone, is typical Chihuahuan desert vegetation of agaves, yuccas, mesquite, cacti, grasses, and shrubs.

We hiked up the canyon to its steep headwall, providing this beautiful view below

McKittrick Canyon

We ended up camping at the Pine Springs Campground and then the next morning got a really early start to beat the heat on the big loop that takes you up to 8000 foot Hunter Peak, to the edge of the "Bowl" and down the outside of the escarpment and back to the campground.

It was lucky for us we started so early, because climbing the ridge was already getting hot, but not only did we avoid potentially 100 degree temperatures, but a massive thunderstorm that hit in the afternoon stranded dozens of hikers on the mountaintops. We did not finish the hike completely, but ran for cover in the visitor center 1/2 mile from the campground and waited the storm out there. Upon returning to our tent, we found it hanging in the trees, blown up by the wind.

But, before the storm hit, it was a spectacular hike that really gave a great summary of the Chihuahuan Desert. Directly across from the the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, is the 8367 foot Hunter Peak. Only 400 feet lower, Hunter Peak provides expansive panoramic views of the Chihuahuan Desert plains of West Texas and the Guadalupe Mountains.

On the way up to Hunter Peak, you pass by the edge of "The Bowl". This high elevation basin contains a remnant sky island forest of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas firs, pinyon pine, Alligator juniper, and limber pine. It's funny, because our friend Sandra from Germany did an internship at this park and only knew Douglas fir from this site. It wasn't until she visited us in Washington that she realized that the Guadalupe Mountains were a remote outlier for this species.

It is clearly a stressed forest, having to deal with increased drought, insect and pathogens, and the ever present danger of catastrophic fire which it might not recover from. I do suspect that eventually this forest will continue to decline and will eventually disappear with the effect of global warming, as the desert above rises into this zone to replace it.

After Hunter Peak and The Bowl, we descended down Bear Canyon and looped back to the campground across the low desert at the bottom and before the growing thunderstorm hit.

The view from the bottom as we make the final approach back to the campground 
Do you see the thunderstorm coming? 

We didn't either...But, 45 minutes later it was mayhem!

Last Shot: Guadalupe Mountains Interior

1 comment:

Paul Corley said...

McKitrick Canyon was a great hike! I wish you had posted more pics of the canyon itself & the creek! The ranch house & out buildings were really neat with there stone roofs & walls! The ranger mentioned that the winds at the park were on average 55 mph constant! The day we hiked the canyon they were 75 mph constant! We really enjoyed hiking & camping at Dog Canyon after driving 60 miles through the Lincoln NF in New Mexico! That was a very remote & beautiful area with only one ranger in charge! A good book to read about the park is Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr! Love this place but the wind will drive you crazy!