Who says there are no mountains in Texas? Recently when I told some friends I had climbed the highest mountain in Texas they assumed it was nothing but a highway overpass. Actually at 8,749ft Guadalupe Peak is higher than any mountain on the east coast. When those snobby Appalachian trail hikers talk about reaching the top of Clingman’s Dome or Mount Washington you can remind them that Guadalupe peak is 2,000 ft higher than those mountains.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in far west Texas and sits close to the New Mexico border. El Paso is about a 100 miles to the west. To travel by air you can fly into El Paso or Midland /Odessa. Once you arrive at the Park you will probably notice that it is not the most crowded National Park. If you hunger for the crowds of Yellowstone this is not the park for you. On my visit I shared the hiking paths with just a few groups of hikers. The camping sites while not as plentiful as you might think were very clean and convenient to amenities offered by the park. The Park does offer walk in primitive sites and RV sites. The visitor center is informative and helpful. Because Guadalupe Peak is isolated make sure you bring food supplies with you to avoid a long haul for meals.
The are miles and miles of hiking trails throughout the park including trails that summit surrounding mountains and trails that lead to primitive campsites and hidden canyons. The wildlife and variety of plant life is abundant. It was easy to acquire trail maps which included helpful hints while hiking in the park. As always, be prepared with water and food and never hike alone. On this trip, unfortunately I hiked alone.
The trail to the summit of Guadalupe Peak is a twisting, turning and challenging trail. On the day I hiked the trail I came across families who had made a day of the hike, speed hikers and a group of college kids racing up the mountain with a purpose. Although the trail does get thin in places there was plenty of room for all. The trail is a series of switchbacks that continue up the mountain at decent grade but there are flat portions that allow a hiker to catch their breath. Guadalupe Peak sits alone at the edge of a salt flat and because of this and the positioning of the trail you really do not get exposure to the surroundings until you reach to top. On the way up you move through pine forest and mountain canyons which finally give way to above the tree line splendor that takes your breath away. I saw most of the hikers on the way down except for the speed hiking college kids that I caught up to before we reached the summit. I found them one by one on the trail as if the lead hiker had left them like popcorn to mark the trail to avoid getting lost on the way down. They were winded and beaten and I met the last one just a short distance from the top. I encouraged him to continue with me to the summit but he explained that his friends would leave him if he did not come down immediately, too bad for him. When I reached the summit I was rewarded with a spectacular view. The day I chose was without clouds or wind. I stayed for awhile at the top listen ting to the birds whip around the summit I took some pictures and listen to some music. The salt flats stretched out before me and it felt like I could see Mexico some 100 miles to the south.
One reason why you should not hike alone is you never know what you will find on the trail. On my trip down I came across a large western diamondback rattlesnake sunning himself in the middle of the trail. Luckily for me he just gave me a rattle and a nod and a reminder to respect the trail and my surroundings. Once down the mountain I rested and washed up and had some small talk with my fellow hikers who seemed to be waiting for me at the bottom. You should give yourself 6-8 hours to hike the summit. Factor in some rest stops and picture taking. Instead of staying another night at the National Park I had enough time to drive the Balmorhea State Park where I camped for the evening. In the morning I took a relaxing swim in the park’s spring fed pool a appropriate finish to a job well done.