I had the good fortune of visiting Guadalupe National Park on the Texas - New Mexico border last week. A snowstorm recently struck this area, but all the snow in the low-lying areas was completely gone. As I was driving to the park, I thought to myself, this should be a good day for a hike; sunny, calm and no snow.
It wasn’t until I crested the top of the mountain pass that the white stuff came into view. The wind was also whipping through the pass as indicated by a horizontal windsock beside the highway. Oh well, I decided to hike anyway even though I didn’t have my boots with me. Running shoes would have to do. (Not recommended)
The Guadalupe Mountains are named for a likeness of Our Lady of Guadalupe as seen in the cliff face of El Capitan. This is the most prominent peak that comes into view when you approach the park and looks similar to El Cap in Yosemite NP. Many Southwestern Catholics take a pilgrimage to the base of the mountain on Dec 12th to worship the virgin.
When I arrived at the trailhead, I put on plenty of layers and topped them off with my soft shell jacket with windstop material. The terrain was beautifully covered with snow and I started out on a well packed trail. Most hikers head up to Guadalupe Peak, the highest in Texas at 8749 ft elev. I decided to take a less traveled trail to “the bowl” for better views of the interior of the park and maybe less wind.
Once I left the well packed trail, the traveling became rough, as no one had been this way since the snowfall. I had a hard time finding the path and had to break trail through some pretty deep snow. Occasionally my shoe would cave through the crust on top and my poorly equipped foot would sink up to my shin in the snow. Gusts of wind also made for precarious travel and several times I was almost knocked over.
The hike took me along the edge of Bear Canyon which led up to the rim of a bowl. I was surrounded by high mountains on three sides and could see plumes of spindrift blowing from the peaks. My only saving grace was rays of sunshine and the momentum of my body to keep me warm. Braving the wind, cold, and snow was well worth it, because the canyon was lined with Texas Madrone trees (Arbutus xalapensis).
|Red bark of the Texas Madrone|
These are the most beautiful specimens I have ever seen. Madrones have reddish to orange bark that peels off exposing a smooth white trunk. Some of the trees had ripe red berries on them. The combination of orange bark, green leaves, and red berries against a backdrop of white snow and blue sky was a stunning sight.
As a result of the abundance of berries, I happened upon some mountain bluebirds feeding. I tried to get a picture of the brilliantly colored feathered creatures, but they spooked too easily.
Eventually I made it to the rim of the bowl and that is when I was hit by a gale force. The wind was whipping up out of the basin like the breath of an ogre living within the bowels of the mountain. It seemed very much alive and ice crystals pelted my face creating an uncomfortable sting.
That is when I decided to descend. The trail continued on for a 9.5 mile loop, but I did not want to chance having to trek through deeper snow without my hiking boots. After turning around and hiking downhill for a while, I came upon a rock gully with high walls. A Madrone tree was hanging over the top which made for a dry, snow and wind free nook to have lunch. My leftover Christmas ham sandwich, pear, and dark chocolate covered cherries never tasted so good.
While eating, I found a piece of peeled off tree bark that looked like a torn leather belt. Following my rest, I continued on and, after reaching some flat terrain, began to run for a short while. I made it back to my truck having thoroughly enjoyed my jaunt in the Guadalupe Mountains. I know I’ll be back in better weather for some more hikes.
|The view from Scenic Dr. New Years Eve|
Do you know what I did on new years eve? I ran a 5K fun run on Scenic Dr in El Paso, TX. The Run El Paso Club sponsored the event beginning at 11:45, so I was able to end 2011 and begin 2012 while running. The weather was spectacular and about 200 people participated. I hope your new year was as exciting as mine.
See you on the trail.