Guadalupe Mountains, Roswell, Carlsbad, and the Sand Dunes – and bad food – Part 2

After last week’s trip to the Big Bend area, this week, being spring break for my two girls, found me heading west again, this time with the whole family in tow, to the Guadalupe Mountains. These ancient mountains are a long way from my Texas Hill Country home -~ 8 hours – and if you’ve ever visited the Salt Basin on the southwest side of the park, you know what a remote area it is. After a forty mile drive from Hwy 54 around the south and west sides of the basin, including a 7 mile finish on a white clay road that is impassable when it rains we finally arrived… and saw nary another person en route. After this hour drive off the main road, we still had to cover another mile on foot (according to the park map). However, our total round trip was ~3.5 miles in a trail comprised primarily of very loose sand.

At first the dunes don’t seem like much, but if you head to the right – up and over the steep scrub-filled sand slope -you’ll find a sea of white amazing sand. As you traverse the dunes, avoid any vegetation as this is an ecologically sensitive area.

From the tops of the dunes, the views of the Guadalupe Mountains, including the iconic El Capitan and the tallest peak in Texas – Guadalupe Peak -were amazing.

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Guadalupe Mountains – Salt Basin Dunes at Sunset 1 : Prints Available

Like saves of sand, the textures and curves of the salt basin dunes on the southeast side of the Guadalupe Mountains make a stunning foreground for these ancient mountains. In this image, the mountains rise in the spring air as the sun sets in the opposite sky. Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas, rises 8,751’, and the iconic El Capitan is just south of the summit.
To reach these dunes requires a bit of an effort. A 50 mile drive around the park from the Pine Spring Visitor Center, including 7.5 miles on a caliche road that is impassable after a rain, brings you to the trailhead. After that, a dirt and sandy path leads another 1.5 miles to the dunes (the park maps says 1 mile, but it is longer). The round trip hike on this evening was just under 3.5 miles – all worth the amazing scenery in this national park.

After some time exploring the dunes and having the sand all to ourselves, the sun settled in the east behind us and we raced the 1.5 miles back to the car to avoid being locked in the park overnight (the gates are locked 30 minutes after sunset). I’m not sure how strict the park service is on this rule, but I did not want to take a chance on sleeping in the car – in the remote Chihuahuan Desert – with three angry females. We made it out safely, then drove the 2.5 hours to Artesia, New Mexico, for the night.

The next day we drove another 45 minutes hours north and visited the UFO museum in Roswell, New Mexico. Before the museum visit, we had lunch at the Cowboy Cafe. This dive was ranked highly on Yelp and TripAdvisor, bit I’m assuming the competition wasn’t great. Still, little did we realize at the time we should be happy with “average.”

Later, at the International UFO Museum, we enjoyed life sized aliens and plenty of affidavits from important people concerning the reality of aliens and the alleged government coverup. The small presentation was surprisingly well done, and my girls were sufficiently freaked out by the aliens but still had a good time.

Heading back south and just north of the the Texas border is Carlsbad Caverns, our next stop on the trip. The caverns were amazing and the rock formations nothing like I’ve seen before. We took the self-guided tour that led us through the dark underground and along the 1.25 mile trail and the Big Room. If I was a spelunker or geologist, I imagine I’d have been in heaven.

Carlsbad Caverns
Fairyland in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
But I prefer above ground landscapes. As we left, we noticed the large crowds and lines already gathered for entrance. We had arrived early and were glad we did. The crowds were thick as we left, which would have detracted from the quiet spaces of our walk.

Next, we headed south through Van Horn and onto Fort Stockton. First, though, we stopped at a place to eat. Many years ago I watched Chet Garner, host of the DayTripper, eat at Chuys, a Tex-mex joint in Van Horn – NOT affiliated with the well-known Tex-mex chain. I’d wanted to eat here for a while, so we stopped in. I’m sad to say our experience was not good. So be warned… the service was terrible. The guy serving us seemed uninterested in working. Please know we are very low-maintenance. After a 20 minute wait just to take our order, we waited another 30 for the meals. My wife and two girls finally received their food, then the waiter asked if I had ordered the fajitas. Yes… and 20 minutes later my wife and kids had finished their food before mine arrived! But no explanation nor apologies were offered. To top off the experience, the beef was full of fat and very chewy -the worst fajitas I’ve ever had. We paid and got the heck out of there…never again.

But the sand dunes of Monahans Sandhills State Park awaited, and our mood quickly improved. I’d photographed this small sandy park at sunrise just a week before, but now was returning because I knew my kids would love the sand… and I could shoot at sunset. This image was converted to black and white for the contrast in curves and shadows:

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Sand Dunes Evening 1 black and white : Prints Available

The lines in the sand at Monahans Sandhills State Park can be mesmorizing. Here in the late afternoon, soft shadows enhance the curves and texture as the winds create ever changing patterns.


We arrived a few hours before dusk, and my girls immediately took off, heading to the tallest dune, then sliding down and laughing the entire time. It was a good way to end our trip – sunset was beautiful, everyone was happy at the same time (which is rare), and laughter filled the still air as we traversed the sand back to the parking lot. It was hometime the next morning, and I always become a bit sentimental when family time ends. I know my kids won’t stay young, and I value each day I have with them.

Vaya con Dios, my friends,

Rob
Images from Texas

Fall in the Guadalupe Mountains

The Guadalupe Mountains are a long way from my home in the central Texas hill country. But in those remote and ancient mountains is a location I’ve wanted to experience and photograph in the fall – McKittrick Canyon – a winding path through rugged peaks that holds a remnant collection of bigtooth maple trees. Each Autumn, this canyon comes alive with fiery color of the changing maple leaves, a stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscape. I also wanted to hike up to Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas, and shoot both the sunset and the Milky Way from its lofty summit. I’d made this walk-up before, but this time I wanted to capture the landscape in evening light.

Over the course of four days, I was able to photograph some incredible landscapes, and I’m not sure if an image on a website can really do justice to the rugged beauty of this west Texas area. First, the Butterfield Overland Stage Route provides some great vistas of El Capitan. You have to obtain a key from the National Park to access two gates, but the views are worth it. You will need a four-wheel drive, for sure, as the road is treacherous at times.

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El Capitan Sunrise, Guadalupe Mountains 3 : Prints Available

This panorama from Guadalupe Mountains National Park shows the famous west Texas landmark, El Capitan. This limestone peak is Texas’ 8th highest point at 8,064 feet high. It rests in the shadow of Guadalupe Peak, the tallest peak in the Lone Star State. I have to say thank you to the National Park folks at the Pine Springs Visitor Center for allowing me access during “closed” hours along this dirt road in order to photograph this amazing landscape at sunrise.

This panorama is available in large custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

I photographed from this location on several occasions and was fortunate to have some great light.

One of my points of emphasis this trip was McKittrick Canyon, the bigtooth maple trees, and “The Notch” that gives a great view of both McKittrick Canyon and South McKittrick Canyon. The maples were beginning to turn, and there were sections of brilliant reds and oranges, yet other areas were still quite green. The weather was beautiful, and with calm winds, photographing the scenery along this trail was a pleasure.

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McKittrick Canyon Glory, Guadalupe Mountains 1 : Prints Available

Following the trail through McKittrick Canyon, there are places of dense maple trees. At one point, you are nearly surrounded by the beautiful leaves, and in Autumn the forest can turn orange and red with some of the most beautiful fall colors in Texas. The main hike is around 4 miles each way, but you can continue up to ‘the Notch,” a climb of about 1500 vertical feet over another mile or so at which point you can look down into a canyon on each side of you. The hike up is a grunt, but the views are incredible. You can look back down and see the colorful maples as they follow the path of the river.

The grunt up to “The Notch” was steep and rocky, but the landscape showcased those granite mountains and jagged peaks both to the north and south. Looking back in the direction I came, the winding flow of red and orange leaves of the bigtooth maples in the distance followed the winding creek as it snaked through the canyon. While resting at the top, I even sat about three feet from a rattlesnake. That was quite the surprise. The round trip to this point and back to the trailhead turned out to be a little over 10 miles and actually wasn’t too bad. I’m glad, because the next evening I’d be trekking up a different trail – this time to Guadalupe Peak and the highest point in Texas.

At 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak is the tallest mountain in Texas. The trail to the top is relatively easy – just a gradual walk up gaining ~ 3,000 feet in altitude over 4 miles. The views at the top offer a unique perspective that looks across the Chihuahuan Desert to the east, south, and west. Below the peak is the famous El Capitan, the 8th tallest summit in Texas and one that I’d photographed both that morning and the night before from other locations. I arrived at the top of Guadalupe Peak a little before sunset, enjoying the quiet solitude. While there, I took in a wonderful sunset, and later witnessed the Milky Way at it rolled across the sky in the southwest. The walk down passed quickly, but I was glad to arrive back at the trail head. Trails at night always seem a bit creepier and unknown. I have good flashlights, but I’m always happy to be finished with long hikes at night. The thought of mountain lions is always in the back of my mind.

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El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak after Sunset 2 : Prints Available

This panorama taken on Guadalupe Peak, the tallest summit in Texas at 8,751 feet, shows the southwest sky at sunset on a fall evening. The hike is nearly 9 miles round trip, especially if you spend time exploring around the summit, and you’ll gain 3,000 vertical feet. If you stay for sunset, you’ll likely have the entire mountaintop to yourself. This hike is one of the gems not only in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but in all of Texas.

This panorama from Guadalupe Peak is available in large and custom sizes. Please contact me for more information.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the less well known of Texas’ two national parks, will reward you if you are willing and able to get out and explore. Those age-old mountains – once part of the Delaware Sea 30 million years ago – hide valleys of lush green trees and crystal clear streams. Trout even survive in some of the pools tucked away in the canyons. Outside those canyon walls is a rugged and unforgiving desert. Both provide opportunities for exploration and contemplation. I hope to return again soon!

Happy Travels, Texas.
~ Rob