Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby al_in_al » Thu Nov 14, 2019 8:19 pm

I was really impressed by my visit to the Guadalupe Mountains (GuMo) in Texas this month, so I thought I'd share a trip report and some photos here. I think it's a totally underrated park for hikers - I don't see it mentioned very often, but I think it's well worth a visit if you're ever in the area.

As a bonus, I also visited White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

----- Thursday ---------------------------------------

I flew in to El Paso and headed to White Sands for the daily sunset ranger program. It was a short one, since it started at 5:30 and sunset was just after 6pm, but I did get to learn a few things on our stroll through the dunes. It was a nice introduction to the park, and a pretty sunset.

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I stayed in Alamogordo, which made a good base for visiting the park.

----- Friday ---------------------------------------

I returned to White Sands in the morning to watch sunrise and get in a hike. At certain times of the year this isn’t possible since the gate opens at 7am, but just before the time change, sunrise was at 7:22. It was a chilly morning, so I put on all my layers and climbed a random dune to watch sunrise. It was amazing how fast the pre-dawn pink in the mountains disappeared once the sun rose.

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I drove the loop drive once to get oriented and take some photos, then headed to the Alkali Flats trailhead - a 5 mile loop hike through the heart of the dunes.

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There was one car already there, but I never saw those people on the trail. I hiked the loop counterclockwise - I hadn’t found a ‘recommended’ direction for this hike, but based on the footprints, it looked like recent hikers had gone clockwise. I thought I had made a good choice - I liked the scenery better on the first half, and it seemed like the larger hills mostly went the other direction (maybe?).

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I had the trail all to myself until the very end - it was a great morning! Really enjoyed walking to the end of the dunes - not easy because you walk up and down a bunch of dunes, but not too difficult either. I also walked the Interdune Boardwalk, and wished I had time for the other shorter trails, but I needed to eat lunch and head to Carlsbad. I certainly could have planned even more time here.

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The first section of the drive, through Cloudcroft, was pretty, and I stopped at a few overlooks to enjoy the view. I considered stopping for a hike at one of the state parks here, but my research showed the Trestle Recreation Area was already closed for the season.

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----- Saturday ---------------------------------------

I used Carlsbad as a base to get to the Dog Canyon section of GuMo. It's out of the way from pretty much everywhere, tucked into the northwest side of the mountains, right on the Texas/New Mexico border. I took the Dark Canyon Road (most convenient from where my hotel was located), and the drive took about 1.5 hours. It was deserted first thing in the morning. And in the evening when I was headed back. I don't think many people head out that way. It was an interesting and scenic drive through the desert.

My hike today was to Lost Peak, 6.4 miles and 1500 ft, plus the extra 'scramble' to the peak (my watch said my final stats were 7.2 miles and 1800 ft).

At the ranger station where I showed my annual pass, the ranger gave me some dire warnings about high winds and hypothermia. Luckily, the wind was only at the lower elevations, and it turned out to be a pretty calm day overall. I started hiking around 8:45 with all my layers on, but it warmed up quickly. There were not many people on the trail - I encountered 7 all day.

The fall color was pretty nice. I'm not a foliage expert, but it looked like it wasn't quite peak yet.

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There was a convenient sign pointing to the peak, so I assumed that was the best point to go off trail to find the peak. I looked for a social trail, but didn't really see one, so I just picked out a path that looked good, and ended up in the right place. The view from the peak was great! I had it all to myself, and was the first person to sign the register in several days. It was a very nice trail, and a hike I highly recommend.

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----- Sunday ---------------------------------------

Today I headed to McKittrick Canyon in GuMo - which is famous for fall color, which is why I chose to visit in early November. My goal was to make it to the Notch on the McKittrick Canyon trail - 9 miles RT (and 1400 ft elevation gain). The entrance to this area of the park is open limited hours - 8:00 am to 4:30 pm (since the time change had just occurred).

Wow, this area is beautiful! The drive from Carlsbad wasn’t too bad, especially when the Guadalupes and El Capitan suddenly popped into view! And the drive in the McKittrick Canyon road was worth it for the views alone, very nice in the morning.

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According to the park service, fall color was near peak this weekend. There were definitely more people here today, and the trail got increasingly more crowded as the day went on. It wasn’t bad first thing in the morning, though.

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Along the trail, the Pratt Cabin, Grotto, and Hunter Cabin are all great stops. I could have sat on the Pratt Cabin porch all day.

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While I was basically alone on the hike up to the Notch, a lot of hikers were congregated there. There was some confusion about where the Notch actually was, but I thought it was fairly obvious. I would have loved to have continued to the ridge, but I had developed a cold during the trip, and didn't want to push myself. Plus the time limit for the gate closure.

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I was impressed by the fall colors all the way up. And the changing scenery was just fantastic. It was another great day, and I wished I had another day to return and do the Permian Reef trail.

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Instead of returning to Carlsbad, I stayed the next two nights in Whites City, NM, the closest lodging to the main sections of GuMo (about 30 minutes drive) and right outside the Carlsbad Caverns entrance. It's a small "tourist-trap" with one motel, one restaurant, and one convenience store. None get rave reviews, but it was adequate for the 2 nights I was there.

----- Monday ---------------------------------------

Today was devoted to Carlsbad Caverns. The drive from the motel was about 15 minutes, and I loved the desert scenery here.

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I had pre-booked the ranger-led King’s Palace tour, so I picked up my tour ticket and entrance ticket (using my annual pass). This is a slower time of the year (no bat flights), so pre-booking was probably not necessary, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss out. I also stopped at the bookstore and rented an audio guide for $5. I highly recommend getting the guide. It was a little repetitive if you do the Natural Entrance and Big Room, but it was really nice to have some commentary along the walk.

I was first in line when the ranger opened the natural entrance at 8:30, but another couple was right behind me. It’s a neat way to enter the cave if you are able to handle the downhill walking, and passes some good formations and rooms.

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I had some time before the ranger tour began, so I walked part of the big room. Holy cow, it is big! It's hard to get anything for scale in these photos, so you'll have to trust me. It's definitely an otherworldly experience.

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The ranger program was nice. The ranger was enthusiastic, and told some good stories. We got to experience 2 blackouts, as well as sit a few times and admire the formations.

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After the tour (which concluded around 11:45), I had intended to eat something at the underground lunchroom, but figured the rest of the walk around the big room would only take 1-1.5 hrs, so I decided to skip it and eat on the surface. Indeed, I was up at the cafeteria by 1 pm ordering lunch (which I definitely enjoyed).

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The caverns had some visitors, but felt a little deserted - it was really a great time to wander around and enjoy with everyone spread out. After lunch I took the nature walk that starts at the end of the parking lot, and as I drove down to town, I stopped at all the pullouts. I did skip the unpaved scenic drive, as I wasn’t sure if I should drive it with the rental car.

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I relaxed for a couple of hours at the Cavern Inn, then returned to the caverns visitor center for sunset, where there were some colorful clouds to enjoy.

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----- Tuesday ---------------------------------------

I drove up to the caverns visitor center once again for sunrise. It was a nice morning (slightly breezy) and there was no one else around. The sun rising on the horizon was pretty spectacular, but again I was a little disappointed to not find any pink mountains.

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Today my goal was to hike Guadalupe Peak - the "Top of Texas"! It was an easy drive to Pine Springs, and I was excited to finally be headed to the ‘main’ area of the park. The trailhead at the campground was busy with campers and hikers (and by busy, I mean there were maybe 10 people hanging around and doing stuff!). I started at the same time as two other groups, but after some initial leapfrogging, we spread out and I was alone on the trail most of the way up.

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The first section of the trail is *hard*. I don’t know that the trail ever actually gets any easier (it’s 3000 ft straight up over 4.25 miles), but maybe your body just gives up and stops fighting it at some point! This trail isn’t known for fall color, but there is a little, and you can see it in some of the valleys in the distance.

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On the last section of trail before the peak, the rocky sections get a little sketchy for me. Most people probably handle it fine, but it slowed me down as I picked my foot placement very carefully. But finally, the switchbacks end and you’re at the top! It was evident by the register that a lot of people hike this trail.

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I picked a quiet spot to sit and enjoy lunch. I lucked into another low-wind day, so it was pleasant to hang around and take pictures before heading down. The downhill hiking goes a little faster, but my legs were certainly complaining by the time I got to the car (a rest break on the way down probably would have been a good idea).

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Again, I wish I had more time to hike in the Guadalupes. I might have added on the Devil’s Hall trail if I didn’t have to drive to El Paso for the night. Or if sunset hadn’t been so darn early!

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Overall, it was a great trip, and I can definitely see returning to the area in the future.
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby MISSY » Thu Nov 14, 2019 10:45 pm

Thanks for sharing your photos and trip report!
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby indiana hiker » Fri Nov 15, 2019 5:55 am

Nice photos and report. We were at Carlsbad years ago but didn't venture onto Guadalupe. Now I wish we had. Thanks for posting.
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby calicotraveler » Fri Nov 15, 2019 8:53 am

I have never heard of this National Park before. It is beautiful! Thanks for opening my eyes to a new place on my list of “must see national parks”. Is this crowded in the summer?
The mountains are calling and I must go.
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby al_in_al » Fri Nov 15, 2019 11:40 am

Glad I could introduce this park to some of you!

I don't know how crowded it is in the summer, but probably not very (definitely not compare to Glacier standards) - I can imagine maybe more families stopping by then on longer road trips, but it would be pretty hot for hiking. Another drawback of this park that I forgot to mention is that there is NO WATER on the trails. You have to carry it all in. Not a problem for me, since that's what I do anyway, but not everyone is used to that.

I did recently see this cool visualization of overnight stays in the National Parks:

http://jordan-vincent.com/night-under-the-stars

For Guadalupe, you can see bumps in frontcountry and backcountry camping in March and October/November. It doesn't really give you an idea about trail use by day hikers who aren't camping (especially since there is no actual lodging inside the park), but I imagine it might follow the same trend. I also assume slightly busier weekend days due to visitors from El Paso. Most of the people I met on the trail during this trip were from Texas and New Mexico.
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby Badgerhiker » Sat Nov 23, 2019 7:10 am

Very nice trip report! I was actually thinking of visiting this area for the past 3-4 years but it never worked out. I thought this would be a nice trip in the winter months to get away from the snow and cold of Wisconsin. When I saw you trip report I was excited to read it. Good pictures and write up. Those fall colors really pop in that desert landscape.

If you liked white sands you should check out Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado. I spent a day there just over a year ago and was very impressed by the park. The dunes are huge and it's such a strange landscape. It doesn't look like it belongs in Colorado. I can post some pics if your interested, don't want to hijack your thread. Thanks for the trip report, I enjoyed reading it.
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby al_in_al » Sat Nov 23, 2019 10:21 am

Badgerhiker wrote:Very nice trip report! I was actually thinking of visiting this area for the past 3-4 years but it never worked out. I thought this would be a nice trip in the winter months to get away from the snow and cold of Wisconsin. When I saw you trip report I was excited to read it. Good pictures and write up. Those fall colors really pop in that desert landscape.

If you liked white sands you should check out Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado. I spent a day there just over a year ago and was very impressed by the park. The dunes are huge and it's such a strange landscape. It doesn't look like it belongs in Colorado. I can post some pics if your interested, don't want to hijack your thread. Thanks for the trip report, I enjoyed reading it.


I've actually been to Great Sand Dunes, but it was quite a while ago (and a short visit where I was not involved in planning), so I'd certainly like to go back some day. Pictures are always welcome!
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby tibber » Sat Nov 23, 2019 2:24 pm

yes, thanks for sharing. Looks like a great area and I always love splashes of fall color.
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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Nov 2019

Postby mattB » Tue Nov 26, 2019 5:55 pm

Great trip report, thanks for sharing!!
Its perfect timing, I'm going to be in that area in January, so this report helps a lot!!
It looks like a gorgeous area!
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