Talk about a change of scenery—even knowing what lay beyond Carlsbad Caverns, this really did blow our minds!
We drove out of our Carlsbad Campground in a dense, freezing morning fog—does thick as pea soup paint you a clear picture??? For miles to come we crawled down the highway, barely seeing a hundred yards ahead. Then suddenly, as abrupt as any curtain being raised, we drove out into blinding morning sun. From flat, desolate desert landscape we were instantly confronted by a mountain range. “Wow!!” was the only word that came from both our mouths.
The Guadalupe Mountains have often been referred to as an “Island in the Desert”. As a rugged and ancient limestone reef, they rise more than 5,000 feet above the surrounding desert floor. Between the folds of this unparalleled landscape are lush streamside woodlands with oaks and maples, rocky canyons, and mountaintop forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Together, these ecosystems provide exceptional habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals, making the park an ideal location for birding, wildlife observation, and nature photography. With over 80 miles of trails, there are limitless possibilities to explore these and other resources of the park while hiking, backpacking, or horseback riding. At night a canopy of stars is visible from horizon to horizon, one of rewards of camping in wilderness.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park could easily be described as one of America’s best-kept secrets. As if “hidden in plain view,” travelers often overlook the park as they drive by. To many, the massive rock face of El Capitan is impressive and forbidding as it stands steadfast in a sea of harsh, barren desert. What else could possibly be here? Or live here? Although we had only a short time to spend, information at the Visitor Center helped acquaint us with this fascinating place.
Established on September 30, 1972, besides the well-established trails, the park has a campground and the Frijole Ranch House, built in 1876 which has been restored and is now a small museum of local ranching history. The Williams Ranch House was built in 1908 and stands in a lonely, but scenic area that can be accessed on a dirt road in the park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park preserves one of the finest examples of an ancient, marine fossil reef on Earth. During the Permian Period, about 265 million years ago, a vast tropical sea covered much of the region. Within this sea, calcareous sponges, algae, and other lime-secreting marine organisms, along with lime precipitated from the seawater, built up and formed a reef that paralleled the shoreline for some 400 miles. After this sea evaporated, the reef was buried in thick blankets of sediment and mineral salts, and was entombed for millions of years until uplift exposed massive portions of it. Today, geologists and scientists come from around the world to study this phenomenal example of a fossilized reef.
A gem of a park that few people outside the state have ever heard of, let alone visited. Guadalupe Mountains National Park contains the southernmost, highest part of the 40-mile-long Guadalupe Range. From the highway, the mountains resemble a nearly monolithic wall through the desert. But drive into one of the park entrances, take even a short stroll, and surprises crop up: dramatically contoured canyons, shady glades surrounded by desert scrub, a profusion of wildlife and birds.
The day was warming up—it’s amazing how warm 40 sunny degrees can feel—and we wished we had planned more time here than we had. All too soon we had to hit the highway.
Yet the Guadalupes weren’t done with us yet. Even though we had left the park, for a few miles the road paralleled the range. Just when we thought we’d seen the end, we rounded a curve and had one last phenomenal view. Rising at the southern terminus of the Guadalupe escarpment, El Capitan towers over the Chihuahuan Desert. Glowing in the warmth of the morning sun, it had been quite a long while since we had seen such an impressive sight. Truly a fitting image for this small, but impressive park.
Chris and Melinda,
moving on down the road.