Guadalupe Mountains National Park

We left Las Cruces, NM and shortly thereafter we entered west Texas. Earlier in our trip we had driven across the big open spaces of Big Sky country, but there’s something about the vastness of west Texas. Maybe it’s because it had been so long since we were in Montana and Idaho but west Texas just feels big. And even though there are some rolling hills and mountains off in the distance, it feels like you can see forever.

While we were in transit, Kentucky was playing Tennessee so we passed time listening to the first half as we watched the desert landscape roll by. Shortly after halftime, we found a spot along the highway in front of an old abandoned cafe to pull over for lunch. We explored the inside of the old decrepit building  and wondered how long it had been there. You could still see the ghost writing on the exterior facade touting everything from candy to cigarettes. After a bit of exploring we headed inside the trailer for lunch and to watch the second half (yay YouTube TV) as the Cats pulled out their first victory in Knoxville since 2015.

After the game we made a quick stop along the way at the Guadalupe Mountain National Park Visitors’ Center to grab park maps, check out the movie and get a head start on the next day’s activities. Our campground was about another 15 miles down the road and even though we weren’t staying in the park itself, it was the perfect spot because it was situated about half way between Guadalupe and its neighboring Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Washington Ranch campground was home for the next few days. Other than the flock of wild turkeys who called the grounds their home, we had the entire place to ourselves. It reminded us a bit of some of the Harvest Host spots we had stayed in before but with full hook-ups –always a bonus. That evening we were welcomed by a great sunset but an even more impressive super moon.

For our lone day in Guadalupe we decided on doing one of their signature hikes, the McKittrick Canyon Trail. The out and back hike offers a few options of varying distances, and we opted for the roughly 7-mile segment which took us to Pratt’s lodge and then further down the trail to a hunting cabin. Wallace Pratt was a geologist who had worked in the oil industry (it is Texas after all) and after falling in love with the land, he purchased a large amount of it to build his lodge. Later he donated it all to our National Parks and it formed the basis for the park we know today.

The trail started in the Chihuahuan Desert and was surrounded by the McKittrick Canyon walls and various yucca and cactus along the rocky, sandy trail. It was also crazy windy. At times the wind was so strong we couldn’t hear one another talk five feet away. But after crossing a couple of creek beds, the landscape transformed, the winds stopped and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were in a completely different ecosystem. The desert plants became far less common and were replaced by tress like oaks and pines you’d expect to see in other parts of the country. At times the tree cover was so thick we were completely shaded under a canopy of branches.  It’s no wonder this is one of the park’s most popular hikes.

Eventually the trail veered off and about 100 yards or so down a gravel path and lead us to the Pratt Lodge. The stone structure itself is fairly small, but it’s all about “location, location, location” and sat in a little wooded oasis in the middle of the desert. We walked around and looked through all the windows (it wasn’t open to the public) until we came upon his front porch. The shaded porch had four rocking chairs and incredible views of the canyon walls. It was the perfect spot for our lunch. We rocked and imagined Pratt spending his afternoons on the porch taking in the same views. It was wonderful.

After lunch we continued the trail towards the hunting cabin. Along the way the path hugged one of the canyon walls. The wall had a completely different geology to it from what had seen earlier in the hike. They looked more like openings to caves and had bizarre baby stalagmite looking structures dropping from their ceilings. I guess that explains a bit of the relationship with the neighboring Carlsbad Caverns.

The hunting cabin sat in a small clearing and was definitely more rustic and smaller than Pratt’s lodge. But, like the lodge, it was made of stone. Even though it had windows, it was built completely out of dry stack, a testament to the craftsmen who built it nearly a century ago. We explored for a bit then made our way back towards the start –  although we did take a pitstop to the Lodge for one last look at its views.

Later that night, the winds from earlier in the afternoon continued to pick up. Sometime around 3:00 am they had gotten so strong, they woke Nikki up – I can sleep through anything.  It was a good thing because she rescued our shoes and flip-flops (we keep them outside) or else they probably would have scattered across the campground. Luckily for Nikki, the super moon was still in full effect and so bright, she didn’t need a flashlight. Small victories.