This is a desert peak and one of my favorites so far. Driving from
El Paso the desert was hot, barren and flat. I began to wonder
where the mountains were. Finally the magnificent profile of El
Capitan, a sister peak to Guadalupe, loomed on the horizon. As I
approached Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the mountains became
enshrowded in fog, cold temperatures and heavy downpours. I stopped
at the visitor
center where I picked up some information, but I decided to swap
my trip agenda and visit nearby Carlsbad Caverns today in hopes
that the weather would be better here tomorrow.
Driving toward Carlsbad I drove back out of the weather system as
quickly as I had driven into it. After an interesting trip through
the caverns, I was ready to hit the trail the next day.
I was greeted with bright blue skies and perfect temperatures. Unlike
most highpoint hikes, this trail is steepest in its lower reaches.
Not more than a half mile from the trailhead my heart was trying to
pound its way out of my chest and I began to wonder if I had any
business being here since I was still recovering from some kind of
respiratory infection. I took it slow and easy though and eventually
reached the horse section of the trail where it is more gradually
graded. Actually, although the nicely graded section of the
trail makes for easier hiking, it's rather unfortunate in a way
because the blasting and grading they did to construct it make the
trail itself a scar that can be seen for miles against the barren
Speaking of the barren landscape, one thing I found amusing, since
this was one of my first desert hikes, was the tremendous visibility
with no tree cover like I am used to in Virginia. I must have hiked
two or three miles or more before I even got out of sight of my car!
Actually there were a few trees in one section on what must have been
a north facing slope. Other than that, lack of shade was a major factor.
Even with a hat, the sun could be felt reflecting back up at you off
the white rocks.
About 3/4 of the way through the hike is a brief respite in the form
of a high meadow-like area. I saw a few tiny patches of snow here.
There is also a primitive camping area on a side trail. Then it's
back to the
relentless uphill and the blistering sun reflecting back at you.
Finally I was on top soaking up the tremendous views and thinking
that wasn't so tough after all.
Even with an extra long lunch break at the summit, I was back to the
car by 3 p.m. after about 6 hours on the trail. Shortly after I
pulled away a massive, violent thunderstorm rolled in and engulfed
the peaks which made for some great photo opportunities.
Whether you're a highpointer or not, I would heartily recommend this
area and nearby McKittrick Canyon and "The Bowl", an "island in the
sky", as some wonderful hiking and backpacking country. I know I plan