The summit has a stainless steel pyrmaid dedicated by AmericanAirlines in 1958 commemorating the mountain as a landmark on the Butterfield Stage Transcontinental mail line. El Capitan sits in the background. The overview shot from the east gives the impression that the Rockies end abruptly with El Capitan. From Guadalupe Pass, it doesn't look like it's that far to the summit. The hike has spectacular views for the entire length This photo shows the "Cliff and Bridge" between Guadalupe Campground and the final ascent to the summit. You will note the pines. They are not at the lower elevations.
Guadalupe Peak, Texas, 8,749 feet
Guadalupe is a favorite peak among highpointers largely because for the entire route you have unobstructed views for almost 100 miles and because the peak is truly unique in that it is one huge fossilized prehistoric ocean reef!
The peak and its environs are so spectacular that it is one of only four state highpoints designated as National Parks (besides Denali, Mount Rainier and Clingmans Dome). Guadalupe National Park also includes Carlsbad Caverns -- designated one of the world's natural wonders.
We started seeing Guadalupe shortly after leaving El Paso on Route 180 (which sports blue "Texas Mountain Trail" signs). It was an easy peak to identify because the nearby dramatic El Capitan drops off to a flat desert just to its south giving the impression that the Rocky Mountains have abuptly ended (although they do pop back up further south in the Davis range).
The peak was covered with a blue haze. This haze is a hot topic in Texas. Many environmentalists and locals (and even official park signs) pin the haziness on pollution -- particularly from power plants across the border in Mexico. During our four day visit, this haze was to alternate between blue and brown. The air smelled clean but each morning we would wake to choking sulfuric fumes. Natural occurring sulfuric acid has played a major roll in shaping the Guadalupes and in particular carving great rooms in caves such as Carlsbad.
As we approached the Salt Flat by the summit, signs warned us there would be no gasoline for 67 miles (signs coming from the other direction warn of no gas for 80 miles). Other signs warned to watch for strong wind gusts (wind socks are posted all along the highway by Guadalupe Pass). The winds on the peak are legendary -- particularly in the Spring (although we were to find it relatively calm on our visit).
After scouting the trail head (clearly marked with a large sign) in the Piney Springs Campground by the Park headquarters, we set out for an acclimating hike up McKittrick Canyon (seven miles north of park headquarters). McKittrick Canyon has been dubbed "the prettiest spot in Texas" because its stream creates a Garden of Eden atmosphere in the middle of the desert.
The best time to see this Garden is in late November when the oaks and maples burn orange. Normally temperatures in the canyon this time of month are in the 60's but on this day it was in the 80's (ironically it had snowed here a month before). Summertime temperatures of course can be excruciatingly higher.
Arriving late we only made it 4.6 miles roundtrip to the Pratt Lodge -- built by William Pratt, a executive of Humble Oil (which became Exxon) who donated this land for the park. This is Texas afterall and there has to be some oil connection (in this case the area around Guadalupe was drilled until the supply finally gave out).
Since we had to be out of the Canyon before it is locked at 4:30 p.m. in November we couldn't proceed another mile to the cave-like Grotto.
The Canyon lived up to its billing for beauty. We were particularly entranced with the Texas Madrone, a colorful tree from the rain forest which has somehow adapted to this desert at the northern most point of its range. The tree changes its park from gray to red. Unfortunately many of the trees on the trail had been defaced with graffiti which looked blood like.
The next day, we climbed Guadalupe. The official Park line is that you should allow 6 to 8 hours for the hike. This is not unreasonable. Taking of lots of photographs it look us 5 hours to climb the mountain, 1 hour to sightsee and eat the summit and incredibly little over an hour to come back down.
The official park line is that you should have a gallon of water per person for the trip. Since it was cooler we managed with a liter (which was almost totally gone when we returned). There were about 10 people on the mountain on our hike day.
I was kind of surprised at the small turnout given the holiday nature of the week and the fact and the splendid weather. Many Texans tell me that for the most part the average Texan is totally unaware that the state might have a high point -- let alone a mountain range. Of the 10 groups climbing, we were the only non-Texans.
The hike is divided three distinctive segments. The first segment from the parking lot to the ridge can be considered quite brutal since it goes up the east side of the ridge with the sun pounding you in the morning and the trail scree slipping under foot. We didn't see any snakes but somebody swore they saw a rattlesnake slither across the trail. This leg ends about when you quit seeing the parking lot.
The middle leg is travels through a new climate zone with junipers and the having the sweet odor of Ponderosa pines. Shielded from the sun, it is significantly cooler. The surprise on this leg is that there is a false summit that looks tantalizingly close.
You will not see Guadalupe's summit until you begin the third leg which begins at the campground. The 10 tent campground is one of the grandest in the world overlooking sheer cliffs. Of course there's no water. The final push comes as you go down a slight hill before crossing the "Cliff and Bridge" I thought it was rather uneventful bridge until crossing and looking back at the 1,000 foot drop which immediately gave me vertigo.
Fires, bikes and dogs are not permitted here.
All of the trails were dotted with seashells from the reef period. The Park swears it will vigorously prosecute all people who take out souvenirs.
The whole hike looks much easier when you are at Guadalupe Pass with the summit's stainless pyramid monument twinkling at you "just over there."
Although there had been spectacular views the entire route thus far, they were eclipsed as we made the final push and El Capitan rose up below us.
Although you can see 2 countries (U.S. and Mexico) and 2 states (Texas and New Mexico) from the summit, I was initially disappointed by what seemed like a corporate advertisement on the summit.
In 1958, American Airlines paid to have the stainless steel pyramid brought to the summit to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Stage (which transported the transcontinental mail before the Pony Express and passed by the base of the summit). It didn't bother me so much that the AA logo took up one side of the pyramid -- corporate sponsorship of summits may not be a bad thing. But it did bother me that they tried to make a connection to the pioneering spirit of the Butterfield Stage leading to the transcontinental flights "known as American Airlines" (the third face of the pyramid has the U.S. Postal Service logo).
I got even more aggravated when I saw the same inscription by the ruins of the station at the Pinery at the base of the mountain. There is no other state highpoint that has a corporate advertisement on its summit -- let alone one in a national park. From my understanding, American Airlines basically only paid for the monument. Exxon would probably have a better claim to have its name on the summit.
Others are not as indignant about this -- noting the monument now has its own tradition since it was there 14 years before the peak became a National Park. My compensation was that least American Airlines used Guadalupe as a landmark as it flew us both to and from El Paso.
From Guadalupe we headed on to New Mexico (with signs with smiling space aliens telling you to "crash in Roswell") and Carlsbad Caverns (and a spectacular 3-mile hike through the Natural Entrance to the Big Room). You can join a non-profit club to protect the Guadalupes or even "adopt a bat."