The next day we left Big Bend National Park, and headed towards Carlsbad, New Mexico, for what we hoped would be another awesome camping experience, but before that…. I got my junior ranger badge, thank you very much, at the Rio Grande Visitor’s Center:
The rangers said they really enjoyed the details I put into my coloring. They also said they could tell I was a teacher.
It took about an hour to actually get out of Big Bend National Park because it’s THAT big. On the way out of the park, we got stopped by Border Patrol. It really wasn’t that exciting, I mean I’ve NEVER seen so many cameras in my life, I think I counted at least fifteen different video/security cameras. The border patrol agent stopped our car and asked us where we were going. We told him we were leaving BBNP and then he asked if we picked up anybody, or had anybody else in our car aside from us two, we did not, though he did bang on our backseat and trunk for a little while to see if anyone was hiding in there, and as soon as I took out my US passport and was like, want to see it, they let us go.
I suppose that was the most interesting aspect of the journey to New Mexico. The rest of the trip was boring? I mean it was long drives on roads surrounded by oil fields, a two lane highway, and lots and lots of 18 wheelers. We listened to a lot of Hamilton, I think even Justin may know some of the lyrics now, and eventually we got to the KOA we were staying at in Carlsbad, New Mexico, right as the sun began to set.
We quickly put our tent up before it was completely dark, lit a fire, and ate some freeze-dried food [chicken and rice].
But ay, here’s the rub, after not showering for about three days. I mean Rio Grande Village does have showers, but they’re two dollars in quarters for five minutes in lukewarm water, and knowing our KOA had free showers, we held out. As soon as I could I took the most wonderful scalding hot shower of my life… But alas, I didn’t pack a hair dryer.
When I originally decide we were going to camp in New Mexico, I did look up temperatures, I swear, and the temperatures were within the 40s, for the most part, and I have a 20 degree bag, and I thought we’d be fine. I didn’t take into considering the wind-chill.
That combined with my wet hair led to the COLDEST night of my life. I was in three pairs of pajamas, a North Face Fleece, a hat, gloves, a hood over my hat, wool socks, and had hot hands in my fleece pockets, and I was SHIVERING and FREEZING. I did not sleep well that night, I was too cold, and later when I looked at the temperature, it was 33 degrees that night, but with windchill, more like twenty something degrees. I don’t think I’ve ever been colder in my life.
The morning came and with the morning came sun, and compared to the chilly temperatures from the night before, the fifty degree weather during breakfast felt like summer.
After we ate and got dressed, it was off to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is more in the middle of nothing than Big Bend is, and was about 1.5 or so hours from the KOA.
The first thing we did when we got there was go to the Visitor’s Center to get out cancellations [and my junior ranger packet, thank you very much].
The computers were down there, and the park ranger told us that they probably wouldn’t be working and they’d probably have to be sent over new computers, which means I couldn’t buy postcards or a sticker for my National Parks Passport, this made me sad. We asked the ranger to recommend an easy hike, he said none of the hikes were easy because they all involved hiking on rocky trails, there were no paved trails, and they all had an elevation gain, but he recommended two hikes that were moderate instead.
But before I get into that, let me drop some knowledge about Guadalupe Mountains National Park because I’m sure hardly anyone knows it exists, I mean I barely knew it existed until I started planning our initial trip to Big Bend National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park has a fascinating ecological history. During the Permian period of geological time, which is about 251 million to 299 million years ago, there was the modern mass of Pangaea:
[thanks to google images for the above picture]
Most of modern-day Texas and New Mexico occupied the western edge of this humongous landmass. A vast ocean surrounded Pangaea, however there was a narrow inlet called the Hovey Channel which connected the ocean with the Permian Basin, which was an inland sea that covered parts of what is presently northern New Mexico and the southwestern United States, The Permian Basin had three arms: The Marfa, The Delaware, and Midland Basins. The Delaware Basin contained the Delaware Sea which covered an area that was 150 miles long and 75 miles wide over what is now Western Texas and Southeastern New Mexico.
During the middle of the Permian period, a reef developed along the margin of the Delaware Sea, this reef was known as the Capitan Reef, and for millions of years, the Capitan Reef expanded and thrived alone the rim of the Delaware Basin. Then an event altered the environment, and the outlet that connected the Permian Basin to the ocean became restricted and eventually the Delaware Sea evaporated. Minerals began to appear from the evaporating water and over hundreds of thousands years, the bands of minerals completely filled the basin and covered and buried the reef.
Then 80 million years ago, tectonic compression along the western margin of North America caused that area of Western Texas and Southern New Mexico to be uplifted. A transiton in tectonic events initiated the formation of steep faults along the western side of the Delaware Basin, movements on those faults over the last 20 million years caused the long-buried portion of Capitan Reef to rise several feet above it’s original position. That block of reef was exposed to wind and rain, which caused overlying sediments to erode, uncovering more resistant fossil reef, and that’s what formed the modern Guadalupe Mountains:
Today the reef towers above the desert floor as it once loomed over the floor of the Delaware Sea 260 million to 265 million years ago.
Fascinating, isn’t it? At least I find it fascinating.
Guadalupe Mountain National Park was opened to the public in September 1972. It is one of the most remote National Parks in the entire National Park system, and one of the least visited. In 2017, only 225, 257 visited the park. To put that into a better perspective for you, let’s take Zion National Park, which is one of the most visited National Parks after the Great Smoky Mountains. In 2017, 4.5 million people visited Zion National Park. In July 2017, which is probably the busiest seasons within National Parks since kids are off from school and everything, 578,209 people visited Zion, more people visited Zion in a month, then Guadalupe Mountains get visited in a year!
When we were there, we barely saw anybody. I think we saw maybe 10-15 people the entire time we were at the park, and that includes hiking a trail.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park contains the highest point in Texas with an elevation of 8751 feet [and no we did not hike that]. They’re about ten miles from Carlsbad Caverns, and are a part of the same mountain range as Carlsbad Caverns. The park covers 86,367 acres.
Guadalupe is a hiker’s park. If you don’t want to hike, DON’T GO HERE. It’s literally just hiking. There are no scenic roads, there are no hotels, though there are a few primitive campgrounds, and there’s no overlooks or anything. If you want to see anything, you need to hike to it. The park is also a little tricky. The park is both in Texas and New Mexico, and the time changes within the park. So certain parts of trails are in Mountain time and certain areas of trails are in central time WITHIN THE TRAIL AND WITHIN THE PARK. Also, a lot of the trails are dangerous, and there’s a lot of wildlife including bears and mountain lions, and certain areas of the park will close at 5:30 cst and you’re not allowed to be on trails after dark. so if you go keep that in mind, know your ability, pay attention to the time, and start early, so you can finish before the park closes.
Back to hiking. So I asked the park ranger for some trail recommendations and he recommended two trails to us: The Smith Spring Loop, which was about 2.3 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 402 feet, which took about 1.5 hours to complete, and the McKittrick Canyon Trail, with an elevation gain of 2700 feet for the entire hike, but there were different loops within the hike. We chose the Smith Spring Loop mainly due to time constraints since we wanted to be done with our hike before it got dark.
The most popular trail is The Devil’s Hall Trail, which takes about 2.5 hours and has some bouldering involved. It’s about 3.8 miles. It has about a 548 elevation change and is rated as moderate.
Anyways, off hiking we went:
The first part of the trail was pretty easy. It was flat, paved, and had no elevation gain and it led to Manzanita Spring.
The hike got a lot harder after that. I’m not even going to lie to you. I bitched and moaned the entire way up the trail. I think Justin zoned me out after awhile. I’ve never been the best uphill hiker because hiking uphill irritates my left knee. But I persevered, drank a lot of water, and the higher up I hiked, the more proud I was of myself. After we saw Manzanita Springs, the hike got a bit more desert like and rocky:
There was a lot of red animal poop on the trail too. It’s probably red because there were a lot of red berries, but it’s something to keep an eye out for if you ever do hike this trail.
Once you get all the way up, you’re suddenly in a forest. It was absolutely beautiful. There was foliage. The leaves even had some color. There was a stream. Smith Spring itself had a little waterfall, and with the fall colors and everything, it was gorgeous. I almost felt like I was back on the east coast.
I was super proud of myself for making it up to the top of the trail.. I FELT LIKE I WAS QUEEN OF THE WORLD DAMMIT, so of course that called for a selfie:
Oh, and even in November, wear suntan lotion because both Justin and I got burned, and also dress in layers. When we started the hike, I had long sleeves on under a tee-shirt, about thirty minutes into the hike, I stripped down to a tee-shirt.
I also don’t advise hiking Guadalupe Mountain [or Big Bend] in summer because temperatures reach and exceed 100 degrees. November was absolutely gorgeous for hiking.
I enjoyed the downhill hike from Smith Spring, I found it really easy.
This is when things got interesting. We were almost at the end of the trail, I mean we could see our car in the parking lot, when we saw this family hiking the trail below us. They moved out of our way because that’s common courtesy when you hike, you let the fast hikers pass you, Justin and I are not fast hikers, probably because I take too many pictures, so we did let some people pass.
But anyways, as we were passing them, they said “I know you” to Justin. It turned out that the family, Stephanie, her husband Landon, and their son David were cousins of our friend Andrea, who Justin used to teach with, and Stephanie recognized us from Christmas parties we had attended, and to make things even more ironic, they were staying at the same KOA we were.
So… at the most remote National Park in the lower 48, and at one of the least visited national parks, we bumped into someone we knew.
The five of us hung out for awhile. We shared a picnic lunch after we finished the trail though all Justin and I had to contribute was salsa, chips, and Utz snack mix. We talked for awhile and made plans to hang out that night, at their cabin.
After lunch, I went to hand in my junior ranger book and I earned my second badge, thank you very much.
We drove back towards the KOA after that since it was nearing 4:30, which is when most of the park closed. We made a pit stop at a Sonic because cherry sprite is addictive, and then we came back to our freezing campsite, changed into warmer clothes, and went into the KOA gameroom to pick up our BBQ that we had ordered for dinner from the KOA. The BBQ was pretty good, it’s not Killen’s, but it was good. Then we went to Stephanie and Landon’s cabin, we had hot chocolate with peppermint schnaps, S’mores, and talked for a few hours, and I saw my second shooting star of the trip.
I wish I could say that the second night of camping in New Mexico was warm and pleasant, but alas we were still freaking freezing.
The next morning, we woke up, and packed up our tent. We had initially planned to camp for three nights, BUT FUCK IT WAS FREEZING, and Carlsbad Caverns were closed on Thanksgiving, so there really wasn’t a point to camp out any longer. When I planned this trip, I had no idea Carlsbad Caverns would be closed on Thanksgiving because almost every other national park is open on Thanksgiving, I know they all close on Christmas Day [well somewhat, parks are open in areas like Utah or Yellowstone or something, but Park Rangers don’t work that day, so it’s a free for all, however for parks like Mammoth Caverns or Carlsbad Caverns, you need people to take you into the caverns, so they completely close], but I thought Carlsbad would’ve been open on Thanksgiving.
It was also Justin’s birthday,and he had an exciting birthday meal of freeze-dried Turkey dinner, which was delicious, and freeze-dried apple crumble.
Then we were off. We decided to stop at Sitting Bull Falls on our way back to the real world. They’re a 150 foot waterfall that flows into a canyon.
Sitting Bull Falls were located nearby in the Lincoln National Forest. The area around Sitting Bulls Falls used to be a part of the aforementioned Permian period and is a remnant of Capitan Great Barrier Reef.
There are a bunch of hiking trails nearby, but we just did a quick walk down to look at the waterfall.
After the waterfalls, it was a very long drive to San Angelo, Texas, where we had a hotel room for the night. It was another highway of basically nothingness but oil fields.
We were a little disappointed at our hotel. The website advertised a hot tub. The pictures on the website should be updated because since they were taken, the hot tub had been filled in. We had both really been looking forward to a long soak in a hot tub. We also got a handicapped room, which was fine except the bathroom shower was handicapped, and when we showered, we basically flooded the entire bathroom.
We wanted pizza, but pizza places were all closed for Thanksgiving. So we wound up at IHOP, which was next to the hotel. We ordered some food, a trainee took our take-out order, she couldn’t figure out how to enter the food into the take-out order, and it took about 20 minutes to order the food, she said it would be done in 15 minutes, so we told her we’d be back in 15 minutes to get the order and we took our luggage out of the car, and I went back to pick up the order, and the trainee who had taken our order claimed she had given us our food already, which she hadn’t, so I had to wait another fifteen or so minutes for them to remake our order, and then our order was completely wrong, when we opened it in the hotel room. But at the least the food was good.
We ate our food and watched Ratatouille, and then we went to bed… IN A BED, in a room with actual heat, and we could just wear one pair of pajamas and it was amazing. I slept like a baby.
The next morning, we got up, ate breakfast, and drove back to Houston via Austin, where we unsuccessfully tried to find an old-school Austin Starbucks “You Are Here” mug. [eventually I just ordered it from eBay since that model has basically been discontinued].
It was so nice to finally get home, see the cats, sleep in my own bed, but it was an amazing trip, and I cannot wait til out next adventure in Utah in December.