Guadalupe Peak (8,751′) | Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Salt Flat, TX | 04/02/21 | 9.82 miles | 3,044′ gain
Although 2021 started out slow (with no traveling and very few exciting hikes), April started with a bang and I haven’t slowed down since. On a whirlwind three-day trip, Allie and I road-tripped around Texas and New Mexico; visiting three National Parks, climbing one state high point, and hiking nearly all day, every day. We flew in to El Paso Thursday night with just enough time to grab our rental car, eat dinner, and buy groceries. After our busy night, we woke up early Friday to make the two-hour drive to Guadalupe Mountains National Park where we would climb to the Top of Texas! (aka Guadalupe Peak)
It was a beautiful drive through the Chihuahuan Desert and we soon neared the Guadalupes with El Capitan standing guard. These mountains are an island of diversity within the harsh desert. From below, the rocky cliffs look like an extension of the arid desert but the highest reaches of the Guadalupes are home to coniferous forests reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains and the deep canyons protect streamside oak and maple woodlands.
The National Park uses Mountain Time but our phones were displaying Central Time, so we spent much of the day confused about what time it really was. We arrived just before 9am (Mountain Time) to an extremely busy park. Rangers were out in full force, warning of the dangers of dehydration. Eventually we were able to assure them we packed plenty of water and they directed us to park at the large lower lot. The small upper lot by the Pine Springs Campground filled much earlier. We weren’t expecting so many people to be hiking on a Friday morning at one of the lesser visited National Parks.
We first had to walk from the lower lot to the upper lot and the main trailhead. It took a while to find the unmarked connector trail but eventually we were on our way into the desert. The flat trail between parking lots was a great warm-up.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail begins at the mouth of Pine Spring Canyon, bounded on each side by the Guadalupe Mountains. Cactus, yucca, and scrub dominate the desert ecosystem. It started out cool but quickly warmed, especially as we got to work climbing the steeper sections. Our once flat trail began to switchback steeply up the hillside for about a mile and a half.
There are plenty of places to take a break on the way up, including a few overlooks. Shade was hard to come by and while it was probably only 70°, it felt much hotter.
After a steep mile and a half, the trail circled around the north side of the mountain and offered us our first view of Guadalupe Peak. As the trail entered the forest, it eased a bit and we had a break from the sun as well as a break from the steep. We made really good time through this section.
After a few more switchbacks, the forest opened up and we enjoyed another easy section past the backcountry campground. The open forest looked so much like the Colorado foothills that it didn’t seem possible that we were still in the Chihuahuan Desert. The Guadalupes are truly an island.
Before the final climb to the summit, we walked along some cliffs and crossed a very cool bridge.
The bridge dumped us out at the final set of switchbacks. After the last 550′ climb, we made it to the rocky summit.
The summit was crawling with people but we were able to snag one of the few shady spots for our lunch break. The summit marker, a steel pyramid, was erected in 1958 by American Airlines as a tribute to the Butterfield Overland Mail route, a stagecoach trail also used by Pony Express riders. The three sides of the pyramid commemorate American Airlines, the Boy Scouts, and the Pony Express Riders of the Butterfield Stage.
The hike down was uneventful but hot. We rushed a bit, hoping to visit the Visitor Center before it closed at 4:30. Thankfully we made it with just enough time to view the exhibits and buy a t-shirt. Since we’d only hiked one trail, we felt we didn’t really see what all the park has to offer, and although there was no way we’d have enough time to see everything, we stopped to visit a few historic sites on our way out.