After our trek to the Top of Texas, we had very little time left to explore what else Guadalupe National Park has to offer. We decided to visit two accessible historic sites on the way to our hotel, neither of which require much walking, perfect for our tired feet.
Our first stop was “The Pinery” or the Pine Spring Stage Stand.
There are a couple options for visiting The Pinery. We parked at the small parking lot just off the highway, but there is also a 3/4-mile nature trail starting from the Visitor Center. A short walking path weaves around the various ruins.
Remember boys, nothing on God’s earth must stop the United States mail!John Butterfield
Prior to the Pony Express and Transcontinental Railroad, there was a need for a transportation and communication system connecting the East and West parts of the United States. The federal government awarded a six-year contract to wealthy businessman John Butterfield, who was to deliver mail from St. Louis to San Francisco in just 25 days. He devised a 2,700 mile mail route along well-defined trails used by emigrants and gold-seekers. The route was named the Butterfield Overland Mail. One hundred six-mule stage coaches were built and placed into service on the Butterfield Overland Mail. The coaches traveled 120 miles per day and could carry nine passengers, their baggage, and 12,000 letters. Stations such as The Pinery were built about 20 miles apart to offer water, food, shelter, and fresh mules to teams traveling along the route.
In 1859, just eleven months after The Pinery was built, the mail line was shifted south to a safer route that could accommodate a series of forts. The original line (and The Pinery) was still used by emigrants, soldiers, and outlaws. Butterfield’s six-year contract was cut short by the Civil War in 1861, but the Butterfield Overland Mail was considered by some to be one of the greatest events of the age.
Our second and final stop was the Frijole Ranch History Museum. Named for the locals’ diet of mostly frijoles (Spanish for beans), Frijole Ranch has played an important part in the area’s history and stands as one of the area’s best preserved homesteads of its time. Unfortunately we arrived past closing time and couldn’t enter any of the buildings, but we were able to wander the yard and orchard.
The beautiful home was built in the 1870s by the Rader brothers, who settled here with a few cattle. In 1906, the Smith family moved in and expanded the home and outbuildings. They planted an orchard and sold the fruits and vegetables in the nearest town 60 miles away. Nearby springs supplied water for home and farm use. The Smiths lived on the ranch for 34 years, and in that time added a kitchen, two bedrooms, a spring house, a guest house, and a double bath house. For a number of years, one building was used as a school house for the eight local children. The complex was a hub for social gatherings and the Frijole Post Office operated here from 1912-1940. In the early 1940s, a number of local ranches were purchased and renamed the Guadalupe Mountains Ranch. In 1972, this land became Guadalupe Mountains National Park.