This weeks blog is about not one, but two National Parks; Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad. It’s for good reason since our visits to these parks were cut short by the lack of ability of our elected officials to compromise on the federal budget that resulted in a three day government shut down. I cursed them all for interfering with our tour of the Southwest, somewhat selfish on my part I know, but really annoying at any rate. So join me in the tale of two parks, such as it is.
After our visit to Ft. Davis National Historic Site (see last weeks post) located in west Texas, we headed north towards New Mexico. Our destination for the night was the city of Carlsbad but based on the good advice from the volunteer ranger at Ft. Davis, we drove the route that took us past the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. You might be saying to yourself, “I’ve near heard of this National Park,” I said the same thing myself so my curiosity meter was on high. Part of the reason is that it doesn’t have a lot of visitors; in 2017 it only received about 225,000 visitors whereas the most visited national park in the US, the Great Smoky Mountains, had over 11 million visitors last year.
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is what I would call “off the beaten trail.” It’s nestled right up on the border with New Mexico and about 100 miles directly east of El Paso. This park contains the four highest points in the State of Texas with Guadalupe Peak the highest at over 8700 feet. This Park was established in 1972 and covers over 86,000 acres or 350 square kilometers.
We stopped at the modern and pleasant Pine Springs Visitor Center just off Highway 62/180. There we viewed the exhibits, chatted with the rangers and learned that this is primarily a “walk-in” or hike-in park with no “scenic drives” with overlooks and etc. There are over 80 miles of trails some that are considered steep and rough, two words that aren’t in my hiking vocabulary! There are, however, a number of desert and canyon trails that are less challenging, more geared to our ability. Our original plan was to come back and do one of those hikes as this park is only about 50 miles south of Carlsbad but it didn’t happen because it was closed.
The Guadalupe Mountains were home to the Nde peoples, more commonly known as the Mescalero Apaches. They thrived in these mountains for thousands of years until the mid 1800’s when explorers and pioneers arrived in this part of the country. These newcomers weren’t welcomed with open arms by the natives leading to a 30 year conflict to drive the Apaches from these rugged and remote mountains. Since our visit was cut short, I don’t have a lot of photos from this Park but here’s one that was taken looking to the southeast from the Visitor Center.
After setting up at an RV park in Carlsbad Thursday evening, we decided to take care of some housekeeping chores on Friday morning like washing clothes and restocking our pantries. After those necessities were completed, we headed down the road to Carlsbad Cavern National Park. Again, our first stop was at the busy Visitor Center where we picked up information, viewed the exhibits and watched the well done movie about the cavern. We learned that Carlsbad Cavern became a national park in 1930 just at the beginning of the Great Depression. There are about 1/2 million visitors per year to the 46,000 acres in this park.
The famous landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, was once commissioned to photograph the Cavern. He thought the results weren’t very good but have proved to be a great historical record on the changes to the cave over time.
Since it was late in the day and it sounded like the federal budget was going pass, we decided to come back on Sunday to take the couple hour self guided tour of the cave. I should point out fees are collected to enter the Cavern plus there are additional fees if visitors take one of the ranger led tours. Our plans to tour the cave were derailed and added to a future visit to the area.
All was not lost because this park has 9.5 mile driving tour on an unpaved road through Walnut Canyon. Of note, this drive has numbered markers along the path accompanied by a brochure with explanations of what to look for at each of the markers. For example, on of the stops described the classic well known desert plant, the prickly pear cactus. Here are a few photos of the many prickly pear cacti we saw on this drive and others that we saw during our visit to the Southwest. It’s amazing where they grow, sometimes right out of a crack in a rock wall!
On our drive. we also saw many other desert plants such as the sotol, yucca, cholla, and ocotillo cacti. Here are a couple of examples.
As we made this drive, we observed the lack of any water in the dried out ponds, streams, and washes, drought has returned to the Southwest. We had to remind ourselves that we were in the Chihuahuan Desert and that water is the limiting factor for survival. While many plants and animals have adapted over the millennia, humans have fared less well in environments such as this. We learned that a few settlers made a living on this harsh landscape, raising goats, sheep and a few cattle. They had to be hardy because they regularly faced drought, the hot summer sun, and loneliness. Here are some landscape photos from our drive.
While the majority of visitors to Carlsbad come for the cavern, only a few make this very pleasant drive. It helps one appreciate the surrounding landscape from which the main attraction was derived. We were sad that we couldn’t stick around to visit the cavern and take a hike in the Guadalupe Mountains but there is always next time.
Up next, the White Sands National Monument.
Til next week, travel safe.