We left Balmorhea State Park by mid morning and headed west on Interstate 10 until we turned north on state road 54. The drive along state road 54 was very pleasant as we put the speedometer on 55 and drove leisurely along the road to Guadalupe National Park. We probably only saw four or five other cars until we merged on to state road 180 and then we began our climb up into the mountains. By 1:30 (Mountain Standard Time as we changed time zones) we were parked and set up in our dry camp site at Pine Springs Campground ($4/$8 per night depending on which annual parks pass you may have).
Still plenty of time in the day to take on one of my favorite hikes in the Guadalupe Mountains – The Mckittrick Canyon Trail. About a ten minute drive to the trailhead this 6.8 mile round trip trail is easy to moderately strenuous not due to any elevation change but mostly due to all the loose rounded rocks you will find that make up most of the trail. Along the way you will gain some elevation as you leave the Chihuahuan Desert vegetation and begin to see more lush vegetation along the way. The catclaw acacia, creosote bush and bear grasses give way to the alligator juniper, Texas madrone, and big toothed maple trees.
Another great hike is the hike called the Devil’s Hall which conveniently starts at the Pine Springs campground and ends at a staircase of natural rocks. This 4.2 mile round trip trail is rated as moderate but does have a few stretches of trail that are more like very rocky and more strenuous than moderate. Not a great deal of an elevation change but enough to notice and about the first third of the trail is not very difficult at all as you traverse the side of Guadalupe Mountain walking through mostly desert grasslands. Eventually you will enter the ephemeral creek bed where hiking is more difficult but you are now going to see more vegetation. As the canyon you are in narrows the geology changes into a layer sedimentary area which gives rise to the name Devil’s Hall . The reward is at the end of the trail…
A shorter but very rewarding hike is the two mile easy to moderate trail to Red Springs via Manzanita Springs. It begins at a neat historical ranch on frijoles ranch road. This 1870’s ranch gives one the image as to what it may have been like back in the 1800’s trying to eek out a living in such a barren area. The trail is paved until you get to Manzanita Springs which has created a small ponded oasis in the middle of nowhere, a wondrous place for birding and wildlife watching. The trail moves to more of a moderate trail till you reach the next spring where the Big Tooth Maple trees are quite large and the spring waters are actively dripping off of fern fronds. A great looking Zen like natural rock structure was built near the spring to take it all in.
We didn’t hike the 8.4 mile hike to the top of the tallest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak since I had done that hike before and other than conquering the tallest peak there is not much else to see along the way. No matter how good of shape you are in there is a trail for everyone at the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains National Park….