Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe National Parks
Looking for opportunities to combine multiple National Parks into one trip, Carrie and I decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns NP and Guadalupe NP during Spring Break 2017.
We started off by getting up at 3:00 am and heading out towards New Mexico. We made good time and arrived in Carlsbad about 10 hours later, just in time to catch the lunch rush. After eating we traveled down to Whites City where we had reserved a room at the Rodeway Inn. Whites City is just a wide spot in the road on the way to Carlsbad Caverns. There is a gas station, small grocery and souvenir store, a restaurant, and a couple hotels. We checked into our room and jumped back in the truck to head to Guadalupe National Park.
Devil’s Hall Trail
We got to the park about 2:30 and quickly found the trailhead parking. This trail was pretty flat and after about 1 mile the trail dropped down into a dry creek bed and followed it upstream. There was some mild scrambling over rocks in the creek as we made our way upstream. About 1.8 miles in we came to an area that was formed by a waterfall and the trail climbed up the “steps” made from layers of rock. From here the canyon narrowed and we continued up until we arrived at the Devil’s Hall. A deep canyon carved through the rocks. We took some pictures and then retraced our steps back to the trailhead parking lot.
Smith’s Spring Trail
With plenty of daylight left we headed over to the Rancho Frijoles area to take in the smith’s Spring Loop. This area was very important to the history of this area as there were 3 different springs here which provided much needed water out here in the desert. The ranch house was closed for the night and we would have to come back later to see it. We started out on the loop and soon began the gradual ascent toward smith Spring. As we walked through the desert it soon became apparent we were heading towards a small forest at the base of the mountains. As we entered the forest we could here the sound of running water and discovered a nice area at the base of the mountains where the spring came out of the mountain, flowed downhill for several hundred yards and then went underground again. There was a rest area with a stone path there and was a great place to take a short break. As we headed back downhill the trail looped way out into the desert to remind us that water is the key to all life here. We arrived back at the trailhead just as the sun was setting behind Guadalupe peak – our challenge for the next day.
The Guadalupe Peak Trail is a 8.4 mile out and back trail with a 3000 foot elevation change from the trailhead to the summit. We started out about 7:00am to hopefully beat the heat of the day. The trail steep climb for about the 1st mile. As we reached the steeper slopes of the mountains the trail began to follow switchbacks and natural benches through a gradual but consistent climb to the top. As we gained elevation the desert gave way to forested areas in several places, providing some relief from the sun that was already becoming hot. As the trail traced the edge of the mountain it passed along some narrow rock ledges on the way. About 3.2 miles in we came to the spur to the campsites I followed the spur to the campsite which had fantastic views but was very windy. After the campsite we came to a man made bridge over one of the cliff faces and got our first glimpse Guadalupe Peak. The trail continued upwards on numerous switchbacks as the peak gradually got closer and closer. The final push to the top being a steep 70′ climb up the rocks to reach the peak. The peak has an obelisk on it that was placed there by American Airlines to commemorative the old west trail landmark and the highest point in Texas.
We took pictures ate a snack and then proceeded back down the trail. The trip down was faster but was still challenging and the heat of the afternoon sun didn’t help the situation at all. We arrived back at the trailhead exhausted and proud of what we had accomplished.
After the long hot climb yesterday, we decided to take today easy and hike in a cooler atmosphere. We started out the day at the restaurant in White city with a huge breakfast burrito. We then headed down the road to Carlsbad Caverns getting there just as they opened at 8:00 am. We got our admission tickets and tickets for the 1:00 candlelight tour of the left hand tunnel we started by doing the self guided walking tour starting at the natural entrance. This was a huge opening with a winding walkway that lead right into the mouth of the caverns. As we progressed down the trail it gradually got darker until we were eventually in the dark coolness of the caverns.
The natural entrance trail is 1.5 miles long and passes many rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites as it wound down 700 feet into the grand room. The grand room has another trail that circles around it and stretches over 2 miles underground. As we moved around the grand room we were constantly amazed as bigger and better formations became visible around each bend. One of my favorites was the hall of giants where there were stalagmites over 60′ tall. Also many areas had huge arrays of stalagtites hanging from the ceiling. The trail ended up going by a very elaborate formation called the dollhouse.
After spending the morning underground we rode the elevators up to the visitors center and grabbed some lunch and the met for our candlelight tour at 1:00. The guide showed up for our tour dressed like Indiana Jones and led us to a small room where he explained the tour rules and expectations and provided us with our candle lanterns. We then all headed down the elevator to start our tour down the left hand tunnel. The tour led a group of about 20 people down a relatively flat tunnel about 10-20 feet across. Our lanterns provided a soft glow on the rocks as we walked by. About 1/2 down the tunnel we came to a wide spot and the tour guide told us blow out our lanterns to see how dark it really is. After relighting we continued down the tunnel about another 1/4 mile before turning back around. When we got to the wide spot we all stopped again and each person was allowed to walk out on there own with only a single candle like the original cave explorers had. Visibility was only about 10 feet around you and in many areas you could not even see the walls through the darkness. A very Erie feeling indeed. This finished the tour and after a quick ride back up the elevator, we visited the gift shop and then headed back to the hotel for the night.
McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe National Park is an oasis in the middle of the desert. This hidden canyon houses a diverse biosphere in the desert due to the presence a spring fed creek that runs through the canyon and disappears underground shortly after the canyon ends.
We arrived just as the park opened, watched a short video on the history of the canyon and prepared for the hike. The trail starts at the visitor center in the middle of the desert. It is a wide trail that follows the dry creek through the desert scrub of yuccas and cactus. After a short distance the dry creek comes alive and we can see some water slowing flowing in the creek bed. Around another corner and we begin to see small trees along the stream. within the first mile we have hiked out of the desert and into a wooded forest in the valley. Soon we come to the stacked stone gates of the Pratt Cabin. The cabin was truly amazing. It was made entirely of stone – not from the canyon, but from the surrounding desert. Even the roof was made of stone – something I had never seen before. The cabin was not opened so we spent a few minutes sitting in the shade around the house before continuing our hike up the trail to the grotto. The grotto was quite a surprise as well since there was a significant amount of stalagmites and stalactites in the grotto from water running through the rocky overhang above. There was a nice picnic area near the grotto where Carrie rested as I hiked just a little farther to see the old hunters cabin on the hill. This was a wood structure and in pretty good condition.
After returning to the picnic area near the grotto, I rested before our journey back. On the way back we met a park volunteer who told us that her husband was at the Pratt Cabin and it was opened so we could see the inside. As we were approaching the cabin we spotted some deer in the trees nearby. We toured the inside of the cabin and were surprised at how well preserved it was. After a quick history lesson on Wallace Pratt, the cabin, and his donation of the 5,600 acre McKittrick Canyon area to the National Park Service, we got back on the trail and headed back to the visitors center. This was a magnificent hike and something you wouldn’t expect in the middle of the west Texas desert.