My friend Jaren and I headed down to Guadalupe this morning. I had checked last night, and while there was a fire, inciweb had reported it 30% contained two days ago. I couldn't find a current report, but the NPS website showed that three hiking trails were still open. Mental Note: Be sure to check conditions before you go... just in case of another lightning strike forest fire.
The firefighting helicopter flew over us as we pulled up en route to fill up its water buckets. The firefighters who pulled into the parking lot when we did said that the fire was contained, but they were still on the ground cleaning up hot spots. After seeing the terrain and that there are no roads in the area, I have a whole new level of respect for the wildland firefighters and the job they do.
The visitor center has a really nice exhibit on the flora and fauna inside. Somehow in my research I missed that there aren't any scenic drives in the park- Guadalupe is very geared towards hiking. The highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, is located in the park, and is only a 6-8 hour hike. We chose a shorter path given our limited time and hesitation to get that far out in the backcountry with the recent fire.
We chose to hike the Smith Springs trail, a 2.2 mile loop with two springs on it. Mental Note: the Frijole museum is worth a quick stop- seeing a homestead after the flat desolate drive to get to the park gave me more appreciation of the first settlers of the area.
As we hiked, the trail split in one spot. We chose the right (as in non-left...clearly not the “right split”) split, thinking it was a loop, and must come back around at some point. Once we crossed the gully, the trail continued, but was much thinner than it was before. We followed the trail, at a couple points having to stop and check in with each other about where we thought the trail was going. We ran into some gorgeous trees with brown bark, and red and white wood under the bark. Jaren and I decided to turn back around, then ran back into the main trail. Not willing to admit defeat, we decided to follow the much more developed trail up to see where it went. It kept bringing us towards the foothills, and we were sincerely doubting if we were still on the loop trail. Knowing that it was hot, and there was recently a fire that made us a bit leery of getting too far, we had decided to turn around when we ran into a gentleman coming down the trail. He said he worked for the BLM in Georgia, and while he had taken the left-most split where we went right, he was also genuinely confused about this being a loop trail since it appeared to head straight up the mountains. He had gone another 300 feet or so up the trail, and had also decided to turn back, assuming that he had somehow jumped onto the wrong trail.
Erring on the side of caution, Jaren and I also decided to turn around. Once back at the car, we looked at the map, and it appears that we were very close to the far end of the loop (where the spring was) when we turned around. We both agreed that it was a good decision to turn around, even though we had gotten thoroughly confused with the minimally-marked trails. Mental Note: the trails at Guadalupe are minimally marked- be prepared for navigation.
We hopped in the car headed towards El Paso, where Jaren's aunt and uncle had generously offered to put us up for the night. Mental Note: the view of Guadalupe Peak from the west in the salt flats is worth the trip alone. If you love scenic photography, it is a can't miss!
The trip was short but sweet. The current plan is to come camp at the campground on our way back up towards Carlsbad Caverns... stay tuned for part two!
Temperature: 85 in the sun
Visit Date: May 19
-check for wildfire closures before coming down
-plan on visiting Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum- it's quick but worth it
-plan for a long time in the sun- there were few trees that would have provided shade
-camping/lodging is sparse- we chose to camp in the park over any other options we could find in the area.