Fall Colors in Guadalupe Mountains National Park

October 3, 2012Steven SmithNPF Blog

When I envision trees with beautiful fall colors I used to dream of the North East. After a backpack trip through one of America’s least visited National Parks I will never be the same. Some friends of mine decided to go on a fall trip through the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and I decided to tag along. I did not expect more than a few days of enjoyment with a couple of good friends, what I found was a hidden fall treasure buried within our park system.

Hunter Line Cabin

As you approach the remote Guadalupe’s from the east you are surprised by their size. The 3,000 foot rise from the surrounding desert floor is a sharp contrast in topography. The stark outer bluffs seem dry and lifeless, but deep inside the canyons the mountains conceal lush colorful forests filled with Bigtooth Maples, Velvet Ash, Junipers, Walnut, Oak, Madrone, and Ponderosa Pine. Starting around mid October the leaves begin to change, bringing hundreds of visitors to a forgotten park.

Pine Spring Canyon

McKittrick Canyon is a favorite choice for fall color. A moderate day hike takes you deep into the canyon. As you begin, the harsh desert surroundings slowly begin to fade away and you find yourself alongside a meandering mountain stream with an unexpected population of rainbow trout. When I first laid eyes on this canyon I found myself forgetting I was in the desert. After about two and a half miles I found myself looking at an abandoned stone cabin. Historic Pratt Cabin was built by William Pratt who eventually donated the land to the park system in the 1960s. The cabin still lays nestled in the mountains untouched by time. It is easy to imagine what drew William Pratt to build his home within the quit canyon.

Mountain behind trees

We hiked a little further down the trail to find the Grotto, a tiny outdoor “cave” where dripping water has formed stalactites on the overhanging limestone. This was a perfect place to share a lunch on one of the large limestone tables provided. After we enjoyed our meal we continued on a little way to see Hunter Cabin making our trip almost seven miles from the start.

Limestone Grotto

Up for a challenge we continued along the trail to McKittrick Ridge. Deemed “The Big Sweat” the trail climbs 1,600 feet in 1.2 miles and is not for the faint of heart. However,  a well earned view awaited us at the Notch. The Notch has often been deemed the prettiest place in Texas. With the panoramic view of the upper and lower canyon, I can’t say I disagree. It was at this point that my perception was forever changed. When people talk about fall colors this is the place I am forever transported to in my mind. On a cool crisp fall day when I step out on my porch, this view is what I long to see again someday.

Mountain ridge

My friends and I came prepared to spend the night at the McKittrick Ridge backcountry campsite. We woke up the next day and continued on our multi-day trip to see more parts of this amazing park. We continued on to the Tejas trail witch eventually led us down through Pinesprings canyon and back out of the park. This 2-3 night, 28 mile journey through the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains forever changed my perception of the desert mountains of Texas. When people talk about fall colors this is the place I am forever transported to in my mind. On a cool crisp fall day when I step out on my porch, this view is what I long to see again.

Orange Trees in Fall

Steven loves the outdoors and sleeping under the stars. He also writes the outdoor blog www.MyLifeOutdoors.com featuring reports from the trail, rivers, and mountain summits as they are explored through hiking, backpacking, paddling, and skiing. Come and share his experiences as he writes about his life outdoors.

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