As Carolyn and I left the southern New Mexico town of Carlsbad on our second day of Western adventures, on the horizon was the shadowy outline of our next destination. El Capitan, the high, table-like terminus of Guadalupe National Park, was once the coral shelf of an immense salty sea that is now West Texas. Before us to the south was a vast nothingness – just dust and sand stretching for a hundred miles. Not a hill or a mountain – not a tree or even a bush broke the monotony of seemingly endless dry plains.
Proceeding westward, the tallest point in Texas gradually emerged as a rocky prominence so close and yet so remote. At the National Park reception center, the peak towered over us and we learned that the only way to the top was an eight mile hike through a wilderness sprinkled with cactus, sagebrush, and rattle snakes… NOT! We had to be content to stand and gaze upwards and dream of younger years, more agile bodies, and more adventurous souls.
The park extends northward some 35 miles into New Mexico and its wildness sports a more damp pine forest from the peak and along valleys and ridges. It is all wilderness – relatively untouched by human feet or any sign of civilization. Mountain lions freely prowl, mountain goats gingerly leap, and a Grizzly Bear or two reign in absolute confidence we will not disturb their kingdom.
Around the visitor center, native plants, despite the heat and dryness, are surviving and actually blooming so we concentrate our efforts to learn what oddities actually flourish in this stark landscape of rocks and sand. A Horned Lizard blinked at us underneath a cacti veil of thorns and although he was too quick for a photo, we found a replica in the gift shop and “Loopay” or Lupe, as we dubbed him, became a constant car window companion for the rest of our trip.
There are trees here. The Texas Madrone has a red bark and is in flower. A few scraggly desert pines and willows, with their beautiful blossoms, are scattered about. The Sagebrush and Rabbit Brush have a bluish tint and several varieties of Cactus are trying to bloom but they all look like they could use a morning shower which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Actual wildflowers appear to be rare and perhaps waiting for that mid-summer monsoon season. A dark misty cloud system lurks somewhere distant on the horizon perhaps fifty miles away – elsewhere, the skies are clear letting intense sunbeams heat the desert floor to a hundred degrees and more. We don’t see any animals as they are too desert smart to venture out in this intense heat and instead hide in mountainside valleys and caves hidden from sun and dusty wind – and us.
We only intended to spend an hour of our busy day at Guadalupe and we restart our trip with a late morning goal of a little known Texas State Park – Hueco Tanks. Good-bye, El Capitan, we will miss your majestic prominence, your mountain lions and rattlesnakes, and your choking dust. I don’t think so! It was an experience and that is why we chose to be there.
Thank you for visiting with us — on to Hueco and more adventures!