8,749 Feet (Highest Point in Texas)
Standard Route from Pine Springs Campground
8.4 Miles Roundtrip
3,000 Feet Elevation Gained
Greenhouseguy and son Ian
Guadalupe Peak is in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park 110 miles east of El Paso. Hikers can access the standard route from the Pine Spring Visitorís Center on Hwy. 62/180.
Guadalupe Peak is in a Wilderness area, and quite a few regulations apply. Camping is only permitted in designated areas. The Pine Springs Campground has 20 tent camping sites and 19 RV camping sites. There are no RV hookups or showers. There are rest rooms and sinks, and fresh water is available at the campground and at the visitorís center. Hikers should carry at least one gallon of water. Dogs are allowed in the campground, but not on the trails. Campfires and firearms are forbidden. The charge for tent camping is $8 per night. There are also five backcountry camping sites on Guadalupe Peak. They are on the north side of the trail, 3.1 miles beyond and 2,200 feet above the trailhead. There is no charge for backcountry camping, but campers must obtain permits from the Rangerís Station. All campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a $5 fee for hiking on the trails in the park. Contact the National Park Service for a multitude of additional regulations. There are no service stations for at least 35 miles in any direction, so plan accordingly.
The Guadalupe Mountains were formed from lime deposited by algae and other organisms during the Permian Age. Much of the mountain range is an ancient barrier reef that has been lifted far above the archaic ocean floor. In time, the inland sea was cut off from the ocean and the water evaporated. This formed the vast salt flats that are located to the southwest of Guadalupe Peak. During the pioneer era, entrepreneurs harvested the salt for sale on the El Paso market. Before the pioneers came, Mescalero Apaches hunted deer and elk and harvested agave for food. Most of the Indians were forced onto reservations by about 1880. A site on Guadalupe Pass was selected for a Butterfield Stage Coach station because of the presence of springs in the area. Subsequent ranching operations near the site enjoyed limited success because of the lack of water. Only nine inches of rain per year falls on the Guadalupe Mountains.
Geologist Wallace Pratt donated 5,632 acres of land to the National Park Service in about 1960. This land formed the nucleus of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which was formed by an act of Congress in 1966. The park now encompasses 86,416 acres, more than half of which was designated as Wilderness Area in 1978. It is the only Wilderness Area in western Texas.
Ian and I left Brighton at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 11th. We headed due south on I-25, and arrived at El Paso, TX with as few interruptions as possible. At El Paso, we turned east on Hwy 62/180 and drove towards Pine Springs. We stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint along the way, and a polite officer let us pass without too much grief. Guadalupe Peak came into view from a distance of at least 40 miles; there is nothing on the flat Chihuahuan Desert to obstruct oneís view. I stopped to read a historical marker at the desolate salt flats. We ascended Guadalupe Pass, and near the summit we arrived at the Pine Springs Visitor Center at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The journey took 13 hours, taking into account that Texas is in the Central Time Zone.
The Pine Springs Campground does not accept reservations, so we were fortunate that there were still two campsites available when we got there. The visitorís center was closed when we arrived, so I used an after-hours pay station to pay the $8.00 tent camping fee. We pitched our tents, and broke out the hexane stoves to heat up a couple of cans of beef stew. It was simple fare, but the warm meal was a treat after suffering through the grueling 13-hour car trip. The campground has water fountains, restrooms, and sinks for washing. Each campsite has a picnic table and a pad suitable for two small tents or one large tent. Chilled bottled water is available from vending machines. The grounds are densely vegetated with the plant life of the Chihuahuan Desert. Our campsite was surrounded by Texas Madrone, Alligator Juniper, Soaptree Yucca, Banana Yucca, Apache Plume, Blackfoot Daisy, Gray Oak, and PiŮon Pine.
Ian setting up camp
Insects were also well represented. I saw several quarter-sized beetles roaming the grounds. There were no mosquitoes, but various non-biting insects plagued us. Ian and I lounged in our chairs and read for a while, but the insects drove us to our tents in short order. Our neighbors were apparently enjoying some weed, and noisy kids and dogs kept me from falling asleep right away. The skies were clear, so I didnít need the fly on my tent. I watched the Big Dipper start to disappear behind a mountain, and was asleep before it was entirely gone. The temperatures dropped into the upper 50ís at night, so our fleece bag liners were all we needed to stay warm.
I set my alarm for 6:00, but slept through the alarm and didnít wake up until nearly 7:00. I awoke to the smell of bacon frying, and regretted that it wasnít mine. We broke camp, freshened up, and ate granola bars at the trailhead. Ian filled out the register while I paid the $5.00 hiking fee. We hit the trail at 7:30, anxious to see what the trail had to offer us.
The Guadalupe Peak Trailhead
The trailhead is at 5,370 feet above sea level. The trail starts out fairly level, and is covered with limestone gravel. After a short distance, there is a marker that directs hikers to four different trails. We followed directions to the Guadalupe Peak Trail.
Trail marker for the Guadalupe Peak Trail
After we passed the marker, the trail started to switchback up the side of a ridge. The plant life on the lower part of the trail was well suited to the desert: Engelmannís Prickly Pear Cactus, Mescal, Apache Plume, Desert Spoon, Beargrass, Soaptree Yucca, Gray Oak, Alligator Juniper, Blackfoot Daisy, Priarie Zinnia, Wrightís Verbena, and many others were present. As we ascended the ridge, we were also moving further into Pine Spring Canyon. The trail never actually reaches the crest of the ridge; it follows on the north side, in a westerly direction just below the crest.
Trail conditions on the lower portion of the Guadalupe Peak Trail
Bark of the aptly-named Alligator Juniper
As we gained altitude, the environment around us changed. We passed PiŮon Pines (their seeds are great in pesto sauce!), Mescal (formerly valued by Indians as a food source and a source of intoxicating liquors), Buckbrush, and Indian Pinks. These plants are able to withstand the slightly lower temperatures that the high ridge has to offer.
The middle portion of the Guadalupe Peak Trail. This part was blasted into the side of a steep cliff
Indian Pinks (Silene laciniata) were among the most colorful wildflowers on the hike
At about 3.1 miles, we passed the spur trail to the backcountry campsites. A sign on the north side of the main trail marks the path. The campsites are on an exposed ridge that can be pounded by winds up to 100 miles per hour. Rock wind shelters protect the site, but rangers recommend sturdy tents. The camping area is 2,200 feet above the trailhead.
Sign marking the spur trail to the backcountry campsites
We descended slightly via a trail blasted into the side of a low cliff, and passed over a footbridge. This area was cool and shady, and provided a brief respite from the bright sunlight. At this point, the trail crossed over from the north side of the ridge to the south side of Guadalupe Peak. There was still a significant amount of elevation to gain as the trail broke out of the pine trees and switchbacked up the south side of the peak.
The trail as it switchbacks up the south side of Guadalupe Peak
As we gained altitude on the south side of the peak, I looked back at the route as it passed over from the north side of the ridge to the south side of the peak. That part was easy compared to the remainder of the trail!
Looking back at the route as it passed from the north side of the ridge to the south side of the peak
There were no trees on the upper part of the trail. The trail wound around the upper peak in a clockwise direction, moving from the south side to the west side of the summit. Much of it had been blasted into the limestone.
Upper portion of the Guadalupe Peak Trail
We summited at 10:00, about 2.5 hours after we started. The summit was littered with ladybugs (ladybird beetles if you want to be entomologically correct). Many of the plants were almost entirely covered with insects, including the Mescal shown in the image below:
Mescal (Agave neomexicana) covered in ladybird beetles
A truly distinctive monument marks the summit. American Airlines placed the monument on the summit in 1958 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Butterfield Stage Coach station on Guadalupe Pass.
Ian relaxes and hydrates beside the summit monument
Off in the hazy distance, I could see the salt flats. They stretched on for miles and miles.
The Salt Flats are the remnants of a vast inland sea
The terrain to the southeast did not appear to be nearly as flat as the land to the southwest
View to the southeast from the summit of Guadalupe Peak
In retrospect, the Guadalupe Peak ascent could not be compared to any 14er ascent. The route was an easy Class 1 from trailhead to summit. The trailhead elevation, summit elevation, and total elevation gained are similar to the South Boulder Peak/Bear Peak route in Boulder County Open Space. Even the vegetation can be compared to a Colorado foothills climb: Juniper, Scrub Oak, PiŮon Pines, Mountain Mahogany, Buckbrush, and many of the wildflowers are closely related to species that are found in Colorado. In fact, they have common ancestors that lived in a vast plant community that existed before the last glacial event. If this trail existed in Colorado instead of Texas, I would consider it one of the finest Foothills hikes in the state. It was certainly worth the time and effort required to reach this summit.