Texas vs New Mexico

The Guadalupe Mountain Range, straddling the Texas/New Mexico state line, is home to two National Parks, one in each state. Carlsbad Caverns is the better known of the two, except if you are a Texan, in which case you might realize the importance of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Guadalupe Peak, at 8751 feet of elevation, is the highest point in Texas.

As loyal New Mexicans we might be inclined to favor Carlsbad Caverns, except that hiking up peaks and enjoying wilderness trails is more our style than a tour of underground caverns. Knowing that spring flowers should be making an appearance this week in the Guadalupes we set out for 2 days of hiking at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We knew campgrounds and visitor centers would be closed, but we were totally surprised when we got there to find out that all access, even to the trails, was forbidden.

To me, one of the puzzles in these COVID-19 times is how there can be so much inconsistency in rules and regulations. When we were turned away at Guadalupe Mountains all we had to do was drive north across the state line to Carlsbad Caverns, in the same mountain range, and there all trails were available for hiking. The same mountain range, the same National Park Service managing the two parks, but an entirely different reception. I thought New Mexico’s governor had been over restrictive in her rules, but I was sure counting my blessings that we were being allowed to hike. Neither day did we encounter anyone on the trails so no fear that we were spreading germs. Hooray for New Mexico.

Both of the hikes that we did were reached by driving past the entrance to the caverns on a road that led up into the southwestern face of the mountain range.  Each hike went up a side canyon towards the ridge of the mountains.

Tuesday’s hike up Yucca Canyon was the steepest one, starting at 4600 feet and ascending to 6000 feet in less than 2 miles. Once that elevation was reached the trail leveled off nicely on a long plateau that we hiked across for another mile or so before turning around.

Approaching saddle
Partway up canyon
Looking south Guadalupe Peak is visible in the distance.
Hiking along the plateau.

Wednesday’s hike up Slaughter Canyon had the opposite experience when it came to elevation. The first couple of miles were fairly level, easy walking except for the many ankle-twisting rocks in the arroyo bottom that the trail kept crossing in and out of. The steep ascent up to the ridge started at 4200 feet and went to 5700 feet, again in less than 2 miles.

The goal was to reach the trail junction at 3.5 miles. My GPS showed 3.75 miles when we turned around with no junction in sight.

Rocky footpath in one of the sections in the arroyo.
Turpentine Bush in bloom.

Look closely back down the trail to see Lee enjoying the view

Over the course of the two days, Lee must have taken over a hundred flower pictures. With his professional camera he can capture the most minute detail of the blossoms to show off their real beauty. When I try for flower photos with my phone camera they are a disappointment. I tend to be more drawn to the cactii and here are three favorites.

Ocotillo in bloom

Rainbow cactus
Yellow cactus–not sure of variety.

San Pedro Parks

With the arrival of hot weather this week it was time to change our preferred hiking locations. The desolate areas of the Rio Puerco Valley have recently provided us some excellent hikes, away from the crowds and at lower elevations, just right for springtime temperatures. But with upper 80’s in today’s forecast, hiking in the mountains is what came to mind. Since it’s Saturday, though, we knew the local trails in the Sandias would be too crowded. Fortunately, without driving too much farther we can find pleasant mountain hiking in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness.

This is one of New Mexico’s oldest wilderness areas, created in 1964 as part of the Federal government’s original Wilderness Act of 1964. The area had first been set aside by the Forest Service as a Primitive Area in 1931. The word “Parks” was commonly used in the American West to refer to an area of open grassland hidden amongst forests at higher mountain elevations. The average elevation at San Pedro Parks is 10,000 feet and it averages 35 inches of precipitation a year–much more than what we generally see anywhere else in the state.

Most of the precipitation is in the form of snowfall and we saw that today.  Because the Nacimiento mountain range is rounded and not jagged high peaks, when you look at them from the valley, it isn’t obvious that there could be unmelted snowbanks up there. Our planned hike was an out and back on the Las Vacas Trail.  There were many cars at the trailhead but we knew that most of the people would only be going as far as the San Gregorio Reservoir, a popular spot just a mile up the trail.  This was earlier in the season than the other times we have hiked there and we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of water in the lake and stream.  It was challenging to avoid the muddy spots as the trail went along the lake and then to find a way to get across Clear Creek at the point it empties into the lake.

Nacimiento Peak across the lake.
One of the creek crossings

After  passing the lake the trail follows Clear Creek to an intersection with another trail near a meadow which we knew would be a good lunch spot and turnaround point. We couldn’t quite make it, though, to the intersection. The snowbanks along the creek were in heavily shaded areas and got deeper and deeper as we approached the meadow. We tried climbing higher up the rocky slopes next to the creek where the snow had melted but finally decided to just make do with eating our lunch in one of the open sunny spots before heading back down.

Snowbanks along the trail
Some spots required stepping into tracks that were even deeper.

If we would have made it to one of the meadows we might have seen more flowers. The two varieties we did see, Candytuft and Buttercups, were few and far between but, given all the other beauty around us, I have no complaints about the day. We knew we had picked the right place for today’s hike in pleasant 70 degrees when we got back to Albuquerque and saw that the temperature had reached a record-breaking 90 degrees here.

Blue sky and green trees
Easy walking