Tag Archives: Texas

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Chihuahuan Desert Magic

The western escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains

On the afternoon of Sunday, November 7, Patrick and I wrapped up our day at Guadalupe Mountains National Park with very special desert vista before continuing on Bold Bison’s intense Texas video shoot adventure in El Paso. The unexpected magic of that evening would set a tone for the rest of the week as I explored—largely alone—this metropolis at the far western edge of Texas and got to know it and its art scene a little better.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook Trail

It wasn’t much past dawn on Sunday, November 7 [2021] when Patrick and I pulled into the parking area of Pine Springs Visitor Center at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. On this day off in our very busy Texas video shoot, we wanted to do a hike or hikes in the Park. Neither of us was particularly keen for the elevation gains we’d need to get up into the Park’s high country, so we opted for a front country hike: the El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook loop. It was long at 11.5 miles, but its elevation gain was modest, and it was rated “moderate” by the Park Service, so it sounded perfect. It ended up being a very tough hike.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Return to the Desert

El Capitan

On Halloween morning, a Sunday in 2021, Patrick and I began our roadtrip from Chicago to Texas. The previous spring, the Land Trust Alliance (LTA) had engaged us in work to enhance communications capacity for nonprofit land trusts in Texas. Over the summer, we had delivered a series of online workshops in storytelling, messaging, and video, available to any LTA member land trust in Texas for free. Then LTA staff selected seven organizations, representing the diversity of the state’s landscapes and a range of conservation work, for more intensive work. While a video about conservation in Texas would be the final deliverable, it was actually not truly the point of the project. In the course of making the video, we’d be capturing far more interviews and videos than we’d include in the final reel. All that material would be available for the organizations to use.

And so Patrick and I went to Texas.

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Southwest 2021: Planning

White Sands National Park

In November 2021, the Land Trust Alliance sent Bold Bison (my business partner, Patrick, and me) to Texas for ten days to conduct thirty-three video interviews with the staffs, boards, and supporters of seven land conservation organizations (land trusts) across the state. This whirlwind trip took us to Plano, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso with the ultimate goal of a video portrait of conservation work across the Lone Star State.

The business trip’s conclusion at the far western tip of Texas coincided with the approach of my birthday. So Sean and I decided to roll my being in El Paso with a birthday trip to White Sands National Park and a long weekend in Santa Fe. I hoped to pick up a few other Park Service sites while we were there (Pecos National Historical Park, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve, Petroglyph National Monument).

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Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks: Going Home

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Monday, November 19 dawned cool and cloudless in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and we were heading home. This was the twelfth and final day of my wonderful fortieth birthday trip to two National Parks. Although we were saying goodbye, we intended to make a quick stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park as we departed.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Rattlesnake Springs

On Friday, November 16, after a full day of exploring the underground palaces of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we decided to visit a very special aboveground part of the Park in our final hour of daylight: Rattlesnake Springs, the site of a lush oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert beneath the Guadalupe range. Rattlesnake Springs is a small, twenty-four acre unit of Carlsbad Caverns National Park purchased by the National Park Service in 1934 as a means to ensure a reliable water source for the development of the National Park. Because of its water and array of trees and shrubs, Rattlesnake Springs hosts 350 bird species, forty species of reptiles and amphibians, and thirty species of mammals. John had been monitoring the site’s bird lists on eBird and was keen to visit, so we decided to check it out on our way back to Carlsbad.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Gypsum Sand Dunes

The western escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains: Bush Mountain (left), Bartlett Peak, Shumard Peak, Guadalupe Peak, and El Capitan

On the afternoon of Thursday, November 15, we concluded our adventures at Guadalupe Mountains National Park with a private visit to the gypsum sand dunes beneath the magnificent western escarpment of the Guadalupes. Beginning around twenty-six million years ago, the area west of the range began dropping and the mountains began rising along a steep vertical fault. Slowly the fossilized Permian coral reef emerged as softer rock layers eroded away. Meanwhile, the dunes out in Chihuahuan Desert lowlands west of the range and were formed by an ancient lake. Much like in Death Valley and huge portions of the Great Basin Desert, all of the streams on the western side of the southern portion of the Guadalupes did not reach the sea but instead flowed to a lake in the depression beneath the escarpment. When the climate became warmer and drier, the lake evaporated, leaving a huge salt flat basin. The gypsum dunes were formed by the wind collecting the sand from the vanished lake.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Frijole Ranch and Smith Spring

Thursday, November 15 was our day of transition from Guadalupe Mountains National Park to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With the backpacking trip as part one, car camping with Phil, Adam, and Sylvan as part two, we were now going to embark on part three and be joined by John, Catherine, and Mariana down from Chicago. But we wouldn’t be checking into our AirB&B in Carlsbad, New Mexico until the evening, so we still had much of the day to see a few more wonders in the Guadalupe Mountains.

Sotol and Hunter Peak
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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Devil’s Hall

Devil’s Hall

Devil’s Hall is a short, narrow chasm a few miles up Pine Canyon from its wide mouth. It is accessible via a two-miles-and-change hike from the Pine Springs Trailhead. After the crazy events of the previous night and morning, our afternoon’s adventure on Wednesday, November 14 was a hike up to Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s only accessible slot canyon of note.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Curious Incident of the Truck in the Hotel Room

Before dawn on Wednesday, November 14, Sean nudged me awake. We were curled up in a nest of pillows and comforters left behind by Adam, Phil, and Sylvan who, not keen on another night of freezing temperatures, had decamped to a nearby hotel. “Nearby” is relative here. Adam had texted Sean the night before that there were no available rooms in Carlsbad, New Mexico an hour away so they’d continued on and found “the last available room” in Artesia, New Mexico an hour and a half away.

Lying there in the blankets, Sean nudged me and handed me his phone. It took me a moment to understand what I was seeing in the texts from Adam. Around midnight, a truck had driven through the wall of their hotel room.

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