The Top Of Texas:The Guadalupe Mountains

El Capitan, sunrise, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

In keeping with the National Park theme established in my previous post, I thought I’d talk about the origin of the featured photo on my blog’s home page (above is another shot from a little bit later). That’s El Capitan, in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, here in Texas. Don’t confuse it with that other El Capitan in that other park… 🙂

Camper, Pine Springs Campground, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a good 500 miles from home and the nearest hotels to the park are up in New Mexico, so we drove out to El Paso and rented a camper trailer and camped in the park. The trails we hiked all began at the Pine Springs campground.

Eric and Leigh atop Guadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Naturally, the first hike we did was to the Top of Texas – Guadalupe Peak at 8751 feet (plus a six-foot aluminum pyramid at the top)! From that trail we got a top view of El Capitan, but that’s not a very exciting angle. The hike itself is wonderfully challenging. You gain about 3000 feet in altitude from the campground, but a lot of those feet you climb more than once! And, of course, there’s no water anywhere, so we carried (and drank) a lot. The view from the top is very cool, even under the noonday sun.

El Capitan with Agave, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The next day we went to get a closer look at El Capitan. The El Capitan trail is less challenging hiking, but it has almost no shade. The water situation was no better and the constant sun was rather draining. I had hoped that this trail would give me a good angle on El Cap (we’re good friends by now) but most of the trail is too close to get a nice photo. When we branched off onto the Salt Basin Overlook trail, we got some better angles, but by then the sun was pretty high and the light was not optimal. However, as we were hiking with El Cap on our right, I was looking left.
There was a lower peak there that looked like it would have a great view of the cliff.

There didn’t appear to be a trail going up that hill. I couldn’t tell what was at the top. I wasn’t even positive which one it was when we were looking at a map. Later on we went to the Visitor Center to talk to the Park Rangers. We figured out which one it was on the map (at one point I walked outside with one of the volunteers and pointed to the peak I wanted – the one on the left in this picture).

El Capitan and friend , Guadalupe Mountains National Park

I asked the rangers how they felt about going off the trail. They said basically “just try not to create a new one.” Looking at the map, we decided the best approach: not from the campground by the trail, but from a rest stop on the highway about a mile down from the park entrance!

So I said to my wife, “to get the beautiful morning light that I want, we need to be up on top…before sunrise…” I know she loves me because she said, “let’s do this thing!” That may not be an exact quote. 🙂

Unnamed hill, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

We went down and scouted out the spot. There’s private land next to the rest stop, with a permanent ladder installed over the barbed-wire fence, but we decided to skirt that and go about 75 yards up to the corner of the fence, then along it on park land. Then you reach a (in July, anyway) dry stream bed. We followed the stream bed to the base of the hill and looked up. “How long do you think it would take to get up that?” “Oh, I dunno, maybe an hour? ” “So, let’s see, sunrise is a little before six…”

We decided that getting up around 4 would get us to the top in time. We were right. In fact, we could have slept a while longer! We got up appallingly early the next morning, drove down to the rest stop, and got off the trail. With flashlights in hand (and on my head) we tried to avoid tripping over cacti, rocks, and coyotes. Mostly successfully. And we made the summit almost an hour before sunrise! This gave me plenty of time to get set up and get some starry shots!

El Capitan, pre-dawn, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Just after dawn, the light on the cliff face was a gorgeous rosy glow. And that’s about when I got the shot on the home page.

And then I turned around and looked the other direction:

Which is why, no matter how much beauty is in front of you, it’s always a good idea to turn around!

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