Although dawn at El Capitan was the photographic highlight, and Guadalupe Peak was the geographic highlight, we spent several more days around the mountains anyway! Staying at the Pine Springs campground put us at (or near) a number of trailheads and other points of interest.
For example, a short walk from the Pine Springs Visitor Center stand the remains of an 1858 Butterfield Stage station where the eastbound and westbound Butterfield Overland Mail Coaches passed (as honored by the marker at the top of Guadalupe Peak). Most of what’s left is stone walls like this:
A little way up the road is the Frijole Ranch, whose history begins in the late 1800’s. Water was plentiful, due to a number of springs in the area. The Ranch Museum was closed (and unattractively fenced in!), but we had a nice hike up to Smith Springs. The trail is fairly easy, with less than 400 feet of elevation. There’s a nice pastoral scene at the top with a bench to rest on.
The next trail we hiked was the Devil’s Hall Trail. This is a fun, relatively flat trail with lot of boulders to clamber over and around. Or onto, if you’re trying to get the shot… 🙂 And you will definitely want to wear good hiking boots or shoes, you’re walking on rocks and gravel most of the way.
The trail runs parallel to and then in a stream bed. It was July so the stream bed was dry as a bone. A few miles in, you come to a “gateway,” a formation known as the Hiker’s Steps. Aptly named, as you can see below. You need to watch your step on these, especially if it’s wet, the stairs are pretty steep.
A little farther down the trail, you come to the actual Devil’s Hall, a narrow corridor running between two sheer cliff faces. It’s about 200 feet long, 100 feet high, and 15 feet wide. It’s interesting looking up and thinking that all those rocks laying around you used to be part of those walls above you.
Just to see the world from their perspective we climbed up to the top (around the outside, not up the cliff!) and looked down. My wife suggested to me that getting closer to the edge of the cliff might be unwise.
The official trail ends a short distance from here, though for much of the year you can continue up into the mountains. However, the area beyond is closed from March to August due to sensitive habitat. So we turned around and went back the way we came.