Having traversed through Marfa, Fort Davis, and Big Bend National Park over the span of one weekend last year, fellow GFFers Kathleen Chu, Lindsay Brisko and I decided to continue our backcountry road trip tradition this year with yet another exploration into West Texas. Tyler Cini, our other 2013 GFF traveling counterpart, unfortunately had to back out of our trip this time around (but not to worry, he will return for our 2015 adventure).
In keeping with the eerie Halloween holiday, our first destination was the dark and mysterious caves of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns. Taking a tour down a few ropes and ladders, and through the underground system’s lower cave, we were exposed to mind-bending natural formations as well as pitch black and somewhat cramped crawling spaces. As absolutely no natural light enters the lower caves, headlamps and other electric light sources were needed to illuminate the wonders below, and what wonders they were. The length of time it takes for a single stalagmite to form is astonishing, spanning back hundreds of years. After spending half a day 800 feet below the surface, we finally decided it was time for a change in elevation.
Our next stop was the official highest point of Texas in the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The long and arduous hike up to Guadalupe Peak paid off in full as we sat in awe of the vast surrounding landscape, quoting Lion King and watching small planes fly by at elevations lower than our own. Needless to say, the descent from our 8,715-foot elevation was a smidgeon easier than the trek up. Having just tackled the tallest point in the state, the stroll through Devil’s Hall was a piece of cake. The icing on top of that cake came in the form of gorgeous colors of the changing leaves. When it comes to timing a trip to West Texas, research told us sometime between mid-October and mid-November would be best, as this marked the transformation period of the indigenous trees. We found ourselves surrounded by a rich palette of deep reds, bright yellows and fiery oranges. If you ever find yourself wondering when to plan a trip out that direction, take it from us: the first weekend of November is PRIME.
To conclude our West Texas tour, we wound up driving further west into the Gypsum Sand Dunes. Still a part of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the dunes serve as an isolated patch of desert, with rolling hills of cool, white sand, your perfect tanning spot and a great view of the mountains. Now that’s not to say that this Eden came without its serpents. En route to the dunes entrance from the parking lot, our brigade encountered a roughly 4-foot long rattlesnake. Sadly, what came next cannot be divulged to the general public (you know, what happens in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park stays in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park). Having survived the beast, the sandy payoff was a perfect ending to our wonderful return to God’s Country.