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Guadalupe Mountains National Park features a gigantic range of mountains, sometimes shear cliffs, that push right up out of the desert. The desert is approximately 3000 foot elevation and the mountain tops are at approximately 8000 feet. The national park protects these mountains and offers extensive hiking trails. There are not a lot of roads to access into the park. If you want to get inside, you must hike.
The origin of these mountains is interesting. The mountain range is actually a barrier reef that used to be just off-shore in a sea that existed there approximately 240 million years ago. The desert and all of the low land that stretches to the south and east of the ridge used to be the deep part of the sea. The cliffs and rise of the Guadalupe Mountains used to be underwater and formed a "drop-off" to deeper water some distance from the shore line of the sea which was to the north and west. As all of this land rose up the water drained away. Now it's a desert and a unique, abrupt mountain range. This barrier reef was formed from a certain type of algae.
We headed into the park on 7 miles of 4-wheel drive only primitive road which brought us close to the cliffs where a homesteader built a house and ranch in 1904. The ranch was abandoned only a few years later due to drought. This trip took 2 hours and part of it followed the 1858 trail used by an overland stage and mail route. We had lunch at the abandoned ranch.
Later we stopped at another early 20th century homestead and hiked 2.3 miles uphill to Smith's Spring. We probably missed the best easy-access trail because we arrived at the trailhead too late in the afternoon. This trail was 4.6 miles into McKinnick Canyon. This canyon has a river that flows through it, and formed the canyon, but as the river exits the canyon where the cliff meets the desert, it disappears! The water just seeps underground. Inside the canyon there are no desert plants. There are maple trees! This canyon hike sounds unique and we will definitely do it sometime in the future.
At the southern end of the mountain range, the highway to El Paso passes near the cliffs and the road raises to around 6000 feet to go through Guadalupe Pass, near Pine Springs, Texas. We drove through the pass and experienced strong winds, probably in the neighborhood of 50 MPH. The follow day, the winds in Guadalupe Pass reached 98 MPH!
We took several photographs which you can find by clicking on this Guadalupe Mountains National Park photo album link.