Dog Canyon, Camping in Pictures, West Dog Canyon, The Trees of the Guadalupe Mountains
11/14/2011 55 °F
The rugged Guadalupe Mountains of west Texas are located about one hundred miles northeast of El Paso, and sixty miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico. They are pretty much smack in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on all sides by endless miles of Chihuahuan desert, eroding buttes, foothills and smaller mountain ranges. This I believe is to their greatest advantage.
Because of their lonesome locale and wilderness area designation, the Guadalupe’s don’t see a lot of action like their trendier, friendlier mountain cousins further north (aka the Rockies). Having visited this park on two other occasions, I had learned enough about these mountains to warrant another visit, and this time I was headed into the back country.
The backside of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park has been on my mind for a long time, and I’ve finally taken it upon myself to go and see what there is to see. The ranger station at Dog Canyon is the starting point for any adventures that begin on the west side of the park. To get there, one must travel sixty miles west and south off of the beaten track along beautiful winding desert roads. Watch out for cows, cow crap, and gorgeous evening views of this lonesome locale.
The first day of our adventure started off frigid. A cold front had moved in, combining with the crystal clear night that turns the desert mountains into a freezer. It’s a dry cold, however, so it’s not as bad as it could be. I was prepared for anything, but on that morning, I realized I had forgotten a pair of gloves. Cursing myself, I went about my early morning of making coffee (pressed French style), making breakfast, and packing my gear into my pack to head out into the wilderness.
Our plan was straight forward: We’d hike in five miles or so to the Mescalero campground by way of the Tejas Trail. We’d continue on another eight miles the next day catching the Marcus Trail to the Bush Mountain Trail which would bring us back to Dog Canyon.
You are probably wondering, “Why such a short loop?” The answer has several reasons, the first being that there is no water to be had in the wilderness of the Guadalupe Mountains. You have to carry all the water you need for as many days as you are planning to hike. They recommend about a gallon a day per person, so for us that meant each of us were carrying an extra eight pounds of water weight on top of our already full backpacks. I’ve stopped caring how much my pack weighs, I’ve come to realize that no matter how light I try to pack that it is ALWAYS heavy.
Secondly, my travel partner has recently recovered from a broken ankle, and we wanted to challenge it, but not overdue it on our first backcountry adventure. I figured thirteen miles in the mountains would be a sound challenge for us to gauge our meddle.
With a grunt we launched our packs skyward, and wrestled them onto our backs, securing them with a “snap” and set off up into the mountains.
It never really warmed up at all. The wind remained strong, growing more powerful as we climbed higher. Though it was sunny, it was still cold. However, it was a nice autumn day for a hike and our spirits were soaring as high as the ridges we climbed that day. It was good to be hiking mountain trails once again.
The November sun was low angled and slanted in from just over the ridge. This made for long shadows on the pines across the canyon wall. It was beautiful, really, and made for pleasant views and photographs as we made our way to Mescalero.
We arrived at Mescalero at about 3 pm. This gave us a couple of hours to set up camp, relax, and make dinner before the sunset, and the moon rose, bringing in the night. I decided I wanted to document the finer moments of what goes into a good backpacking adventure.
Thom’s Finer Moments of Camping:
A Snooze in the Hammock.
A Good Pack and a Place to Hang It.
A Good Tent.
Food is very important subject for the backpacker. It’s all I can think about, for the most part, and I really look forward to a good dinner after spending all day on the trail.
Waiting For Water to Boil.
Morning Coffee (French Pressed)
A Hand Warmer (Hot Tea in a Cup)
A Little Ingenuity in Action (I rigged this up to protect our food from nocturnal nibblers).
The sun set early and it was dark not long after. The moon was rising high however, and the canyon side across from our camp was bathed in a ghostly white light. It was bright enough for shadows, and we had no problem negotiating around our campsite in the night.
The clear skies kept the temperatures down around freezing. It was hard to leave the comfort of the down sleeping bag in the morning, but we fought our weakness, and got up to meet the day. After boiling water for breakfast concoctions (coffee being my favorite), we packed up our gear, swept our tracks away (leave no trace) and headed out again along the trail.
The day was off to a good start, and as we hiked along the ridge of side canyon that leads to West Dog Canyon, we warmed up with our efforts. The trail was pleasant, and textural. We walked through crunchy oak leaves dropped by the trees. The oak leaves of the mountain desert have a much smaller leaf than in the Midwest, but they smelled great all the same.
Walking westward, we left the small copse of oaks beyond and headed out onto an exposed ridge once again, and began our long descent into West Dog Canyon. The switch backs seemed endless, and it was hard on the legs, but eventually we made it down to level ground once again. West Dog Canyon is beautiful. The bottomland is sandy with lots of grasses, cactus and shrubs growing on it. I was surprised at how much color there was to the landscape.
We ate lunch at the intersection of the Marcus and Bush Mountain trails hunkered down in a nearby sandy draw to gain some protection from the relentless wind. I boiled up a cup of water and added it to my once steeped grounds in hopes of another decent cup of coffee. I was not disappointed, and I enjoyed my lunch of peanut butter and honey on tortilla, and a cup of coffee. I felt like a cowboy.
I looked up at the top of the high ridge that separates West Dog, and Dog Canyons, and I knew I was in for a long slog. The trail was relentless, and every step I made was uphill. I followed the switch backs higher and higher, doggedly keeping pace. As I looked out over the landscape, I became enthralled. It was gorgeous! There were long views of the canyon and mountains. The trees seemed to have been planted by an artist as to give the landscape the most appealing leading line into the view.
In my opinion, the trees are what make the Guadalupe Mountains so beautiful. On every ridge, there are perfectly placed trees adding depth and dimension to every landscape. My camera was in my hand for every step up and over this ridge, as the vertical angles of the slopes combined with the trees made for very appealing scenery. The Guadalupe Mountains are a national park for a reason, and the Bush Mountain Trail has been one of the most beautiful trails I’ve hiked this year, and perhaps in my life.
Upon reaching the top, we took a brief rest before continuing on down the other side. We had reached out hiking limit, and this is a dangerous time. As the last run down the mountain on a pair of skis is when the most injuries occur, the last mile down the hiking trail has the same feel to it. We picked our way carefully, continuing to admire the view, and made it back to the car safe and sound.
There isn’t a much more euphoric experience in life, as setting down your heavy backpack after many miles of rugged trail hiking. I felt light as a feather, sore in my left shoulder, and moving a bit gingerly, but I was happy. It was a great hike, and I look forward to heading back into the far reaches of the Guadalupe Mountains once again.
Having successfully enjoyed the backside of the Guadalupe Mountains, we took on the highest reaches of the state by climbing 8751 ft. Guadalupe Peak. Then we headed south to new landscapes and new roads... We are enroute as I write this.