Showing posts from 2011

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: near Carlsbad, New Mexico
Date: November 5, 2011
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico just north of the Texas border in the Chihuahuan Desert.  The Guadalupe Mountains are an ancient limestone reef, once at the bottom of an inland sea, making them very conducive to the formation of caves.  Carlsbad Caverns National Park has 116 known caves, the showpiece of which is of course Carlsbad Caverns.  There are additional caves in the area just to the south of the park in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. See photos from my November 2012 visit here.

The park is located about 35 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad New Mexico.  There is a seven mile park road from the highway at Whites City that travels through a small canyon to the top of the ridge where the visitor center and cavern entrance are located  The area along the road was recently burned, and there are several pullouts for you to stop and look at the surroundi…

Devil's Hall, TX

Location: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, far western Texas
Distance: 4.2 miles (6.8 km) round trip
Elevation Gain: ~500 ft (150 m)
Date: November 5, 2011

The Devil's Hall trail is a 2.1 mile long trail in Pine Spring Canyon of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas.  The park is an exposed limestone reef with unique ecological features in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, and its best known feature is Guadalupe Peak. I also hiked this trail on  November 2, 2012.

The trail departs the Pine Springs trailhead, where water is available and must be carried in.  The first mile of the trail is fairly flat and traverses the lower and fairly wide section of Pine Spring Canyon.  Then the canyon narrows and the trail begins to follow the streambed, which more than likely will be dry no matter when you visit.  As you move up the canyon you will begin to see trees such as bigtooth maple and gray oak that you will not see anywhere else in the region except for these canyons.


Guadalupe Peak, TX

Location: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, far western Texas

Summit elevation:  8,751 ft (2,667 m)
Distance: 8.4 miles (13.5 km) round trip
Elevation gain: 2,950 ft (899 m)
Class: 1
Date: November 4-5, 2011

Guadalupe Peak at 8,751 feet is the highest point in Texas and located in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far west Texas just south of the New Mexico border and about 100 miles east of El Paso.  Guadalupe Peak sits at the southern edge of the Guadalupe Mountains, which is an exposed ancient limestone reef, which has led to the formation of the 116 known caves just to the north in Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The Guadalupe Peak trail begins at the trailhead by the Pine Springs campground and steadily gains elevation for all 4.2 miles to the summit.  Water is available at the trailhead, and it is important that you take at least one gallon per person per day with you from this point as there is no water along the trial.  The park is in the Chihuahuan Desert, so conditions…

Black Mesa, OK

Location: Kenton, Oklahoma
Summit elevation: 4,973 ft (1,516 m)
Distance: ~8.5 miles (13.7 km) round trip
Elevation gain: ~800 ft (243 m)
Class: 1
Date: October 11, 2011

Black Mesa is a mesa found primarily in Colorado, but also New Mexico and Oklahoma.  It reaches an elevation of 5,712 feet in Colorado, but just north of the small town of Kenton it is the highest point in Oklahoma at 4,973 feet.

Oklahoma's high point is located within the Black Mesa Nature Preserve and is accessed via a trailhead that is few miles north of Kenton (the high point is not within Black Mesa State Park).  The trail follows an old dirt road all the way to the summit and is completely impassible to vehicles in some sections, although you cannot take any vehicles on any part of the trail.

The first 2.5 miles are a flat and relatively uninteresting trail along the base of the mesa that traverses dry and sparse juniper woodland/grassland.  The next half mile ascends the mesa and provides great views of th…

Bull of the Woods Mountain, NM

Location: northeast of Taos, New Mexico
Summit elevation:  ~11,620 ft (3,542 m)
Distance: ~3 miles (4.8 km) one way
Elevation gain: ~2,300 ft (701 m)
Class: 1
Date: October 10, 2011

Bull of the Woods Mountain is an inconspicuous peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Carson National Forest northeast of Taos, New Mexico.  The peak itself is rarely a destination, but is simply a point that most people pass by on their way to higher peaks.

I planned on hiking to Wheeler Peak, which at 13,161 feet is the highest point in New Mexico, but an early season snowstorm during the first week of October put a damper on those plans.  The easiest way to reach Wheeler peak is about a three mile hike from the Williams Lake trailhead above the Taos Valley Ski Area, but due to the snowstorm this road was impassible.  So I had a decision to make: hike along the road for about three+ miles to reach the trailhead or take the Bull of the Woods/Wheeler Peak combo trails for a seven mile one way hike to t…

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

Date: October 9, 2011
Location: Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico

The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad is a steam-operated narrow gauge railroad that runs for 64 miles from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico.  The tourist railroad opened in 1970 and operates from late May to mid October annually.  It reaches an elevation of 10,015 feet at Cumbres Pass, the highest elevation for a passanger railway in the United States, and crosses the Colorado-New Mexico border eleven times.

The Cumbres and Toltec follows the San Juan extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, which was completed in the early 1880s.  This extension went to Durango, Colorado where a section is now maintained as the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.  The Cumbres and Toltec is now listed under the National Register of Historic Places.

One train operates in each direction between Antonito and Chama daily with a stop for lunch at the station in Osier, Colorado.  Six itineraries are offered fo…

Bandelier National Monument

Location: White Rock, New Mexico
Date: October 8, 2011

West of Santa Fe near the towns of White Rock and Los Alamos is Bandelier National Monument, which preserves the ancestral homes of the Pueblo people.  The monument encompasses over 33,000 acres, but most of the ruins are in a small area of Frijoles Canyon.  Most of the park is a designated wilderness area with few ruins to visit, but many trails cross the wilderness area.

There were a variety of dwellings in the valley, but the most unique are those that were built out of the canyon walls.  The rock that makes up the canyon walls is a soft volcanic deposit that resulted from eruptions of the Valles supervolcano, which the monument is at the base of.  There are several trails throughout the valley that lead to and into some of the dwellings.  Getting into the cavities requires walking up and down wooden ladders, but once you get in them they are quite spacious compared to the small openings.

The earliest settlements here have bee…

Pecos National Historical Park

Location: Pecos, New Mexico
Date: October 8, 2011

Pecos National Historical Park consists of several non-contiguous units around the town of Pecos, east of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I only visited the main unit, which contains the ruins of several rock and mud structures built around AD 1100.  In this same area is the Pecos Pueblo Mission Church, a Spanish mission church constructed in the early 1600s.  A short paved trail from the visitor center takes you around to these structures.

The park also protects a portion of the historic Santa Fe trail that was used in the 1800s to connect Santa Fe to Missouri via Kansas and southeast Colorado.  The trail greatly helped to open the area to settlement and economic development.

Another unit of the park protects the location of the Glorieta Pass Battlefield.  This was the location of a decisive Civil War battle in March 1862 in which the Union ended the Confederate attempt to cut the Union off from its western states and territories.

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Capulin Volcano National Monument

Location: Capulin, New Mexico
Date: August 19, 2011

New Mexico contains a great array of volcanic features that is comparable only to, and perhaps more diverse than, Hawaii.  Among the volcanic features are the vast lava fields of El Malpais National Monument, the supervolcano at the Valles Caldera, and the cinder cones in the northeast part of the state, including Capulin Volcano National Monument.  Of the many cinder cones in the region, Capulin was chosen to be protected because it is a nearly perfect example of a cinder cone volcano.

Cinder cones are conical volcanoes that are built of cinders, or small pieces of lava with many air pockets in them.  Perhaps the most famous example of a cinder cone volcano is ParĂ­cutin, a volcano that began erupting in 1943 in a corn field in Mexico.  Within a year ParĂ­cutin grew to be 1,100 feet above the field.

Capulin erupted about 60,000 years ago and is now extinct because cinder cones usually have only one life.  The volcano rises 1,300 fee…