The Great Guadalupe, Carlsbad, Fourth of July Adventure (Part II)
PART II The Loop (Pine Springs to Blue Ridge to The Bowl and back to Pine Springs)
Apryle had planned out a multi-day loop hike around the park and we had backcountry sites reserved along the way. Therefore, on Monday, June 29th, we woke early and packed up our camping supplies and descended from the Guadalupe Peak campsite. We briefly regrouped at Pine Springs, and packed all the gear we would need for a three-day expedition. From the comfort of the Pine Springs complex, we crossed over the dry creek bed and then began our climb up the Tejas trail. The trail was totally exposed to the sun and we encountered many beautiful plants and unique animals as we trended upward. The ground was a reddish brown coloration and there were rocks strewn over the surface keeping us on high alert for venomous snakes. Fortunately the only serpent we came across was a harmless bull snake and he slithered on his way.
As midday approached the temperatures climbed into the low 80s, which was relatively comfortable for me, having come from central Texas; but Apryle was used to a much more mild Pacific northwest. She handled the heat well though and we pressed onward switching back time and again. As we approached the Bowl we spotted a herd of sheep in the distance. They were magnificent to see and we stopped to watch them so easily pick their way across the rocky landscape. Unfortunately, these were not native Desert Bighorn, but actually an invasive Barbary sheep from North Africa.
Essentially, Desert Bighorn sheep widely roamed New Mexico prior to the 1940s, at which time a combination of excessive hunting, competition and diseases (from domestic livestock) resulted in an elimination of the elusive ungulate. At this same time, a private ranching operation in Hondo Valley New Mexico (northeast of the Guadalupe Mountains) acquired Barbary sheep. The sheep began escaping in 1943 and by 1950, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish decided to introduce Barbary sheep to various destinations. The thought was that the drought-resistant exotic animal could act as a substitute for the extirpated Desert Bighorn. Fast-forward to present day and there are now efforts to reintroduce the native Bighorns, which is a challenge due to the established Barbary sheep herds.
At any rate, we were excited to see the unique ungulate none-the-less. After about 3000 feet of climbing we reached the Bowl, which is a two-mile wide depression atop the Guadalupe Mountains. The Bowl is an unexpected site in the middle of the Chihauhuan Desert. There are forests at the higher elevations in the park, but the Bowl is particularly lush. The canopy is made up of ponderosa pine, southwestern white pine, Douglas fir, and Aspen, while the forest floor is more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest than a high desert.
There are cascading brooks, moss, and even snails moving across the forest floor. There was even sign of Elk on the trail. Elk were extirpated in the early 1900s, but a few animals were introduced from Wyoming and South Dakota in the 1920s, and now a herd of about 30 or 40 roams the park. The story of Guadalupe’s highland forest starts about 15000 years ago when the climate of Texas was much cooler and moister. As the climate began to warm, only fragments of the forest survived at higher elevations, and the Bowl was one of these fragments.
We took a short rest at the Pine Top Campsite to take in the shade and then we continued onward to Bush Mountain. The trail began to change from dense forest to sparse ponderosa stands intermixed with typical desert flora such as agave and cacti. We reached the 8631 ft Bush Mountain and then descended to the Blue Ridge campsite where we would be spending the evening. We set up our camp on a pine needle strewn tent pad and rested a bit after our 12.4-mile (3051 ft) hike. We went for a second 5 mile hike later in the evening going out the Blue Ridge trail to the Marcus trail and back making our mileage total for the day 17.4 with 3800 vertical feet.
We settled into the tent ready for a restful night sleep, but we were awoken in the middle of the night with the rumbling sound of thunder. We could actually see the lightning illuminating the sky around us. We heard the crack of thunder and even heard trees falling near by. We were not sure which to be more worried about, a tree falling on the tent or being struck by lightning. We decided to roll up our foam sleeping pads and sit on them with our feet together to insulate us from the ground currents. After seemingly hours of sitting in this uncomfortable position terrified of the summer thunderstorm, it finally passed and we were able to get some sleep.
After our rough night in the mountains, our gear was drenched and we decided to cut the multiday trip short and return to the Pine Springs campground for the following night (Tuesday, June 30th). We traveled down the Blue Ridge trail to the Tejas trail and then onto the Juniper trail. Each of these trails meandered through lush dense forest and upon reaching the bowl trail, we were surrounded by a shroud of fog. It was hard to believe that we were still in the desert, but once we climbed to the summit of Hunter Peak we caught a glimpse of the barren landscape below.
After summiting the second highest mountain in the park, we started our descent down the Bear Canyon trail. This was a very steep and tight switch-backing trail that lost 2000 ft in 2.3 miles. On our way down to the Pine Springs creek we saw a Turkey Vulture drying its wings and a fox darting off under cover of boulders. We reached the Frijole trail and finished out our abbreviated loop with 10.1 miles and 1500 vertical feet.
Upon reaching the Pine Springs campground we set up our tent and dried out our supplies before going for another short run. This time we did a short five-mile out and back on the El Capitan trail. We caught excellent views of the second most famous rock in the US named El Capitan. Our final mileage total for the day was 15.1 with 2100 vertical feet. Even though we were not able to carry through with our original plan, I feel like we were able to get an adequate glimpse of the park.