[Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Jan 18, 2020]
After spending the morning in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we headed to Guadalupe Mountains, just 30 minutes away. These mountains were once a reef in the same inland sea that covered the Carlsbad Caverns! Today, Guadalupe is home to the four highest peaks in Texas and to a diverse collection of animal and plant life.
We began our visit with a stop at Pine Springs Visitor Center, the park’s main visitor center and headquarters. We learned more about the park from the exhibits inside and also got great views of Guadalupe Peak, Texas’ highest peak at 8,751 ft above sea level. We didn’t have time or the desire to climb the 8+ mile, 3,000+ ft trail to that peak, so we opted instead of a short but sweet loop nearby.
The Smith Spring Loop is one of the four recommended day hikes on the park’s website. The trail begins behind Frijole Ranch, a historic building dating back to the 19th century when settlers first started ranching in the Guadalupe Mountains. It was used as a ranch all the way until 1969, when its owner at the time sold it to the National Park Service. A few years later, in 1972, Guadalupe Mountains was established as a national park, and the ranch was used as an employee residence and utility building. It was restored in 1992 and is now an interpretive center and a museum. A walk through the small building is very much worth it – thoughtful exhibits throughout tell the stories of the indigenous people and the settlers who made this area their home for many years.
The beginning of the Smith Spring Loop was a gentle ascent along a maintained trail. Awesome views of the area opened up not too long after we started.
After a little over a mile, we reached the heavily vegetated Smith Spring, the trail’s namesake.
The descent was even more gentle. All in all, it was a very pleasant 2.3-mile loop that took us less than 90 minutes to complete.
We did not want to eat at Chili’s again, so we tried to find a good Mexican place for dinner. We ended up at a place that was half-cafeteria/half-grocery store, which was not exactly what we were looking for. After some more searching – and realizing finding a decent place to eat was not easy in this small town – we ended up at a local place called Yellow Brix. The patio looked inviting, but the imminent sunset also meant a precipitous drop in temperatures, so we ended up inside. We inhaled our pasta dishes, washed them down with some wine and headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest.