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Scenic Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas ~ Geological Significance

Updated on September 10, 2017
Peggy W profile image

Visiting national, state, and local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Every park is distinct and memorable!

Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains National Park | Source

Exploring Texas

An ancient and unique fossil reef comprises parts of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the northwest part of Texas. These scenic mountains that emerge from the surrounding desert floor are not only very inviting but have great geological significance.

In the year 1998, my friend and I left Houston on vacation traveling by car. Our intent was to see as many National Parks and other natural sites along the way of our 5,000 plus mile trip to California and back.

We had already stopped and viewed the beautiful Caverns of Sonora and spent our first night on the road in Van Horn, Texas.

The next day we were to see our first of many national parks, the Guadalupe Mountains.

West Texas has such wide open spaces! At one point traveling along Highway 54 between Van Horn and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park we had only met 3 other vehicles on the road in a one and a half hour period of time!

The white daisy like flowers are called DESERT STAR
The white daisy like flowers are called DESERT STAR | Source

Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains

Surrounding the outcropping of the mountains is the vast Chihuahuan Desert which extends for miles around and even into Mexico.

While it might seem barren and unpopulated to the eye, this desert is actually teeming with life.

All types of plants and animals have adapted to this area of little rainfall.

The Chihuahuan Desert gets on average anywhere from 10 to 20 inches of rain per year.

Numerous varieties of cactus have adapted to this seemingly harsh landscape as well as lizards, snakes, coyotes and mule deer.

Cactus in bloom
Cactus in bloom | Source

Ready to spring into action with brilliant blooms are flowering varieties of plants when the right amount of moisture comes raining from the skies overhead.

My friend and I had started our vacation in late April of that year so we were to see a number of brilliantly hued Spring blooming varieties of plants in low desert settings as well as higher elevations and locales.

This blooming plant is called BRITTLEBUSH
This blooming plant is called BRITTLEBUSH | Source

Wilderness Area

National Park status for the Guadalupe Mountains was achieved by Congress passing legislation in 1966. In 1972 they went a step further.

Through additional Congressional measures 46,850 acres or about 60% of the entire park was set aside as wilderness area.

The only way in and out of these preserved locations of wilderness area are on foot. Day hiking only is allowed in areas in order to protect the species of animals calling this place home.

Hiking the 6.8 mile round trip to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin in McKittrick Canyon / Guadalupe Mountain National Park
Hiking the 6.8 mile round trip to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin in McKittrick Canyon / Guadalupe Mountain National Park | Source

Where there are mountains generally speaking there are also sources of water and the Guadalupe's are no exception to this rule.

People long ago discovered this site.

Archaeologists have discovered remains of pottery, baskets and other evidence that dates back to around 12,000 years ago.

Scenery on our hike into the Guadalupe Mountains - specifically McKittrick Canyon.
Scenery on our hike into the Guadalupe Mountains - specifically McKittrick Canyon. | Source

In more recent times Apache Indians sought refuge in these mountains. Around 1880 the westward expansion of settlers ultimately drove most of the Indians onto reservations ending their residence in the Guadalupe Mountains.

Uplifted branches of a tree skeleton towards a blue sky
Uplifted branches of a tree skeleton towards a blue sky | Source

Geology

Some 250 million years ago what is now seen as desert and mountain was once an ocean. A branch of the Permian Ocean lay over these parts, specifically the Delaware Basin.

More mineral laden and with a heavy accumulation of sponges as opposed to coral, what eventually formed as Capitan Reef within the Guadalupe's is unlike any other reef in the world today.

Much lime was secreted from organisms like algae and other small animals which kept building and cementing the skeletons into place in what would eventually become a reef.

As the ocean water evaporated and gradually filled in with sand and salt, compression and time altered the organic matter from the tiny organisms that had accumulated and converted them into oil and gas.

Hiking in the Gualalupe Mountains...

Around 10 million years ago some uplifting of mountain ranges started taking place throughout the western United States.

Portions of the Permian Basin became raised of which the Guadalupe Mountains are a part. Some places within the Guadalupe's are 4,000 feet above sea level.

Hiking into McKittrick Canyon within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Hiking into McKittrick Canyon within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park | Source

Since the Guadalupe Mountains are primarily composed of limestone, and acidic water eventually dissolves limestone, there are many caves within the Guadalupe's that have been caused from this effect.

This makes for an interesting place on earth for students of geology and businessmen in the oil and gas industry to have equal interests.

Fortunately because of this land being protected, everyone can enjoy the majestic mountains and diverse landscapes formed within the confines of this 76,293 acre Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Scenery in McKittrick Canyon / Guadalupe Mountain National Park
Scenery in McKittrick Canyon / Guadalupe Mountain National Park | Source

McKittrick Canyon and Wallace Pratt

As already mentioned, the Guadalupe Mountains have been drawing geologists through the years who have been interested in not only the unusual formations found there, but also the possibility of being able to help recover some of the oil and gas hidden within its depths.

One such geologist was Wallace Pratt who used to work for Humble Oil and Refining Company. He eventually became a vice president of what evolved into Exxon.

An unusual plant discovered on our hike into McKittrick Canyon
An unusual plant discovered on our hike into McKittrick Canyon | Source

McKittrick Canyon is uniquely beautiful within the Guadalupe Mountains. It houses not only a stream of water but also a wooded setting with trees such as maples, oaks, madrone and walnut. Cactus and other plants also grow within the canyon walls.

Back when Mr. Pratt would have first viewed it in 1921, it would have been even more spectacular with many waterfalls.

Flooding in the years 1943 and 1968 forced much of the water to go underground.

Closeup photo of a Madrone Tree
Closeup photo of a Madrone Tree | Source

Wallace Pratt purchased a portion of the McCombs Ranch when it became available for sale thinking that he would utilize it for a summer getaway for some of his hunting buddies.

The fallen red branches are from the Madrone Tree
The fallen red branches are from the Madrone Tree | Source

Originally he had partners but eventually after the 1929 stock crash he acquired a major portion of the canyon for himself buying out his partners.

With the assistance of noted Houston Architect Joseph Staub who designed his getaway, Mr. Pratt eventually had a stone and wood cabin erected deep within McKittrick Canyon using quarried stone from the Guadalupe Mountains.

It was a rustic place and the furnishings were appropriate to the setting. Outside the cabin is a picnic table made entirely of stone.

Wallace Pratt's Cabin in McKittrick Canyon / Guadalupe Mountain National Park
Wallace Pratt's Cabin in McKittrick Canyon / Guadalupe Mountain National Park | Source

Fortunately for all of America and the world, Mr. Pratt generously donated almost 6,000 acres of land to the National Park Service helping to ultimately have this land set aside as National Park for everyone's enjoyment.

It now joins other Texas sites that "John Q Public" can enjoy. Thank you Mr. Pratt!

Hiking

While one could obviously spend a great deal of time perusing the natural setting of the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, my friend and I had allowed only one day of exploration before moving on to Carlsbad Caverns which was our next objective on this trip.

We decided to take the 6.8 mile round-trip hike to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin which was rated moderate.

This hike took us into the lush environment of McKittrick Canyon.

McKittrick Canyon Trail
McKittrick Canyon Trail | Source

One has to carry everything in and transport everything out which includes any containers with food, water and the like leaving behind a negligible footprint of having visited there.

The obvious precautions such as using sunscreen, wearing sunglasses and having comfortable walking shoes is necessary.

It was warm and sunny in the desert and we appreciated the shade offered by the canyon walls and trees once we reached that area.

Over 1,000 species of plants are found in this national park and the diversity ranges from plants normally found in diverse places such as the Chihuahuan Desert, the Great Plains and also the Rocky Mountains.

It was interesting seeing the transition from desert to forest as we hiked in the McKittrick Canyon.

Although we were there in the Spring of the year, we could just imagine the beauty of seeing this location in the Fall when the leaves of the deciduous trees would put on their display of color.

Closeup photo of some tree leaves that would become very colorful in the Fall of the year in McKittrick Canyon.
Closeup photo of some tree leaves that would become very colorful in the Fall of the year in McKittrick Canyon. | Source

The Grotto is a natural area where one can view things normally found in caves like stalactites and stalagmites. This is a walk through open area which makes it easily accessible and interesting.

The Grotto in McKittrick Canyon
The Grotto in McKittrick Canyon | Source
Some ferns growing in the Grotto area of McKittrick Canyon
Some ferns growing in the Grotto area of McKittrick Canyon | Source

Our Impressions

First of all my German girlfriend could not get over the vast open spaces in West Texas. One would find it literally impossible to drive for an hour or more and not see a single other car on the road in Europe. She was even more amazed as we continued our westward journey.

Having been through West Texas in the past I was familiar with the endless horizons but still felt dwarfed by the immensity of it all.

The mountains as they first came into sight and loomed ever larger became a focal point.

The Guadalupe Mountains furnish the highest peak in all of Texas at an elevation of 8,749 feet or 2667 meters.

It is a stark contrast to the flatness of the grand desert surrounding the mountains.

Landscape seen along the McKittrick Canyon trail
Landscape seen along the McKittrick Canyon trail | Source

There are a number of trails in which one can hike and enjoy this Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

The trail we chose was perfect for our purposes of seeing some of the park given our time constraints.

The fact that Wallace Pratt considered McKittrick Canyon to be one of the most beautiful spots in Texas amidst so many other gorgeous Texas sites convinced us to spend our precious time seeing more of that area.

With limited time we both decided that this hike into the canyon was well worth the time spent. We allotted about 5 hours for leisurely enjoying ourselves.

Near the Grotto area we decided to take a break and enjoy the lunch that we had transported in our backpacks.

In higher elevations the hiking becomes a bit more strenuous obviously and one would be rewarded with greater overviews of the park.

Some great scenery of hiking in other areas of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Would you like to go hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

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Since we were hiking during the heat of the day we did not experience seeing any of the 67 mammals that call the Guadalupe Mountains home. This includes animals such as mountain lions, deer, bobcats, foxes, ring-tail cats and even black bear.

Bird watchers would be happy exploring here since there are about 225 species.

We did spot lizards sunning themselves but fortunately no snakes crossed our paths.

We left the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas with an appreciation for the wonderful scenery and also more insight as to the geological significance of this area. We were impressed with its grandeur and varying types of beauty.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park location

A markerGuadalupe Mountains National Park -
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Van Horn Rural, TX, USA
get directions

Have you ever visited the Guadalupe Mountains National Park?

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© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed. Thanks!

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi juneaukid,

      Nice that you have also experienced Guadalupe Mountains National Park first-hand. Thanks for your comment and the compliment on the photos.

    • juneaukid profile image

      Richard Francis Fleck 4 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading your hub about the Guadalupe Mountains that I too have visited and climbed. Your photos are terrific.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Eiddwen,

      Nice to know that Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas will be a part of your armchair traveling days of leisure. It really is a unique and beautiful spot...but then aren't all national parks worthy of that statement? Thanks for your comment. Enjoy your weekend as well.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Wow Peggy this one's amazing. Thanks for sharing and I bookmark for my Armchair Travellig slot.

      Take care and enjoy your weekend.

      Eddy.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Adam W.,

      Since you have already been to the Big Bend...did you also make it to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas? There would have been some driving distance between them. Personally...I have never been disappointed when visiting any National Park. They all have something special to offer. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      Adam W. 7 years ago

      I spent very nice time in Big Bend National Park with my girlfriend. I recommend to go there and meet nature ;-)

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi agusfanani,

      I explored Guadalupe Mountains National Park waaaaaaay after my college years. So even if you lost those college pictures....get out there and make some more memories and be sure and take more photos. ( LOL ) Then you can write about it here on hubpages and share it with the rest of us! Thanks for the comment.

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 7 years ago from Indonesia

      It's really a great experience in exploring nature. I liked doing such an activity too when I was in college, unfortunately I have lost lots of the pictures .

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Mardi,

      Aha! You actually clicked on one of the links and read about the elks being re-introduced into the Guadalupe Mountains. I thought that it was interesting also. That is one reason that much of this national park is kept as wilderness area so that animals like the elks can survive as they used to be able to do. It would be fun to be hiking in areas where one would be able to see them living freely in a natural setting. We did see elk outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming and also in the Rockies of Colorado in the wild on other vacations.

      Thanks for reading and adding to the comments new information that I did not insert into this hub...except for the links for people (like you) who wanted to read more.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Greetings Grandma Jones,

      I hope your wish comes true that you get to experience the Guadalupe Mountains in person someday. Wear some good walking shoes and hopefully you can spend even more time there than we did so that you get to enjoy even more of the national park. If you can go in Autumn, you will see the most beautiful display of colored leaves in McKittrick Canyon. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Melody,

      Glad you liked this "tour" of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Thanks for the comment.

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Great photos and information Peggy. I didn't know that the Guadalupe Mountains had the only native herd of Elk in the state, but they were hunted to extinction in the late 1880s. There are about 40 or so head there now, all from animals imported form South Dakota and released in the area in 1928. Thought that was pretty interesting!

    • profile image

      Grandma Jones 7 years ago from Washington

      Beautiful pictures and well written commentary. Someday I hope to experience it in person

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 7 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Peggy, thanks a lot for the lovely tour. Amazing place and great shots.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello samanthagardner,

      Texas not only has the Guadalupe Mountains but others as well. Both National Parks in Texas have mountains. Big Bend National Park is the other one in southwest Texas. We have just about every type of scenery in this large state. Thanks for visiting this hub and leaving a comment.

    • samanthagardner profile image

      samanthagardner 7 years ago from Palm Beach Gardens, FL

      I sad to say I did not even know that Texas had mountains. Wonderful story and pictures. Adding it to my list of places to visit in the US.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello myownworld,

      Thanks for the compliment. After every vacation, the first thing I do is put together a photo album with the pictures and notes from the trip. It is from these that I am putting together some of these hubs. You see a small sample of the photos taken, but hopefully enough to give you an idea of the scenery of each place.

      Until I saw the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in person, I had no idea that it offered such beauty. However one must get out of one's car and hike to get to see much of it. Just driving through one would not have the same impression.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hey Pete,

      You keep saying that Texas is just not one of your favorite places. I'm beginning to believe you! Since we have the lush Rio Grande Valley which is tropical in nature; Gulf shores with sandy beaches; the piney woods of East Texas; West Texas full of mountains and desert; some great cities and other sites worth mentioning...what do you so dislike about Texas????????? It can't be the warm and friendly people down here! LOL

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks Ethel. Happy that you liked hearing and seeing a bit about the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

    • myownworld profile image

      myownworld 7 years ago from uk

      I simply love how well you present your hubs....and the amazing detail and pictures with it. A treat to read! thanks once again.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Jerilee,

      You are indeed fortunate to have been able to enjoy the Guadalupe Mountains several times. To date, I have only been there the one time but would certainly go back if given the chance. Glad you enjoyed the photos that I took along the way. Thanks for commenting.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Hello, hello,

      It was wonderful getting to see the McKittrick Canyon and the Grotto in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The youtube video of others hiking in the park gave me an idea of the other wonderful views if one could spend more time there. Nature, in general, is always a pleasure to experience...and my friend and I were to go on and see much more of it on our trip. More hubs will be coming of our great vacation. Glad that you enjoyed this. Thanks for the comment.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 7 years ago

      Texas is just no one of my favorite places.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Lovely images both in the photos and the words.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 7 years ago from United States

      Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite places I've been lucky enough to enjoy many times. Great pictures!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      This is something only nature can create. You are so lucky to have seen it all. It must have been overwhelming. Thank you for sharing.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Celesta,

      Supposedly they try and avoid humans and we stayed on the paths. I love hiking and would definitely do it again. In the upper elevations it is more alpine in nature. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Celesta 7 years ago

      Beautiful landscape.

      The flowers are beautiful.

      The fear of snakes thwarts any notion of me going hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park:)

      Good hub, Peggy.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello dodonet,

      So very happy that you enjoyed this hub on the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Those spikey yellow type flowers...I had never seen before. Have no idea what they are, but I would agree with you that they were beautiful. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • dodonet profile image

      Dorothy Godier 7 years ago from LONDON

      That was a very beautiful hub and i have really enjoyed reading it. I may say those flowers are a rare species and the fallen red tree, eh in short i love geography and i have loved it.