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Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas - Scenic & Geology Significance

Updated on December 14, 2016

Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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 (one of the Texas sites on our list of places we would visit) 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!

Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains...

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.

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 both desert settings as well as higher elevations and locales.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas

Hiking the 6.8 mile round trip to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin
Hiking the 6.8 mile round trip to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin | Source
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. But in 1972, they went a step further when 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.

Naturally 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 about 12,000 years ago.

In more recent times, Apache Indians sought refuge in these mountains but the westward expansion of settlers who ultimately drove most of the Indians onto reservations ended their residence in the Guadalupe Mountains around 1880.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park images

Scenery on our hike into the Guadalupe Mountains...specifically McKittrick Canyon.
Scenery on our hike into the Guadalupe Mountains...specifically McKittrick Canyon. | Source
Cactus blooms
Cactus blooms | Source
Some obvious caves being created in the limestone rock face.
Some obvious caves being created in the limestone rock face. | Source
Uplifted branches of a tree skeleton towards a blue sky
Uplifted branches of a tree skeleton towards a blue sky | Source


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.

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.

Portions within the Guadalupe's are 4,000 feet above sea level.

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

Flowers seen along the way...
Flowers seen along the way... | Source
Hiking into McKittrick Canyon
Hiking into McKittrick Canyon | Source
Another beautiful plant in bloom
Another beautiful plant in bloom | Source
Scenery in McKittrick Canyon
Scenery in McKittrick Canyon | Source
Wallace Pratt's Cabin
Wallace Pratt's Cabin | 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.

McKittrick Canyon is uniquely beautiful within the Guadalupe Mountains as it houses not only a stream of water but also a wooded setting housing such trees as maples, oaks, madrone and walnut alongside the cactus all growing 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.

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.

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, he 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.

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!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park images

The fallen red branches are from the Madrone tree.
The fallen red branches are from the Madrone tree. | Source
Close up of some tree leaves that would become very colorful in the Fall of the year.
Close up of some tree leaves that would become very colorful in the Fall of the year. | Source
Some ferns growing in the Grotto area
Some ferns growing in the Grotto area | Source
The Grotto
The Grotto | Source


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.

Obviously 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 sunscreen, sunglasses and good walking shoes.....anything one would ordinarily think of taking on a hike into wilderness areas is appropriate.

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.

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

Guadalupe Mountains Nat'l Park

Landscape seen along the McKittrick Canyon trail
Landscape seen along the McKittrick Canyon trail | Source
McKittrick Canyon Trail
McKittrick Canyon Trail | Source
Close-up of a Madrone tree
Close-up of a Madrone tree | Source

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

Backpacking trip in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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

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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 where she currently lives. 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.

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.

If one has limited time, we both decided that this hike into the canyon was well worth the time spent. We alloted 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.

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 various types of beauty.

Guadalupe / McKittrick Canyon

Guadalupe Mountains National Park location

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

Hiking in the Gualalupe Mountains...

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed. Thanks!

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    • Peggy W profile image

      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

      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.


    • Peggy W profile image

      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.

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