We stopped to see the Fort Davis courthouse as we drove out of town to go to Balmorhea SP for 1 night. Since Spring Break was over this day the Sheriff was out with his radar trap to catch anyone heading too fast back to the city (we weren’t speeding). The drive through the Mountains was quite spectacular so you certainly didn’t want to speed. When we arrived at Balmorhea SP it was a line up to get in the gate and the pool had 100’s of people in it. The pool is fed an artesian spring called San Solomon Spring and flows at a rate of 15 Million gallons per day which is enough to fill 300,000 bath tubs. They claim it is the world’s largest spring fed swimming pool, everything is big in Texas! It stays at a temperature between 72 and 76 F year round due to the limestone rocks it passes through. Originally the water flowed in to a Cienega or Desert Wetland. One of the CCC projects was to build a pool area around this spring to make it a tourist destination and the work was completed in 1936. It sure worked on this last day of Spring Break, which was also a pretty warm day for this time of year! By 5 pm most people had left and it was incredibly peaceful being in the pool. One of their current projects is to try to restore part of the original Cienega area so they have 2 outflow channels leading to these wetlands and in turn down to Lake Balmorhea. Since the pool was overfull we walked around Cienega first and here are a few shots.
Once the masses had left we went to the pool and got to experience the endangered Pecos Gambusia foot therapy. When you put your feet in the water the schools of Gambusia come by to nibble anything they can off your feet, it’s like a tickling sensation;-) Since we had our underwater camera with us we were even able to capture them from that angle. That evening Sharon captured some of the flowers behind our campsite and we had a great sunrise over our picnic shelter the next morning.
The next day we drove west to Van Horne where we got diesel and groceries and then headed north to Guadalupe Mountains NP. This was another NP where they don’t allow you to book in advance and they use the first come first serve scenario. The drive was very nice with the Apache Mountain range all along and then you go up the hill with many Wind Gust warning signs and you see El Capitan with an elevation of 8078’ (Guadalupe Peak is the highest in Texas at 8751’). Such an amazing rock face! When we got to the park the camp host immediately came out and let us know someone was getting ready to leave and we could take their spot. She said she liked the spot as it had a picnic table. She also gave us tons of information on the area while we waited for the other RV to leave. By the time we were done talking with her we had decided we would stay 4 nights instead of moving to Carlsbad Caverns as we could easily go there and back in a day. Besides at only $8 per night for dry camping the price was right. The last shot will show you the view from our campsite, spectacular!
Once we were setup we went down to the Visitor Centre so we could pay with Credit Card and then looked around the exhibits and did a short nature trail. We were hitting 90 F in the afternoon and the normal for the mountains would be around 68 F at this time of year! The trail had display boards for the plant life in the area like the Texas Madrone tree and at the end had the ruins of the Pinery Station stage coach stop which was used for overland mail delivery from 1858 to 1859. By this point it was Happy Hour so we went back up to the campground and enjoyed beverages while enjoying the view. This selection was smaller than ones in the past with my favourite one being the Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout and Sharon’s drink Cayman Jacks Margarita.
The next day we were up early to drive the 18 KM to McKittrick Trail Canyon so we could hike the trail. We started the hike around 8:20 AM (the first shot shows Sharon very chipper) and were very glad as the mountains were shading the first part of the trail and the breeze was running down the canyon and the dry river bed so it was comfortable. Later in the day it was around 30 C. Our initial plan was to hike to Pratt Cabin and then in turn go on to the Grotto and the Hunter Line Cabin. The distance to Pratt Cabin was 4 KM with 250’ of elevation and the Grotto and Hunter Line was another 2 KM with another 200’ of elevation. The trail continually crossed the dry river bed as it worked its way up the canyon. The tall flowering plant with me in the shot was the Agave and it only grows that shaft with the flowers on top once in its life span and it could be up to 30 years before that happens and then it dies. The flowers were already dead on this one but it was amazing how tall they shoot up. The Pratt Cabin was built in 1931-32 and Wallace Pratt who owned the land in McKittrick Canyon and donated it to the American people in 1961 and then it became part of Guadalupe Mountains NP. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful to sit and relax in the rocking chairs on the front porch and enjoy the view. The outside stone table at the back of the cabin was giving us ideas of what we could do with the large stones on our own shoreline at Colpoys Bay.
As we carried on up the canyon we saw the unique Alligator Juniper tree and the bark truly looks like the alligators skin. The Grotto wasn’t too large (especially after going to Carlsbad Caverns a couple of days later) but it was interesting as it was a cave in its early form of creating stalactites and stalagmites. We have absolutely no idea what the beam of light was in the shot with me in the cave, ghostly spirit? We ate part of our lunch and chatted with a California couple at the picnic area by the Grotto before continuing down the trail a short distance to see the Hunter Ranch Line Cabin that was built in 1924 (they didn’t have further info on this ranch). When we returned to the main trail we looked at our timing and decided we would carry on upwards 1.6 KM and 600’ of elevation to see “The Notch”. We had no info on it but the name sounded interesting so we thought we would check it out. The hike up had many switchbacks and we really couldn’t see where it was going to take us. It was getting hotter and we kept thinking the Notch would be just around the next switchback. Finally we said we would go another 10 minutes and turn back if we hadn’t come to it but in fact we did reach it and the views were spectacular both directions, definitely worth the hot climb. We sat and enjoyed the view and finished our lunch. After lunch we continued on the McKittrick trail to another ridge we could see to get some shots looking back on the Notch (if you look closely in the shot you can see Sharon standing by the Notch with her pink shirt). We had seen no one else on the Notch trail until we started our decent and we met a couple with their son and we let them know they were very close to the top (this becomes significant when we reach Las Cruces). When we finally reached the visitor centre (7.6 KM back out) we realized they had a hiking check in and out book which we had missed on the way up. We filled in our info and also noticed in the book that 3 people from Orillia had checked in. It was a long 7 hour hiking day but totally enjoyable so we were glad the ranger had spoken to us about this trail option.
For the hike the next day the ranger told us about the Bowl so we decided we would do that. However as we started the hike we followed the signs for the Tejas Trail but we couldn’t find the left turn that was supposed to take us up to the Bowl. We followed the trail for a while but it took us on the Foothills trail which was in the wrong direction. We found out later that due to a wash out they had rerouted the trail, but not updated the signs yet. In the mean time we decided we would do the Devil’s Hall trail instead and we were glad we did, as it was less strenuous and we were still tired from the day before. This trail followed a constructed trail for the first portion and then you followed the dry river bed up to the Hiker’s Staircase and on to Devil’s Hall (about 9 KM roundtrip due to our side track). We went through the hall and reached the area they had closed off for wildlife preservation (not sure what type) and had our lunch before returning. On the way back we saw a whole bunch of fossils in the rock wall just above the Hikers Staircase so I put together a collage of the shots. We also saw strange conglomerate rocks in the river bed and a lizard sunning himself. This day’s hike was only 4 hours so we rested and blogged in the afternoon.
Earlier in the week we had tried to book the ranger tour of King’s Palace at Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico) and the first time slot we could get was Thursday at 11:30 am so we had set that as our day to visit the caverns. We got there early in the morning so we could do some of the self-guided portion of the caverns pre the tour and still have time to do more after the tour. Carlsbad is a destination that I would say everyone absolutely must see at some point in their lives. The caverns are massive and the formations are spectacular! You might call it “Natures Art Gallery”. You literally find yourself saying WOW every time you turn a corner. We spent almost 7 hours touring the caverns and took 493 pictures on our 3 cameras (be sure to have lots of battery backups for your cameras). However it is incredibly difficult to truly capture what you are seeing so I will say that are photos aren’t the greatest, even though we were trying a variety of different camera settings. It’s hard to capture due to the immensity, for example the Big Room itself is the size of 14 Football fields! Anyway you will all just have to make this a destination to truly appreciate it. We started off working our way down the Natural Cavern entrance and we saw all the swallows flying in and out of the entrance. Slide 1377 shows me beside one of the Stalagmites just so you can get some sort of idea of the scale. The path down is well paved but it’s still extremely steep with lots of switchbacks versus in the early days when they had to go down a large set of stairs. We decided to grab some early lunch pre the Kings Palace tour in the underground cafeteria.
The ranger escorted us back to the gate for Kings Palace so we could begin the tour with our large group of about 30 people. The tour went through Kings Palace, the Papoose Room, the Queens Chamber, and the Green Lake Room. The formations in this area were far more spectacular than what we had seen on the way down so we were really glad we had booked the tour. She (the ranger) explained about the history of discovering the various areas and about the types of formations (Stalactites, Stalagmites, Popcorn, Flowstone, Helictites, Cave Pearls, Draperies, Soda Straws, and Dogtooth Spars). In the Queen’s Chamber the ranger asked if everyone was ok if she turned all the lights off and with agreement she did that. The darkness was unbelievable you could not see anything even 1” in front of your face. Everyone was quiet for about 2 minutes and then the ranger started to sing a song and with the amazing acoustics we got goose bumps and teared up from how beautiful it sounded.
Once the tour had completed we returned to the Big Room and spent another couple of hours exploring it. We had rented the audio program hand sets and there were a total of 50 stop numbers were you could press the button and get information on the area you were seeing. It was well worth it to rent these even though there was a bit of repeat of the info pre and post the Big Room. Many of the formations had been named so I’ve included the names in the photo captions. At one point they had an old rickety ladder down in to the bottomless pit and there was an article explaining how the National Geographic had come here in 1924 to photograph the area. It’s very hard to imagine the expedition and the difficulty seeing the massive rooms and formations. They also had a display board explaining how the current LED lighting had been setup by a Broadway theater artistic lighting director.
After we finished the self-guided tour we lined up for the 754’ elevator ride back to the visitor centre. We were glad we had not chosen to hike all the way back up through the Natural Entrance! Back in the visitor centre we finished looking at the displays, like the Guano fertilizer mining time period, and in turn watched a short video. However as we looked outside we realized the wind had really picked up and it looked foggy out but it was actually a dust storm. The drive back to the campground at Guadalupe Mountains was downright scary. We found out later we drove in 69 MPH winds and it was all I could do to keep the RV on the road. In fact at one point the wind lurched the vehicle across the yellow line in to the opposing traffic lane but luckily no one was driving the other way. I needed a large Bourbon when we got back to the campground!
The next morning the wind had died down a bit so we packed up and headed towards El Paso Texas.