A year and a half ago when I hiked the Guadalupe Peak trail to the highest point in Texas, I didn’t think my son was ready. He complained about short hikes at the time; he sure wouldn’t have liked eight strenuous miles. Also, it was August and I didn’t want him to die from a heat stroke.
Since then he’s gotten tough. For a twelve-year-old, especially. So, on the Friday that began Christmas break, my friend and I picked up our two sixth-grade boys from school, loaded our gear, and headed west.
If you haven’t been to Texas it may be hard to imagine how big it is. Especially West Texas. Many lifelong Texas residents never see Guadalupe National Park because it’s “too far.” Luckily, we live on the edge of West Texas, one hundred miles west of Fort Worth, so it’s only a six-hour drive to the park.
On Friday night we drove to Van Horn, Texas, which is about one-hundred miles east of El Paso. If you look at a map, you’ll see that nothing other than Mexico is close to El Paso, so 100 miles away is almost a suburb.
I’d had the historic Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn on my travel list for a long time. When we arrived and checked in, it was everything I’d hoped. A terrific, historic atmosphere, spotlessly clean, and delicious food. The bar was fantastic, too.
Hotel El Capitan is sixty miles south of the Guadalupe Mountains, but it is the closest lodging other than a few places in Whites City, New Mexico which are mostly closed due to COVID. The campsites at the park are first come, first serve and fill up daily, so it’s too far to take a chance. If you plan a trip to hike to the top of Texas, Hotel El Capitan is a must.
We got up early the next morning, ate breakfast, and got an early start north. There is nothing for over 100 miles—no gas stations, and only a few houses. So, my heart sunk when my son Ben said, “Pa—you are almost out of gas!” when we were thirty miles north of Van Horn. What a thing to forget.
We made it back to town on fumes, filled up, and started again, arriving at the park headquarters just as the sun was up enough to see the trail.
The first two miles of the Guadalupe Peak Trail are switchbacks that feel like they go straight up. With only a few breaks, the boys did great. We were just warming up enough to want to shed a layer when we entered the Douglass fir forest on the back side of the mountain. There, we were greeted with 30 mile per hour winds that threatened to blow us away. Or at least freeze us.
It took us around three hours to reach the summit, but it is hard to keep track of time because the park is in two time zones, and our phones continuously switched back and forth. We’d told the boys we would rest for an hour at the top, but that wasn’t possible. The wind was so hard and cold that we barely managed to take the obligatory photos by the marker. We didn’t dare get the register out of the ammo box to sign our names; it would have blown away for sure.
The trip down is tough, but generally is easier that the climb. Toward the end, though, it seems as though you will never reach the base.
Back at the pickup, we congratulated each other, and especially the boys, for voluntarily enduring misery and accomplishing something. Then we drank Gatorade and ate cookies.
It sounds strange, but the fastest way home is to continue north into New Mexico before heading back east to the rest of Texas. One of the boys had never been in that state, so he got to mark it off his list. We’d planned to eat some authentic Mexican food while there, but the New Mexico governor has the state closed tight.
We were starving by the time we stopped at a little Mennonite café in Seminole, Texas where we ate not-so-authentic Mexican food in the company of several Mennonite families and New Mexico residents who drove over to find a place to eat.
With bellies and hearts full, we made the long drive home and considered it a good two days.