Thursday, August 19, 2021

I've arrived! Guadalupe Mountains National Park

(Above: Selfie along the Smith Spring Trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I actually made it!  After two or three COVID-19 postponements and two-and-half days of driving nearly the entire length of I-20, I arrived at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas!  47,000 acres of this park are officially designated a "wilderness area" ... which means it has the highest level of park system preservation.  It's a good thing!  The pristine beauty of this place was immediately obvious.

(Above:  My government housing studio apartment.)

But before hitting the trails, there were official "volunteer" papers to sign and a process to check into the provided studio apartment.  The place is very well furnished, and there is a recreation building directly beside my unit with a laundry room, television, games, and more.  I fiddled around with the Internet connectivity and finally checked my email too!  Then ...

... nature called!  Of course it did!  All the park rangers said that the recent abundance of rain turned the landscape green.  Some cactus were even blooming.  Frijole Ranch and the Smith Spring loop trail were recommended.

(Above:  Frijole Ranch)

Frijole Ranch is absolutely lovely.  Stepping into the fenced yard is like stepping back in time.  Local stone was used for most of the structures ... the house, a double outhouse, a tiny one room schoolhouse,  a shed, a bunkhouse, and a spring house.  This is where I'll be over Labor Day weekend conducting my Clothesline Project as a public park activity!  10 - 3 on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday!  Right now, the ranch house is closed for maintenance but a ranger might open it on those activity days!

(Above: Manzanita Spring)

One of the reasons for early pioneers to settle in this area was that there are six springs within a three mile radius.  The Frijole Ranch has one of them.  Nearby, the family living in the ranch house during the early 20th century dammed up Manzanita spring to irrigate their crops and orchard.

(Above: Smith Spring trail.)

From Manzanita Spring, the trail winds up the gentle slope.  It's a 2.3 mile loop.  At the highest point is the shady, picnic area around Smith Springs.

(Above: Smith Spring.)

The water was so inviting but I resisted stepping in. (Visitors are not supposed to do this!  Water is a precious resource in this area and isn't to be disturbed any more than the plant and animal life!) I was told that male tarantulas have been spotted here due to the recent rains.  They are searching for females.  Unfortunately, I didn't see one ... but ...

... I saw several black bees ...

... and a lubber grasshopper ...
... and a rainbow grasshopper.
Well ... that was yesterday!  Today I received radio training.  Yes!  I'm officially a radio carrying NPS volunteer who is required to call in when hiking and call back when "out of service"!  Then, I went back outdoors ... to McKittrick Canyon where the recent monsoon season rains had a stream of cold water flowing.
(Above: Pools of water flowing down McKittrick Canyon.)
There were several times that I had to step from stone to stone over fast moving currents.  Yes, I fell off a few stones but the crystal clear water was refreshingly cold.  The trail to Pratt Cabin (or, as Wallace Pratt called it, "lodge") was 2.4 miles up the gentle slope.
(Above: Pratt's cabin/lodge.)
Built in 1931-32, this stone and wood, cabin had four beds, a table for twelve, and several rocking chairs on the porch.  It was a summer retreat for the Pratt Family.  Wallace Pratt was a geologist who came to the area searching for oil for Humble Oil and Refinery.  He knew, however, that this land was special. Over the years, he acquire more of McKittrick Canyon and eventually donated over 5000 acres to the National Park Service.  The building was locked, but I got a couple photos through the windows!
(Above:  One of the bedrooms at Pratt's cabin/lodge.)
(Above:  The main living area inside Pratt's cabin/lodge ... with lots of evidence that this building was often open in pre-COVID-19 days.)
I sat on one of the rocking chairs for a while, had a protein bar, and drank some of my water while considering the additional distance to "the grotto".  Now, what is more enticing than a "grotto"?  From childhood visits to King Ludwig II of Bavaria's Linderhof Palace (same king that built Neuschwanstein Castle which inspired Disney), a grotto will always be for me a fairy-tale place of exotic scenery.  After all, the Venus grotto at Linderhof (an entirely artificially built enclosure) was built as a set for the first act of Wagner's operatic Tannhauser. How could I possibly resist a mile or so of hiking further up the McKittrick Trail?
(Above:  The Grotto along the McKittrick Trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.)
The grotto did not disappoint!  I even went a little further to the Hunter Line cabin before heading back.  

I took a selfie at the grotto just to prove that I was really there ... and that I'm wearing my new hiking hat!  I also have new hiking boots ... because I totally destroyed the old ones last fall while at Great Basin National Park.  I generally don't like selfies but they do serve a purpose, and I know how to stand still ... unlike the little 8 - 9 inch snake that didn't pose for me ...

... but this skink was cooperative!


Christine said...

Pleased to hear you arrived safely. The photos are just great, love the cabins. . . . And the new hat!!!

Ann Scott said...

Thank you for taking us along on your adventure. The photos are nice to see. I wish I had your stamina! The flower is a white prickly poppy, it looks a bit like our (SoCal and Baja Cal.) Matilija poppy.
Stay safe.

Catherine - Mixed Media Artist said...

agree with Ann, thanks for taking us on your adventure - the area around you looks wonderful