Thursday, January 31, 2008

McKittrick Canyon Hike

Before I tell you about the hike, I want to tell you a little about the park. The park is in the southernmost, highest part of the 50-mile-long Guadalupe range. The mountains were once a reef growing beneath the waters of an ancient inland see. (That same vanished sea spawned the honeycomb of the Carlsbad Caverns as well.)

People first visited the Guadalupes about 12,000 years ago, hunting the camels, mammoths, and other animals that flourished in the wetter climate of the waning Ice Age. When the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest in the mid-16th century, Mescalero Apache periodically camped near the springs at the base of the mountains and climbed to the highlands to hunt and forage. As American prospectors, settlers, and cavalry pushed west, the apache made the mountainous areas their bases and fought to ward off encroachers. By the late 1880’s however, virtually all the Indians had been killed or forced onto a reservation. (It always makes me sad to read these histories.)

Guadalupe Mountains is a “hike only” park, and there are no roads through the park. The only way to see it is on foot. We chose to visit McKittrick Canyon because its walls shelter the only year-round stream in the park, and it also offered us shelter from the wind. Additionally, it is known as the most beautiful spot in Texas. The water creates a 3-mile-long oasis of oak and Alligator juniper (known by its bark), Texas madrone, and maple. The canyon itself is nearly 5 miles long, but we chose to walk just the first 2.3 miles (one way, thus, 4.6 miles in and out) to the Pratt Cabin—a little cabin that was eventually donated to the US Forestry Service by Mr. Pratt, who lived there in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t anything particularly ornate, but the entire structure, including the roof, was made of limestone. Very interesting. It would have been cool in the summer, and even cooler in the winter!

McKittrick Canyon exposes millions of years of geological events. During the Permian period, about 250 million years ago, an inland sea covered parts of West Texas and southeast New Mexico. As the climate changed the ocean dried up and left the Capitan Reef high and dry. It is horseshoe shaped and 400 miles long. Most of it is still buried. Sediments and mineral salts buried both basin and reef over the next eons. Then the region began to rise, and erosion has slowly reexposed the seabed with part of the fossil reef—today’s Guadalupe range—towering above.

I have some pictures for you. Here is the link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/GuadalupeMountains

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