This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series New Mexico

Guadalupe Peak Redux – Texas’ High Point

Around 300 million years ago, western Texas and southeastern New Mexico were covered by an inland sea, called the Delaware Basin. Over time, a reef developed around the edge of the water. In these systems, calcium carbonate from organisms with shells forms limestone rock. Sometime during the Cenozoic Period, tectonics lifted the region, causing the Delaware Basin to evaporate.

The limestone which had once bathed in shallow inlets now soared above the landscape. The Capitan Reef transformed into the Guadalupe Mountains.

This formation is one of the planet’s biggest preserved and exposed reefs. Living coral reefs produce some of the most extraordinary biodiversity on Earth. Fittingly, a mountain chain made of a fossilized reef produced some of the most spectacular geology of the continent. The Guadalupe Mountains are home to the highest point in the state of Texas and Carlsbad Caverns, one of the world’s great natural wonders.

The Guadalupe Mountains - photo by Leaflet
A map showing prehistoric reefs in Texas and New Mexico - National Park Service

Driving east from El Paso, the Guadalupe Mountains jut starkly above what used to be the Delaware Basin. Standing sentinel over the Chihuahuan Desert is El Capitan, an imposing vertical formation worthy of a spot in the hallowed halls of Yosemite.

The Captain offers a glimpse into the range that stretches behind it. The Guadalupe Mountains are rugged towers in a palette of siennas and burnt reds.

El Capitan - photo by Kyle Stout

The crown of the chain lies just one slot behind El Capitan. Guadalupe Peak rises 8,751 feet above sea level. Though the mountain is 700 feet higher than El Capitan, the range ascends so quickly from the desert that the tallest spot in Texas can hide behind its sentinel at the proper angle. Of the 50 states, Guadalupe Peaks ranks as the 14th-tallest High Point; it’s the only one in the 8,000s.

A 4.2-mile trail leads from the floor of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which sits 3,000 feet below the summit. Switchbacks assault the steep fossilized reef. Climbing Guadalupe Peak requires patience. The trail ascends several zeniths along the way, but the final prize is not visible for most of the journey. Not until one has meandered through exposed limestone cliffs and copses of Douglas firs and ponderosa, pinion, and southwestern white pines does the High Point emerge.

Though this ascent is not easy – 8.4 rocky, steep miles can take a toll – Guadalupe Peak offers a “big mountain” feel at a relatively accessible toll. Climbing this crag will feel like an achievement. The successful hiker is rewarded with resplendent views of the range and the desert.

Guadalupe Peak from Hunter Peak, across the valley - photo by Fredlyfish4
A visualization of the trail to Guadalupe Peak

My journey to the top of Texas required more than 8.5 hours to complete. Yet, only about 5 of those hours were spent moving. The discrepancy cannot all be attributed to enjoying the unparalleled views of El Capitan and the rest of the range. Nor can it go to my wife, who managed to summit Guadalupe Peak while six-and-a-half months pregnant! After all, though she was slightly off her normal, torrid pace (and I mean slightly), that lost time was still moving time. The culprit was the 19-month-old child that spent most of the trek living in luxury on my back.

Changing diapers, shoveling snacks into a tiny mouth, calming conniptions, picking up dropped items, and taking pit stops to let my daughter join in the hike all added up to a lot of time.

By and large, she was a great traveler. She loved the gargantuan nature of the rocks and the mountain forms. She adored the summit of Guadalupe Peak so much that she threw a tantrum when we needed to leave. The first portion of the downclimb was rough on the ears and the psyche, as a wailing child dampens the spirits immensely. Thankfully, she slipped into a much-needed slumber. When she awakened a short time later, the great mountain attitude had returned.

I believe we have a little mountaineer on our hands.

The monument on Guadalupe Peak - photo by Deborah Stout

The journey up and down Guadalupe Peak was as invigorating as it was exhausting. This hike offers several unique features. Spying fossils in the very rock of the trails is intriguing. Imagining a living reef, covered in seawater, provides an imaginative exercise in time travel. The stainless steel pyramid at the apex is a monument unlike any other on a High Point. The resplendent views stretched to eternity. To see El Capitan from a new vantage point – above it! – was a literal shift in perspective. Watching the sun throw larger and larger shadows from one line of mountains to the other connected me to time and place. Seeing the desert merge hundreds of miles away with the horizon elicited infinity.

When we reached the terminus, my body ached from the arduous trip, but my soul was nourished. To the lover of mountains who wants a doable challenge with a big payoff, Guadalupe Peak must be near the top of the list.

El Capitan from Guadalupe Peak - photo by Kyle Stout
A closer view of El Cap from Guadalupe Peak - photo by Kyle Stout
The sun paints shadows on Hunter Peak - photo by Kyle Stout
The moon rises during sunset - photo by Kyle Stout

Further Reading and Exploration

Guadalupe Mountains National Park – official website

Reef Formation at Guadalupe Peak – National Parks Service

Guadalupe Peak – SummitPost

Guadalupe Peak – Peakbagger

Guadalupe Peak – AllTrails

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