Coral reefs are amazing products of both biology and geology. They were made of stone but were built by life – sea creatures sculpted rocks to transform their landscape through time. The Earth is blessed with ancient reefs that can even date back a hundred million years ago. These fossils carry archives of biodiversity in the past era. They are windows to the environmental changes nature underwent up until this day. What is more fascinating is that the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reefs are not found under the ocean, but on a mountain’s peak. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park held much of Texas’ history when it was still at the bottom of the sea.
The park is at the summit of the 40-mile-long Guadalupe Range in West Texas. It covers a total land area of 86, 416 acres. This park is notable for its uplifted marine fossil reefs that were once part of ancient coral debris, 250 million years ago. In the distance, the mountains looked like a monolithic wall in the middle of a desert. Although once there, a short hike from the entrance reveals the contoured canyons, the lustrous glades, and the red-yellow dunes. The weather in the park changes instantly, but it mostly has relatively hot summers, calm autumn season, cool winters, and early springs. Three major ecosystems defined Guadalupe Mountains – deserts covered with grasslands, canyon interiors where deciduous trees grow, and alpine lands clothed in pine trees’ dense forests.
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK HISTORY
Early settlers used to live in caves and survived through hunting and gathering. They left artifacts including the agave roasting pits, potteries, and rock art, throughout the region. At the end of the Civil War, transportation routes were established for explorers heading west. In 1923, a construction proposal for a park was introduced. However, it did not come into fruition until Exxon’s geologist, Wallace Pratt, lent a hand. Pratt was one of the Permian Basin’s early explorers – a sedimentary basin that is rich in petroleum, natural gas, and potassium deposits. The diversity of the later known as McKittrick Canyon captivated the scientist that he bought a piece of land in the canyon shortly after. In 1960, Pratt contributed 6000 acres of McKittrick Canyon to the government, and the place became the core of the national park. Another 80,000 acres were also bought from J. C. Hunter. It was only in September 1972 when The Guadalupe Mountains National Park officially opened to the public.
SITES TO VISIT
Permian Reef Trail
This is the trail where you can step on the corals that once were a thousand feet below sea level. There are 30 stops along the trail, and the top markers signify the different geological changes of the fossil reefs. Marker 28 is the highest point of the trail where you can high concentration of minerals otherwise present on seafloors. This point is 2000 feet above the desert floor and houses fossils of organisms in the same position they were millions of years ago.
This place is the 10th-highest peak in Texas located at the southern end of Guadalupe mountains. It is also part of the exposed Permian fossil reefs that rose due to tectonic activity in the late Cretaceous period. El Capitan’s height and stark figure made it one of the most iconic West Texan images of all time. This place has been historically used by travelers of Butterfield Overland Mail and now by the people traveling the boundary U.S. 62/180.
Devil’s Hall Trail
The Devil’s Hall this is a narrow valley in between two canyons. The journey there would take 4.2 miles roundtrip at an elevation of about 500 feet. The first mile up is a moderate trail, but the next mile after it is adorned with boulders. You will have to follow the flow of a tiny stream to reach the Devil’s Hall. At the end of the wash, a natural staircase will welcome the tourists. The stairs lead to the most-awaited Devil’s Hall.
The hiking trip to this canyon totals 15 miles back and forth. This canyon oasis promotes adventures, including stream crossings, unique wildlife, vibrant season colors, and an ancient cabin. You can choose between the Pratt Cabin (4.8 miles roundtrip) or the Grotto trailhead (6.8 miles roundtrip) to jumpstart your tour. There is a self-pay park entrance fee required, and the entrance closes at 4:30 pm in Winter and 6:00 in summer. Be sure to hike early and out of the trail by then!
Complete your tour with a taste of the frontiers. Frijole Ranch is a rustic ranch house during the 1970s and was occupied by several families. There is also a schoolhouse, spring house, barn, and orchard within the vicinity. By the way, javelinas, deer, and elks always frequent the area, so be ready with a camera.
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park situates at the border of Texas and New Mexico. Although Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico is a short drive and provides more options, park services are minimal. You can visit both parks while there.