"Best moments happen when they are unplanned."
Our last trip to the mountains was a quick Labor Day weekend get-away to the Guadalupe Mountains just north of El Paso, Texas. Our planned excursion was inspired by a Texas Parks & Wildlife article entitled, "Trekking Across the Top of Texas - Conquering The Four Tallest Texas Peaks in One Day." I'll save the details of that plan for another day. On day two, we were driving on Highway 182 from the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico with still significant time to kill but with no set destination in mind as we came upon a road sign: "McKittrick Canyon." Ironically, we had been so fixated with ascending Guadalupe Peak during our entire trip planning that we had somehow missed this hidden jewel.
We arrived at the McKittrick Canyon Contact Station and after a quick glance at the trail options available and calculating we had about 4 hours left of sunlight, we put together a light hiking pack and set out to explore the canyon. We soon understood why this part of the Guadalupe Mountains is so beloved by those that set their eyes here. The place is a menagerie of trees and succulents that include ponderosa pine, ash, maples, prickly pears and Texas madrones with its beautiful shades of reddish bark. We learned later that the foliage in the Fall is simply spectacular and certainly a reason to return in the future.
We hiked along and at times within a stream of cool, clear, ankle-deep water that ran through the canyon and stood in awe at the breath taking views provided by the canyon walls and surrounding ridges. We made our way to key points on the trail like Pratt Cabin, The Grotto and Hunter Line Shack. We got as far as The Notch at 6,045 feet before having to turnaround and start making our way back to the trail head before sundown.
The initial goal of this trip was to conquer the 4 tallest peaks in Texas and yet the most memorable part was the little unplanned side trip to one of most beautiful places in Texas.