November 17, 2019.
6.8 mi | 1030′ ele gain | 5:30 hr.
We pulled into Guadalupe Mountains National Park late last night. The moonlight cut through the pitch black sky, illuminating silhouettes of the trees and plants surrounding our campsite. The tree branches were blowing in the wind, portending the first obstacle I’d deal with on this trip.
Putting up a tent in the wind was a real challenge. I asked Aaron to help hold the tent down as I piled rocks on each corner of the fabric. The ground was rock solid; no tent stake could penetrate its surface. Once I got to pitching the fly, I had a real dilemma. Rocks wouldn’t work there. But the soil on the edges of the tent pad was soft…if only I could reach it. I had no cords or webbing at my disposal. I frantically tore through our luggage to find something to extend the fly so I could get some stakes in.
My hands fumbled across my Yaktrax, and at last I had a solution. I used a couple of carabiners to clip the Yaktrax to each other and then to the stake. I collapsed into the tent, dreaming about seeing the park in the daylight the next morning (check out my handiwork).
We watched the sunrise from the tent, then ate breakfast and wandered around the Visitor’s Center. After probing the ranger for some information about current conditions and recommendations, I settled on hiking to Devil’s Hall as our introductory hike in the park.
The hike began on a trail right from the campground. We followed the trail right into Pine Spring Canyon and continued straight towards the Devil’s Hall. Along the way, my eyes adjusted to the southwestern desert flora. The most unusual plant I saw was sotol, a succulent that resembles yucca. A thick cluster of toothed, green leaves surrounds a single, tall flower stalk. On this day in November, the dried blooms made the stalks look like giant brushes. They towered over my head, impossibly tall. But those weren’t the only intriguing plant around. Cholla, bedecked with their bright yellow fruits, lined the trail.
The vegetation held my attention until we entered the canyon proper, where the geology took center stage. I marveled at the colors, textures and shapes of the rock. We explored little caves and undercuts, scrambled over conglomerate boulders, examined the perfectly horizontal layers of stone.
A natural staircase, carved out of those parallel layers, led into the “Devil’s Hall.” We climbed the slippery stairs and continued ahead to a truly remarkable spot. Sure enough, nature had created a wide hallway between two nearly vertical walls that reached high above the canyon floor. I suppose water must rush through the hallway during periods of rain, but it was bone dry on that day. Just beyond the hall, a metal sign marked the end of the trail. The canyon beyond the sign is closed to entry for part of the year in order to protect wildlife. Not this part of the year; we kept walking.
Almost immediately, the canyon floor became rougher, rockier and more overgrown. We rock-hopped our way through the quiet forest. Bright red maple leaves fluttered down from the branches above. I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier day.
We scanned the canyon for wildlife, but didn’t see anything much. A few little wrens hid in the spaces between boulders. A couple of grasshoppers posed on the rocks. But there were plenty of animal signs. Most notably, we noticed a distinctive magenta scat around every corner of the canyon. We couldn’t figure out who was leaving it, or if every animal out there was eating prickly pear fruit, but it was E V E R Y W H E R E.
After about a mile of walking beyond the sign, we stopped for a rest and then retreated.
Back at camp, I hurried to make dinner before the sun set. We feasted on taco salad and quickly retired to the tent: it was dark and cold and fires were banned. Shortly after getting into my sleeping bag I thought gosh, it must be like midnight!
It was 6:30 pm.