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Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas: Viewing Scenic McKittrick Canyon

Visiting national, state, and local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Every park is distinct and memorable!

Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Approaching the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Hiking McKittrick Canyon

An ancient and unique fossil reef comprises parts of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the northwest part of Texas. These scenic mountains that emerge from the surrounding desert floor are not only very inviting but have great geological significance.

In the year 1998, my friend and I left Houston on vacation traveling by car. We intended to see as many national parks and other natural sites as along the way of our 5,000 plus mile trip to California and back.

We had already stopped and viewed the beautiful Caverns of Sonora and spent our first night on the road in Van Horn, Texas. The next day we were to see our first of many national parks, the Guadalupe Mountains.

West Texas has such wide-open spaces! At one point traveling along Highway 54 between Van Horn and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we had only met three other vehicles on the road in a one-and-a-half-hour period!

The Chihuahuan Desert

Surrounding the outcropping of the mountains is the vast Chihuahuan Desert. It extends for miles around and even into Mexico. While it might seem barren and unpopulated to the eye, this desert is teeming with life. All types of plants and animals have adapted to this area of little rainfall.

The Chihuahuan Desert gets on average anywhere from 10 to 20 inches of rain per year. Numerous varieties of cactus have adapted to this seemingly harsh landscape, as well as lizards, snakes, coyotes, and mule deer.

Ready to spring into action with brilliant blooms are flowering varieties of plants when the right amount of moisture comes raining from the skies overhead.

My friend and I had started our vacation in late April of that year, so we were to see many brilliantly hued spring-blooming varieties of plants in low desert settings as well as higher elevations and locales.

Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness Area

National Park status for the Guadalupe Mountains was achieved by Congress passing legislation in 1966. In 1972 they went a step further. Through additional Congressional measures, 46,850 acres, or about 60% of the entire park, was set aside as a wilderness area.

The only way in and out of these preserved locations of the wilderness area is on foot. Day hiking only is allowed in areas to protect the species of animals calling this place home.

Where there are mountains, generally speaking, there are also sources of water, and the Guadalupe's are no exception to this rule. People long ago discovered this site. Archaeologists have discovered remains of pottery, baskets, and other evidence that date back to around 12,000 years ago.

In more recent times, Apache Indians sought refuge in these mountains. Around 1880 the westward expansion of settlers ultimately drove most of the native Americans onto reservations ending their residence in the Guadalupe Mountains.

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Geology of Texas

Some 250 million years ago, what is now desert and mountain, was once an ocean. A branch of the Permian Ocean lay over these parts, specifically the Delaware Basin.

More mineral-laden and with a heavy accumulation of sponges as opposed to coral, what eventually formed as Capitan Reef within the Guadalupe's is unlike any other reef in the world today.

Much lime secreted from organisms like algae and other small animals kept building and cementing the skeletons into place in what would eventually become a reef. As the ocean waters evaporated over time, this area gradually filled in with sand, and salt, compressing the organic matter and converting it into oil and gas.

Around 10 million years ago, some uplifting of mountain ranges started taking place throughout the western United States. Portions of the Permian Basin became raised, of which the Guadalupe Mountains are a part. Some places within the Guadalupe mountains are 4,000 feet above sea level.

Since these mountains are primarily composed of limestone, and acidic water eventually dissolves limestone, there are many caves here. This aspect makes for a fascinating place on earth for students of geology and business people in the oil and gas industry to have equal interests.

Fortunately, because of the protection of this land, everyone can enjoy the majestic mountains and diverse landscapes formed within the confines of this 76,293 acre Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

McKittrick Canyon and Wallace Pratt

As already mentioned, the Guadalupe Mountains are an attraction for geologists through the years, who are interested in not only the unusual formations found but also the possibility of being able to help recover some of the oil and gas hidden within its depths.

One such geologist was Wallace Pratt, who used to work for Humble Oil and Refining Company. He eventually became a vice president of what evolved into Exxon.

McKittrick Canyon is uniquely beautiful within the Guadalupe Mountains. It houses not only a stream of water but also a wooded setting with trees such as maples, oaks, madrone, and walnut. Cactus and other plants also grow within the canyon walls.

Back when Mr. Pratt would have first viewed it in 1921, it would have been even more spectacular with many waterfalls. Flooding in the years 1943 and 1968 forced much of the water to go underground.

Wallace Pratt purchased a portion of the McCombs Ranch when it became available for sale, thinking that he would utilize it for a summer getaway for some of his hunting buddies. Originally, he had partners, but eventually, after the 1929 stock crash, he acquired a sizable portion of the canyon for himself, buying out his partners.

With the assistance of noted Houston Architect Joseph Staub who designed his getaway, Mr. Pratt eventually had a stone and wood cabin erected deep within McKittrick Canyon using quarried stone from the Guadalupe Mountains. It was a rustic place, and the furnishings were appropriate to the setting. Outside the cabin is a picnic table made entirely of stone.

Fortunately, for all of America and the world, Mr. Pratt generously donated almost 6,000 acres of land to the National Park Service, helping to ultimately have this land set aside as a national park for everyone's enjoyment. It now joins other Texas sites that "John Q Public" can enjoy. Thank you, Mr. Pratt!

Hiking the Guadalupe Mountains

While one could spend a great deal of time perusing the natural setting of the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, my friend and I had allowed only one day of exploration before moving on to Carlsbad Caverns, which was our next objective on this trip.

We decided to take the 6.8-mile round-trip hike to the Grotto and Hunter Cabin, which was rated moderate. This hike took us into the lush environment of McKittrick Canyon.

One has to carry everything in and transport everything out, which includes any containers with food, water, and the like leaving behind a negligible footprint of having visited there. The obvious precautions, such as using sunscreen, wearing sunglasses, and having comfortable walking shoes, are necessary.

It was warm and sunny in the desert, and we appreciated the shade offered by the canyon walls and trees once we reached that area.

Local Flora and Fauna

Over 1,000 species of plants are in this national park, and the diversity ranges from plants found in diverse places such as the Chihuahuan Desert, the Great Plains, and also the Rocky Mountains. It was interesting seeing the transition from the desert to the forest as we hiked in the McKittrick Canyon.

Since we were hiking during the heat of the day, we did not experience seeing any of the 67 mammals that call the Guadalupe Mountains home. Animals include many like mountain lions, deer, bobcats, foxes, ringtail cats, and even black bears. Bird watchers would be happy exploring here since there are about 225 species. We did spot lizards sunning themselves, but fortunately, no snakes crossed our paths.

Although we were there in the spring of the year, we could imagine the beauty of seeing this location in the fall when the leaves of the deciduous trees would put on their display of color.

The Grotto in Guadalupe

The Grotto is a natural area where one can view things found in caves like stalactites and stalagmites. The Grotto is a walkthrough, open area, which makes it easily accessible.

We decided to take a break and enjoy the lunch that we had transported in our backpacks in this area.

Our Impressions of This Texas National Park

First of all, my German girlfriend could not get over the vast open spaces in West Texas. One would find it impossible to drive for an hour or more and not see other cars on the road in Europe. She was even more amazed as we continued our westward journey.

Having been through West Texas in the past, I was familiar with the endless horizons but still felt dwarfed by the immensity of it all.

The mountains, as they first came into sight and loomed ever larger, became a focal point. The Guadalupe Mountains furnish the highest peak in all of Texas at an elevation of 8,749 feet or 2667 meters. It is a stark contrast to the flatness of the grand desert surrounding the mountains.

We Loved Our Time Here

There are many trails in which one can hike and enjoy this national park. The trail we chose was perfect for our purposes of seeing some of the parks, given our time constraints.

The fact that Wallace Pratt considered McKittrick Canyon to be one of the most beautiful spots in Texas amidst so many other gorgeous Texas sites convinced us to spend our precious time seeing more of that area. In higher elevations, the hiking becomes a bit more strenuous, and obviously, one could see greater overviews of the park.

We left the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas with an appreciation for the spectacular scenery and also more insight as to the geological significance of this area. We were impressed with its grandeur and varying types of beauty.

Landscape seen along the McKittrick Canyon trail

Landscape seen along the McKittrick Canyon trail

Spectacular Scenery of the Park


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed. Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 27, 2020:

Hi Devika,

The Guadalupe Mountains is one of two national parks in Texas. The other one is Big Bend National Park. I saw the latter one with my husband many years ago. Both are worth visiting in my opinion. I am happy that you enjoyed this virtual visit to McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains. Thanks for your comment.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 27, 2020:

Hi Peggy W The scenic views are amazing! I have not travelled to that part of the world. However, your explanations make me feel I have been there in your great tour. Beautiful place.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2020:

Hi Martha,

As you mentioned, Texas has a wide variety of scenery. I would enjoy going back to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park someday and spending more time there. It would be particularly scenic to view the McKittrick Canyon in the fall season. Thanks for your comment.

Martha on December 22, 2020:

Texas always amazes me. From the forests of East Texas to the tropical climate of South Texas to the desert landscapes of West Texas. Thanks for this wonderful article.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 04, 2012:

Hi juneaukid,

Nice that you have also experienced Guadalupe Mountains National Park first-hand. Thanks for your comment and the compliment on the photos.

Richard Francis Fleck from Denver, Colorado on November 04, 2012:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your hub about the Guadalupe Mountains that I too have visited and climbed. Your photos are terrific.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 19, 2011:

Hi Eiddwen,

Nice to know that Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas will be a part of your armchair traveling days of leisure. It really is a unique and beautiful spot...but then aren't all national parks worthy of that statement? Thanks for your comment. Enjoy your weekend as well.

Eiddwen from Wales on November 19, 2011:

Wow Peggy this one's amazing. Thanks for sharing and I bookmark for my Armchair Travellig slot.

Take care and enjoy your weekend.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 21, 2010:

Hello Adam W.,

Since you have already been to the Big Bend...did you also make it to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas? There would have been some driving distance between them. Personally...I have never been disappointed when visiting any National Park. They all have something special to offer. Thanks for commenting.

Adam W. on January 20, 2010:

I spent very nice time in Big Bend National Park with my girlfriend. I recommend to go there and meet nature ;-)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2009:

Hi agusfanani,

I explored Guadalupe Mountains National Park waaaaaaay after my college years. So even if you lost those college pictures....get out there and make some more memories and be sure and take more photos. ( LOL ) Then you can write about it here on hubpages and share it with the rest of us! Thanks for the comment.

agusfanani from Indonesia on November 09, 2009:

It's really a great experience in exploring nature. I liked doing such an activity too when I was in college, unfortunately I have lost lots of the pictures .

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 08, 2009:

Hi Mardi,

Aha! You actually clicked on one of the links and read about the elks being re-introduced into the Guadalupe Mountains. I thought that it was interesting also. That is one reason that much of this national park is kept as wilderness area so that animals like the elks can survive as they used to be able to do. It would be fun to be hiking in areas where one would be able to see them living freely in a natural setting. We did see elk outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming and also in the Rockies of Colorado in the wild on other vacations.

Thanks for reading and adding to the comments new information that I did not insert into this hub...except for the links for people (like you) who wanted to read more.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 08, 2009:

Greetings Grandma Jones,

I hope your wish comes true that you get to experience the Guadalupe Mountains in person someday. Wear some good walking shoes and hopefully you can spend even more time there than we did so that you get to enjoy even more of the national park. If you can go in Autumn, you will see the most beautiful display of colored leaves in McKittrick Canyon. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 08, 2009:

Hi Melody,

Glad you liked this "tour" of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Thanks for the comment.

Mardi Winder-Adams from Western Canada and Texas on November 08, 2009:

Great photos and information Peggy. I didn't know that the Guadalupe Mountains had the only native herd of Elk in the state, but they were hunted to extinction in the late 1880s. There are about 40 or so head there now, all from animals imported form South Dakota and released in the area in 1928. Thought that was pretty interesting!

Grandma Jones from Washington on November 08, 2009:

Beautiful pictures and well written commentary. Someday I hope to experience it in person

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on November 07, 2009:

Hi Peggy, thanks a lot for the lovely tour. Amazing place and great shots.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2009:

Hello samanthagardner,

Texas not only has the Guadalupe Mountains but others as well. Both National Parks in Texas have mountains. Big Bend National Park is the other one in southwest Texas. We have just about every type of scenery in this large state. Thanks for visiting this hub and leaving a comment.

samanthagardner from Palm Beach Gardens, FL on November 07, 2009:

I sad to say I did not even know that Texas had mountains. Wonderful story and pictures. Adding it to my list of places to visit in the US.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2009:

Hello myownworld,

Thanks for the compliment. After every vacation, the first thing I do is put together a photo album with the pictures and notes from the trip. It is from these that I am putting together some of these hubs. You see a small sample of the photos taken, but hopefully enough to give you an idea of the scenery of each place.

Until I saw the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in person, I had no idea that it offered such beauty. However one must get out of one's car and hike to get to see much of it. Just driving through one would not have the same impression.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2009:

Hey Pete,

You keep saying that Texas is just not one of your favorite places. I'm beginning to believe you! Since we have the lush Rio Grande Valley which is tropical in nature; Gulf shores with sandy beaches; the piney woods of East Texas; West Texas full of mountains and desert; some great cities and other sites worth mentioning...what do you so dislike about Texas????????? It can't be the warm and friendly people down here! LOL

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2009:

Thanks Ethel. Happy that you liked hearing and seeing a bit about the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

myownworld from uk on November 07, 2009:

I simply love how well you present your hubs....and the amazing detail and pictures with it. A treat to read! thanks once again.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2009:

Hi Jerilee,

You are indeed fortunate to have been able to enjoy the Guadalupe Mountains several times. To date, I have only been there the one time but would certainly go back if given the chance. Glad you enjoyed the photos that I took along the way. Thanks for commenting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2009:

Hi Hello, hello,

It was wonderful getting to see the McKittrick Canyon and the Grotto in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The youtube video of others hiking in the park gave me an idea of the other wonderful views if one could spend more time there. Nature, in general, is always a pleasure to experience...and my friend and I were to go on and see much more of it on our trip. More hubs will be coming of our great vacation. Glad that you enjoyed this. Thanks for the comment.

Pete Maida on November 07, 2009:

Texas is just no one of my favorite places.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 07, 2009:

Lovely images both in the photos and the words.

Jerilee Wei from United States on November 07, 2009:

Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite places I've been lucky enough to enjoy many times. Great pictures!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 07, 2009:

This is something only nature can create. You are so lucky to have seen it all. It must have been overwhelming. Thank you for sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2009:

Hi Celesta,

Supposedly they try and avoid humans and we stayed on the paths. I love hiking and would definitely do it again. In the upper elevations it is more alpine in nature. Thanks for the comment.

Celesta on November 06, 2009:

Beautiful landscape.

The flowers are beautiful.

The fear of snakes thwarts any notion of me going hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park:)

Good hub, Peggy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2009:

Hello dodonet,

So very happy that you enjoyed this hub on the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Those spikey yellow type flowers...I had never seen before. Have no idea what they are, but I would agree with you that they were beautiful. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Dorothy Godier from LONDON on November 06, 2009:

That was a very beautiful hub and i have really enjoyed reading it. I may say those flowers are a rare species and the fallen red tree, eh in short i love geography and i have loved it.