You may have heard my plan to go all the way down to Big Bend NP, which is at the southern edge of Texas on the Mexican border. It had everything that I was looking for for my first overnight bike trip: backcountry campsites, miles and miles of unpaved roads, many of them relatively flat, very few people, and a bike shop (relatively) close by. It’s also supposed to be strikingly gorgeous. However it would add approximately 10 additional driving hours to my trip. They are also having a massive water shortage (like most of the West) so I would have to pack in multiple gallons of water since all of the springs and pools are dry. All of this to say, I didn’t go. On top of the water problem I just couldn’t justify an extra day and a half of driving when I’m constantly anxious about getting to California to study for my exam.
The next place on my list was the Guadalupe Mountains national park, also in Texas but on the western edge. Not many people seem to know about this place and I would t have if it wasn’t for a man I randomly shared a campsite with in Zion last year who have me an entire southern roadtrip itinerary. He said he liked the Guadalupe’s even more than Big Bend! The drive out there after leaving the lovely rolling hill country of Austin was mostly pretty ugly. It’s interesting how some desert scapes make me gasp with beauty and others, just slightly different, I can’t wait to get out of. I think all of the oil machines, paraphernalia, and truck after truck were what did it. But eventually I saw the mountains on the horizon.
I got there late afternoon and was lucky to get a spot at the campground. I had site number 7, smack in the middle of the walk-around loop so I had to carry everything in, but it was removed from everyone else. And it had a great view:
I befriended a couple of campsites including three very pleasant lawyers from Texas who ended up sharing beer and even dinner with me. (Red beans and rice is Delicious!) They all said that the hiking was very rough, and as much as I wanted to climb to the highest point in Texas I knew that I shouldn’t. In the morning I went up to Carlsbad Caverns, only an hour north of Guadalupe. I’ve been in caves before but this was really something different. The walk into the gaping natural entrance was impressive, and the “big room” is so big that I didn’t get any of the claustrophobic feeling I usually get underground. Your brain processes it differently. After walking the 1.5 mile loop around the room you take an elevator back up the 800 feet to the surface.
Even after walking just 2.5 miles around the caverns my toe was throbbing. So hiking was definitely out of the picture. Instead I poured over the map and found one “4-wheel drive high clearance” road out to a place called Williams Ranch. It was 7 miles long which would make for a 15 mile round trip. I asked the ranger at the visitor center and he said he hadn’t heard of anyone biking it but he guessed it would work.
The cool thing was there are two locked gates on the access road, and only two keys. I signed out one and the ranger had the other which meant I was literally the only person out there. I spent 3 hours on the bike with loaded saddlebags and had a ton of fun.
The only signs of people I saw, besides the actual road I was on, were an army helicopter overhead and two crossings of the Butterfield Trail, an old wagon track that was used by the Butterfield Stage company to run mail West between 1858 and 1859. I heard that you could catch a ride for $0.10 a mile, if you could find a place to hang on. Days later in Arizona I would again see it on the map as the “Butterfield Trail.” Pretty cool bit of history.
I didn’t quite make it to the ranch by my turn-around time (which I was very strict about since I couldn’t find my bike light and worried about being out last dark) but looking at the map afterwards I think I was within a half mile. The story of the ranch is that Henry Belcher had it built for his new wife in 1908, who left less than 24 hours after getting there. It is way out there.