After cave exploring at Carlsbad Caverns, we planned to do a little hiking in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I learned of this small national park while shopping for maps of Big Bend National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. On a whim I purchased the map for Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is adjacent to Carlsbad Caverns, because the more trail maps we have the easier it is to find free places to park overnight. As it turns out, Guadalupe Mountain National Park houses the highest peak in Texas. Guadalupe Peak is 8,749 feet tall. We planned a backpacking trip to hike to the top of Texas, but first we needed a little rest. We spent two nights boondocking in the nearby Lincoln National Forest, which I learned about because the back of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park map shows the southern half of the Guadalupe Ranger District of this National Forest. (This map also includes a significant amount of brilliantly written information on the natural history, wildlife and plant life in the region. It is basically the best map impulse-buy ever.)
Following the National Forest Service’s website instructions, we stopped by the headquarters of the Guadalupe Ranger District to inquire about where we could camp. The ranger in the office said we could stay anywhere at all, and recommended forest road 540 as the least rugged of the unpaved roads. Helpfully, he also told us that water is available at the Ranger’s Admin building within the forest.
Once we filled up on water, we continued driving down the highway through the forest toward Guadalupe Mountains National Park, looking for a place to pull off. Signs stating either “Lincoln National Forest” or “Leaving Lincoln National Forest, Private Land” were frequent, as were cattle guards. We found a place to pull off shortly after we passed through a small village in the middle of the forest, Queen. The site had clearly been used before – parallel mud ruts marked where tires had previously torn up the grass, leading to a fire ring. But honestly, I am not sure if we were actually on forest land or on private land…my map shows a few squares of private land within the forest boundaries, but it turns out there is much more than what I see. The forest land is checkered with private ranch land, fenced off to contain the grazing cattle.
On the full day we were in the forest, I took a bike ride to check out this forest road 540, aka “Gaudalupe Rim Road”, which the topo map shows along the top of a sheer cliff. After the initial couple miles along the highway, the ride was over gravel road. I made it to the cliff and vista, but 12 miles on gravel road is a lot and turned around after enjoying the view; I did not continue along the rim for more views.
Every mile or so I would have to dismount to cross a cattle guard, and eventually I saw why. On my way back down the road, I heard a commotion on the side and looked over to see a cow jump up at the sight of me and start running. She ran alongside the road, ahead of me but in the direction I was traveling, so I felt like I was chasing her. Eventually she turned and jumped over the fence. Her friends behind the fence were standing still, staring; only the cow on the wrong side of the fence ran. I think she knew she shouldn’t have jumped the fence, and like a child caught in the neighbors yard, ran to get back to where she knew she should be.