Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Last weekend we headed to the Guadalupe Mountains, in southeast New Mexico, southwest of the town of Carlsbad.  Debi and Mary have been living out here in Midland for almost a month now, and this was our first big out-of-town trip.  We had almost everything packed up and ready to go on Thursday night, so we were ready to leave right after work on Friday.  Yeah right!  The last-minute things took another hour and a half, and we rolled out of the neighborhood in the Tacoma around 7 PM.  North then west, we dropped off the Llano Estacado and got into some rolling hills as we approached the Pecos.  Lots of rigs out there a-drillin'.  Around Carlsbad on the truck route and north on US 285 to the Guadalupe Scenic Byway, or 137.  By this time it was getting a bit dark and I was pressing on, not wanting to stop.  Whoops, I forgot there isn't any gas available up in the Guads.  Stopping along the way for a bathroom break for Sabkha and other passengers at a "Y" in the road, we could sense mountains around us and heard various oilfield activities - thumps and bumps and pumps in the night.  The Seven Rivers hills.  Finally up the "escarpment" and into the little non-town of Queen, NM.  We continued past to FR 540 and drove up to around 7000' ASL in the national forest.  The temps dropped rapidly, even more than I calculated using dry adiabatic gradient.  It was late, and dark, but we found a good camping spot and set up.  The stars were brilliant and we could see the Milky Way almost perfectly.  Still we could sense some light pollution fuzzing things up, but I could tell how it would really be if it was nice and clear.  It was that good.  Mary was still up like the crazy 7-year-old she is.  She quickly bored of me rattling off various space facts (the sun is 92 million miles from Earth... hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy and hundreds of billions of galaxies... the Drake equation...).  There were a few clouds and we saw some lightning way off in the distance, but the night looked clear in our vicinity so we broke the "always put on the rain fly" rule.  We were camping in our big cheap Magellan tent.  Of course a few hours later it started to rain.  I normally would ignore the rain and keep sleeping, but wisely Debi wanted to get up and put on the rain fly that we foolishly had not put on earlier.  As we put the fly on the rain really started coming down, and we both got a bit wet but survived.  Back in the tent, sleeping, and soon the rain stopped.
Detail of limestone near camp

Saturday morning we all slept in due to our late night.  Mary actually got up first and shortly thereafter the rising sun heated the tent to unbearable levels.  The night had been a very pleasant sleeping-bag-required upper 60s, so 75 F in the tent felt toasty.  After breakfast we were ready to head out on a 4x4 adventure in the Tacoma, but I fretted about our 3/8 tank of fuel.  We drove the excellent-condition gravel FR 540 south toward McKittrick Canyon.  We had spectacular views of Dog Canyon and the Brokeoff Mountains to the west, and we could even see the big extinct volcanic vents north of Dell City.  Not to mention the low, long-looking green slope of the Sacramento Mountains to the north.  The gravel road became an ever-narrowing two-track started. We drove along, through mud and puddles and didn't see much besides trees.  Eventually we tired of the road and headed back without getting the grand views into McKittrick that I expected.  Maybe next time.
View (west) of Brokeoff Mountains from ridge above Dog Canyon

View (NW) of ubiquitous limestone cliffs, with the Sacramento Mountains ramp far away to the northwest.

Debi and Mary with the Texas Guads in the background

Back to Queen, we had lunch in the little cafe there, and continued down the mountain to Carlsbad to fuel up. About an hour drive one way.  Rather than 137 again we cut across on Dark Canyon Road, when I realized I'd been this way before with a ConocoPhillips field trip.  The real tip-off was the man-chair suspended on a wire used for crossing a creek and checking the water level.

Carlsbad was hot, and under construction.  Queen was 72 F but down in the Pecos Valley it was 102 F and felt every degree of it.  We wandered a bit, finding a nice park on Carlsbad lake right in town.  Mary burned herself on the playground equipment.

Lake Carlsbad?

Filled up on gas and not long after were on our way back to the mountains.  Back up Dark Canyon and up the cool incline of the escarpment.  Now with a full tank we did some 4x4 driving around a loop I'd driven before.  Got out and did some short hikes.  Lots of flat-lying limestone, but some sandstone blocks spotted at our camp on 540.
Recent scouring down to bedrock

The road crossed these lovely canyons

On the way up the mountain we were entertained by a number of active and forming rain storms.  Back at camp we were treated to the brightest double rainbow I've ever seen.  Mary and I set off to find the end of the rainbow (gold, leprechauns, three wishes).  It didn't take long walking through the juniper "forest" until we couldn't see the camp or the road or anything.  It's really pretty to just wander around among the trees.  We had our 2-way radios, so when dinner was ready Debi called us back to camp.  We had no luck reaching the end of the rainbow due to it moving away every time it seemed we were getting close to it.


Got back to camp early for a dinner of black beans and ravioli and poking around camp.  Black beans never tasted so good.  Mary found an anthill to poke at, and we went for a walk looking for animals.

As night fell, we saw a number of big rainy-looking storms around, but overhead was clear.  We left the fly on and went to bed around 10 PM.  About a half-hour later the rain began, and it didn't waste any time becoming a downpour.  It was hard to sleep with all the pitter patter.  That's when the real downpour started, and then the lighting.  The first bolts were about four seconds away, and kept moving closer, to three seconds, then two, then less than two.  Debi and I discussed relocating everyone to the truck, through the pouring rain, and we executed the maneuver.  Nothing like the cozy feeling of being in a vehicle with storm and pouring rain outside, starting it up and knowing in a few minutes you'll be warm and dry.

The lightning stopped right after we got into the truck, and the rain quit a few minutes later.  Back to our soggy tent.

Spider hole near camp - dozens of mini baby spiders inside!

Rescuing Sabkha from branches in a wash.  Might be her last camping trip.

Sunday morning we were up bright and early.  The waterlogged stove didn't want to start.  The truck nearly got stuck leaving the campsite.  We set off to find another 4x4 adventure on the forest roads south of Queen. We quickly found more than we'd bargained for.

After a couple of wrong turns leading to dead ends, we found our way deep into the limestone canyons.  The road was mostly fine 2WD road, with some bumpy rocks.  Down, down we went until finally the road was in the bottom of a narrow canyon.  The road consisted of a jumble of large rocks and "steps" that looked too big to handle.  Thankfully we maneuvered the truck through with just one significant "bump" on the bottom of the truck. No pictures of our "close call" as we drove across a muddy hillside at a crazy angle, with a 6-foot dropoff into a rocky creekbed on the low side.  Debi and Mary were busy standing outside of the truck, directing me.


We stopped for several hikes in the fairly cool 72 F weather, but really the sun made it feel hotter.  The pictures look like fall, and there was just a touch of fall in the air.  The days and getting shorter and the sun can't keep up these 100+ temps forever.

Stair steps in the canyon

Mary, rock climber

 Heading home to the flatlands of the Llano Estacado

After our 4x4 adventures were over we scampered into Queen and to Tips Mountain Store, which serves up Sunday brunch 11-3.  Brisket, tea, beans, salad, brownies.  Back on the road to the flatlands... over the Pecos and onto the Llano.  How many more 100 degree days?  How long until we're back in the Guads?


Tonia said...

That is a fantastic picture of Mary with the flower. A clear milky way and a beautiful view might almost be worth the move to Midland!

Plants Amaze Me said...

Wow! Sounds like a great adventure but a bit scary driving in the narrow canyon! You are suppose to drive on roads not canyons.

Beautiful scenery, the Brokeoff Mountains, and the rainbows, the wildlife, oh my.

Hope it wasn't Woo Woo's last trip.
Nice that you have readily available camping buddies. :)