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Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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After my successful attempt to find the aspens of Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park and unsuccessful attempt to find the same on Mt. Livermore in the Davis Mountain Preserve, I had one more place to check out: The Bowl in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Sunday, August 14
Having not stayed at the Pine Springs Campground in the park, I decided that this would be the time to check it out.  I arrived early enough so that a site relatively close to the trailhead and bathrooms was available for me.  The campground itself is nice inasmuch as RV sites are separated from the tent camping sites, and the tent camping sites are spread out to the extent that you don't feel like you're staying in a motel with no walls between the rooms.  Its closeness to the trailhead also provides nice views of the mountains:


16814006 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

With some daylight left, I wandered around the area taking wildlife pictures, such as this one of a Big Bend Tree Lizard:...


16814002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... a female Lesser Goldfinch drinking at the faucet next to the campground information board:...


16814003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and a female Summer Tanager.  She was flying around the area pursued by what appeared to be a couple of juvenile Summer Tanagers that appeared to be begging for food.  I think she was trying to give them the idea that it was time for them to start finding food on their own.  Unlike the previous couple of days, the clouds were clearing out, revealing an almost-full Moon as the sun was setting:


16814007 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

This meant that night photography experiments would have to be conducted.  I played with the settings on my camera which yielded better results than my attempts in the Chisos Mountains.  The Moon lit up Hunter Peak dramatically:


16814008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Facing the other way, as at Big Bend National Park I got a shot of the Moon, Mars, and Saturn all in the same field, except now the Moon was in Sagittarius:


16814009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The Moon was bright enough so I could walk to the visitor center and back by its light, and prepared to go to sleep with it illuminating the campsite:


16814010 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The next day, I would go searching for the aspens of the Guadalupe Mountains.

Monday, August 15
After eating breakfast and breaking camp, I stopped by the visitor center to inquire as to where the aspens of the Guadalupe Mountains could be found.  Unfortunately, all the rangers there knew was that they supposedly could be seen from the Bowl Trail and otherwise had no specific details.  With this sparse information in mind, I proceeded to slog up the Tejas Trail.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky, which meant I'd be getting the Sun on me most time given how little shade there is along that trail.  This gave me plenty of opportunities to take pictures of the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak:


16815001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It also gave me plenty of opportunities to bemoan the distance I had to travel;  I took an image here about two-thirds of the way up to behold the length of the trail.  If you look in the distance, you can see both branches of the Guadalupe Peak Trail ascending the flank of that mountain:


16815005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Finally, by about 1:30 I made it to the top and the intersection with the Bush Mountain and Bowl trails, where I ate lunch in this much more shaded area.  Afterward, I took a look at the trees in the area.  It always fascinates me to find myself in a forest with pine, oak, spruce, and Douglas-fir trees just a couple of miles away and a couple of thousand feet in elevation from desert scrub:


16815006 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The Pine Top area is always good for taking panoramas.  This one includes Hunter and Guadalupe Peaks:


16815009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I started hiking east along the Bowl Trail.  In May, since the last time I'd hiked the trail, lightning struck in the northwest part of the park and started a fire.  Because the fire was of natural origin, the National Park Service controlled it to the extent that it didn't affect private land outside the park and protected historic structures within the park and otherwise kept it down to low intensity.  This was considered beneficial, because the major portion of the park hadn't burned to any large extent in about 90 years, significantly longer than the average time between fires historically.  By mid-June, the fire had burned itself out.  In The Bowl area, the conflagration never was very intense, so the majority of trees were still standing and relatively unaffected.  However, one could still see signs of the fire from the trail:


16815010 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

From the higher elevations of the trail, you can see the high peaks of the Guadalupes.  In this image, on the skyline you can see Guadalupe Peak on the left, Shumard Peak to its right, and Bartlett Peak near the right edge:


16815011 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I took the north fork of the Bowl Trail loop (which I missed the last time I was there) and started descending into The Bowl itself.  When I arrived there, I made the one large mammal sighting of the day, a group of several Mule Deer:


16815013 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The rangers said the aspens were supposed to be visible from the trail in The Bowl, so I decided to make as complete a circumnavigation of The Bowl as possible.  In a park publication I had read that there was a historic structure nearby, and soon I found it:


16815014 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The sign on the door reads "Fire Cache", so I think it presently is used as a place for storing materials when fighting fires.  Looking inside, I saw this:


16815015 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

There appear to be bunk beds there, but from the general condition I don't think they've been used for a while.  Elsewhere on the floor I saw a couple of firefighters' helmets, but otherwise the cabin was empty.  I continued my search for the aspens.  For about an hour I circled The Bowl looking for the distinctive white bark of aspens.  I never saw any.  The only trees that looked like they had light bark invariably turned out to be trees burned in the fire.  I finally made it back to the Bowl Trail and decided to head down, with the mystery of the location of the aspens of the Guadalupe Mountains still intact (Lance, you wrote in another post that you had gone hiking with Laurence Parent while he was Artist-in-Residence at GUMO, and he wrote about going to the aspens - did you go along with him on that?).  Along the way, I was reminded that the Chihuahuan Desert was nearby;  even at 8000 feet of elevation you can see an agave growing next to a burned Ponderosa Pine:...


16815016 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and here with some oaks and Douglas-firs:


16815019 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The trail looped around westward and came to the intersection with the Bear Canyon Trail, which I took so that the hike would be a loop.  This is the steepest trail in the NPS system in Texas and probably one the steepest in the entire system, with an average grade of nearly 20% (by contrast, the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, considered to be absolutely brutal, has an average grade of "only" 15%, although it's about four times longer than the Bear Canyon Trail).  The trail exists because ranchers of a century ago needed water for their livestock down on the desert floor, so they built tanks to catch rain in the higher, rainier elevations of the Guadalupes and piped the water down through Bear Canyon, constructing a trail along the pipe's path to service it.  You can still see sections of the pipe lying in the canyon along the trail:


16815021 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The canyon is there because water has carved a path through the limestone slopes of the Guadalupes.  This has produced a mesic environment, one which is relatively cool and humid.  As a result, there are plants which aren't commonly found in outside of canyons in the park, such as the maple trees seen along the trail in this image:


16815023 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The steep canyon affords an opportunity for the mixing of different plant communities, such as the Ponderosa Pine in the middle of this photo near the canyon bottom, growing almost a thousand feet below its fellow pines in The Bowl.  You can see above it higher up the canyon walls the sparseness of vegetation due to the lack of shade present in the canyon bottom.  Meanwhile, in the foreground are two Lecheguillas, growing in this moist environment unlike that in which their fellow plants are growing higher on the canyon walls and on the desert floor:


16815024 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It took me about an hour and twenty minutes to hike the 1.8 miles down the canyon to the intersection with the Frijole Trail due to the steep grade, but after that it was relatively flat hiking back to the trailhead.  It took about nine hours total due to the time spent fruitlessly searching for the aspens, but thanks to my encounter with the cabin, I still consider the mission to be a success.  As I began the drive back home, I caught the Sun setting behind the Guadalupe Mountains and took this one last photo from about 20 miles away to remember them by:


16815026 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The next day I got back to Austin with a stop at South Llano River State Park, where I successfully located a Black-Capped Vireo, the first one I'd seen in about four years.  I'll have to venture out to the Davis Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the future to complete the triple play of seeing all the locations of the aspens of Texas.

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Offline dprather

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2016, 07:12:35 AM »
I am really enjoying all of your reports.

And thanks for hearing my plea about Boot Spring water.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline bracketboy89

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2016, 07:29:23 AM »
Cool! I was looking for Aspens as well but not on a mission like you. Is the bowl trail the only place you have heard of them occurring there? The bowl seems like a cool trail I will have to try it sometime.

Sent from my Moto G (4) using Big Bend Chat mobile app


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Offline backpacker56

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2016, 09:39:43 AM »
The trail exists because ranchers of a century ago needed water for their livestock down on the desert floor, so they built tanks to catch rain in the higher, rainier elevations of the Guadalupes and piped the water down through Bear Canyon, constructing a trail along the pipe's path to service it.

Thanks for the great report and photos!  I'm sure there must be some aspen trees up there somewhere.  I've seen some in the Organ Mountains, over near Las Cruces, NM.

I think you have the water system backwards.  The water was pumped from springs at the bottom of the mountain to a tank on top, whence it flowed down through a distribution system to other tanks further north.  From Trails of the Guadalupes (3rd ed., 1986), by Don Kurtz and Willam D. Goran:

“The Bear Canyon Trail was originally made in the 1930’s by employees of the Hunter Ranch.  They used it to lay pipe for the stock and wildlife watering system which was used until 1967.  The trail generally follows this pipeline, which runs to a large metal tank at the top of the canyon.  Water flowed by gravity from this tank to other tanks in the Bowl Area.  The task of cutting this trail, laying the pipeline, and pumping water 2,000 feet to the top of the canyon may seem incredible to the hiker who struggles up the steep trail today.” 

Nothing about the system of tanks and pipelines appears designed to capture rainfall and send it down to the Pine Spring area, which already had spring water available.

"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline Lance

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2016, 09:44:20 AM »
Nice trip report!

I finally made it back to the Bowl Trail and decided to head down, with the mystery of the location of the aspens of the Guadalupe Mountains still intact (Lance, you wrote in another post that you had gone hiking with Laurence Parent while he was Artist-in-Residence at GUMO, and he wrote about going to the aspens - did you go along with him on that?). 

No I didn't. But I'll ask him about it and get back to you..
- Big Bend Google Earth Project - UPDATE! (12/27/16) - Project has moved servers, please re-download.

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Offline bracketboy89

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2016, 08:26:41 PM »
The trail exists because ranchers of a century ago needed water for their livestock down on the desert floor, so they built tanks to catch rain in the higher, rainier elevations of the Guadalupes and piped the water down through Bear Canyon, constructing a trail along the pipe's path to service it.

Thanks for the great report and photos!  I'm sure there must be some aspen trees up there somewhere.  I've seen some in the Organ Mountains, over near Las Cruces, NM.

I think you have the water system backwards.  The water was pumped from springs at the bottom of the mountain to a tank on top, whence it flowed down through a distribution system to other tanks further north.  From Trails of the Guadalupes (3rd ed., 1986), by Don Kurtz and Willam D. Goran:

“The Bear Canyon Trail was originally made in the 1930’s by employees of the Hunter Ranch.  They used it to lay pipe for the stock and wildlife watering system which was used until 1967.  The trail generally follows this pipeline, which runs to a large metal tank at the top of the canyon.  Water flowed by gravity from this tank to other tanks in the Bowl Area.  The task of cutting this trail, laying the pipeline, and pumping water 2,000 feet to the top of the canyon may seem incredible to the hiker who struggles up the steep trail today.” 

Nothing about the system of tanks and pipelines appears designed to capture rainfall and send it down to the Pine Spring area, which already had spring water available.
That is interesting, do you know anything about the tank on the Tejas Trail near Tejas campground? A pipe runs down the wash there so I assumed it must carry water down to the tank from a spring. That seems to be an incredible amount of effort to pump water up there but speaks to the dryness of the mountains.

Sent from my Moto G (4) using Big Bend Chat mobile app


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Offline backpacker56

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2016, 09:17:44 AM »
I don't have any more details, but I think it's a safe bet that the tank at Tejas Camp was part of the same system, fed by the Bear Canyon pipeline.  The tank at the head of Bear Canyon was the high point, so gravity would feed the other tanks.  The water must have been ultimately delivered into troughs for livestock use.

The water system reflects the same reality we struggle with today: lack of springs and creeks in the high country.  Cattle and horses require lots of water, and cannot stay in one place for long without a reliable supply.  We know how impossible it is for a backpacker to carry enough water to last himself more than a couple of days.

There used to be a pump at the base of Bear Canyon, like a small oil well pumpjack, or walking-beam pump.  I didn't see it there in October.  I always assumed this pump, back in its day, was for pumping water up the canyon, but now I'm not so sure.  That type of pump lifts water out of a well, rather than pressurizing it and pushing it up a pipeline with 2000 feet of "head".  I've searched for more technical info online about the Hunter Ranch water system, but without success.

The “Smith Spring Trail Guide” brochure published by the Park Service includes this info:
“Bear Canyon…was once the location used to pump water to the high country before this was a national park.  Since there was no water in the high country, ranchers built a pipeline and began pumping water up the canyon in the 1930’s.  This water would be stored in a large tank at the top of the canyon, and then gravity fed to other tanks throughout the area known as The Bowl.  This water made ranching possible at the higher elevations of the park.”
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2016, 03:47:58 PM »
The trail exists because ranchers of a century ago needed water for their livestock down on the desert floor, so they built tanks to catch rain in the higher, rainier elevations of the Guadalupes and piped the water down through Bear Canyon, constructing a trail along the pipe's path to service it.

Thanks for the great report and photos!  I'm sure there must be some aspen trees up there somewhere.  I've seen some in the Organ Mountains, over near Las Cruces, NM.

I think you have the water system backwards.  The water was pumped from springs at the bottom of the mountain to a tank on top, whence it flowed down through a distribution system to other tanks further north.  From Trails of the Guadalupes (3rd ed., 1986), by Don Kurtz and Willam D. Goran:

“The Bear Canyon Trail was originally made in the 1930’s by employees of the Hunter Ranch.  They used it to lay pipe for the stock and wildlife watering system which was used until 1967.  The trail generally follows this pipeline, which runs to a large metal tank at the top of the canyon.  Water flowed by gravity from this tank to other tanks in the Bowl Area.  The task of cutting this trail, laying the pipeline, and pumping water 2,000 feet to the top of the canyon may seem incredible to the hiker who struggles up the steep trail today.” 

Nothing about the system of tanks and pipelines appears designed to capture rainfall and send it down to the Pine Spring area, which already had spring water available.

Thanks for the correction.  It does seem counterintuitive that one would have to pump water from an area of lesser to one of greater precipitation, but the geology of the area might explain it.  Most of the Guadalupes are limestone that is easily-dissolved by rainwater.  While more rain may fall in the Guadalupes, due to the porous nature of the rock upon which it falls it doesn't accumulate on the surface but disappears in the subsurface and eventually resurfaces in the springs in the area (such as the one that feeds the creek in McKittrick Canyon).

Nice trip report!

I finally made it back to the Bowl Trail and decided to head down, with the mystery of the location of the aspens of the Guadalupe Mountains still intact (Lance, you wrote in another post that you had gone hiking with Laurence Parent while he was Artist-in-Residence at GUMO, and he wrote about going to the aspens - did you go along with him on that?). 

No I didn't. But I'll ask him about it and get back to you..

Please do - thanks!

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Offline wrangler88

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Re: Guadalupe Mountains National Park trip report, August 14 & 15, 2016
« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2017, 12:03:52 AM »
I have hiked Bear Canyon 3 times and assumed water was pumped down. I even asked rangers before and they had no idea. Then last time I was at the top of Bear Canyon I noticed the pipe feeds into the top of the tank as to fill it up and not drain it from the bottom. Then I figured out water was pumped up. Which does make sense when you think about it for the reasons y'all have already mentioned. Now if they could get that pump and pipe system operational again so I could spend several days in the mountains without coming down for water!

 


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