Another day at Guadalupe

Saturday morning yielded a decision to stay another day here in the Pine Springs campground at Guadalupe National Park. We’ve just enjoyed being here so much that now going anywhere else seems foolish. There’s almost nowhere we can go that won’t be over 100 degrees anyway, and after so many contiguous days of driving last week it feels very good to just stay here and soak up the scenery.

It doesn’t hurt that the campground is still dead quiet and virtually unoccupied. It wasn’t like this on our last visit, in October. I am guessing visitation is low now because people think it will be hot here—since it is scorching hot everywhere else in Texas. From a glimpse at the NPS weather data, it seems that the average daytime high at Guadalupe is only about 88 degrees all summer, and it cools into the upper 60s at night, so it’s reasonably comfortable by our standards. The awning and a couple of fans running during the day is all we’ve needed. There’s an Airstream Life tip for you: take advantage of this great park in the summer before everyone else figures it out.

We have been joined by one other camper, a 1970s Airstream (probably an Overlander but I haven’t peeked closely yet), making a total of three RVs in the lot. The only other people around are the day hikers, who began to arrive around 6:30 a.m. in their cars to start up the trailheads that begin at the edge of the lot. Being Saturday, there was a small wave of day hikers, eventually reaching about a dozen cars. I was glad we did our big hike in solitude on Friday.

Since we had nothing in particular planned for the day, it became one of those great relaxing camping days where everything happened at a leisurely pace and we just did what felt right. Eleanor started the day by making pancakes—a rare treat, especially when camping without hookups. Normally on a long boondock we’ll be super cautious about water use, which means we avoid choosing meals that will require a lot of dish cleaning afterward. But since there’s a dishwashing sink nearby, I have been encouraging Eleanor to cook, and she has. I take all the dishes over to the outdoor sink in a box and it’s quick work to clean them all up in the giant sinks provided by the NPS.

The extra day also gave us a chance to spend some quality time in the Visitor Center, where one of the park rangers gave us a quick personal tour, describing the birds of prey we might see on a hike to Smith Spring. They also had a good collection of pinned insects that allowed us to identify some of the dramatically colored bugs we photographed while on the Bear Canyon hike. Emma picked up four workbooks: Junior Ranger, Senior Ranger, Junior Paleontologists, and Wilderness Explorer. The ranger programs will be completed here for a badge, and the others will be mailed in later for special patches.

By chance I discovered that the Visitor Center offers free wifi, a fact which does not seem to be advertised anywhere. This is always welcome because it means I can post my blogs and do some research about where we are heading next. This is always unwelcome because it means the evil email temptation will be there, and I could end up spending more time in front of the computer than I should while in the beauty and diversity of a great national park. I am going to pretend that the wifi only works for blog posts.

Since the ranger enticed us to visit the springs, we headed over to the historic Frijole Ranch, where early American settlers lived here from about 1906 through 1942, and then followed the Smith Spring trail to Manzanita Pond (where white-chested swifts were aerobatically dipping into the water) and then to the spring itself, in the shadows of tall trees at the edge of the escarpment that was once a massive reef on the edge of an ancient sea. This hike is 2.3 miles and maybe 300-400 feet of elevation gain, which isn’t much, but it was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived which means a fair bit of sweating. At least this time we were well stocked with water.

Other than birds, we have seen no wildlife. Not a single rabbit, badger, deer, elk, mountain lion, coyote, snake, or even a rodent. They’re all here, somewhere, but not hanging out where we have been. We have seen a lot of curious insects, scat, interesting holes, even a few snails that manage to eke out a desert life, and are getting to know the plants fairly well too. Now we talk about the red-green Texas Madrone and the odd Gray Oak, the Jewel Beetle, and the Jimson Weed as if we were locals. That’s a sign of a good visit, in our book.

Eleanor cooked up a fantastic dinner of spicy tilapia and we finished off some chicken with rice and molé sauce, which meant lots more dishes for me but that’s a fair trade-off for a great meal in a peaceful national park. In the evening we went to a ranger talk about ethnobotany (native uses of plants for food, medicine & clothing) and we were three of the five people in the audience. Back at the trailer we played games on the iPad and ate frozen “tacos” with peanut butter ice cream & chocolate sauce.

Guadalupe has turned out to be a better “find” than we expected, so you can understand why we want to stay yet another day. We aren’t due in Tucson until Tuesday and the evening bat flight program at Carlsbad sounds interesting. It’s a 45 mile drive from here to there. We could move the Airstream up to Whites City (the nearest campground to Carlsbad) but even the promise of a full hookup isn’t motivating me to take the Airstream out of this location. Our water supply will stretch for one more night, and we have plenty of electricity from the sun. So I’ll get some change from the rangers this morning (campground fees are cash only, $8 exactly per night) and happily fill out one more self-registration slip.

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