Guadalupe Peak is the highest mountain in Texas. That was the initial attraction for me. However, when first viewed from the Chihuahuan Desert six years ago, it took on an entirely different appeal. Grandiose, rugged, imposing and dominating the landscape, Guadalupe was love at first sight. Nothing has changed.
This time, the mystery and suspense was gone, but the allure still there. If my limited experience has any merit, winds always gust at near hurricane force on Guadalupe. During our first visit, my wife Nancy and I were concerned that our camper would be blown over like the tractor trailer rig that had been unceremoniously tossed off the road a couple of days prior to our arrival. Parking the twelve foot high camper directly into 75 mph winds in Guadalupe National Park, I was admonished by the campground host (Deputy Barney Fife comes to mind) for angling ever so slightly outside the painted lines. That we might have otherwise been trapped while sleeping in an overturned camper was immaterial. Rules were rules and Barney was the man to enforce them. Blithering idiots sometimes seem ubiquitous and inescapable in my world. Not everyone, mind you, but far too many.
We only had 40 mph winds for our second Guadalupe ascent, gusts a little higher. With about 3,000 feet of elevation gain, the eight mile round-trip climb to the summit is a moderately strenuous half day workout. Sheltered from harsh winds for about half of our trek, we had clear skies and spectacular views of the adjoining peaks and expansive desert that surround Guadalupe Massif. Near the summit, continuous overviews of Guadalupe’s majestic and intimidating sister peak, El Capitan, were the highlight of an outstanding day of mountaineering.
Traveling west to southeastern Arizona, the Chiricahua Mountains provided a different hiking experience. An easy, serpentine, partially snow-covered trail with cliffs of shedding volcanic ash led the way to the summit of 7,300 foot Sugarloaf Mountain. A loop hike through Echo Canyon wandering in a forest of jumbled rock formations, grottos and huge, chaotic pinnacle boulders was indescribable. Called the “Land of Standing Rocks” by Native Americans, my ancestors knew how to name things.
We first met Mike and Betty at an RV Park in Florida during the winter debut of our semi-retirement in 2004. Actually, our meeting was not coincidental, they were stalking us. Looking for the owners of a truck camper decorated with bikes and kayaks, they accosted us when we were most vulnerable, near naked in the park hot tub. Instantaneously, we became “kindred spirits.” Cornered and in a state of undress while Mike conducted a nonstop, unilateral monologue, we had little choice.
In the six years since, our paths have crossed several times and we’ve shared numerous outdoor adventures. Outstanding cyclists and avid kayakers, laughter is pervasive when we’re together. Only the decadent would describe their cycling treks as Spartan. Otherwise draconian bike rides usually include a relaxing, extended respite in a sleazy bar and grill. “Dives,” Mike calls them. At home in Michigan, they frequently lead a notorious ride affectionately called “Bike to the Bar.” Although Mike asserts that “Mike and hike don’t mix,” he usually agrees to join us on treks, affording him ample opportunity to pontificate on the evils of the sport. Despite our divergent political opinions and my exasperating, peripatetic energy level, they continue to tolerate us. They’re kindred spirits.
This year, we discovered Mike and Betty lavishly languishing with predictable enthusiasm at an RV park in Green Valley, Arizona. Characteristically, a hot tub was not far away. Plans were made. Betty and I are inveterate planners, but she’s more assertive, has better ideas and doesn’t trust mine. We started with a hike up Madera Canyon, followed by three days of biking in the Tucson/Green Valley area.
Our final ride was one of my favorites – the Saguaro National Park loop road. A hilly cycle in a magical place, it passes through the Sonoran Desert in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. One of the driest places on earth, it’s a desert incredibly rich in vegetation. During the ride, we were shadowed by thousands of giant Saguaro cacti. I lack the creative ability to adequately describe this breathtakingly glorious place.
There were no sad goodbyes when we departed as more adventures were anticipated on our return from a quest to reach the Pacific. Mountains, bike rides, hikes, maybe some kayaking and more kindred spirits remain on our dance card.
(Ron Chase is an avid four-season outdoorsman and freelance writer, who co-authored the mountain guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com for more information on his guidebook and other outdoor adventures).