Friday, February 17, 2012

McKittrick Canyon-The Best Fall Color in the West

Hidden in the desert canyons of west Texas is the best fall color in the American west.


West Texas is not usually thought of as travel/photography destination, let alone a fall color destination.  However, for those in the know, can find the most vivid red and orange fall color this side of Vermont.  You see, that hidden in these desert mountain canyons are maple trees!  


Maples are not a tree that you think of in Texas but in a few isolated pockets around the state one can find a few stands-relics from the last ice age.  Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of those locations.


The Guadalupes are the highest point in Texas.  The rise over a mile from the salt flats to the west.  They are a true "sky island" where higher elevation brings cooler temps and also captures rain.  Those two factors allow maples to survive the harsh desert climate of the region.  





McKittrick Canyon is the show piece of the park.  A spectacular deep canyon with year round water.  Actually this is the only year round water in the entire Guadalupe range.  This mountain range is actually the remnants of a coral reef and are limestone.  Limestone being very porous means that all the rain that falls here goes right into the ground and exits at several springs in the lower elevations.  Some of that water goes down into McKittrick canyon where the stream skirts the canyon floor sometimes above ground and sometimes underground.


That water creates a narrow band of life along the floor of the canyon and in a few north facing gullies and drainages that still support the relic maple forest here.


Those trees blaze with color at the end of October every year.  Red.  Orange.  Yellow.  Gold.  It is a true visual feast.


It is one I first experienced 25 years ago and I have returned many times to see this amazing color.


This last fall was no exception.  Many people were convinced the extreme drought in west Texas would mean no fall colors but I went anyway.  I was able to get into McKittrick Canyon on a foggy morning and experienced the the best fall color day I had seen there since 1988.


Here are a few images from that day to let you see the colors.  Notice the fog too.  It is usually blue bird clear when I am here but the weather cooperated better than it had in many visits.


One other thing I point out about this place is how lightly visited it is.  This is the most known spot locally and yet on a weekday I only saw two other people in here and that was on my way out.


Having the entire canyon to yourself makes one appreciate how John Muir must have felt in Yosemite Valley.  That kind of solitude is not found many places anymore but luckily there are even a few national parks like Guadalupe Mountains that are so far off the beaten path that you can still experience them as wilderness.