Sunday, November 3, 2013
Hidden Fall Color in Remote West Texas
Dog Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the most remote spot in Texas. How remote is it? You have to drive through New Mexico for 100 miles to get there.
This hidden canyon on the northwest corner of the park has three ways to it. A paved road that loops around Carlsbad, New Mexico and gets you there. A rough gravel road that ascend out of the desert west of the park around into New Mexico. Or finally you can hike there across the park. It is less than ten miles on the trail but you do have to ascend some 3000' of steep switchbacks. No matter how you go, it takes time and to get here you have to really want to get here.
I really wanted to get here and took the desert route. I was west of the park on the salt flats and made the long dusty drive up into New Mexico, followed dry stream beds up out of the desert into high desert grasslands and then finally into the higher reaches of Dog Canyon which crosses into Texas and the National Park.
Here you find a ranger station and small campground. More importantly, you find maple trees. Here in a canyon tucked away in desert mountains is a relic forest from the last ice age. The higher, wetter, cooler reaches of the Guadalupes shelter ponderosa pines, aspen, and maples. It is the maples that draw me here around Halloween to see the fall color display.
The color here is incredibly vivid. I consider it the best fall color in the west and the most vivid color this side of Vermont. Yes, I am serious. Although, not many people believe me. Of course that means I have places like this to myself. I spent a day wandering in Dog Canyon and saw zero other people. How often can you say that in a national park at peak fall color?
I wandered up the trail from the campground and quickly you begin to encounter maples along the dry creek bed. That creek bed brings just enough water to the trees that they can survive in the desert. The maples are all close to the creek of in the shady north facing drainages. Go too far from the shade or water and the plant life shifts back to desert grassland but in a narrow strip the colors are intense and amazing.
The reds and oranges here are off the chart. The only place I have seen this bright and vivid of fall color is Vermont and having been to both west Texas and Vermont this October, I can report the reds I saw in Texas were much better than Vermont this season.
So if you are reading this in early November and can get to west Texas, you have maybe another week to get there. Go. See. Experience. You might just agree with me about this being the best fall color in the west.