Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fall Colors of McKittrick Canyon

I made my hike into the wonderful McKittrick Canyon to see the fall color of the canyon up close.  After having seen the canyon from above, I wanted to get into the heart of it and walk among the maple trees.

I arrived at the canyon trailhead and was the only car there.  Started the hike and began to follow the creek into the canyon.  At first there is no sign of color and it seems to just be a canyon.  You cross the dry gravel stream bed a few times and as you get into the canyon a colorful tree appears.  Then another.  Soon you pass small areas of several trees and some water crossings.  When you get into the canyon where the north and south forks meet you enter the zone where the color is brightest and you have been transported from a desert canyon to a maple forest.

The vivid colors of the trees are just as amazing seeing them like this as they are from above.  

I hike clear back to the Grotto and have a snack before photographing my way out of the canyon.  On the trip into the Grotto I encounter ZERO other parties.  Peak fall color, spectacular canyon, national park and zero other people.  It must be what it was like for John Muir in Yosemite.  I think he would approve of this canyon.

On the way out we finally encounter a few other people coming in.  The weather which has been partly cloudy turns to rain.  I pull out the rain gear for the last stretch.  I have some images and have seen some great fall color in what is often called the prettiest spot in Texas.

It is a good day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Salt Flats Lake

In September the Guadalupe Mountains had an epic flash flood when 9" of rain fell on the park.  One of the effects of the flood was the salt flats west of the park became an ephemeral lake.

In the past I had seen times with pools of water but it was always quickly dry again.  This time was different.  It was a lake.  The water was shallow, maybe a foot at the deepest but it stretched for miles.

I went to explore the northern end of the lake.  This area is seldom visited that even the park staff had no idea about the conditions of the area roads.

I spent a few hours walking along the edge of the lake and found that the month between the flood and my visit had left significant mud flats.  So I changed my plan from being at the waters edge to some vantage points where I would not be 6" deep in the muck.

I found this little "creek", if you will, that must have carried some water into the flats and decided it might make a good foreground.

I watched the clouds fade as sunset neared and luckily I caught the last cloud of the Guads as sunset and was able to make the top image.

I also wanted to see what I could do for a reflection and was able to make the second image.

I was liking the possibilities the lake presented and made plans to spend more sunsets along the edge.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

McKittrick Canyon from Above

McKittrick Canyon was another stop on my quest for fall color in west Texas.  I had plans to make the hike into the canyon and I also decided to get the high view above it.  I departed early and hiked in the dark until I found my spot high on the rim overlooking the canyon below.

Here I had a front seat view of the sunrise and more importantly the fall color along the creek bed far below.

The view is amazing.  

The color is too.

Even from this distance the vivid colors jump at you.

From up here the color is a narrow ribbon along the canyon bottom or survives in cooler north facing drainages.

The depth and distance of the canyon make it far away but it does not lessen the impact of the bright colors.

I spent a few hours on the rim taking in the color and the morning before making my way back down and off to Pine Springs to set up my base camp for the park.

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.