matches the crystal of gypsum blocks scattered around us .
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is primarily known for what lurks beneath the surface . Along the Chihuahuan Desert of Far West Texas and southeastern New Mexico hide over 300 known underground caves , formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone of the great Capitan fossil reef . And at least 120 caves of which , including the famous Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave , lie within the National Park boundary .
Designated a National Recreation Trail in 2018 , the Guadalupe Ridge Trail connects two National Parks via 100 miles of phenomenal Chihuahuan Desert views . Starting at the highest point in Texas ( Guadalupe Peak , 8751 ’ above sea level ) and ending with the final twentyone miles in Carlsbad Caverns , and open to horseback riding .
The trail crosses Lincoln National Forest , Sitting Bull Falls , and Bureau of Land Management property along the way . Most don ’ t know it ’ s there .
From the Carlsbad end , I ride through what appears to be prairie at first . A desert in hiding .
Small junipers interspersed with yucca ; it reminds me of the Texas Hill Country . The wind near constant , a high of only 75 degrees . Still , I keep my eyes open for rattlesnakes . Knowing the season is coming . And within the first mile , hidden in the brush six feet off the trail , we are greeted by the ominous hello of a rattler .
With every ridge there is another . Nothing but scrub brush and cactus surrounding us . The ground now dry , a burnt red and brown . In the distance , colors blend like a watercolor , yet nearby a golden flower pushes its way through the rock . A bright spot along the rust .
We break and I sit , enjoying the view and sun on my face , letting my horse graze . Knowing I am likely the only human within thousands of acres . Certainly , the only one I can see .
Replacing my horse ’ s bridle , he drops his head down for a long scratch . I lean back as we begin our return . Letting him find his feet and take us down safely . This horse takes care of me , sometimes more than I do him , I think .
He ’ s learned to navigate these rocks . Knowing which he will slip on , which he will not . Huffing and puffing , clearing his nostrils as we go . Back through the gate , sun now warm and wind calm . The sky seamless . Quail and other birds abound here , and we startle now and then riding through their territory . My heels deep in the stirrups .
And I exhale . Knowing the worthiest of trails are not always the easiest to find . Sometimes hidden by the world around us .
DOG CANYON , GUADALUPE NATIONAL PARK
South of Carlsbad along the Texas / New Mexico border , in the northernmost part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park , lies a campsite called Dog Canyon . Hidden in the seclusion of the Guadalupe ’ s wilderness boundary and nestled between steep cliffs , Dog Canyon is one of only two campsites in the park available to horseback riders .
A two-hour drive from Pine Springs Visitor Center , we make our way north and then southwest down winding , mountainous , freerange roads full of breezy prairie grass . The Chihuahuan Desert lies in disguise here . Cresting a hairpin turn , the edge of the mountain looms and suddenly I look out into forever . The road slows to 35 mph , and I am young again . Exploring . Seeing things for the first time .
My dog Kona stands half in the passenger seat , half on the center console . Focused forward like the predator she is , hair blowing in the breeze . Suddenly she moves off and collapses into sleep , lulled by the truck ’ s vibration as we arrive .
A wintery mix of brush , here you can lie in the grass – and I do . Hat loose , reversing the bend in my back from hours of driving . Hoping for an easy ride tomorrow and a good reset tonight . At an elevation of 6300 feet , it ’ s cooler here in the canyon . Especially in December . The temperature drops at night into the 20s . Bundles of blankets keep me warm . No generator , no propane … wine helps .
In the morning , I set out to ride Tejas to the McKittrick Canyon Trail . Moving quickly into the wilderness section of the park , crossing a limestone creek bed , the desert fades away . Fall colors fan over prairie grasses , a mix of green , yellow , gray , and brown . The occasional blue verbena . A faded Century Plant leans – having given up for the year at hand .
An “ intermediate ” trail according to the park website , Tejas out of Dog Canyon requires a surefooted , confident mount . Rocks grow exponentially as we wrap through these mountains ; I am careful to sit balanced and centered . Trying not to look down . Not to think about toppling off the edge .
Just short of Lost Peak , we stop to catch our breath . Assessing the elevation gain I decide to turn back for the day . My horse not wanting to continue upward . Me wanting to ensure a safe retreat . He ’ s a trooper . Headed down now , under a pine we stand gathering strength and enjoying the view . Hearing the wind before it ’ s felt . The occasional creak of leather as I shift weight , gazing outward . Lost in thought .
And in this wonderful moment it ’ s hard to tell where I end , and the land begins . �
Cenizo Summer 202215