Expedition Planner: Guadalupe Ridge Trail
You won’t find the Guadalupe Ridge Trail on a map. What you will find is a route made up of named trails and jeep roads that runs south to north for roughly 62 miles, descending gradually from high points of around 8,000 feet to lows of 4,500 feet along a broad ridgeline. You’ll travel from the rugged switchbacks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, along the arid, winding ridgetops of New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest, and down into the hot, gravelly, cactus desert of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Getting there: Guadalupe Ridge sits astride the border between the Texas Panhandle and southeastern New Mexico. The closest major airport is El Paso, Texas, about 3 hours south on U.S. Highway 180/82 from Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad is the main town for supplies, lodging, shuttles, and permits.
Cautions: Aside from two water taps in McKittrick Canyon (at Pratt Cabin and the visitor center at the start of the Permian Reef Trail) there are no reliable water sources along the route. Water caches can be left at points along the graveled Klondike Gap Road and County Road 412. Access these two-wheel-drive roads by driving west from Carlsbad on NM 137 and taking the Wilderness Ridge Loop that turns south off NM 137 just West of Queen, New Mexico. Use collapsible plastic jugs that you carry for the remainder of the trail. Cache more water than you think you’ll need-if hot weather descends, you’ll need it. This desert trail is remote and home to cougars, rattlesnakes, spiders, scorpions, and skunks. Go well prepared; help is days away.
Weather: The exposed ridgetops of the Guadalupes are famous for hurricane-force winds and intense, pounding thunderstorms. Come prepared to batten down against rare but potentially cataclysmic weather, particularly in spring. Camp in protected locations to guard against sudden storms. On higher portions of the ridge, snow can fall in spring and autumn. In summer, the lower elevations are prohibitively hot.
Contacts: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, HC 60, Box 400, Salt Flat, TX 79847-9400; (915) 828-3251; fax: (915) 828-3296; www.nps.gov./gumo/ gumo. The park has no entry or backcountry fees, but requires camping at specified sites. Mandatory backcountry permits are available on a first come, first served basis and can be reserved 24 hours in advance by phone or in person.
Guadalupe Ranger District, Lincoln National Forest, Federal Bldg., Room 159, Carlsbad, NM 88220; (505) 885-4181; www.fs.fed.us/cgi-bin/select-forest. No overnight permits are required for camping on the 285,000-acre Guadalupe Ranger District. Fire restrictions are often in effect. Free permits provide access to all of the more than 120 known caves and are available on a first come, first served basis, with a maximum party size of six. Reservations may be made during weekday business hours in person or by phone up to three months in advance.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM 88220; (505) 785-2232; www.nps.gov/cave/. Most famous for its namesake developed cave, Carlsbad Park offers 46,775 acres of desert canyon wilderness and 50 miles of backcountry trail. Free overnight permits are required for all backcountry camping. The caverns walking tour is spectacular and a good way to wind down after a week in the woods. A few of Carlsbad’s 80 known backcountry caves can be visited only by special permit; contact the Cave Resource Office, (505) 785-2104.
Leave No Trace: Collecting any natural or human artifacts, including fossils, arrowheads, or pottery shards, is prohibited. Look, admire, leave it. Caves are fragile and easily damaged by human contact. Look but don’t touch, and be respectful of bats that may be clinging to the walls or ceilings. Lincoln National Forest relies heavily on volunteers to help maintain caves. Folks wishing to help can call the number below.
Maps: The best map for getting to and around the region is the DeLorme New Mexico Atlas & Gazeteer (DeLorme Mapping, 2 DeLorme Dr., P.O. Box 298, Yarmouth, ME 04096; 800-452-5931; www.delorme.com; $16.95). The best backcountry maps for this trip are the six USGS 7.5-minute topographic quads Guadalupe Peak, TX; El Paso Gap, NM-TX; Gunsight Canyon, NM-TX; Queen, NM; Serpentine Bends, NM; and Carlsbad Caverns, NM (USGS Information Services, P.O. Box 25286, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225; 800-435-7627; http://mapping.usgs.gov/esic/to_order.html).