Scarlet maple trees highlight the fall color parade at McKittrick Canyon, a well-watered oasis. The real show stopper, however, lies in the towering cliffs above. Some 250 million years ago these rocks were part of a submerged sea wall in a shallow Permian ocean. Today, this prehistoric fossil reef, known as the Guadalupe Mountains, is a significant barrier to road construction in the New Mexico-Texas desert. One result: Guadalupe is a hiker's park. Backpack 20 miles, on the McKittrick Canyon and Tejas Trails, to experience the best of the park, which includes such elements as a lush canyon and ferny grotto, high views and forested nooks.
For permits: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, (915) 828-3251, www.nps.gov/gumo/