We decided to take a quick trip out to Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP). My husband, John David, has always wanted to do some backpacking so we decided to spend 3 nights and 4 days in the mountains plus do some day hikes. With highs predicted in the upper 80ís and only a 10% chance of rain, it seemed perfect. Our daughters, Darcy, 14, and Brianne, 10, were game.
Pre-trip: I always change the oil and rotate the tires before a trip. I noticed the inspection sticker was expired so I asked them to do that too. Got the truck back and noticed they hadnít replaced the old sticker. Was about to go back in and tell them when I noticed that it wasnít my inspection sticker that was expired after all Ė it was my registration tags. This should have been a warning to us about how the rest of the trip would go.
Day 1: A dump truck driver in San Antonio changes his mind about exiting at the last minute and we discover how quickly the truck can stop the 5th wheel from 70 to 0 mph. It takes several minutes before the girls stop talking about their near death experience and everyoneís pulse returns to normal. (No doubt God helped us stop!) But the dayís not over. Outside of Ozona, it starts raining. None of us has ever seen rain so hard and soon we canít see at all! We canít see to pull over and have to stop in the middle of the lane on Interstate 10 - scary. Fortunately, no one else can see either and even the big rigs have stopped in the road to wait.
Day 2: We make it to GMNP with enough light to take a short hike. Weíve been to the Devilís Hall before and know the girls will love it. Brianne was sick before we left; fever of 102íF so we take it slow. Sheís really tired and wants to go back but we encourage her telling her that she will be glad she made the 2.1 mile hike there when she sees the Hikerís staircase and the Devilís Hall. She is totally unimpressed. We had checked sunset time before starting out and now we rush back because we didnít bring a flashlight. After we return to camp we realize that we are still on Central time and GMNP is on mountain.
Day 3: Brianne isnít as recovered as weíd hoped so we decide to take it easy and go to Carlsbad Caverns. We ride the elevator down and take the easy loop around. They are doing maintenance on the elevators so there is an over a 1 hour wait to ride back up. Brianne seems okay, so we decide to hike out. How we missed the sign that said 750 feet up on a steep and narrow switchback trail, I donít know. Brianne enjoys caves about as much as I do (not) and sets a quick pace while John David and Darcy take their time oohing and aahing over assorted brown rocks. Not the easy hike weíd planned.
Day 4: Our legs are sore. I read about a short, moderate to easy hike. The trail is definitely more moderate than easy, and soon Brianne looks terrible. Worse yet, itís looking like rain. Darcy and John David decide to rush back via a different trail (which turns out to be the easy one) and return with the vehicle just before the rain starts. We prepare to head up the mountain the next day. Concerned we might not have enough propane in one tank, we set the switch to pull from both to keep our refrigerator running.
Day 5: We have to park the 5th wheel in a different parking lot so the girls and I take it over. The lot is very sloped and weíve never trusted the level on the outside of the camper so I decide to check from inside but I canít get in. My key wonít work. Oh well. Itís been really windy so I decide I need additional chocks for the wheels so I rummage through the front compartment, but all the while the tailgate is really in the way. I NEVER put the tailgate up until Iíve moved the truck up and unplugged the electrical but I remember that I already have so up the tailgate goes. I block the wheels and get in the truck. I do my mental checklist. Have I unhooked the electrical? Yes. Moved the truck up? Yes. Tailgate up? Yes. Off we go. Bump. Huge dent in the tailgate right at the latch mechanism and worse, it wonít open. I raise the landing gear so I can get the tailgate under the hitch.
Now we are off to a late start. The hike up is 4 miles and gains 2000 feet in elevation via mostly switchbacks. Steep and rocky, we follow carefully in each otherís footsteps. Feeling like lemmings, we joke about going over a cliff together. Brianneís dragging but wants to keep going so we rest a lot. Once we are at the top, we have only a 2.5 mile hike to our camp but we canít make up time because Brianne is not doing so well. She drinks too much Gatorade and then begins vomiting. Darcy and I go on ahead to set up camp. We had bought a lighter stove right before heading out but now we canít get it to work (lesson to be learned here). We eat soggy stuffing, cold chicken, and hard dehydrated peas.
The view from the top.
Day 6: We consider turning back but Brianne wonít hear of it plus todayís hike is mostly downhill and undercover. Well, almost. After climbing to the top of the second highest peak in Texas, we begin our downhill to our second campsite. Itís totally exposed and on extremely loose rock. The trail is hard to follow. The cat-claw mimosa, yucca, and holly-leaf buckthorn is scratching our legs and it stings more than usual. Sunburn. Weíre starting to feel it all over. We didnít pack any sunscreen lotion (another lesson learned). Worse, weíve noticed a storm and itís getting closer. We can see the lightning and take note of the fact we are the tallest things around. We pick up our pace. Before we reach camp, we already know we have blisters.
The rain starts right after we set up camp. We have a blister counting contest. Darcy wins but Brianne wins the sunburn contest. She has blisters on her neck. We do have a first aid kit and work on our feet. Darcy mentions that we should have brought scarfs. That gives me an idea and we cut up a shirt into 4 pieces and we make our own. We also pull out our long-sleeved shirts and decide to wear them from then on despite the 97íF temperatures.
After the rain, we walk around without our shoes until John David finds a scorpion. We also find a trail crewís cache and a small amount of water in one last jug. Thank God because despite bringing the required amount of water, weíve run out. We now have enough to get us to our water supply the next day.
The view from the top of Bush Mountain.
What we saw.
Day 7: To get to our mid-way point, we have to climb a low, exposed ridge. Low is a matter of perspective when you are tired. We make it and hobble into Dog Canyon to get water. Iíve figured the stove out, so we eat well. The ranger takes pity on us and gives us the last of her tube of sunscreen. Now we can cover the backs of our hands and legs, the only thing left unexposed.
We can barely walk, but we start the uphill to our next campsite. By mid-afternoon weíve reached another exposed ridge. No problem, thereís not an inch of us left exposed to the sun. No sun this time. Clouds. And they bring more lightning. We rush again to get off the ridge and make it to the trees just as the rain starts. It takes a bit to cover the gear and then put on our ponchos, long enough that is, for the rain to stop.
We donít make it to our campsite. Luckily there is a nearer campsite and we get everything setup and eat just before the rain starts. Cooler night, but who can sleep? Our feet are throbbing and everything that rubs against our sunburn causes pain.
Somewhere along the way, there was an old Indian camp. Perhaps we passed it, but all we saw wasÖ
Day 8: We want off the mountain. I wake everyone at dawn. After using up the last of the band-aids, we hit the trail. Itís truly beautiful in this section but no one cares much. All we saw wasÖ.
Darcy has written a new song about getting off the mountain and the rest of us keep moving by talking about food. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, steak. We set a fast pace and occasionally, we have to stop but every time we do, we struggle to go again. For some reason, resting our feet makes it harder to walk on them again. We do the 7.2 miles in record time. On the way down the switch back we came up on, we pass some scantily clad folks with minimally gear on their way up. We note they donít have enough clothing between them to make one decent scarf but wish them the best. Canít help but notice they look at us as if we were aliens.
Get to the camper and decide to start home. If we hurry, we can get home late Saturday so we can make church on Sunday. Check the refrigerator and discover it isnít cold. In Van Horn, we stop to get propane and discover the left tank is full. We had never turned it on.
Day 9: We hit the road early. Not far outside of Fort Stockton, we notice a sand storm in the distance. We watch it completely hide a house from view and then Darcy comments that it would be wild if it crossed the road. She speaks, it happens. Despite the sandstorm, we make good time and it seems certain weíll make it home in time for church. Right after lunch, John David checks his phone and notes that it says Friday. Surely, it just hasnít caught up after being turned off so long. Darcy checks her watch. Itís really Friday.
Conclusion: Iíd prayed that this trip would be a great bonding experience for the family. As I was cooking breakfast and thinking about how much the girls had grown from this experience, how theyíd learned to pitch in and help, and how many great stories we had from this trip, Brianne, as if reading my mind, commented, ďWell, Momma, it wasnít the bonding experience you wanted, but I think we learned who canít camp in bear country.Ē