Texas was blessed with an exceptional Fall filled with stunning bursts of color in the changing leaves and the perfect weather to enjoy the show. I hope everyone had a chance to find some of these colors in their own neck of the woods, but let me tell you about my opportunity to visit one of the more unsuspecting places to find the brilliant reds and yellows.
Far West Texas may be dominated by the Chihuahuan Desert, but the vast arid shrublands give way to a few extraordinary oases thanks to sudden changes in topography. McKittrick Canyon is a day-use area (gates opened from 8am – 6pm during daylight savings) in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and is chock full of bigtooth maple trees—the same trees from the well known Lost Maples State Natural Area.
I had never been to McKittrick Canyon despite my many adventures to the Guadalupe Mountains over the years. This trip has always been on my bucket list, and I knew 2018 was the year to make it happen. Texas Land Conservancy holds a 20,000+ acre conservation easement halfway between Van Horn and the park, so I made sure to schedule the annual monitoring visit late enough to swing by and catch the fall colors.
On the first of November, I made my way to the canyon trailhead. The weather was cold, windy, and overcast, but I had to accept the cards I was dealt on my tight schedule. The first half mile of that trail looked like any other section of the park, but as soon as you cross over the first horseshoe bend, everything changes. I began to see orange, yellow, and red highlights, and the further I hiked the more surrounded I became. My first destination was The Grotto—whenever you see a grotto on a trail map it’s usually a good idea to find it. The Grotto was nice, not quite as cool as Reimer’s Ranch for instance, but I was still excited for more adventure.
The next destination on the map was The Notch, and my suspicions proved true. The Notch was a window/pass into the backside of McKittrick Canyon. This section was about 1,350 ft up in 1.5 miles and paired well with a nice turn in weather as the sun came out. The views were extraordinary. The south side of the canyon was a massive cliff hidden from the sun and led to a ladder/stair-stepping canyon packed full of colorful maple trees. The layers, shadows, and depths of everything brought me pure bliss.
From there I decided to turn around, and everything on the way back was 10 times more vibrant than the way up. The sun made everything pop and ended up being the most brilliant Fall colors I had ever seen in my life. The weather, the colors, and the setting of everything was perfect. I recommend this hike for anyone looking for a beautiful yet challenging adventure. Ten miles can take all day, so make sure you don’t get locked behind the gate!