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Organ Mountains, White Sands, Guadeloupe Park and Carlsbad Caverns

The last week of December (from 25th to3th) we spent in Texas and New Mexico. It was a wonderful trip.

Our main goal was to climb Guadeloupe peak, we also planned to stay for a day and night on White Sands dunes to enjoy both: the sunset and night sky and sunrise there. As side attractions we planned visiting Carlsbad Caverns and McDonald observatory. It turned all the way around.

Guadeloupe peak is the highest point in Texas, which in all other parts is as flat as a fry pan. We read the trail guide and figured out that the one that goes to the top is however strenuous, but within our capabilities. It takes 6 to 8 hours to complete a round trip.

The month before the trip was dedicated to the preparations to this hike. Andrey and Artem bought new hiking boots. Every Sunday we were climbing Sugarloaf to break the boots. We mastered to make it to the top in 40 minutes. We bought lightweight warm jackets, trousers, socks and underwear. We borrowed warm (up to -30C) sleeping bags from our friends. Andrey found on the Internet the description of a portable stove made from cat’s food can and working on 90% alcohol, so we would not have to worry about freezing nights and our gas stove not working in case the temperature goes down below 0 C.

Dec 25, 2011 – El Paso, Las Cruses

El Paso, TX

El Paso, TX

At 2:30 PM, we arrived to El Paso. Getting a car from Hertz was unbelievably easy. The agent asked only a couple of questions – if we read the agreement and if Toyota is OK. We gladly answered “yes” to both. I wonder it was because we were in Texas, or because it was Christmas?

So we got light blue Toyota Venza in our possession for the next 4 days and headed towards Las Cruses.

What we did not think ahead was snow and closing of all shops because of Christmas. I have never ever seen before leafless palm trees and yuccas in snow. The pool next to our La Quinta hotel was covered with ice. That all was very amusing, but we were hungry and all places on the plaza next to our hotel were closed. The manager told us that Dennis in the downtown might be open; she heard this from other customers – a couple of grandma looking ladies. What they were doing there this time of the year? And yes, Dennis was open and crowded and the food was good. Thank you Dennis!

Organ Mountains are beautiful on sunset in a cold winter evening.

Dec 26, 2011 – Organ Mountains

We got up at 6 AM, it was easy because we still lived on Easter time, which is 3 hours difference. We had our free breakfast at 7 AM. Breakfast is vital if one wants to spend a whole day outdoors. I love hotels that offer breakfast, because if they didn’t I would go without it and would find myself starving in a couple of hours.

But one thing bothers me a lot – all these self served breakfasts in reasonably priced hotels present a real threat for environment. Imagine all these paper plates, cups, plastic forks, tiny plastic packages for jelly, oatmeal, half-and-half, etc. That makes tons and tons of waste if you look around the whole country. Beginning Jan 1, 2012 in Maryland we are required either to bring our own bags to the grocery store or to pay 5c for each plastic bag. This is in order to reduce waste. And that is great. I wonder if it would also be possible to return to old good stoneware plates and mugs and original silverware in inexpensive hotels and cafeteria. I know in Europe they do it, why not here. And honestly, in any rate I prefer a real cup to a paper one. Even bad coffee tastes better if served in a real cup.

OK, that was my side trip into environmental issues. Let’s return to our hike.
The Organ Mountains are located in southern New Mexico (so we left Texas), they get this name because of their shape which reminds the organ. They lie ~10 miles east of Las Cruses.

The road to the park took us about 1 hour. We passed NASA Johnson Space Center, where Flight Control Room is located. We also passed the NASA Space Exploration Museum, but it was too early and it was closed.

Organ Mountains, Pine Tree Trail. Photo courtecy of Artem Vovk

December 26, 2011: Organ Mountains, Pine Tree Trail. Photo courtesy of Artem Vovk

Dec 26, 2011 - Organ Mountains botanics

Dec 26, 2011 - Organ Mountains botanic. Picture courtesy Artem Vovk

The Organ Mountains Park opens at 8 AM. The park fee is 3$ for a car, and you can put it into a box, if a ranger is not there. Baylor Canyon Road offers access to trails .At the beginning of the trail you are also asked to write your name in the park journal just in case. It was a cold and sunny morning, which no one of us expected to see in New Mexico. We went for a nice 4.5 miles Pine Tree Trail hike which leads to a small summit.

We choose this trail because it was a good preparation for the Guadeloupe Peak trail and also because it covers a wide natural and botanical area, from lower-elevation mountain mahogany scrubs, yuccas, cactuses and lechuguilla to ponderosa pine woodland on its upper parts.

More pictures from this hike can be found on the Artem’s web site.

It was nice walking there, even though the rail was covered with ankle deep snow. The trail twists and turns with a lot of switchbacks. It was sunny and warm on its sun- facing sides and cold and windy on others. From the park journal we learned that 13 people were there on Christmas – a day before.
This walk on Organ Mountains trail reminded me poetry of Boris Pasternak:

Unique Days
How I remember solstice days
Through many winters long completed!
Each unrepeatable, unique,
And each one countless times repeated.

Of all these days, these only days,
When one rejoiced in the impression
That time had stopped, there grew in years
An unforgettable succession … … …

Translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater

Artem taking pictures of Organ Mountains

On our way back we found a nice scenic place. Artem taking pictures of Organ Mountains.

And it was like one of the most beautiful winter days from my childhood – bright sun and bight snow, light wind, pine trees that evaporate that sweet and bitter smell, which makes me feel little sleepy and little dizzy, as if I were a little kid tired from a long walk again. It was wonderful.

Unfortunately we did not make the whole trail, because soon after we crossed Aguirre Springs we entered a windy ravine. It was unbearably cold and windy there and we did not see the trail anymore. So we decided to go back. The whole trip took us about 2.5 hours.
Continued >>