Guadalupe Mountains National Park

In November 2001, Lewis and I drove up to the Guadalupe Mountains, first up the Guadalupe Ridge, then on to Dark Canyon.

To preface this, I need to tell you that I am terrified of heights. I've taken the hairiest mountain roads throughout the Rockies. I've visited the Grand Canyon many times. I've driven through the Sierra Madres in Mexico and looked out from El Diablo.

But I've never seen a view that could equal the one from the Guadalupe Ridge in sheer breathtaking, terrifying enormity.

I wanted to take pictures. It was one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen, a valley stretching as far as the eye could see with a drop of thousands of feet, but I couldn't leave the car, and the only memento I have of the drive is a new set of finger imprints on the arm rest of the car door. Lewis has promised that next time, he'll take the pictures.

If you don't understand the surprises of the Chihuahuan Desert, you might be amazed to discover the Guadalupes. From a distance, they stand like stark sentinels against the desert skies, but as the foothills and then the mountains unfold, a rich and colorful landscape reveals an amazing wealth of wildlife and plant life.

The three best things about the Guadalupes are the fall foliage, the isolation, and the flora and fauna. Each October, the mountain valleys explode with colors equal to anything you'd see in New England, and except for that time of year, the park is almost empty. If you want to get away, the Guadalupes are the place to do it. The park hosts numerous species of rare plants, such as the Texas Madrone, and wildlife is plentiful. During our drive in Dark Canyon, we saw several dozen mule deer, at one time a group of about 20 less than 50 feet from our car, many red-tailed hawks and even an eagle. Elk are glimpsed often too.