By Sgt. Alex Espinoza, 147th Support Maintenance Company:
(El Paso, Texas, Feb. 8, 2018)
The 147th Support Maintenance Company guidon whipped in the wind as I snapped photos, hoping to catch the iconic ordnance symbol wave over vastness of the terrain below. At 8,750 feet, the crisp morning air stung my nostrils, and although my muscles were tired, the views atop Guadalupe Peak – the highest point in Texas – humbled me.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is 107 miles from Fort Bliss, nearly a straight shot down Montana Ave. from post, and west Texas offers visitors an enriching experience. Winding through conifer forests, trails in the park contrast with the Chihuahuan Desert by flaunting the four highest natural peaks in Texas. The other three are Bush Mountain, 8,632 feet; Shumard Peak, 8,615; and Bartlett Peak, 8,507 feet.
I hit the trailhead with two fellow Soldiers around 7:30 a.m. and rich vistas exploding with color due to the blazing morning sun welcomed us. The Guadalupe Peak trail is listed as strenuous, but there are several other moderate trails that also have award-winning views. The initial incline switchbacks were a challenge, and I definitely felt them early on, but the trail smoothed out just when I felt overwhelmed. The trail is forgiving in that it offers hikers a break with catwalk stretches along the trail. The views to the west and south were so beautiful I often found myself taking photos and forgetting my fatigue.
The hike can take anywhere from six to eight hours, so it is important to pack sufficient food and water. Weather can also turn pretty fast, so it is equally important to carry extra clothing to stay warm. You don’t need to be at peak physical fitness to attempt this trail, but be cognizant of your abilities if you are injured or have had little exercise in a while. There are several other trails beginners can condition themselves on in the park before trying to reach the peak.
Reaching the top, however, was rewarding. I enjoyed a much needed lunch while gazing at the clouds that rolled across the southern horizon. Eclectic groups of hikers cheered as they reached the summit and snapped photos of their own. A stainless steel monument shaped like a pyramid commemorates the U.S Postal Service, the Boy Scouts of America and American Airlines at the top. The cold wind cut my time at the top short, but the experience was fulfilling and I recommend the park to Soldiers and civilians alike. The visitor center near the trailhead offers educational material about the mountain range’s origins and is a great place for children to spend time.
While there may be no shortage of things to do in El Paso, the trip to the park is worth the drive and offers a change in scenery for those who may need a break from the desert. Parking and other fees are required if you are not military, but they are minimal and worth every penny. The park is open daily, except Christmas, so there are no excuses to take advantage of this amazing experience.