24 Jun The Guadalupe Mountains
Perhaps because of its isolation within the national and state context, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park hasn’t relished the same fame that other national parks hold. In 2015, this park was ranked 48 in the list of the 58 most visited national parks, despite its remarkable beauty and variety of natural and cultural resources. A brief description of the park features will serve as an introduction to the projects I will be developing this summer, as well as an overview of the endless outdoors possibilities that the park has. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a remote treasure of west Texas. The closest urban centers to the park are El Paso, 110 miles to the west, and Carlsbad, New Mexico, 55 miles to the east. Located within the Chihuahua Desert ecoregion –the largest desert in the north of the continent, and the most biologically diverse desert in the world as measured by species richness or endemism- the park is characterized by dramatic sierras that provide its name. These mountains were formed during the Permian period, approximately 220 to 300 million years ago. At that time the region was covered by a tropical sea of warm and calm waters. Among the diverse prehistoric fauna, there were calcareous sponges, primitive algae, and other lime-secreting marine organisms. The organic residual of those organism crystallized into dense limestone, creating the Capitan Reef which is several hundred high and 400 mile long. When the sea evaporated the reef was covered with sediments and mineral salts, until a mountain-building uplift exposed part of it, shaping what is today the most prominent section of the Guadalupe Mountains, an outstanding example of a marine fossil reef.
The biological diversity of the park is also remarkable. It has 46,850 acres of wilderness, where the main spots are only reached hiking the trail networks of 80 miles. While the lowlands of the mountains are associated with the typical arid land plants of the Chihuahuan Desert such as nopales, cholla, ocotillo, agave, yucca, sotol and several other cacti, the highlands atop of the mountains contain a dense forest of ponderosa pine, southwestern white pine, Douglas fir, aspen, oaks and maples. These different ecosystems also harbor an eclectic variety of animals including mule deers, roadrunners, javelinas, kit foxes, hummingbirds, peregrine falcons, lizards, coyotes, black bears, elk, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes.
The Guadalupes are not only nature. They relate the story of the human race in its efforts to tame and coexist in beautiful but tough border territories. The abundance of water, shelter and scenic beauty led to settlement, establishing the area as an important landmark. These mountains have witnessed the passage of Mesacalero Apaches, explorers, pioneers, soldiers, mailmen, ranchers, geologists, and naturalists, all of whom left behind legends, as well as evidence of past human activities. It is precisely the cultural resources of the Guadalupe Mountains that my internship is focusing on. The maintenance, rehabilitation, and conditions assessment of some important elements of the built environment of the park will be my main tasks. It is crucial to preserve these assets because of the connection they provide between people and cultural traditions and the world at large; because they connect one generation to another. Future posts will be about historic preservation efforts in the Guadalupe Mountains.