When we first decided to become fulltime RVers, the thought of boondocking or drycamping sounded right up our alley. There are plenty of public lands open to RVs for camping, and they offer privacy and views for free that RV parks can not compete with. The tradeoff is that there are no hookups: no water, no electric, no sewer. While that sounds ideal for a weekend, for fulltimers it is more difficult to imagine laundry, working and the normal daily tasks that must continue without hookups. There are of course work-arounds such as generators, solar panels, composting toilets, etc.; but for us, these options just seemed to complicate and add a much greater investment to a lifestyle in which we were looking forward to simplifying our daily activities. So, we did not opt in to any extra preparations for boondocking, and instead, we decided that we would try it as we were able to learning as we go. When we came to the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas, the conditions were right for a drycamping experience. First, we would only be there a few days. Second, the weather forecast was dry with highs in the 80s and lows in the 50s (pretty much perfect). Third, the campground was situated in a beautiful area at the base of a canyon, but near enough to the Visitor Center to have limited cell phone service. While there was a fee for the spot, it was only $8.00 per night and there was access to drinking water, bathrooms and even sinks for washing dishes. While the RV spots were basically a small parking lot, we enjoyed having the dark night sky and hearing coyotes yipping and cackling in the night. I am describing the Pine Springs campground inside the south entrance to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
We did not do a lot of hiking there, but not for a lack of options. The park offers many hikes ranging from desert landscapes to forested canyons and mountainous peaks. It has several of the highest peaks in Texas and is renowned for its Fall foliage, a rare find in the surrounding desert.
Butterfield Overland Mail
Within a short walk from the Visitor Center, there are remnants of an old stagecoach stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail system. The Butterfield route was the first to run from St. Louis to San Francisco, and it was guaranteed to make the 2700 mile journey within 25 days. It was the forerunner of the Pony Express, but it was abandoned at the onset of the Civil War. Butterfield used stagecoaches, and the stations were strategically placed 20 miles from each other over the route. The coaches traveled night and day with a daily average of 120 miles. Each coach could carry up to 9 passengers with luggage and 12,000 letters. The remnants seen in the Guadalupe mountains were originally built in 1858, but were abandoned in 1859 when the route was moved to the Davis Mountains (running through the Fort Davis area). West Texas and the Guadalupe Mountains feel remote even today, it is hard to imagine just how remote this tiny stagecoach stop would have felt in the 1850s…
We also walked to Frijole Ranch to see an example of an early ranching operation originally settled in the 1870s. The first pioneers were the Rader brothers with their cattle. In 1906, the Smith family moved to the property and built on to the original home to construct what we can still see today. This was a truck farming family, and I remember reading at the site that they would pack up their fruits and vegetables at night with wet rags and drive the 60 mile wagon trip through the night to keep their produce safe from the sun. What I loved about visiting the home is the stone trough laid in front of the house to take the spring water over to their orchard and garden. What a lovely home at the foot of the mountains overlooking the wide desert. The home is now a museum, but we were there in the evening after operating hours.
At the ranch, we also watched this jack rabbit who didn’t seem to mind the company. Check out his bright yellow eyes, black tipped ears and long back legs. Has anyone else watched Night of the Lepus like me?
And that, my friends, wraps up our visit to the Guadalupes. We will hopefully make it back here one day to better explore its canyons and peaks.
Fun Facts & Tips:
- There are high winds in this area at times. We did not experience them, but there were warnings everywhere. They report gusts up to 100 mph.
- Carlsbad Caverns was a 45 minute drive from the campground.
- The America the Beautiful (Interagency annual pass) was accepted.
- They do have mountain lions and elk.