Area Investigation Report
on a Proposed Guadalupe Mountainsa National Park Texas
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The significance of the whole area vastly exceeds that of the North McKittrick Canyon lands already acquired through donation. To provide development terrain, buffering protection, and to secure scenic, geologic, and biologic displays which surpass those of the land already in National Park Service ownership, additional lands including South McKittrick Canyon should be set aside for park purposes. Acquisition of the higher Guadalupes would contribute lands suitable for campground and picnic use, and these lands would form a noteworthy site for a high, cool, scenic drive, which should eventually link with a ridge road from the north.

The scenic road would leave U.S. Highway 62-180 approximately at Pine Spring Camp and would ascend the north wall of Pine Spring Canyon, topping out somewhere near Bush Mountain. From there one fork would follow the ridge eastward toward Pine Top Mountain and down to The Bowl, and another branch would follow the Blue Ridge and the divide between West Dog and South McKittrick Canyons. This drive would provide a delightfully cool and dramatically different tour for visitors coming to the Guadalupe Mountains across the surrounding desert. From this road there would be superb views across great distances, and the contrast of closeup views of vegetation and animals far different from those of the surrounding lowlands. The road would be ideal for pulloffs and interpretive devices located to explain the geologic and ecologic stories, including the abrupt and obvious difference in vegetation patterns on north and south slopes. This road would allow relatively heavy use of the higher Guadalupe Mountains without posing a threat to the very fragile values of North and South McKittrick Canyons. A high-country campground, probably in The Bowl, would be very desirable.

Eventually this road should continue eastward along the ridge of the Guadalupes, through the Lincoln National Forest, to the western end of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and thence along the ridge to the cave itself. Such a road would provide a loop trip for the caverns visitors, who would be able to continue westward along the ridge, through higher and higher country, to the scenic culmination in the high Guadalupes.

View south, up Shattuck Valley and Upper Dog Canyon to the high Guadalupes in the distance.

The high Guadalupes, from the north. Upper Dog Canyon, right: North and South McKittrick Canyons drain from center to the left.

General Description of Area

The Guadalupe range is wedge-shaped, the southern extremity of a limestone upland extending northward into New Mexico. The point of the wedge is El Capitan, a landmark visible for over fifty miles. Directly north of El Capitan is Guadalupe Peak, 8,751 feet in elevation, the highest point in Texas. The southeastern edge of this upland is a steeply dipping escarpment known as La Barrera del Guadalupe. The western side of the wedge, trending west of north, considered the main Guadalupe Mountains and including a small parallel range, the Brokeoff Mountains, is bounded by a tremendous fault scarp.

Between the two escarpments is a pine-covered rolling highland deeply incised by canyons. To the north the range gradually fades into the Pecos Valley.

Elevations range from 3,650 feet at the base of the western escarpment to 8,751 feet at Guadalupe Peak. Ecological associations range from Lower Sonoran in the typical Chihuahuan Desert environment at the lowest elevations to Transition zone with some Canadian zone elements in the highlands. Zones within the area are modified by slope, exposure, and moisture conditions.

West side fault scarp from the air. Vertical relief between salt flats at right and the high peaks, center, is 5,000 feet.

The Capitan Reef and associated formations are cross-sectioned by North McKittrick Canyon (here seen from the rim above South McKittrick). La Barrera del Guadalupe extends northeastward into the distance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.


The Guadalupe Mountains present a spectacular exposure of the famous Capitan barrier reef and its contemporaneous fore-reef and back-reef marine deposits. The fine display of the several facies of Permian sediments gives the area its prime scientific significance and makes it of outstanding interest to the world's stratigraphers and paleontologists. The world's best known fossil reefs are found within this region. The Capitan, the greatest of the reefs, has been described by Dr. Norman Newell of the American Museum of Natural History as the most extensive fossil organic reef on record.

The controlling factor in the deposition of the rocks of the Guadalupe Mountains region was the presence in a large part of Texas and New Mexico of a marine basin throughout the Permian period. A portion of that basin, the Delaware Basin, comprising some 10,000 square miles, was the major influence in the formation of the rocks with which we are interested. This basin was roughly oval in shape with a channel to the open sea situated to the southwest of the depression.

The deep-water, well-stratified deposits of the Delaware Basin grade laterally into the thicker and more massive beds of the reefs The latter structures were built in the shallower water along the periphery of the basin. The most impressive of these, the Capitan reef, formed a narrow but effective barrier which extended in the form of a giant horseshoe 350 to 400 miles around the basin's margin. The Capitan is well exposed for a distance of some 40 miles along the escarpment separating Guadalupe Ridge from the lower lands of the present Delaware Basin. The older portion of the reef can be seen at the mouth of Walnut Canyon and in other canyons in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and McKittrick Canyon displays a fine exposure of the middle part of the reef and of the gradational change from fore-reef beds to the massive reef itself.

Lime-secreting algae were chiefly responsible for the growth of this barrier, and other organisms contributed their remains to the structure and aided in trapping and holding limey sand in the growing deposit. Except for its oval shape, the Capitan is similar to present-day barrier reefs in the Pacific.

Associated with the reef proper are thick-bedded, steeply dipping rocks that represent recrystallized talus slopes built forward in comparatively deep water and advancing in front of the reef margin. The growth of the Capitan reef was more in a horizontal than vertical direction and apparently, the reef grew largely on its own talus. Another important feature of the zone between the reef and the fore-reef deposits is the presence of large blocks of rock which slid down the slopes in front of the reef and were incorporated in the basin deposits. These blocks as well as other evidence of sub-marine slides are seen to advantage at the mouth of McKittrick Canyon and its nearby vicinity.

Behind the Capitan reef in the shelf or lagoonal area, different types of sediments accumulated simultaneously with the reef and fore-reef deposits. These back-reef equivalents consist predominantly of dolomite with interbedded fine-grained sandstone. Farther behind the reef, in the increasingly saline waters of the shelf, these deposits grade rapidly into evaporites. The near-reef lagoonal beds are well displayed in many places along Guadalupe Ridge, and two of the units of this group of rocks -- the Tansill and the Yates -- can be seen in the McKittrick Canyon area.

The section of the Guadalupes here proposed for inclusion in the National Park System contains superb exposures of most of the Permian rocks deposited in the Delaware Basin. All the formations of Leonard and Guadalupe time are exposed in the tremendous fault scarp bounding the range on the west. There the relationship of the two main reefs (Goat Seep and Capitan) to their basin and shelf equivalents is clearly visible to the geologist and, with but little interpretation, to the layman. The exposures in North and South McKittrick Canyons are also classic and of interest to scientists throughout the world.

It is the remarkable display of deep-water basin deposits, of reef and reef talus, and of shallow-water shelf sediments, all formed at the same time but differing because of differences in the environments in which they originated, that gives this region its geologic significance.

West side fault scarp from the air. Lower Sonoran Chihuahuan desert in valley at right, to Transition Zone forest, left center. If any bighorn remain in region, they are in the crags of Cutoff Ridge and the Brokeoff Mountains, foreground.

Unique ecological association borders the permanent stream in South McKittrick Canyon.


To describe adequately the complex botany of the region, it is necessary to analyze the varied ecological factors that prevail in it. First, at the base of the western escarpment there is exhibited a typical Chihuahuan Desert influence with an abundance of walkingstick cholla (Opuntia imbricata), lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla) and creosotebush (Larrea tridentata). At the base of the barrera, centuryplant (Agave parryi) and one-seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma) are accompanied by sotol (Dasylirion leiophyllum) and several varieties of acacia and mimosa. Here the first of the ecological controls, water, takes over. In dry stream channels, Texas walnut (Juglans rupestris), netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata), Texas madrone (Arbutus texanum), and numerous shrubs appear. At one place outside McKittrick Canyon, there are a few ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) growing in a stream channel at least two miles from the base of the escarpment. Historical references mention the abundance of ponderosa pines along the lower canyons.

South McKittrick Canyon itself offers an ever-changing botanical picture. In its lower reaches where the canyon is wider, the slopes are covered with ponderosa pine, alligator-bark juniper (Juniperus deppeana), madrone, gray oak (Quercus grisea), and numerous shrubs. In this lower canyon area along the canyon floor, the presence of a permanent stream further influences a varied growth including ponderosa pine, madrone, alligator-bark juniper, Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), walnut, chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), chinqua- pin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii), and an occasional Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). As the canyon walls narrow and become increasingly higher, the above-mentioned trees and shrubs are joined by limber pine (Pinus flexilis), bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), hop-tree (Ptelea trifoliata), and Knowlton's hop-hornbeam (Ostrya knowltonii). Three yuccas, Yucca torreyi, elata, and faxoniana, are found in the lower canyon areas, while far up the canyon baccata takes over.

In the highlands, from the rim of the escarpment bordering Pine Spring Canyon through The Bowl and the head of South McKittrick Canyon, there is a strongly contrasting botanical province. In the higher area is a forest of ponderosa and limber pines, interspersed with numerous Douglas-fir. Here, too, are found a few quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii). This area ranges upward from the Transition zone to the edge of the Canadian zone. Through the head of South McKittrick Canyon these trees continue with a scattering of velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina) and serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.). On the ridges flanking both forks of McKittrick Canyon the flora changes considerably. The narrow, windswept ridges are covered with alligator-bark juniper, pinyon pine (Pinus edulis), centuryplant, sotol, and yucca. Open upper slopes of the canyons are covered with typical Lower Sonoran vegetation, ridge tops with Upper Sonoran vegetation, and shaded draws and canyon floors with Transition growth.

Forest along upper South McKittrick Canyon drainage. Predominantly ponderosa pine with hardwoods along dry streambed.

Dramatic differences in plant associations in upper South McKittrick Canyon -- from Lower Sonoran to extreme upper Transition, depending on slope, soil, and exposure. This is elk country.

Animal Life

It is a fortunate situation that both owners of McKittrick Canyon and the southern Guadalupe Mountains have been conservation minded in game and timber management. The two landholders have had control of the entire region since the early 1920's and, except for a very limited annual deer and elk hunt in the highland area, little disturbance of the wildlife balance has occurred. No hunting whatsoever has taken place within McKittrick Canyon since it has been under the control of Messrs. Pratt and Hunter.

In addition to nearly complete protection of animal life, a program of reintroduction has been carried on by Hunter. In 1925 and 1926, the late J. C. Hunter, Sr., imported 44 elk. Since that time, the herd has increased to approximately 300 in the Texas section of the Guadalupes. In addition, turkey were planted in 1954 and have become well established. Both reintroductions were based on previous range data indicating that both species were once abundant in the region. The presert turkey is the same subspecies as the original. However, based on present determinations, the native elk (Cervus merriami), now extinct, is a species distinct from that reintroduced (Cervus canadensis nelsoni).

In addition to the above-mentioned elk, other large mammals found are mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), very common throughout the highland canyons and spreading into the rolling country at the base of the escarpment. Bighorn (Ovis canadensis mexicana) were common throughout the Guadalupes, but have been nearly wiped out. Recent observations indicate that a small group may still be resident in the area.

Although no pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) were observed in the area, they are known to exist at the base of the escarpment a few miles to the north and along the El Paso highway to the southwest.

Among the large carnivores, a very few mountain lions (Felis concolor) and black bear (Ursus americana) still exist in the rougher canyon areas.

The following list of smaller mammals includes only those of general interest. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are fairly common throughout the area. Raccoons (Procyon lotor), ringtails (Bassariscus astutus), three species of skunks -- striped (Mephitis mephitis), hog-nosed (Conepatus mesoleucus), and spotted (Spilogale gracilis) -- jackrabbits (Lepus californicus), cottontail (Sylvilagus auduboni), rock squirrels (Citellus variegatus), antelope ground squirrels (Citellus interpres), coyote (Canis latrans), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), and porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) are all fairly common to the region.

A list of birds of the region is included in the observations prepared by collaborator F. E. Gehlbach during the summer of 1960.

The same checklist includes a list of amphibians and reptiles observed during the same period. Listed also are two fishes found in McKittrick Canyon. Both of these fishes, rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneri) and long-ear sunfish (Lopomis megalotis), have been introduced. As far as can be determined, there are no native fish.


The archeology of the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico and west Texas is probably the least known of any culture in the Southwest. Work was done as early as 1925 by J. Walter Fewkes of the Bureau of American Ethnology, and has continued up through the years by various other workers.

Information gleaned from isolated projects indicates a long-term occupancy beginning at 6,000 years ago. This is proposed because of now-extinct mammals such as Taylor bison, four-horned antelope, early horse, muskox, and others, found in association with occupied cave sites. At one site, Hermit Cave in Last Chance Canyon, C-14 dates of over 12,000 years have been obtained. Other sites have yielded pottery dated approximately 600 years ago. The latest inhabitants of the region were Mescalero Apaches in residence at the coming of the white man. The early cultures until the coming of the Apaches were rather backward. Livelihood was that of gatherers and hunters; apparently no crops were raised and there is no evidence of masonry structures. Caves and overhangs supplied protection against the weather. Scattered throughout the vicinity are circular mounds of fire-broken rocks, indicating outdoor kitchens of the mescal-roasting pit type. These pits are found at all elevations, indicating that the Indians followed the ripening of native plants from the valley floor in the spring to the highest ridges in the fall. Perhaps the most striking remnants of this group are the large number of pictographs scattered in caves and sheltered overhangs throughout the Guadalupes. One such pictograph site is located at Smith Springs above the ranch headquarters. Cooking pits were observed throughout the area.

Hiking is the only proper method of travel along South McKittrick Canyon. The fragile streamside ecological values are complemente3d by the superb scenery of the rugged canyon.

The Pratt Lodge -- built of native stone, including the flagstone roof. Suitable and perfectly placed, at the junction of North and South McKittrick Canyon, for an interpretive ande protective public contact station.


The first historic references to this area were compiled by the Spanish Conquistadores on their journeys northward from Mexico. Most of these expeditions moved northwest of the Guadalupes along the Rio Grande. Twice in the 1500's groups of Spaniards traveled along the Pecos River. After these exploratory trips, very little exploration occurred until the U.S. Military expeditions, beginning in 1849. One expedition, led by Lt. Francis Bryan, was a survey from San Antonio to El Paso, and passed along the base of the Guadalupes. In 1854 Captain John Pope traveled this same area surveying a route for the Pacific Railroad. Captain Pope returned to the lower Pecos River Valley in 1855 and attempted to establish a garrison. This failed because of a lack of good water. Next, the Butterfield Trail was established through the area in 1858, and one station was established at the mouth of Pine Spring Canyon. Remnants of this station, used for less than a year until the trail was rerouted far to the south, are still visible and are marked by a bronze plaque. It has been said that McKittrick Canyon was used as a holding area for the stageline horses.

After the Civil War, ranching activities began to spring up throughout the Pecos River Valley. Early ranchers in the area settled along the base of the escarpment and in the canyons where numerous springs supplied water. The highest area has no known permanent water, which restricted the use of the rim area, but by the early 1900's sheep and goat ranching became established in the highlands. The Hunter Ranch still has a large goat ranching activity, centered primarily in the Dog Canyon section of the highlands.

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Last Updated: 09-Feb-2007