Our second day in the Chihuahuan Desert included a hike to McKittrick Canyon, a route that began at the interpretive center and rounded a small hillside before crossing a big, rocky wash that exposed the canyon’s geology.
The canyon is named after Captain Felix McKittrick, a rancher who settled at the mouth of the canyon in 1869, although evidence suggests the earliest human inhabitants occupied the area around 12,000 years ago. By the early 1500s, the Mescalero Apaches had settled into the canyon. The surrounding mountains provided ample supplies of game, water, and shelter locations, and remained the Mescalero’s unchallenged sanctuary until the arrival of pioneer settlers, cattle drovers, and stage lines. As the land was taken from the Mescalero, conflicts arose. Skirmishes turned to bloody battles. Settlers demanded protection. The Mescalero were forced from the area as cavalry troops penetrated the Guadalupes, raiding and destroying Apache rancherias, rations and supplies. By the late 1800s, nearly all of the surviving Mescalero Apaches in the U.S. had been relocated to reservations.
As we continued winding up and over the canyon’s bends, the trail alternated between dry and riparian landscapes. The canopy of big tooth maple, Texas madrone, and chinkapin oak—lauded as one of Texas’ most beautiful fall-color displays—provided seasonal delight.
After passing through this lush area, we crossed a stream several times. Vegetation was primarily riparian-deciduous trees, with wildflowers making it stand out from the surrounding landscape. We particularly enjoyed the first quarter mile, where the trail dipped into a rocky wash, with shelf-like rock formations carved by the river.
Although we set Pratt Cabin as our destination, the encroaching darkness forced us to turn back before reaching it. The cabin was built by geologist Wallace Pratt in the early 1930s, and was part of a gift of more than 5,000 acres he made to the U.S. government for the creation of the national park.
We returned to Base Camp in time for sunset and cocktails before the evening news and dinner.
Three things we learned today worth sharing:
- Always make sure to send emails before entering into a “no service” zone.
- When hiking through the desert, take twice as much water as you think you’ll drink.
- When encountering fellow hikers, don’t depend on their assessment of time. “Ten minutes to the Interpretive Center” may be 10 minutes to 20-somethings, but it’s 30 minutes to 50-somethings.