| 5 states, 4 days, 3 highpoints, 2 of us, 1 road trip
We had four days to kill this year over Thanksgiving. Months ago, after quaffing many IPAs, we came up with an idea on how to use them.
Since most of our road trips this year focused on the great lands to our north and west, we decided it was time to head south. And to give our road trip some real meat on its bones, we decided to hit a few state highpoints along the way.
This trip couldn't have come at a better time, as both of us really needed to get away from our jobs for a bit, which have been sucking the life out of us in recent times.
Mount Sunflower (4,039')
Highest point in Kansas
Round-trip Distance: a few yards from the truck and back
Total Elevation Gain: none, except for the two-foot step up into the truck on the return
Round-trip Time: 9 seconds, not including the time spent on and around the summit
After leaving work on Wednesday, Nov. 26, it felt good to hit the open road. Our first stop was Burlington, Colorado – our base camp for our Mt. Sunflower drive the following morning.
Witnessing sunrise on Mt. Sunflower sounded like a good idea, but we missed it by a few minutes. However, that delay allowed us to see this (the only turkey we'd see on Thanksgiving day):
We still managed to catch the latter half of the sunrise. And even though the flat, topographically challenged land out that way may seem lifeless at first, it offers a simple form of beauty that is serene and peaceful. If you give it a chance, I'm sure you can appreciate it, too.
Our car had no problems gaining Mt. Sunflower's summit, even though the winds were whipping and the air was chilly.
Two photos stitched together here (it looks like it's higher to the right, but that's just because the pic is a little crooked) … I took the left one and Jen took the right one:
After gaining Kansas's highpoint, we continued southward along some lonely roads that only occasionally passed through an empty town or two. When we came across a gas station that was actually open, I topped off the tank just to be safe. As I pumped the gas, wind whistled while a metal sign clanked against a pole. It was an eerie scene and I was eager to get away from it.
Black Mesa (4,973')
Highest point in Oklahoma
Round-trip Distance: 8.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 775 feet, according to the book we have
Round-trip Time: 2.5 hours
Under cloudy skies, we pulled into the empty lot at the Black Mesa trailhead. The air was cold and the sky was questionable, but we were prepared for the worst and we brought enough gear to survive a blizzard.
We set a good pace on the flat, beaten path. Every once and a while we'd see a green arrow designating the route.
Roughly halfway into the hike, the trail ascended up the side of the mesa. It was gradual, though, and it only climbed about 775 feet. At mile markers 1, 2 and 3, newly installed benches provided convenient rest stops. We didn't rest, though, other than to take this pic at mile 3:
Once on top of the mesa, the land leveled out. But even at our fast pace, it didn't seem like we were moving at all. The scenery never seemed to change.
Off in the distance, to our north, I noticed a nefarious-looking snow storm approaching. So we turned on the jets even more.
Just as we made it to the highpoint marker, the wind picked up and flakes started to fly – sideways. That didn't affect our resolve, though, as we spent a good 5 minutes taking pictures and checking out the marker. Not to mention, we had the summit all to ourselves! (Later, we'd realize that we had the entire hike to ourselves.)
As we descended, and then continued on the flat land for many miles, the snow continued to pound us. It even began to accumulate. The return hike offered a completely different scene, which was blanketed in white.
After completing our 11th highpoint (I think it was), we had to swing by the famous "Merc" in Kenton for ice cream. I wanted one of those certificates of completion that Dhatfield received. Unfortunately, being Thanksgiving Day and all, the Merc was closed.
Pushing on to our next hotel in Dalhart, Texas, we experienced more snow, though none of it stuck to the road.
That evening we celebrated our two successful highpoints – as well as Thanksgiving – with a variety of cheeses, hard salami, crusty bread with balsamic vinegar, and tasty beers.
The next morning (Nov. 28th) we got an early start on the long, boring drive to Roswell, New Mexico. I thought the first hour or so in the dark was bad, but after the sun came up it didn't get any better.
In Fort Sumner (no, not the fort where the first shots were fired that started the Civil War), we made a pit stop to see Billy the Kid's grave. It looked like a lot of other graves, other than the fact that it was cased in concrete, his tombstone was in shackles and the whole site was covered in a metal cage. As we learned, the tombstone had been stolen and recovered multiple times, so this was the result. At any rate, I liked Billy the Kid in "Young Guns," so it was neat to see his grave finally.
While on one particularly mind-numbing stretch of road, I took the following photo. Had I taken the photo 50 more times over the next hour or so, just know the photos would all look the same.
Later that evening, when I was going through the photos that I took that day, I noticed the UFO-shaped cloud. Pretty fitting and weird, eh?
Now I'm not a UFO nerd or anything (not that there's anything wrong with that), but since we were in Roswell, we just had to hit the International UFO Museum & Research Center. If you're into UFOs, that place would be your Mecca. But since I'm not, I didn't have the patience to read any of the 7,000 newspaper clippings on the walls, so I mostly just checked out the photos. Oh, and the gangrene alien on the operating table was some campy goodness, too.
You cannot go to that region without hitting Carlsbad Caverns, which is just down the road from Carlsbad, New Mexico (which was where we stayed the night before climbing Guadalupe Peak). I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. We did the 2-mile "primitive" trail that descended 750 feet. Here's the beginning:
I'm not sure why, but this formation captured my interest the most.
Oh, and did I mention that it was only 56 degrees down there?
Guadalupe Peak (8,749')
Highest point in Texas
Round-trip Distance: 8.4 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
Round-trip Time: 3.5 hours
We tried to get an early start for this climb, but we didn't make it to the Guadalupe Peak trailhead until 7:30 a.m. (Nov. 29). Here's a shot of the Guadalupe Peak N.P. mountains, driving from Carlsbad, N.M. (El Capitan is far left; Guad is the pointy one next to it).
As we started up the trail, it was obvious we weren't in Colorado anymore. Most notable were the many pokey and scratchy plants along the trail. I even got stabbed by a cactus quill at one point.
Surprisingly, there were a few lightly exposed points along the trail. That said, the trail was easy (class 1) and it was at least four feet wide at its narrowest point.
We experienced some good weather in the morning, but it looked like the clouds were building fast. As you can see in the following image, the weather on our ascent was much different than the weather on our descent.
Left image taken on the way up; right image taken on the way down:
Less than two hours after starting, we gained the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.
The views were much better than I anticipated. After all, we were 3,000 to 4,000 feet above the barren land below. And as we looked toward the east, it was strange to think that Texas went on for another 600 or 700 miles.
El Capitan was particularly interesting. We thought about climbing it also, but after seeing the terrain (not the rocks, steepness or exposure, but the off-trail bushwhacking through cactus, yucca and scrub brush), we changed our minds.
Not long after summiting, foggy clouds swallowed up the summit. We headed down just in time.
Back at the visitor center, we dined on Lunchables, fruit leathers and Diet Mountain Dew. As we ate, three tour buses pulled up right behind us and unloaded a swarm of Japanese tourists.
Our next destination on our way home was Santa Rosa. But to get there you have to drive on a straight road for 10,000 miles with nothing to look at but flat plains of butter-colored grass littered with mangled-looking cacti. No towns, no homes, no turns, no topography; just a flat wasteland that makes a drive through Kansas feel like Colorado.
I caught myself going 90 mph more than once. And when the speed limit slowed to 55 near Vaughn, it felt like I was going 20 in a school zone.
In Santa Rosa we finally found some good New Mexican food (after a couple failed attempts in other towns). The ambiance and service at the Comet II wasn't great, but the food was some of the best New Mexican I've ever had.
Our drive home on the morning of November 30 was rather unexciting, so I'll spare you the moments I wanted to stick a fork in my eye. Although, once we hit the snow storm in the Colorado Springs area, the excitement ratcheted up quite a bit.
I felt sorry for this poor tow truck driver (and the guy he was trying to pull out), but I definitely wouldn't have been any help to him.
And to think, the forecast we saw only called for a half inch of snow.
Anyway … this was yet another great road trip – our fifth or sixth for 2008. We definitely enjoyed some new experiences and saw some new sights. And isn't that what it's all about?
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):