Named for the mountain range that dominates the landscape, Guadalupe Mountains National Park (www.nps.gov/gumo/index.htm) contains the four highest peaks in Texas, and boasts an impressive share of backcountry acreage. If all that sounds a little foreboding for wheelchair-users and slow walkers, then think again. The park also contains a historic stage stop as well as the ruins of an 1800s ranch — both of which are wheelchair-accessible, and can be easily reached from Highway 62/180, which runs from El Paso to Carlsbad and passes through the southwest section of the park. Not only is Guadalupe Mountains National Park a destination by itself, but it also makes a nice add-on to a Carlsbad Caverns visit. Either way, it’s a good choice for wheelchair-users and slow walkers who want to explore a bit of southwest history.
Pinery Stage Station
The Pinery Visitor Center makes a good first stop in the park. Located just off the highway, there’s accessible parking in front, with barrier-free access to the building. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the exhibits and ranger information desk, and level access to the accessible restrooms.
But the real attraction — The Pinery Trail — starts just outside the visitor center and leads over to the site of the former Pinery Stage Station. The paved accessible trail is dotted with benches, while interpretive plaques that detail the desert plants line the walkway.
The trail ends at an interpretive plaque that explains the importance of this one-time stage stop. Built in 1858, the stop was named for a nearby stand of pines, and since it had an abundant water source it was one of the most favored stations along the 2,800-mile mail route from St, Louis to San Francisco. It’s about a .7-mile round trip hike from the visitor center, however if you can’t manage the distance, there’s also a pullout along the highway near the stage stop. Although the Butterfield Overland Mail Coach only operated for a little over two years, it should be noted that it never missed a run — even in adverse weather.
Frijole Ranch History Museum
Another must-see in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the Frijole Ranch site, which is located just up the highway. Accessible parking is located near the accessible vault toilet. And since there are accessible picnic tables in a nearby covered pavilion, this stop is also a good spot for a lunch break.
The accessible Manzanita Spring Trail begins near the parking area, and leads over to the Frijole Ranch History Museum — an open-air exhibit which focuses on the history of this parcel, which was first settled by the Radar brothers in 1876. It was later acquired by the John Thomas Smith family in 1906, who grew apples, peaches, apricots and other fruits, and transported their harvest by wagon to Van Horn — a two-day ride away. The Smith farmhouse still stands, and it’s furnished as it would have been in the early 1900s. The Smith family operated the orchard until 1942, and it later served as a ranger residence, before it was added to the National Register of Historic Sites.
The paved undulating trail continues on past the old farmhouse and ends at Manzanita Spring. It should be noted that there’s a short 15-foot section of the trail that has rocks and dirt along it, from a recent washout. The good news is, that section is at the beginning of the trail, and if you can make it past that, you wont have any problems completing the trail. On the other hand, if it’s been repaired, this trail is entirely passable for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. All it all, it’s a one-mile round trip hike that offers an interesting look at the farming history of the area.