Big Bend NP / Guadalupe Mountains NP / Carlsbad Caverns NP

Discussion in 'Nature' started by scott_hotaling, Jan 30, 2008.

  1. I just put the finishing touches on a trip from western NC to western Texas
    from late February to early March. Lots of driving aside, I'll have 9 days to
    concentrate on shooting this beautiful area.

    The goal of this trip is Landscape photography. I'll be shooting macro and
    wildlife when I feel like it, but those won't be serious pursuits. Also, I
    don't care in the slightest about any towns or anything man-made.

    Right now, I'm planing to spend:

    1 day - Carlsbad Caverns NP
    4 days - Guadalupe Mountains NP (Climb Guadalupe Peak one day)
    4 days - Big Bend NP

    I'd love to hear input about can't miss areas, suggestions for sunrise/sunset
    locations, and generally any information anyone would like to offer up about
    any of these three places.

    I will be tent camping and I'm an extremely adventurous guy so if the reward is
    worth the effort, I'm interested in any adventure. Thanks, everyone.

    - Scott

    PS - I know there are threads that already exist on the topic, but most were a
    bit broader scope, old, or just not what I was looking for, hence the new one.
  2. <p>Apparently formatting a post is a bit tricky, please excuse the lack of spacing and this is how the schedule should look.
    <p>1 day - Carlsbad NP
    <p>4 days - Guad. Mtns NP
    <p>4 days - Big Bend NP
    <p>- Scott
  3. If those times don't include driving, they look pretty good. I've never hiked Guadalupe Mountains (although I've been there) but it looks pretty small. You might think about taking one of those days and transferring it to Big Bend, which is huge and one of my favorite NP's. The various canyons of the Rio Grande are always worth a shot and there should be some spectacular shots of the Chisos Mountains from the desert floor. Grapevine Hills offers lots of photo ops. Are you planning on staying at the Chisos Basin campground? I've always thought Rio Grande village would be nice in the early spring. Do be careful, Big Bend, some years back, was voted in the top ten of most dangerous public lands in Outside magazine, I think due to smuggling/illegal border crossing. Have a blast.
  4. BTW, Scott, nice portfolio.
  5. Indeed, those times DO NOT include driving. I've got several days lined up for that, those are pure shooting days (except for a 6-hour drive from Guad. NP to Big Bend NP).

    I might consider switching a day to Big Bend. Luckily, there's no reserving campsites in Guadalupe (that I can see) so I can just leave if I feel like it and head to Big Bend early.

    As for safety, thanks for the heads up. I've been in some rough places so I think I'll be okay but it's always to keep safety in mind.

    - Scott

    PS- A better portfolio of mine can be see at, but thanks for the nice words.
  6. Big Bend NP can be extremely crowded during Spring Break. There is no more overflow camping in the park, and the regular campsgrounds now have a reservations system for the busy part of the year. (Not sure if that applies to the entire campground.) I suggest calling the park and finding out whether you'll be able to find a last-minute campsite. Also, you'll want to know if this is a good year for bluebonnets. The variety that grows in the park is unusually tall, and in a good year it's an amazing sight: bluebonnets and cactus in bloom together!
  7. Thanks! I have camping covered in Big Bend. I already made my reservations in the Chisos Basin campground.

    Thanks for the tip on the bluebonnet bloom! I'll see what I can find out.
  8. A lot of desert for you! :)

    I have been to these places two years ago. Probably not the most "beautiful" in traditional landscape sense, but rugged and different enough to leave a lasting impression. Make sure your vehicle is in good condition, as you can drive for hours not seeing another soul.

    The Elena Canyon and the famous Balanced Rocks at Grapevine Hills are good dawn shots. The "Window" (right at the Chisos Basin) is a beautiful shot at sunset. You will see breathtaking views overlooking the snaking Rio Grande at dawn and dusk.

    Note the unique vegetation: yucca blooms, ocotillo, prickly pears, agave, and cactus blooms -- can be very pretty and potentials for some outstanding landscape and macro images.

    Look for the unusual rock formations (that look almost like graphic paintings on rocks) at Glen Springs.

    If you like pictographs, Hueco Tanks State Park (El Paso) has some interesting ones. We hired someone local to show us around.

    Have fun,
  9. My wife and I did a similar trip from Asheville, NC a few years ago in December/January. I might also recommend shifting a day from Guadalupe to BB - there's plenty to do in Guadalupe but even more in BB. Definitely go up Guadalupe Peak, preferably for sunrise/set, and hike McKittrick Canyon. In Big Bend, Emory Peak is the highest in the Chisos Mtns and well worth the short (4.5 mile) hike to the top, again preferably in good light. We stayed in the Rio Grande campground and there was plenty to keep me busy with the surrounding desert, river, and Sierra del Carmen range all coming alive every morning and evening. On the other side of the park, the Mule Ears are interesting. I wish I'd spent more time in the Chisos and done some backpacking, but really you can't go too wrong. I love the Appalachians, but I'm always amazed on my trips out West that you can photograph grand views in spectacular light just about anywhere, rather than just a few select outcrops where there don't happen to be any trees in the way.

    Incidentally, on the drive to Big Bend we spent one night at Monahans Sandhills SP near Odessa - maybe 3 hours from BB. There are lots of dunes to photograph if the light is good.
  10. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    Hi Scott.

    I used to live in Texas and have hit all those sites. So a few suggestions.

    Carsbad-It's HUGE. You can fly a 747 into the cave or so I was told. But the formations are not especially pretty, and lighting something like that is pretty tough. They are said to be better in New Cave or better still the small and spectacular private cave near Sonora, beautiful formations on another size. I'd call first though to see what kind of support you are allowed to bring into the cave. The best thing IMHO to see at Carlsbad are the Millions of Mexican Freetail bats that come out all at once near the entrance. often there are also Ringtails there that feed off the bats. Quite a show, but hard to photograph well.

    Guadolupe. There were two nice hikes we did, one up Guadalupe peak itself, you look down on El Capitan an ancient reef. McKormic Canyon (spelling?) is nice but has a better reputation for Fall color. There is a back enterence into the park where you have to travel through a lot of New Mexico to get to the enterence. The NM landscape was breathtaking in places, but the back side of Guadalupe was a bit of a disapointment. PS. We were there also in March at the base of Guadalupe peak and had to deal with 90 mph winds, not uncommon there. It tore one of our tents to tiny fragments.

    Big Bend. 4 days in Big Bend is NOT enough. It is a HUGE park. If I were to limit myself to 4 days, boy, maybe I'd stay in the Basin and do a one day hike on the South Rim, One through the 'Window' and then on day to Boquias (spelling?) Canyon. It used to be fantastic to wade over to the small Mexican village there but Homeland security has apparently put an end to that. And then there are just incredible formations all over the place. You would miss a lot though with just 4 days. Personally I would spend more time in Big Bend unless you really have to climb 'the highest mountain in Texas' at Guadolupe. If you do want to stay in the Basin plan ahead and book early it fills up fast.
  11. Mary, I love rugged, dramatic landscapes. Sounds like these parks will fit the bill pretty well. Thanks for the info.

    Stephen, thanks for tip on the Sand Dunes. Did you and your wife camp on the way from Asheville to the parks? I'm trying to find a place to camp along the route, but will probably just end up sleeping in a wal-mart parking lot. :)

    Douglas, I'm actually considering just skipping Carlsbad altogether. I've done a decent amount of spelunking in Mammoth Caves and Carlsbad just seems like more of a tourist attraction and less of a photographic opportunity the more I look at it, am I wrong?

    The hike up Guadalupe Peak will only take 1 day (hell, probably half), so that doesn't affect my time in Big Bend. But I have been considering moving a day over to Big Bend. Luckily, I can decide that on the fly since I'll be hitting Guadalupe first. If I feel like leaving, I will. Thanks for tips on both parks. I'm actually hoping for some terrible (windy, stormy) weather since I think that's the kind of light/drama that will really bring the desert landscape alive.

    - Scott
  12. Scott , it may be beneficial to borrow some photographic ideas from David Muench's Texas book (link). He loves the terrain and has made wonderful photographs of it.

    Re Carlsbad - the most impressive aspect is its hugeness. I am glad I visited it for this reason. If you do want to get in to make a few decent shots, a tripod would help with the low-light condition. The bats were quite a sight. If I remember correctly, flash photography was not allowed. However, I wonder if you would be able to make some decent shots with today's high ISO.

    Good luck,
  13. Scott, going to Big Bend first we stayed in a motel somewhere just inside Texas the first night, then Monahans the second. On the way back we camped at Meeman-Shelby state park along the Mississippi just north of Memphis, which offers some nice views of the river.

    We were also in Carlsbad for a day and I enjoyed the caverns even though we'd been in Mammoth Cave a couple years before. I didn't take many photographs, thinking that the artificial light never changes and I'd be as well off buying the photo book in the gift shop. But while you're there I'd say it's worth seeing.

    PS- Don't hope too much for wind and storms; one day at Big Bend was especially windy and all we got from it was blowing dirt. Not conducive to photography or very pleasant to be out in for long.
  14. Scott,
    I live in the area, but it has been a while since I have been to each of these places. If you are headed up to Carlsbad Caverns but want to avoid the tourist stuff, check with the web-site and get in on one of the more advanced cave tours. There is hugh cave system and there are four or five seperate places to enter all with thier own special features. Big Bend is a wonderfull place, but once you get around the river you need to be carefull. The water levels will be low and you will have to worry about the illegal activity (mentioned earlier, however with low water levels it'll be worse). Guadalupe is another great place, if you know where to go, otherwise it will start to look the same. El Capitan is a hike, although you state you are in shape and you sound like you do this on a regular basis, but for most people it would be a day activity. If you give up on going to Carlsbad Caverns, I would look into Hueco Tank. This is a very unusual set of rock formations. It draws people from all over the world to come and climb. It is a small park and one that you could see most in a day, but it has a very dramamtic landscape. The problem with Hueco Tanks though is due to the "trashing" of the pictographs the park as become restricted. They will only allow a limited number of people to enter the park. If you get there after it is full, you would have to wait until someone left. So get there early and avoid the weekends. This one place that you see few photos of and as I write this, I am kicking myself for not taking the camera out there. Again, I'm out of touch with these areas these days, but in my youth (10 years ago) were places I called home. If you need more advice about the El Paso area, shoot me an e-mail, I'll be happy to be of any help I can. One last thing, I know you wanted to avoid the man made tourist traps, but look up Marfa, Tx, got some interesting stories about the lights on the mountains at night.
  15. Guadalupe Mountains NP is very neat. Don't miss the old homestead. Very photogenic.

    I think you have a good plan, the only thing you might reconsider is 4 days at Guadalupe Mountains NP. That may be a bit long for that park.
  16. Scott, re Big Bend, you need to line up your accommodations first in that they are scarce anytime of the year, especially at the time of the year when you are planning to be there. I believe this applies to campgrounds too which may have to be reserved in advance. Driving times in the park are are long as it is huge.

    Ideally stay at the Basin--Chisos Mountain lodge, or nearby camp sites. Add the Lost Mines hike to your list as an early morning hike. The South Rim hike is an all day hike or an overnight hike.

    Go here for more info or call the park.

    Joe Smith
  17. You might check out Big Bend Ranch. It is part of Big Bend NP. It is a workimg ranch, so depending on ranch activities you may get some cowboy shots. You can stay in the bunkhouse for very little ($25 a day including meals a couple years ago). When I was last there, it was spring round up.

  18. I'd agree with the earlier comments about adding one day Big's a huge, rugged, amazing place. I really liked the view of the Sierra del Carmen range from the eastern scenic drive. The range turns a vivid red at sunset. There are great views of the Chisos range from the western scenic drive.

    As for Guadalupe Mts, there is a large area of gypsum sand dunes on the western side of the park. When I was there in 2004, I had to get a map at the Visitor's Center, then get a key for the gate. Access is on some dirt roads that are prone to flooding, but the dunes are really nice and you'll probably be by yourself. There is also a great hike from McKittrick Canyon to the top of one of the ridges. Be prepared for lots of wind, especially when the early-spring storm systems move through...gusts can easily reach 70+ mph.

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