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McKittrick Canyon

Guadalupe National Park, Texas

A hike in McKittrick Canyon begins with a visit to the visitor center located at the trailhead—stop in and pick up any maps, brochures, and trail information you might need. After making use of the center’s facilities, bathrooms and water fountains are available, exit the back of the building and head for the McKittrick Canyon Trailhead—one of the most famous and scenic spots in Texas awaits. Along your hike, you will follow an intermittent stream through the desert, transition, and canyon woodlands to the historic Pratt Lodge, Grotto Picnic Area, and Hunter Line Cabin—all of which are highlights of the trip. Hikers of McKittrick Canyon are witness to a confluence of diversity—trees of the east, west, and north, the grasses of the plains, and desert cacti and succulents exist along with animals of the mountain and desert. The trail meanders through a spectacular forest with both conifers and deciduous trees represented—during autumn the maples, oaks and other hardwoods burst into a colorful display—a show we missed by only a few days. Despite being disappointed in our timing, the scenery of the canyon was still fascinating—especially the rare opportunity to hike along a permanent desert stream complete with travertine dams. As tempting as it may be, refrain from wading or drinking from the pristine stream—it is so rare and special that we must all take great care not to despoil it in any way. Pick and I were careful to cross the stream by using the stepping-stones provided—we always try to do our part. About 2.3 miles up the trail, we explored the Pratt Lodge—a cabin made of only stone and wood, in fact, even the roof is stone. Getting to the lodge is a pleasure—the wide trail is flat and in great condition—climbing only 200 feet over 2.3 miles and crossing the stream just twice. Beyond the lodge, the trail becomes single-track, continuing through the forest for another 1.1 miles until reaching the spur trail to the Grotto—a fascinating above ground “cave” where dripping water percolates through the limestone to form stalagmites and stalactites is found 0.1 mile down this trail. The Grotto Picnic Area is also a highlight, historical rock benches and rock picnic tables await in the deep shade—an inviting place for a lunch break. Just down the spur trail from the Grotto is the historic Hunter Line Cabin, located at the end of the trail—a fun place to explore and look for bats and spiders. We spotted an interesting orb weaver spider, which Pick has dubbed the Pringle spider because of its resemblance to the Pringle man. Speaking of spiders, not my favorite subject by the way, on our way back to the Grotto from the Hunter Line Cabin we encountered our first tarantula! He was making his way across the trail near the picnic area, and I have to admit that he was pretty darn cool—despite my arachnophobia. After another brief stop at the picnic area, where we talked with a ranger about the tarantula, we retraced our steps back to the parking lot—ending our day with a fulfilling 6.8-mile roundtrip hike.



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