There Are No Real Roads in Guadalupe National Park. You Earn the Incredible Views.

It’s hard to reconcile where you are — the middle of a cool, dense coniferous forest, home to black bears, mountain lions and elk — with where you really are; that is, high above one of the emptiest stretches of arid, covered-in-cactus West Texas.

Before you drive the 500 miles from Austin to spend a few days amid the anomalous archipelago of “sky islands” that the 86,000-acre park protects, you will hear two things about Guadalupe: Most people come here to hike to the highest point in Texas. And hardly anybody comes here.

This is not well-trod ground. Guadalupe is one of the least visited of the country’s 60 national parks, welcoming just 225,257 people in 2017. By comparison, several million more people swarmed the perennially popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year than have wandered out to Guadalupe in the last 47.

If you’ve spent any time in sparsely populated, hauntingly sublime far West Texas, you know that this is D.I.Y. country. Unlike at Big Bend, Texas’s other (and larger and better known) national park about four hours south, there are no roofs to sleep under here or hot meals to order or waiters to refill your post-hike glass of wine.

If Guadalupe’s first-come, first-served campsites and RV spots are already taken — or you’d like to shower — you’ll have to drive to Whites City, N.M. (35 miles), or the tiny Texas towns of Dell City (44 miles) or Van Horn (64 miles) for lodging. Same goes if you need food or gas. As one park volunteer put it, “This isn’t a theme park; it’s a wilderness park.” He seemed slightly annoyed that you might come all this way and expect it to be anything else.

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