I traveled down to Las Vegas New Mexico the first night and stayed in a hotel there. The hotel that was featured in No Country for Old Men which was pretty neat but the hotel was exactly as seedy as the movie made it look so there was that too. The restaurant I ate at was hilarious to me: I felt like I was in a Judd Apatow film the entire time. It started when I walked in and saw the certificate proudly displaying that the owner was "Les Cox". I know, very juvenile of me, but that wasn't the end. A table of incredibly overweight guys who were clearly policemen discussing weaponry they shot in their free time and run-ins they've had manhandling Mexicans. My waitress who appeared to be 17, very attractive, and slightly dumber than the doorknob she couldn't seem to figure out how to work (it required the application of a torque as it turns out).
The next day I continued on to Carlsbad Caverns at the very South end of New Mexico. There I stopped to walk down into and out of the main attraction. It was so much more than I anticipated, or was really capable of imagining. It's a little over a mile walk into the main cavern itself; the hike seems to be straight down and along the way there are a myriad of amazing sights. The main cavern is simply past believing and was a wonder to behold. I took pictures even though I knew it was too dark for any to turn out (there are artificial lights though-out as natural light disappears only a few hundred yards in, but that's no where near enough light). I've included one picture that doesn't capture any of the true awe of the real thing but was the best I could do without a tripod.
When I got out I drove down to Guadalupe to camp the night there. I went into the visitor center to check on the weather for the next day and ended up talking with a ranger about my planned trip. He clearly didn't have a lot of faith in me as he wrote down my plan, address and phone number so he could notify my next of kin when I died in the attempt.
The night was colder than I expected but I got up at 4:15 anyways and began walking (it took an hour to get up, break down my tent, eat breakfast, etc... so I wasn't on the trail until after 5:00). I hit the top of Guadalupe itself, the tallest point in Texas, just after sunrise. This was a nice little hike that was entirely on the trail. Then it was time to crash my way off-trail and hit the other three peaks I had planned for the day. The views from every one were incredible and I got a lot of great pictures (I spared anyone brave enough to read this and made sure to only include one picture per day, but I have the pictures). However, the off-trail stuff was kind of rough. Very thick underbrush and I kept getting pulled off the ridge. Nevertheless I made it through my four peaks and back down without dying (I let the ranger know, I'm not heartless) and then took off for Big Bend.
I didn't make it that night. I was falling asleep at the wheel so I stayed in a motel a few hours from Big Bend. A smart move to be sure but a disappointing one as it kept me from doing the long hike I had planned for the next day (~30+ miles). In fact I didn't get on the trail until 10:30 I had to be back in time to find a camp site and set-up my tent before dark which happened around 5 or 5:30. In my rush I was not overly sure how long my walk was and left with only the 3L of water in my camelback and a few candy bars for the trip which ended up being several thousand feet of elevation and over 21 miles. This turned out not to the be the greatest move ever as I ended up 4.5 miles from the end entirely out of water (and with only one terrible tasting doughnut and some musketeers for energy that day). All that aside the whole day was on trails so it was fast, the views were, again, spectacular. I'll only force one image on you but I have a plethora on my hard drive now. I was disappointed that I didn't really capture the openness of the rim I hit, but I still got some good takes and I'll always have my memory. Big Bend is quite isolated but if there's ever a chance to get down there, it's worth a visit!
The next day I woke around 5 to go for a short, morning hike. I'm not including any pictures of this one (I double up for my final day) but it was pure pain the whole way. I had to be sure to be down by 12:00 to make it to the wedding dinner I was supposed to be at that night in San Antonio, which is why I left at 5:00am. I almost didn't make it. The hike wasn't that long, and at two thousand feet of elevation shouldn't have been a hard one to complete. The whole thing was off trail and it was the worst off-trail experience of my life. All the way up was thickets of bushes, or brambles or things I'd never even seen before filled with prickers and points. Many were taller than me and I almost turned around close to ten times. I did make my final destination (stubbornness: I has it) but got very cut up in the process. Lots of blood all over my body which probably didn't look that great at the semi-formal dinner that night. Though my guess is that the hiking pants I wore probably distracted everyone there enough to keep them from noticing the puncture wounds...
I spent a long time in Austin, longer than I planned, but it was great to see people again. Texas just isn't my scene but I do miss people. Quite a bit actually.
Well I wont dwell on it: I eventually started my return journey. The plan was to spend some time in Bandelier and do some hiking and camping there. I drove from Austin to Santa Fe in one day which was fine until right near the end it started snowing pretty hard. It was only supposed to be 1-3" but it was clearly a lot more. I spent the night in Santa Fe and woke up to find it was still snowing. The plan was to take two day-hikes that day, camp off the road by Bandelier and do my long hike the following day. After that I would asses the situation and decide to stay for some more hiking or return home.
Things were dicey from the get-go with the snow. I was very worried about pulling off for camping or for a more remote hike and getting stuck. But I started the day as planned. I drove to White Rock (by Los Alamos) and did a little jaunt there. At 9 miles it shouldn't have taken me more than 3 hours even in the snow, but it ended up close to four. It was pretty and I was glad I did it, but I ended up talking sick with some decent nausea en route and simply lost energy and stamina. Some combination of spitting, coughing and vomiting will slow me down as it turns out.
I decided to plug along and went down to Bandelier for my second hike. It was quite beautiful and I've included a couple pictures of that. However, in Bandelier I found a full foot of fresh snow and it was still falling. My illness was not disappearing, and so I made a depressing but probably necessary choice: I went home. I figured being sick and camping in a foot of snow was not going to be worth it. Especially since the hike I really wanted to do there probably wasn't going to be feasible in a foot of snow anyways. So this is where my trip ended. Overall a great trip but a sour final note.