Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Devil’s Hall

Devil’s Hall

Devil’s Hall is a short, narrow chasm a few miles up Pine Canyon from its wide mouth. It is accessible via a two-miles-and-change hike from the Pine Springs Trailhead. After the crazy events of the previous night and morning, our afternoon’s adventure on Wednesday, November 14 was a hike up to Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s only accessible slot canyon of note.

As we were preparing to leave, we ran into sprightly campground host Nancy who remarked on the cold overnight temperatures. But at least the sun was out now!

Slant-Faced Grasshopper

We set out at 11:45am. From the multi-pronged trailhead, our route doubled as both Devil’s Hall Trail and the stock-accessible trail to Guadalupe Peak.

The trail led west up the south side of Pine Canyon above the wash and across from Tejas Trail on the north side, which Sean and I had followed up into the range four days earlier.

Texas Madrone

Ponderosa Pine

This side of the canyon was shaded by the great flanks of Guadalupe Peak. The madrone grew taller here, and there were even a few Ponderosa Pines among the juniper.

Although it was never a steep hike, whenever the trail leveled out, Sylvan insisted on walking himself instead of riding piggyback on Adam’s shoulders. Little Sylvan consistently pointed out the Prickly Pear, clearly his favorite succulent.

Texas Madrone

Less than half an hour up the trail we came upon a huge boulder that sometime long ago had tumbled down to these lower slopes.

Sylvan was fascinated by the rock, and he needed to investigate.

Unfortunately, while he was helping Sylvan, Adam literally backed up into a cactus and ended up with spines sticking out of his rear end. It was like something out of a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon.

While I assisted in pulling spines out of Adam, Phil helped Sylvan walk up the rock.

We continued on.

After a mile, the stock trail continued to the left, where it began to climb in earnest. Our path led straight ahead up the canyon.

The trail became narrower and rockier as it dropped into a ravine above the main wash at the bottom of the canyon.

A couple times, we had to pass Sylvan down the trail.

Texas Madrone

Eventually, the trail simply dropped into the wash and vanished. From here, hikers were to follow the wash up canyon until they reached the Devil’s Gate.

We stopped for an exploration break.

Sean discovered that the leaves and pine needles and other organic detritus on one side of the wash created a spongy mat that was almost bouncy to walk on.

Hi, Sean!

Ponderosa Pines

While Sylvan touched all the big rocks, Sean posed for glamour shots.

Ponderosa Pine

And senior pictures.

Ponderosa Pines

Ponderosa Pine

Sylvan was taking it all in. And he decided which tree most needed a hug.

We continued on, making our way up the wash.

To the left (basically south), the jagged, perpendicular peaks of one of the many ridges below Guadalupe Peak blocked the late-autumn sun.

On the other side, the formations Tejas Trail wound through were sun-drenched on the south-facing slope.

Sylvan was a great adventurer.

The deeper we hiked into the canyon, the more obvious it became that we were in a more temperate micro-climate than in the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. The fall color, though on the way out, still put on an impressive show.

Bigtooth Maple. Image: Sean M. Santos

Sotol and Bigtooth Maple

Bigtooth Maple

We were about an hour and a quarter into our hike, and we finally ran into other hikers, a father and son headed back from Devil’s Hall.

Although the wash was dry, and there was plant life down its sides and even trees in the wash, there was still plenty of evidence of violent flows of water in the past.

One such bit of evidence was a small overhanging “cave” under a huge slab of rock.

It was a perfect size for Sylvan.

A little farther along, we saw a more recent slump that still had living plants growing out of it. They very much appeared to be plants that had started that very season upright before the slump.

Occasionally we had to do some scrambling up and over boulders.

The canyon had turned from west to north. Above us to the northeast, Sean and I recognized the distinctive formations that we’d passed quite close to on our hike up Tejas Trail.

We weren’t far from Devil’s Gate, two massive fins from a dyke of harder rock extending through the range. Presumably, softer rock had eroded away from either side of the dyke, and eventually water had eroded through the center of it, creating the two fins.

But Sylvan needed a diaper change. So Sean and I gave the guys a little space. Even after Sylvan was all clean and tidy, he and his dads needed a rest. While they sat in the warm sunshine, Sylvan assessed the best small stones and fallen leaves.

Bigtooth Maple. Image: Sean M. Santos

We continued on. I was a bit ahead of the others and spied another little cave caused by a slump.

So I walked over and hid in it and watched for them.

After I revealed myself, Sylvan took a turn walking through the little cave.

Devil’s Gate

Devil’s Gate

We reached Devil’s Gate at 1:45pm, two hours and two miles into our hike.

At close range, the fins of rock were impressive, but our attention was drawn to their base, where striated rock created a jagged staircase up and through the narrow gates.

Tinaja

Sean and I climbed up and discovered a tinaja, a pool of standing water in scoured, eroded rock.

Below, Adam assessed the possibility of getting Sylvan up and through the gates. He determined that he might be able to get Sylvan up, but would be very nervous about getting him back down. Phil volunteered to stay with Sylvan while the rest of us passed through the gates.

Beyond the gates and past the tinaja, Pine Canyon closed in on either side.

And then, maybe a couple hundred yards beyond the gates, we reached Devil’s Hall.

Devil’s Hall

Before we could really take in the atmospheric slot canyon, we noticed amazing fossils at waist level along one of the walls.

Through the slot the trail essentially ended at a jumble of large rocks and boulders clogging the way farther up the canyon.

Image: Sean M. Santos

While we sat in the shadows taking in the space, an ancient man appeared and walked through the canyon. He had a long white beard and was using a large limb as a walking stick. He passed through the slot and, undaunted, continued on through the boulder field and disappeared around a bend.

Sean said, “Maybe it was the ghost of John Muir.”

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Sean M. Santos

Bigtooth Maple

We three left Devil’s Hall and returned to the gates. Adam dropped down and encouraged Phil to go have a look before Sean and I came down. So we three returned to the hall so that Phil could see it while Adam watched Sylvan.

Prickly Pear

Sotol and Bigtooth Maple

Image: Sean M. Santos

When we were done, Sylvan and Adam watched us slide down from the gates.

Tinaja

Sotol

We had some more snacks before the return hike.

Alligator Juniper

Sean posed for more glamour shots in the afternoon sun.

Bigtooth Maple

It was about 2:30pm when we started back.

Texas Madrone

The waxing moon was up and resting on the jagged ridge on the south side of the canyon.

Alligator Juniper. Image: Sean M. Santos

Alligator Juniper

We made quick time on the way back, and in less than half an hour we were already at the point where the trail climbed out of the wash.

And then we got lost. Or rather I got us lost. As we crossed one of the little ravines above the wash, I missed the cairn (pictured above) that showed the way back up to the trail. Instead we ended up back in the wash. We tried a few ways back up before we finally found the cairn and thus the trail. My Garmin helped because I could at least determine we were not actually back on the trail before we found it.

I was a bit embarrassed. And I felt badly because the Sylvan was tired from such a huge hike for the little guy. And the guys were tired from carrying him.

But soon we were closing the final mile of our hike on a gentle decline back toward Pine Springs.

The afternoon light was pretty great on the ridges below Hunter Peak.

Texas Madrone

Sotol

We arrived back at our campsite at not quite 4pm. In total, we’d hiked 5.3 miles in 4 hours, 11 minutes. Our total ascent was a surprising 1,768 and our descent was 1,758 feet. There was more up and down than it had seemed. The high elevation was 6,529 feet just outside Devil’s Hall. The low elevation was 5,796 campsite at our campsite.

Sylvan did an amazing job on this hike.

The Devil’s Hall hike is in red while Sean’s and my Tejas Trail hike is in turquoise.

Our hike’s hypsometry

Back in camp, we had some snacks and appetizers while Phil tried to get Sylvan to go down for a nap.

It was a touch too early for dinner and way too late for another hike. I was getting a little sad that we’d seen so little wildlife in this amazing place. I had read that Frijole Ranch, a five minute drive away, was a good place to see wildlife, including javelinas, at dusk.

I said to the guys that I might drive over the five minutes and see what there was to see. Adam and Sean said they wanted to go with me. Adam stuck his head into the tent to alert Phil, and we three drove over.

Dusk was coming on quickly at the historic ranch just northeast of Pine Springs. We walked a bit up the trail to higher ground to see if we could spot any elk. We also looked into the little washes for javelina. But we didn’t see anything.

El Capitan

Nipple Hill

Adam’s phone rang. Phil needed some help with Sylvan, so we drove back to camp.

That evening we had a big supper of mac and cheese in camp before the guys said goodbye and returned to the honeymoon suite at the Best Western in Artesia, New Mexico. God help them.

Oil fields east of the Park

Even though it was noticeably warmer than it had been, it wasn’t warm, per se. So we made hot water bottles one last time for our final night in camp.

While waiting for the water to boil, I messed around with some night photography, including a pretty cool one of Adam and Phil’s blue tent, commemorating Sylvan’s first camping trip.

In bed in our pile of appreciation blankets and down comforters in the tent, Sean remarked, “This Park needs a general store and a shower.”

“Most people don’t spend six nights and seven days here,” I replied.

And we went to sleep in Guadalupe Mountains National Park for the last time.

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