I would have stayed here all week but for the wind.

Here is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, an ancient reef that tells geologic tales of an ancient sea.  The reef has turned into mountains–not the impressive craggy ilk of the Alps or Rockies but the flattop kind, where different sized rectangles have been stacked on top of one another, and not always neatly.  What these mountains lack in stark lines they make up for in subtle majesty.  They are not the purple-mountain kind, either, but the subtle brown-maroon kind, depending on the light.  They are no easier to climb, and their skirt is quilted out of creosote, desert grasses, cacti, and succulents instead of pine.

 It’s barren but flourishing with life, if you look closely enough.  Now to the wind.

I grew up with ocean breezes and the occasional hurricane.  Those are the winds I know.  Having moved west a dozen or so years ago, wind has taken on a new personality for me.  Instead of the gentle, refreshing and only sometimes ravaging personality, wind has now become a climate force–capable of shutting down roads due to blowing sand or snow; often turning over lawn furniture and sometimes even taking tree limbs down.

These are the types of winds I encountered at Guadalupe Mountain National Park on an otherwise perfect trip.

I arrived at the park on Christmas Eve, quickly set up camp and took a short nap.  The wind was kicking up a bit, enough to make the pinon pine quiver and the cacti shudder.  Christmas Eve was a long night.  My ratcheting job was no match for the wind–in the middle of the night the wind whipped off my tent’s fly and violently plucked one corner up.  Dazed and confused, I righted everything and tried to fall back asleep.

Flap. Flap. Flap.  The wind sang all night, accompanied by my tent’s nylon walls. Flap. Flap. Flap.  Occasionally the flap would hit my head.

Fast forward to the next night.  More stars were out, meaning no clouds.  The moon took its time rising but when it did it hovered overhead like a streetlamp.  The inside of my tent was partially illuminated with a faint glow as I drifted off to sleep that Christmas night while counting my desert blessings.  Then…

Flapflapflapflapflapflap and whoosh!  My temporary shelter was alive, nylon breathing in and out like some kind of poltertent.  The wind ripped one corner out of the ground, bending the (ok, aluminum) stake that held it (not so fast).  Moonlight flooded the inside of my tent, which was breathing heavily.  I was freaked out but resigned.  Tomorrow I would check out and leave this beautiful fossilized reef for calmer climes.

The ranger told me those were 50 mph winds and the next night 80 mph were expected. He also told me Guadalupe had two seasons–summer and windy. I’m definitely coming back in summer.

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