At the risk of hurting the parks’ feelings, I have to admit that Guadalupe Mountains and Saguaro are two of my least favorite National Parks, right up (down) there with Cuyahoga Valley, Hot Springs, and Mammoth Cave.
It’s probably my fault, especially with Guadalupe Mountains (“the world’s premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian Era”). GMNP is out in the middle of nowhere, which makes it tough to visit, and with few roads and many trails it’s more of a hiking park than a driving park, which makes it tough to experience without investing significant time. I’d be willing to invest that time if I’d seen interesting photos taken in the backcountry, but so far I haven’t come across anything very compelling.
All the same I wanted a decent photo of those parks for my collection, and the shots I’d managed to get on previous visits were pretty lame. So I planned my return from New Mexico to loop back along a southern route that passed by both Guadalupe Mountains and Saguaro.
I’d just spent the night in Carlsbad, New Mexico, only an hour north of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which made it easy to get up early enough to be at the park for sunrise. I positioned myself to catch the day’s first light hitting the mountains, and – thanks to friendly cooperation from the clouds – I got the shot I wanted.
From Guadalupe Mountains I cut over to El Paso and then crossed back into southern New Mexico. Along I-10 I kept passing alarming signs that warned of blackout dust storms. Some of the signs had a curiously philosophical edge (“DUST STORMS MAY EXIST”), while others were more specific (“USE EXTREME CAUTION, ZERO VISIBILITY POSSIBLE”). As I was wondering how common dust storms really were, I noticed a strange reddish line dropping down from distant clouds. What the hell was that? A funnel cloud? As I got closer it definitely looked like a tornado, but I figured it must just be a dust devil. A really big dust devil. Nobody else on the highway seemed particularly alarmed.
I arrived in Tucson and headed straight to the eastern (Rincon Mountain District) section of Saguaro National Park for sunset photos. I just can’t get excited about Saguaro. It’s fine. There are a lot of tall cacti. While visiting the park I almost always end up with spines in my legs as I foolishly pay more attention to photo opportunities than where I’m walking.
I wasn’t very excited to return to the park for sunrise, but I made a deal with myself that if I went once more I’d never make myself go back again. This time I tried the eastern (Tucson Mountain District) section of the park, and – while I liked it quite a bit more than the western section – I was still happy to drive away.