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Little Respect at 6th Highest
While not as famous as its nearby sister Guadalupe Peak, which happens to be the highest point in Texas, this hike is absolutely fine and well worth doing when in the Salt Flat area. A bit of trivia: Salt Flat is a ghost town in Hudspeth County, Texas, which despite its ghostly and unincorporated status has a zip code of 79847 that Guadalupe Mountains National Park uses, although it is located closer to Pine Springs, which has no post office (or people that I could see). All of the so-called towns in this part of Texas are basically wide places in the road and may or may not be home to any humans.
The Hunter Peak hike should be done as a loop. It has about the same length and total ascent statistics as Guadalupe Peak, but you’ll see virtually no one else on the entire loop. Guadalupe Peak is crowded, as you might expect since it is the highest peak in Texas and a target of peak baggers far and wide. The hike is described herein as a clockwise loop. It could be done equally well in reverse, but expect some steep climbing on the Bear Canyon leg. It could also be an out-and-back, but you’d miss some of the good stuff.
The Pine Springs Trailhead serves the trails to both Hunter Peak and Guadalupe Peak. The Hunter Peak loop consists of segments of the Tejas, Bowl, Bear Canyon, and Frijole Trails. Only the short spur off the Bowl Trail to the top of Hunter Peak is called the Hunter Trail. To start, make sure you turn right about 100 feet in from the trailhead onto the Tejas Trail, then cross the wash to the north (the left branch goes to Guadalupe Peak). Watch for a place to scramble out of the wash, or continue east about 130 yards to an easy “walkup” point to make the u-turn to head west. As my track shows, I scrambled up shortly after reaching the north side of the wash and came down the easy “walk down” point upon returning.
The intersection points are pretty well signed, so I will avoid a blow-by-blow description of those. The views from the top are spectacular, and you can see nearly the entire trail system leading up to Guadalupe Peak, 2.4 miles to the SW. Except for the Bowl Trail, you never lose sight of the park facilities. The rule of thumb is, once you cross the wash and head west, keep turning right at all the trail intersections.
One of the fabulous natural aspects of this hike is the pine forest on a sort of plateau along the Bowl Trail. Several trails cut through the forest to backcountry campgrounds, but you get a taste of the forest on this segment. Finally, besides the great hiking and relative solace you experience on this and most other hikes at GMNP, there is a fascinating geologic history to experience. The mountains consist of mostly limestone and dolomite minerals filled to overflowing with the fossilized remains of various sea life from prehistoric times when this was a reef and below sea level. Take time along the way to marvel at these fossils. Here is a link to a helpful National Park Service brochure: https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/upload/Permian-Reef-Trail-Brochure_FINAL.pdf
The upper parking lot/campground fills up quickly, but the lower lot is an easy 1/3 mile walk to reach the trailhead. A large part of the upper parking lot is designed for RVs.
It is recommended you bring everything you need for GMNP hikes from stores in Van Horn, El Paso, or Whites City, which (unless you’re camping) will be where your lodging is the night before. The nearest of these is Whites City, NM, at 35 miles to the northeast. You won’t find any grocery stores, gas stations, or strip malls nearby. This is an isolated park.
Watch the time zone changes in this area. Depending on which cell tower you connect with, it could be MT or CT.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.