“Have you ever heard of the Guadalupe Duathlon?” That’s what I asked Brissia and Tony. Both are always up for an adventure. A truly memorable one was in order before we each headed our separate ways for a few months. A true duathlon starts with a run, then there’s a cycling leg and participants finish up with another run. This outing called for a mountain bike ride, then a hike before mountain biking back out.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO) is a two hour drive from El Paso, Texas. With remote canyon trails and the highest peak in Texas, the park is a hiker’s paradise. Most visitors explore the trails from access points along a highway that passes through the southern end of GUMO. There are a few other ways in and we chose one of the least used and most scenic options for this adventure.
The western flank of the Guadalupe Mountains was used for cattle ranching during the last century. It was a hard place to scratch out a living. Over-grazing and decreased annual rainfall put an end to this practice by the 1950s. From 1917 to 1942 a man named Adolphus Williams owned the area and lived in a gabled roof, wood framed house built by the previous owner. The building is sealed to prevent further deterioration, but you can walk around and peer in the windows.
The usual route to reach the house is to hike ten miles from the park headquarters. Instead we checked out a key from headquarters to get us through a locked gate along the highway so that we could travel up the very primitive Williams Ranch Road. The road is only seven miles long, but park literature very accurately states that only a high clearance vehicle can make the trek. For GeoBetty Tours, a road like that is the excuse to create a unique version of a duathlon.
On this adventure we parked our truck just inside the locked gate and rode mountain bikes up the seven rough and rocky miles of Williams Ranch Road to its end at the blue wooden home. Then we put down our bikes, changed into hiking gear and headed up the El Capitan Trail.
The trail climbs for miles in Shumard Canyon. Overgrown with thorny vegetation, the route provides views of rock spires and towering cliffs with salt flats and distant peaks on the horizon. We stopped at a place with enough open space on the large flat rocks for lunch and a chance to rest. Then we retraced our tracks to the house, changed back into our biking gear to ride, whooping and smiling all back downhill to our escape vehicle.
This trip is not easy. We don’t even rate it as a moderate. It’s 100% strenuous. You have to be a good mountain biker/hiker and ready to haul a bit of gear. Participants need to carry enough food and water to get through a high exertion day in a hot, dry, high-altitude climate. Biking and hiking gear are required – meaning a switch from bike shorts to regular underwear and different footwear and then back again. For hiking you want long pants and long-sleeved shirts for protection from the thorny growth along the trail.
With that said, the Guadalupe Duathlon is a unique adventure that you’ll remember forever.