Starting in 2013, our family began traveling for Thanksgiving. Our schools take the entire week of Thanksgiving off, so it’s a great time to travel. Plus, with food allergies and issues, it’s just easier for us to be on the road — that way all of our loved ones can make their favorite food and traditional recipes without modifications to accommodate us. They all live close and we see them all the time anyway, so it works out for everyone!
In 2018, our Thanksgiving road trip began with a flight to Tucson, Arizona where we picked up the rental car and the ice chest we Amazon Primed to our hotel, grocery shopped, and visited Saguaro National Park and other fun touristy spots. We then drove to Big Bend National Park in Texas for a couple days, and finally ended up in Carlsbad, New Mexico where we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Because Guadalupe Mountains was the only national park open on Thanksgiving Day, that’s where we spent the holiday. After visiting the Pine Springs Visitor Center, walking the Pinery Trail, and hiking the Devil’s Hall Trail, we had just enough time before dark to check out the Frijole Ranch complex.
In Guadalupe Mountains National Park in remote West Texas, sits Frijole Ranch, a historic ranching complex that now operates as a cultural and history museum and trailhead for several family-friendly hikes.
Frijole Ranch, also known as Guadalupe Ranch, Spring Hill Ranch, and the Rader-Smith Ranch, is an oasis on the edge of the dry, lower slopes of the Guadalupe escarpment that was a homestead, a ranch, a farm, and eventually, the national park headquarters.
Today, Frijole House and it’s outbuildings are part of the Frijole Ranch History Museum. Here you can:
- Learn about the human history of the Guadalupes from Native Americans and the early ranching community to the establishment of the national park.
- Visit the tiny, red, one-room schoolhouse and peek in the doors of the old outhouse building.
- See the spring house that was constructed for water protection and storage.
- Walk the Manzanita Spring Trail, the Smith Spring Trail, or the Frijole/Foothills Trails.
- Have a picnic in the nearby improved picnic area.
We arrived just as the ranger locked up and was leaving, so we didn’t get to go inside the museum and only got to peek in the windows and check out the buildings. Once we walked through the ranch site, we drove over to the nearby picnic area for our Thanksgiving Dinner of turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie!
The History Of Frijole Ranch
Frijole Ranch is the most complete example of early farming and ranching enterprises in the Guadalupe Mountains. Today, it is a cultural museum at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Two pioneer ranchers, the Rader brothers settled here in the 1870’s with a few cattle. Their home, which consistent of only the front rooms, is considered to be the oldest substantial building in the area. They never filed a deed on the land and eventually moved on.
The John Thomas and Nella May Smith moved here in the summer of 1906. Although the kept some livestock, they made a living primarily from truck farming and a small orchard. They used the first hydraulic ram in the area to pump water for the house and farm use. The nearest market was in Van Horn, Texas, a dusty jolting, 60 mile wagon trip away. The family would pack up the wagon with produce — apples, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, figs, pecans, blackberries, strawberries, and corn — cover them with wet paper and rags to protect them from the heat, and drive overnight to the market to serve customers the next morning.
During their 34 years at the ranch, the Smiths added a kitchen, two bedrooms, and an upstairs to the original ranch house — and they raised 10 children! All structures on the ranch site were built with native materials and the red building was used periodically as a bunk house, storage shed, barn, and schoolhouse.
Over the years, this complex served as the community center for dances and social gatherings, and in 1916, the Frijole Post Office was established here. Mail was brought in from Carlsbad three times a week and Nella May served as postmaster until 1941, when the post office was moved to Pine Springs.
In the early 1940s, Judge J.C. Hunter bought the Smith’s Frijole Ranch and many of the surrounding ranches. He renamed his purchases Guadalupe Mountains Ranch and covered the mountain with thousands of Angora sheep, goats, cattle, and horses.
J.C. Hunter, Junior inherited the land and sold the 72,000 acre property to the National Park service in 1966. When Guadalupe Mountains National Park was established in 1972, the park’s first ranger moved into Frijole House and lived there until 1980. From 1983 to 1991, it was used as office space, and in 1992, it was renovated and turned into a public cultural museum.
Frijole Ranch Trails
At Frijole Ranch, you’ll also find the Frijole Ranch Trailhead, which provides access to the:
- Smith Spring Trail:
This is a moderate, 2.3 mile round-trip hike to the shady oasis of Smith Spring and onto Manzanita Spring that takes 1-2 hours. A trail guide is available for this walk.
- Manzanita Spring Trail:
This is an easy, 0.6 mile round-trip, wheelchair accessible walk along a short, paved out and back trail that takes about 30-45 minutes.
- Frijole/Foothills Trails:
The Frijole and Foothills trails make a connecting loop between the Pine Springs Campground and Frijole Ranch. It’s a 2.9 mile walk one way and you can start at either end.
Know Before You Go
About Frijole Ranch:
- Frijole Ranch is located 1.0 mile east of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park Headquarters Visitor Center at Pine Springs off US Highway 62/180.
- Visitors are welcome to drive to the ranch site year-round, walk the grounds, see the spring house and one-room school, or enjoy a picnic under the large shade trees in the courtyard or at the picnic area near the parking lot.
- A museum is located in the ranch house, and is staffed intermittently with hours generally from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM. The museum features key information and exhibits on local history.
- There is a restroom near the picnic area.
- Frijole Ranch, also known as Guadalupe Ranch, Spring Hill Ranch, and the Rader-Smith Ranch, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
About Guadalupe Mountains National Park:
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in the vast Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas in both Culberson County and Hudspeth County on US Highway 62/180. It is 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas and 56 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico.
- The entrance fee is $5.00 per person for adults 16 years of age and older. This fee is good for seven days. The park also offers free admission days on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a wilderness park and one of the least visited of the country’s 59 national parks, with just 225,257 visitors in 2017.
- Download the Guadalupe Mountains Park map.
- There are 80 miles of hiking trails in the park and many day hikes to choose from.
- Facilities and services within and near Guadalupe Mountains National Park are extremely limited. The nearest gas stations are 43 miles west in Dell City, 35 miles east in White’s City, or 65 miles south in Van Horn. There is no campstore and no food available in the park. There is also no public transportation or shuttle service available and no cell service. Bring everything you need with you, including plenty of water.
- Pets are permitted in the park, but not on most trails or in the backcountry. They are allowed only in areas accessed by vehicles, including roadsides, parking areas, picnic areas and campgrounds and must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet. You must always clean up after your pet.
- All park features are protected. Do not deface or remove any natural or historical objects. Do not pick wildflowers or other plants or feed or molest wildlife.