We had a blast on our nine day Thanksgiving road trip. We hit four national parks, several fun roadside attractions, and even snapped photos with aliens. But, we also dealt with some sickness. Carter started to feel under the weather while in Saguaro National Park, Brian started feeling icky in Big Bend and had a horrible days of fevers in Carlsbad Caverns, and on our one day in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, I didn’t feel well either.
Luckily, with lots of medication, we all rallied and it didn’t affect our adventures too much.
Because it was Thanksgiving and we weren’t feeling great, our day in Guadalupe Mountains National Park started off on the slow side and we didn’t make it to the park until around 9:30 am. After stopping in the Pine Springs Visitor Center, we weren’t quite ready for a big hike, so we walked The Pinery Trail that begins just outside the Visitor Center.
The Pinery Trail is a 0.75 mile, round trip, paved path that provides scenic vistas, an introduction to the Chihuahuan desert native plants, and views of the historic Butterfield Overland Mail stage station ruins, also called Old Pinery Station.
We began our walk just behind the Visitor Center, following the trail through desert brush. The majestic Guadalupe Mountains stood to our left, the desert stretched out to our right, and signs were placed along the trail to identify desert plants. If you need a break, want to check your maps, or simply want to take in the views, benches are placed along the accessible trail as well.
Toward the end of the trail we reached a fork:
- If you follow the trail to the right, it leads you to a small parking lot along US Highway 62/180 for the Pinery Butterfield Stage Station ruins. Near the parking lot there is a historic marker with information about Pinery Station.
- If you follow the trail to the left, it leads you to the actual Pinery Butterfield Stage Station ruins. At the ruins there is a sign detailing the Butterfield Overland Mail route and Old Pinery Station, a bench to relax, and a narrow dirt trail around the ruins.
Finally, it was time to walk back to the Visitor Center parking lot. The return trip was slightly uphill, but it faced the Guadalupe Mountains and provided beautiful and peaceful views. Once we got back, it was time to prep for the Devil’s Hall Trail hike!
About Pinery Station
The Pinery Trail travels from the Pine Springs Visitor Center to the remains of Old Pinery Station, which was part of the historic Butterfield Overland Mail Route.
As a forerunner of the Pony Express and Transcontinental Railroad, the Butterfield Overland Mail was the nation’s first successful attempt to link the East and West with a reliable transportation and communication system.
Much of the mail route followed the well-defined path of thousands of emigrants and gold-seekers traveling westward during the previous decade. The six year mail contract was awarded to John Butterfield, a wealthy businessman. As stipulated in his federal mail contract, the grueling 2,700 mile wilderness journey between St. Louis, Missouri and San Francisco, California was always completed within 25 days.
At 5,700 feet elevation, Pinery Station, named for the surrounding stands of pine, was the highest station on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route. Built out of local limestone and adobe to resemble a fortress, Pinery Station was enclosed by rock walls that were 30 inches thick and 11 feet tall. It was a popular stop due to its excellent grazing lands and dependable water sources.
For eleven months, from September 1858 to August 1859, one hundred Celerity stagecoaches were part of the Butterfield Overland Mail service. They regularly stopped at Pinery Station for water, food, rest, fresh mule teams, and protection. Each coach traveled day and night, averaging 120 miles per day and carrying up to nine passengers, essential baggage, and 12,000 letters. Drivers and passengers kept company at Pinery Station with the station-keeper, cooks, herders, blacksmiths, roadcrews, express riders, freighters, packers, traders, gold-seekers, adventurers, and settlers.
After only two years, five months, and seventeen days the mail contract was cancelled due to the the onset of the Civil War in 1861. Long after the station was abandoned, the high limestone walls continued to provide refuge for freighters, soldiers, drovers, outlaws, and emigrants. In its time, the Butterfield Overland Mail Route was heralded by some as one of the greatest events of the age.
Know Before You Go
About The Pinery Trail:
- You can access the Pinery Trail from the Pine Springs Visitor Center Trailhead behind the building or from the Pinery Butterfield Stage Station ruins parking area along US Highway 62/180 just east of the main park entrance.
- The Pinery Trail is a short, 0.75 mile round-trip, paved path that has scenic vistas, offers an introduction to the native plants, and leads to the historic ruins of the Butterfield Overland Mail stage station ruins.
- The trail is wheelchair accessible and pets are allowed on leash.
- The Pinery Station has the distinction of being the only remaining station ruin standing close to a major thoroughfare — only 200 yards off US 62/180.
- The Headquarters Visitor Center at Pine Springs is located at 400 Pine Canyon Drive, Salt Flat, Texas 79847.
- The Visitor Center is open daily except Christmas Day. Hours are 8:00 am to 4:30 pm Mountain Standard Time and 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Mountain Daylight Time.
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.
- 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.