Guadalupe Peak, Texas' highest mountain at 8,749 feet above see level, dominates one of the most scenic and least-known areas of the state. It lies behind and to the right of El Capitan (8,078 feet), the sheer wall that rises more than 3,000 feet above this spot to mark the south end of the Guadalupe Range. The starkness of the mountainside belies the lushness that the Guadalupes conceal. Tucked away in their inner folds are watered canyons shaded by bigtooth maples, velvet ash, junipers and ponderosa pines. Just beyond the ridge lies a forest of douglas fir and pine that is home for black bears, mountain lions and deer.
Legends of hidden gold in the mountains go back to Spanish rule. One relates that Apache Chief Geronimo believed the richest gold mines in the western world lay hidden in the Guadalupes. The true value of the area is the scenery and associated life that resemble the same landscape experienced by early inhabitants. Excavators have found spearheads, pictographs and human remains together with the bones of long-extinct bison, dire wolf and musk ox in cliff caves, and carbon-14 dating of remains indicates humans occupied the area 12,000 years ago.
Geologically, the Guadalupe Mountains present spectacular exposure of the Capitan reef, formed by algae and sponges along with other ancient marine life during the Permian period (over 200 million years ago), when much of west Texas and New Mexico was part of the Permian Sea. For centuries, El Capitan has acted as a guidepost for native Americans, Spanish explorers, the U.S. Cavalry and geologist. Today, visitors to Guadalupe Mountains National Park use the same guidepost to explore the timeless wilderness surrounding it, the hidden oasis found in the mountains.