The Pratt Stone Cabin is worth the five-mile, round-trip hike up McKittrick Canyon
By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., May 27, 2011
The Pratt Stone Cabin is worth the five-mile round-trip hike up McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It's all about the journey rather than the destination.
Wallace Pratt finished building the simple, all-stone cabin in 1932. It was early in the Great Depression, and Pratt could afford to hire good labor cheaply. He made his modest fortune as the first geologist to work for Humble Oil Co. (now Exxon) in the rich oil fields of the Permian Basin of West Texas.
The Pratt family of five used the three-room cottage as an escape from the Houston summers. It's hard to imagine today the adventure it must have been 80 years ago just to get to the canyon. Remains of the old two-lane highway are still visible from the modern U.S. 62/180 that runs over Guadalupe Pass just a few miles from the mouth of the canyon. Even today, the remoteness is part of the area's charm.
After crossing the desert from Van Horn, the last few miles must have seemed like reaching a different planet. Pratt had an old sedan he used to ferry people and supplies up the valley. The hiking trail follows much of Pratt's driveway to the cabin.
As the trail slips between the mountain peaks and follows a clear mountain stream, the vegetation gradually becomes greener. Virgin pine trees stick out of the canyon walls like pins in a giant pincushion. In other places, curtains of shear rock walls drape the mountain sides. Some of the canyon sides are more rounded and covered in parched, yellow grasses, reminding visitors that the desert is not far off.
At 86,415 acres, the national park is the largest wilderness area in Texas. Within the mountain folds, species from the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rocky Mountains, and the southeastern United States commingle. Maple, walnut, and oak trees grow near cactus.
The Guadalupe Mountains, home to Carlsbad Caverns National Park 27 miles to the north, come to their dramatic end at El Capitan peak in the park. The four highest peaks in Texas are also contained within the park's boundaries. Pratt treasured the geological and biological diversity of what he called "the most beautiful spot in Texas."
By 1960, in failing health, Pratt donated nearly 6,000 acres to the National Park Service, including McKittrick Canyon. After the purchase of the 80,000-acre Hunter Ranch, the park opened in 1972 as one of two national parks in Texas. Most of the 200,000 who visit during the year come when the canyon's greenery bursts into autumn colors. The rest of the year, you can hike for hours without seeing another person.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is often called the windiest place in Texas; it is also one of the state's most remote treasures. Van Horn is 55 miles to the south, and El Paso is a long 110 miles to the west. Maybe it is about the destination.
1,036th in a series. Collect them all. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.