Iconic American West scenery, Prada, and mysterious lights

I didn’t really know what to expect from Guadalupe Mountain National Park.  Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year as a national park, the scenery is classic remote wilderness of the American West.  The NPS park brochure’s description of the people of this area sums it up well:  “Nde (Mescalero Apache), pioneers, explorers, stagecoach drivers, US Army troops, ranchers, and conservationists are part of the Guadalupe Mountains’ colorful history.”  The 86,000 square acre park boasts over 85 miles of hiking trails through desert, canyons, and mountain high country.  Unlike most national parks, Guadalupe Mountains does not have a paved road that runs through it.  Though you can see much of the natural beauty of the area by skirting the park on US-62/180, you really must hike, or ride via an offroad vehicle (or horse), through this remote wilderness in order to see all that the park has to offer.  Unfortunately, I didn’t devote enough time for hiking, other than the short Pinery Trail behind the Pine Springs Visitor Center, so my experience of this gorgeous park was only superficial.  Guess I’ll just have to plan a return trip some day! 

The Pinery Trail, that starts from the Pine Springs Visitor Center, is all that’s left of one of the nation’s first attempts to link the East and West via a reliable line of communication and transport. According to a placard along the trail, red and green Celerity stagecoaches regularly stopped by here for food, water, rest, fresh mule teams, and protection. This Butterfield Stage Route is widely considered the forerunner of the Pony Express and Transcontinental Railroad and helped to open settlement of the West.
You can see why this scraggly bush common in the Guadalupe Mountains is called Apache Plume- the feathery fruit balls, tinged with red, vaguely resemble an Indian feather bonnet typically associated with Plains Indians (though not the Mescalero Apache).
At over 8,000 feet above sea level, El Capitan marks the southern-most point of the Guadalupe Mountains and has become an iconic symbol of the National Park.
I love roadside historic signs! Some states do a better job than others about alerting drivers that one is coming up, and even tells you which side of the road it will be on. Texas is not one of those states, so I just had to keep my eyes peeled for them up ahead in the distance.
I glanced in my rearview and immediately pulled over to capture the breathtaking view of the Guadalupe Mountains in my mirror.

I turned off on TX-54 to continue south, then picked up US-90 towards Marfa.  As I was cruising along, enjoying the scenery, the thought popped into my head that the Prada Marfa art exhibit was somewhere along this road.  Hmm, I wonder if it will be well-marked so I can stop to check it out? It wasn’t long before I spotted several cars parked on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, with a few fashionably dressed women standing next to a random building.  That must be it!  I started breaking and downshifting in just enough time to pull over next to the building.  I read the placard and admired the fence full of locks surrounding the building while waiting for the glamour shot to be over.  Much to my amusement, the women, and even one of the men in the group, wanted to know if they could use my motorcycle as a prop.  I looked over at my bug-gut covered bike and laughed.  Sure, I’ll pull it up closer so you can pose next to it.  The sight of elegantly dressed folks posing near my disgustingly dirty bike was hilarious!  Hey, to each his own 😊

Modeled after a Prada boutique, the Prada Marfa building displays luxury shoes and handbags from the fall 2005 Prada collection. It’s an art exhibit, and not a store, so the doors are not open to the public (there are several surveillance cameras on the building). Though the project was not commissioned by Prada (the brand), the items on display were donated by the art-loving Miuccia Prada (fashion designer and founder of the Prada brand). “The faux store was built following Prada’s boutiques aesthetic codes and provocatively conceived to naturally deteriorate with time without undergoing any external repair or restoration.” -Prada Group website
Considered a symbol of everlasting love between two people, leaving padlocks on a fence is a modern equivalent to carving lovers’ names on a tree. The padlock laden fence has become another layer of art to the Prada Marfa exhibit. I wish I would’ve thought to leave a FitHippie sticker on the fence while I was there :-/
The Davis Mountains, off in the distance on the ride between the Prada Marfa exhibit (which is in Valentine, TX) and Marfa, created picturesque scenery for the journey.

Intrigued by stories of the Marfa Mystery Lights, I’ve been wanting to visit the area where they have been seen.  Unfortunately, with only an average of 6 sightings per year, the odds of witnessing the phenomena are pretty low.  Explanations for the mysterious lights range from atmospheric anomalies, to car headlights, to campfires. (Wikipedia)  I still stopped by the Marfa Lights Viewing Area during the day, and learned quite a bit about the area’s history as an Army Air Field, and later, as a regional airport.    

About 10 miles from Marfa, the Marfa Lights Viewing Center has a viewing deck and multiple placards along a walking path describing the history of the mysterious lights, the Marfa Army Air Field and the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert.
One of the many fascinating placards at the Marfa Lights Viewing Center.

I continued east on US-90 towards Alpine, TX, the base camp for my upcoming Big Bend National Park excursion.  Finally, after not making it to Big Bend during the years I was stationed in Texas, I was finally going to see this hard to reach National Park!

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