Friday, March 16, 2001  -- McKittrick Canyon

Laura “Cloak” Phillips

Dane “Lizard Crusher” Kuppinger


[Photo - Arrival at Guadalupe National Park]

Things got started early; it was so cold last night no one seemed to sleep well.  Not to mention the combined effects of beer and TVP-laced chili.  I was up before 7:00, and they’d already started the coffee.  It answered the question of when to head home; no one wanted to try to sleep out in that again.  Three mule deer didn’t seem to mind the cold or the activity as they browsed less than 20 m from camp.


After breakfast and breaking down camp, we headed up a little way up the slope above the campground.  Fairly typical juniper-grassland: scattered Juniperus deppeana over quite a bit of Yucca elata, Opuntia imbricata, and Opuntia leptocaulis, and grasses, including Bouteloua sp., Aristida sp., and Muhlenbergia sp.  On the way back down to the vans, we encountered for the first time Mexican orange, Choisya demosa. 



Stop 16-1:  Campground woodlands



Species list above the campground:

Muhlenbergia sp.                                  4                      (muhly grass)               

Juniperus deppeana                              3                      (alligator juniper)

Yucca elata                                          3                      (soap-tree)

Opuntia imbricata                                 2                      (tree cholla)     

O. leptocaulis                                       2                      (pencil cholla)              

Bouteloua sp.                                       2                      (grama)                       

Gutierrezia microcephala                       2                      (threadleaved snakeweed)       

Acacia sp                                             2.                     (acacia)                       

Aristida sp. (glauca?)                            2                      (grass) 

Dasylirion leiophyllum                           2                      (smooth sotol) 

Quercus grisea                                      2                      (gray oak)

Choisya demosa                                   2                      (Mexican orange)

Small white mustard                              1                      (small white mustard)

Agave havardiana                                 1                      (havard agave)

Phoradendron   sp.                                1                      (mistletoe)

Cercocarpus montanus                         1                      (mountain mahogany)

Echinocereus chloranthus                      1                      (cactus)

Coryphantha vivipara                            1                      (cactus)

Coryphantha sneedii                             1                      (cactus)

Coryphantha alba-columnarias              1                      (cactus)

Astragalus sp.                                       1                      (milkvetch)

Cucurbita foetidissima  (dead)                                       (buffalo gourd)


            And then, into the vans and on to the McKittrick Canyon trailhead.

Stop 16-2: Trail to McKittrick Canyon

.Location: N31º58.681’, W 104º45.181’ [MAP]


The first stretch is low and flat along the creek.  The vegetation phases in and out, starting as heavy sotol-yucca, then areas with fairly dense Juniperus and scattered scrub oaks, and then juniper with sotol below.  (Asc@ below refers to scattered individuals noted)



Early McKittrick trail species:

Dasylirion leiophyllum                                       (sotol) 

Choisya demosa                                               (Mexican orange)

Juniperus monosperma                                      (juniper)

Rhus virens                                                       (evergreen sumac)

Nolina micrantha                                               (beargrass)      

Bouteloua sp.                                                   (grama grass)

Agave lechugilla                                                (lechugilla)

Juniperus deppeana                                          (alligator juniper)

Quercus grisea                                                  (gray oak)

Yucca elata                                                      (soap-tree)

Berberis trifolialata                    sc                     (berberis)

Cercocarpus montanus var. paucidentatus         (mountain mahogany)

Opuntia leptocaulis                                           (pencil cholla)

Agave scabra                                                   (century plant)

Arbutus taxana             sc                                 (madrone)

Acacia sp.                                                        (acacia)

Yucca faxoniana                                               (Spanish dagger)

Opuntia sp.                                                       (cholla)

Bouteloua curtipendula                                      (grama grass)   

Phlox sp. (mesoleuca, nana, or trivulata?)          (phlox)

Aristida glauca (?)                                             (grass)

Falluga paradoxa                                              (Apache plume)

Muhlenbergia sp.                                              (muhly grass)

Echinocereus sp.                                               (cactus)

Quercus pungens                                              (sandpaper oak)

Phoradendron villosum                                      (mistletoe)

Ceanothus gregeii                                             (desert ceanothus)



Riparian areas are dominated by Cladium jamaicense (sawgrass) along the stream banks.  Acer grandidentata (bigtooth maple) is also found streamside.  Microphytic algae in the stream.



Stop 16-3:  Outer McKittrick Canyon


[Photo - side canyone with Pinus ponderosa]


The main trailside vegetation continues to shift with proximity to the creek and small shifts in elevation: tall J. deppeana, then shrubby J. monosperma, both with dense sotol below.  Pinus ponderosa is visible on rocky outcrops above the stream on the far side. 


Oak-sotol-juniper patches:

Juglans microcarpa                               (little walnut)                                        

Symphoricarpos guadalupensis              (snowberry)

Fraxinus velutina                       sc         (velvet ash)

Sorghastrum nutans                               (Indian grass)

Prunus serotina var. virens         sc         (cherry)

Gallium sp. (mexicanum?)                     (bedstraw)

Senecio sp.                                           (groundsel)      

Pseudocymopteris longradiatus (?)

Arbutus taxana                                     (madrone)                   

Quercus muhlenbergii                            (chinkapin oak)

Rhus lanceolata                                     (sumac)

Opuntia rufida                                       (blind prickly-pear)

Quercus undulata ?                               (wavy-leaf oak)

Stop 16-4:  Canyon bottoms



There are maple woodlands about two-thirds of the way to the first cabin: almost exclusively A. grandidentata over grasses (Orizopsis?) and scattered sotol.  These maple woodlands alternate with shrubby oaks on north and south slopes, respectively.  Petrophytum caespitosum (rock spirea) forms dense mats on rock outcrops.


Dry terrace on the canyon bottom:

Quercus pungens var. vaseyana (Vasey shin oak)

Juniperus monosperma                          (juniper)

Quercus grisea                                      (gray oak)

Juniperus deppeana                              (alligator oak)

Dasylirion leiophyllum                           (sotol) 

Agave lechugilla                                    (lechugilla)

Agave scabra                                       (century plant)

Misc. grasses

Cercocarpus montanus                         (mountain mahogany)

Arbutus taxana                                     (madrone)

Rhus virens                                           (evergreen sumac)

Fallugia paradoxa                                 (Apache plume)

Ostrya virginiana var. chisosensis           (Big Bend hophornbeam)

Pinus ponderosa (with very small cones)

Juglans microcarpa                               (little walnut)

Opuntia sp.                                           (cane cholla)


            Moving farther up the canyon, species stay about the same, though getting less shrubby.  There is more Acer and more P. ponderosa.  Arbutus is also more abundant in patches.  Sotol is still prevalent in the understory.  Petrophytum caespitosum (rock spirea) and Adiantum capillus-veneris (maiden-hair) occur on rock faces.


            Pinus strobiformis (southwestern white pine) is first spotted approximately 1 mile from the end of canyon.  Thereafter, there is less sotol and mostly grasses beneath oaks, ponderosa pine, madrone, and alligator juniper.



Stop 16-5: The Grotto

Location:  N 31º 58.229’  W 104º 47.293’

Elevation:  5295ft.


Aquilegia chrysantha (or chaplinei?) (columbine) and Adiantum capillus-veneris (maidenhair) on cliff face in grotto.  Heterophyta on rock outcrop above Grotto.



Stop 16-6: Canyon headland



Starting up the end of the canyon:  Trees become fewer and shrubby.  Ponderosa pine & Q. grisea still predominate over sotol, Opuntia, Nolina, and grasses.  There are occasional junipers, Rhus, and Arbutus. We note distinct aspect differences: the north slope is dominated by taller Acer forests; the south slope is very open with shrubby oaks over grasses.


Near the top we can see Pinus strobiformis along the opposite ridge, perhaps 500’ higher in elevation..  Pseudotsuga menziesii forest is located in draws on the north-facing slopes near the top and down into the valley with Acer underneath it on the north facing slopes.


Back to the vans: same as above, in reverse.  Then, back to the campground to pick up Homeslice for Skeeter-Peter and his Fair Maidens, and so the journey home began.  Mexican for dinner, again.  A long night driving B but back Texas highways at least get little traffic.  A long morning driving.  With a break (unintended) in Arkansas: Hack on I-40!  A long afternoon driving....