Immediately west of the towering escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains lies an other-worldly landscape. The Salt Basin Dunes rise modestly above the surrounding salt flats, the remnants of an ancient sea. These dunes of snow-white gypsum are formed by the collaborative artistry of the winds and the white sands of the salt flats.
The process is not entirely complicated. When the winds whip across the salt flats they pick up tiny crystals of gypsum. When these airborne grains slam against the western wall of the Guadalupe Mountains they are deflected upward and then fall back to earth to form the undulating landscape of the Salt Basin Dunes.
From the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, the salt flats seem strangely out-of-place in the otherwise desert-looking landscape. They have the appearance of snow blanketing the floor of the Chihuahuan Desert. The sight of the salt flats from Guadalupe Peak is quite spectacular and beckons exploring.
The Salt Basin Dunes are a part of Guadalupe Mountains National Park and are accessible by ranch roads not far from Dell City. This day use area offers access to the salt dunes by way of a two-plus mile hike. Because this is a delicate ecosystem, visitors should stay on the trail and not break the fragile cryptobiotic crust beyond the trail. This thin crusty topsoil is essential for preventing erosion, producing soil nitrogen, and stabilizing the soil for vegetation to take hold. So, don’t bust the crust!
The dunes themselves are pretty spectacular. Although this seems to be the most inhospitable of environments, animal tracks in the sand indicate the presence of nocturnal animal activity. Various desert plants also accentuate the stark white dunes. Yucca, cholla, cactus, and various grasses have staked their claim to life on these shifting dunes.
While the view of the dunes is beautiful from atop Guadalupe Peak, the view of Guadalupe Peak is awe-inspiring from the dunes. You can, in fact, see five of the seven named peaks in Texas that rise over 8,000 feet. From north to south you can see Bush Mountain, Bartlett Peak, Shumard Mountain, Guadalupe Peak, and El Capitan keeping vigil over the dunes.
Regardless of when you visit the Salt Basin Dunes be sure to carry more water than you think you’ll need, a snack or two, and sunscreen in your day-hike bag. Stay on the trail. Have fun exploring the dunes. Take lots of pics. Take a moment to stop and enjoy the silence of the desert. Look toward the east and breathe in the beauty of the Guadalupe Mountains. And, leave no trace but your footprints in the sand.
Dell City is a small town located right where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the western edge of the Guadalupe Mountains. This is wide open country with iconic cowboy landscapes. This little farming town, situated at the intersection of Farm roads 1437 and 2249, was founded sometime before 1949 after the discovery of a large underground aquifer.
Water in the desert is a big deal. The folks at Dell City capitalized on this and tagged their little town “The Valley of Hidden Waters.” However, despite the treasure beneath their feet, the population of Dell City has remained less than five-hundred with a median age of about fifty. The town has one grocery store, one restaurant, and some amazing views of five of the highest peaks in Texas to the East.
The Spanish Angels Cafe is the local eatery and well worth a stop if you are anywhere near the area. I visited the cafe on a cold December day after a week of camping in the Guadalupe Mountains. The warmth inside was generated by more than the old radiant gas heater in the corner. The folks inside added a warmth of their own, the kind that characterizes small town hospitality.
Hungry for a burger, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a glass of tea. My camping companion ordered the bar-b-cue ribs plate. While we waited for our food, we struck up a conversation with some of the other folks in the cafe. All of this made us feel right at home, like we were regular town folk rather than just two outdoorsmen passing through.
My burger arrived on a colorful plate with a pretty ample serving of crispy and seasoned fries. The portion of meat was perfectly cooked, the bacon was crispy, and all of the other ingredients were as fresh as they come. And when fully assembled, the flavor of the burger was really good — delicious, in fact.
I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and felt I had burned enough calories to justify eating a slice of chocolate cake — also delicious. The whole experience was made even more enjoyable because of the friendly atmosphere, great service, and overall ambiance of this small town cafe. If I lived in Dell City I would make it a point to eat at this cafe as often as possible.
I love small town cafes and inconspicuous eateries that serve up great food. These places are easy to miss as we speed from point to point or get in such a hurry that we opt for fast food joints instead. If you are on the road, take time to slow down as you travel through small towns and be willing pull off the road. You just might discover a great place to eat — like the Spanish Angels Cafe.