Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

The Top of Texas

The Top of Texas


On Tuesday morning, my roommate Maggie and I loaded her RAV4 with peanut butter and jelly sandwich supplies and started driving towards Guadalupe Mountains National Park to hike Guadalupe Peak.

The highpoint of Texas, Guadalupe Peak had long been on both of our bucket lists; and we’d been trying to coordinate a trip since my birthday in November. I felt a little guilty for taking a few days off, especially towards the end of a work project; but as soon as we started driving, I knew I’d made the right choice. West Texas isn’t ever convenient to get to, but it’s always worth it.

We paused for lunch and coffee at the Pearl District in San Antonio and to stretch our legs at the occasional rest stop, but spent most of the 9-hour drive marveling at the landscape as it shifted before our eyes mile after mile. Flat prairie gave way to gentle hills which slowly grew until the road carved through thick, layered slabs of limestone. Hill country morphed into sloping plains that suddenly became the tops of sprawling plateaus, dropping us into canyonland we didn’t realize was there.


By the time we reached Van Horn, we were in mountain country. The horizon was rimmed in deep blue peaks in every direction — those dramatic shapes Texas mountains take to make up for their lower elevation. We made our first round of sandwiches in a roadside hotel room, double-checked our packs, and set our alarms for 4:45 a.m. to go and hike the tallest of them all.


By 5:30 the next morning, we were on the long, dark road to the park. Maggie turned on Of Monsters and Men’s original album, which I hadn’t listened to since high school and turns out to be really good for early-morning-pre-hike vibes, and we hummed along sleepily as we hurtled through the pitch-black desert.

Slowly but surely, the faintest morning light crept into the sky, and we realized we were surrounded by towering shadows on either side. A few minutes later, and we could see the outline of the highpoint looming ahead of us. “Looks… a long way away,” I murmured. Maggie laughed nervously.

We shoved extra water bottles into our packs, signed all the necessary forms, and started up the trail. I was thrilled that Maggie isn’t one for breakneck pace — when I get the chance to hike, I’m trying to enjoy it, not set an FKT, guys — and we settled into a slow but steady rhythm up the rocky switchbacks. Thick patches of ice kept us heads-down for most of the first mile, careful with our footing; but every time I looked up and around I gasped, yelled, screeched, laughed — you get the idea. It was otherworldly gorgeous.


After the first mile and a half, the trail gentled. The longer we walked, the warmer it got. We ate snacks and listened to some music and took a few breaks to take in the views. One extremely rude false summit and a sketchy final mile of trail later, we scrambled up to the famous pyramid and were standing at the very top of Texas: 8,750 feet high.


The views in every direction left me breathless. We may not have been that high up in the grand scheme of things, but as Maggie pointed out, the utter flatness of the world stretching beyond made it feel as if we were on another planet entirely — rising out of nothing into the sky. The sheer amount of open space seemed impossible in the best way. I was grinning uncontrollably, alternating between taking photos and just standing in awe.


We celebrated with our second (and completely squished) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches of the trip, signed the register, and hit the trail again.


By the time we were back at the trailhead, my legs were quivering (and extremely sunburned). The weather had warmed up to the high seventies, and I tore my hiking boots off with a fervor and threw my jackets in the backseat. We slapped a victory high-five, then pointed the car towards Alpine and started back down the same, long stretch of road we’d traversed that morning; this time, with the mountains standing tall and beautiful against the sky behind us.

Far West Wanders

Far West Wanders

Scary Stories 2

Scary Stories 2