Web-Exclusive! The Pine Springs Café

August 1, 2007
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The author (middle) gathers with his National Park Service survey crew and Bertha Glover.


Pine Springs lies on Texas/US Highway 62/180 on the route from Carlsbad, N.M., to El Paso, Texas. It is wholly contained within the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. In 1972, I came to Pine Springs as part of a National Park Service survey crew. The purpose of my visit was to lay out horizontal and vertical control for the mapping of proposed development sites for the national park.

The NGS data sheet for Station El Capitan showing 1972 as the latest report for the height of Guadalupe Peak.

Meeting the Locals

The Pine Springs Café was owned and operated by Bertha and Walter Glover. Bertha (at age 77) still pumped Chevron gas and ran the café, which was by now no longer a real café but a “mom and pop” snack shop. It was also the only store for the remote community of Palm Springs, which was populated by about 30 people. Walter was an old cowhand who, though frail in his 90s, still got around with the aid of a cane made of native cholla. He usually wore an old weathered hat similar to what Walter Brennan often wore on screen. Because he was hard of hearing, Walter didn’t talk much. He would only occasionally nod to acknowledge something Bertha said.

Each workday, we tried to plan a gas stop at the Pine Springs Café around lunchtime. This would provide us with an opportunity for Bertha to regale us with stories from the pioneer past of her ranching days and café experience. A favorite story of ours was about the day Bonnie and Clyde stopped in for gas and lunch at the café. “They sat right where you’re sitting right now,” she said.



A vicinity map of Pine Springs and the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas.

Establishing Control

For the mapping project, our crew was required to establish several miles of vertical control. With some intense searching, we recovered some U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USC&GS) bench marks along the old abandoned highway below the summit of the Guadalupe Pass. Leveling this route was quite an undertaking. The windsock that the Texas State Highway Department placed at the summit of the pass was serious. Winds would frequently exceed 50 mph, and oftentimes even more than that! On one particularly blustery day, the anemometer at the Pine Spring (Frijole) weather station was even blown off.

We set about our task of excavating in the hard pan to construct new permanent survey control points. About 30 or so points were cast in concrete and we had to chip away at the horizontal and vertical measurements for several weeks. We even managed to get enough calm days to extend our vertical control about eight miles with mostly Second Order results.

During one lunch session at the Pine Springs Café, I was perusing the Carlsbad Current Argus, a local newspaper. Inside, I ran across an obituary for Carlsbad, N.M., native and actor Bruce Cabot. I mentioned that I was unaware Cabot nee E’tiene Pelissier Jacques DeBujac was a local boy, but added that I had enjoyed his work in the film “King Kong,” and especially as John Wayne’s sidekick in more recent years.

Bertha beamed a broad smile. “Why I remember young Etienne,” she said. “He used to hold a stick for those geological boys back in the summer of ’30 or ’31-just like I see you boys doing now.” I knew “King Kong” was released around that same time, but I didn’t want to question Bertha’s memory. It was by her good graces that we were granted whatever access we needed to the neighboring ranches to search for control.

So I decided to make light of the situation. “Well maybe lightning could strike twice and one of us could become famous,” I said.

“Maybe so,” she agreed. Instead, we became notorious. In 1972, most highway maps of Texas showed the elevation of Guadalupe Peak at 8,752 feet. It was (and still is) the highest point in the state. As part of our project, we made several reciprocal trigonometric vertical measurements to the bench mark on the summit (NGS PID CD0994 Station El Capitan). Within a spread of four-tenths of a foot, the highest value we could come up with was 8,748.6 feet. We sent all of our measurement data to a consultant to confirm our findings. When our data was confirmed, the results were then submitted to the USGS to see if they were interested in our findings.



A Lasting Impression

We received a response indicating that the 1933 value for the peak was determined by what they referred to as “plane table methods,” and although our values were probably more precise, they would have to be verified. This became a minor local news event. The 2002 Rand McNally highway map of Texas now shows the elevation of Guadalupe Peak as 8,749 feet. (It doesn’t specify NGVD1929 or NAVD88.) Some New Mexico folks joked about how we “cut Texas down to size” and that we should keep up the good work.

Pine Springs today is still nearly as isolated as it was then. Walter and Bertha have long since gone on to their final rewards, and I am left with the rich memories of a very interesting project.

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