Saturday August 25, 2012

Center, rim, and distant ridgeline from the NorthEast limb of Kilbourne Hole


A seven mile (11.2 km) meander around a volcano crater that is nearly flush with the desert floor.


These directions are taken from Greg Magee’s excellent guide, “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area”.  I recommend it, but since there are a few changes since it was published in 2004 I’m presenting some updates here

  • From Las Cruces, drive south on I-25, get onto I-10 east  and take exit #155
  • At the exit ramp’s stop sign, go right (west) onto NM 227 (Vado Rd on Google Maps) for 1.8 miles (2.9 km)
  • At T-intersection, go left (south) onto NM 478 for a BRIEF 0.2 miles (0.3 km)
  • Turn right onto NM189 (west) for 1.2 miles (1.9 km).  This is a four-way intersection and I found it very easy to blow right through it on the return, so take note of it in the rear view mirror as you travel to the trailhead.
  • Turn left on NM 28 (south) for 2.0 miles (3.2 km)
  • Turn right onto W. Afton Road (CR B008, west)  for 11.5 miles (18.5 km).  The first 10.7 miles (17.4 km) are paved, taking you to the El Paso Electric gas plant.  After that, all the roads are unpaved.  You travel only about 0.8 miles on the unpaved portion of W. Afton Road.
  • Turn left onto CR B004.  Note that the road is currently signed “Douglas Munro Rd”.  The road will veer sharply to the right at 4.4 miles (7.1 km) near a ranch house.
  • About 2.2 miles after the ranch house (3.5 km) turn left onto a road that is signed CR B004 and continue south alongside the railroad tracks.
  • After 0.3 miles (0.5 km) the road will turn sharply right (towards the west) over the railroad tracks and then turn sharply left (again pointed south).  The maps and instructions say this is CR-A017.  However, a fork just past the left turn is signed as road “B-02” (which stays alongside the railroad) and “CR A019” (which angles off slightly to the right – westerly).  Follow road B-02 which stays next to the tracks.  Further on, it will be signed A017.
  • Follow “B-02″/”A017” for about 7.4 miles (11.9 km) to the junction with CR-A011
  • Looking south on “B-02″/”A017”, county road A011 heads off to the right

    Turn right onto CR-A011 (west).  Note that, currently, the road sign is missing.  The only thing left is a bent angle-iron post that held the sign.  Look for a curved steel angle iron sticking up into the air  just in front of a large dirt mound (higher than a family sedan) on the right-hand side of the road.

  • Follow CR-A011 for 8.3 miles until you get to the prominent crater rim, where CR-A011 and CR-A013 intersect.  Watch for cattle.

Drive Hazards:

Railroad spikes aren’t the only problem on desert roads.

The flat tire shown to the right was caused by a two inch long (5 cm) mesquite thorn that penetrated the sidewall of my driver’s side front tire.  Don’t drive through mesquite trees!

Railroad spikes found on “B02″/”A017”, quarter in picture is for scale

It appears that the railway boys in New Mexico have a pretty rough sense of humor.  On the road that paralleled the railroad I found the two spikes pictured at left.  Either one could have wrecked a tire or cracked open an oil pan.  It can’t be much fun to be stuck that far out in the Chihuahuan Desert.


The trailhead is a flat area where county roads CR-A013 and CR-A011 meet.  The ground was dry and firm when I visited, but it looks like it could become deep mire pretty quickly.  Trailhead coordinates:

N  31° 57.452'
W 106° 57.160'


The walk around the rim is slightly longer than 7 miles (11.9 km).  There is no significant elevation gain.


From the trailhead ascend to the top of the crater rim, about 40 feet (12 meters) above the surrounding desert.  A trail/road goes around the circumference of the crater and is easy to follow.  For most of the way the rim lies higher than the surronding terrain, but as you get to the south-west side of the crater the rim falls to desert-level.  At the north end of the crater a substantial, ravine-like opening rises to the rim.  It doesn’t seem likely that rain water washing down into the crater could be the cause of that erosion, simply because there isn’t enough surface area on the rim above the the ravine.  I’m guessing that there must be some ground water that raise up during wet (or at least, wetter) parts of the year and produces the drainage.

There were many lizards darting about and two raptors were soaring on the thermals coming off the crater walls.  The sandy road was crisscrossed with sinusoid tracks that I assume were left by snakes.

Magee cautions that the bottom of the crater is privately owned, so it is necessary to get permission before exploring the center of the volcano.

There were only two other groups at the Kilbourne Hole while I was there.  Both were engaged in rifle practice.  They were assiduous, with pretty much constant firing the entire time I was walking the trail.