Pueblo Canyon

Overview:

The canyon is beautiful. The driving is easy. The solitude is tremendous. Against this, weigh the driving distance, the difficulty of staying on trail and the presence of skittish cattle on this waterway. Experienced hikers – shoulder your packs and go!

Driving Directions:

  • Drive to Socorro, NM on Interstate-25 (I-25)
    • If you are coming from the north (e.g. from Albuquerque) 
      • Take Exit 150 from I-25, signed for Socorro
      • After 0.4 miles on the off ramp, at a stop light, go straight ahead onto California Street.
      • After 1.3 miles on California St., at a stoplight, go right onto Spring St. (well signed)
    • If you are coming from the south (e.g. from Las Cruces):
      • Take Exit 147 from I-25, signed for Socorro
      • After 0.7 miles the ramp “invisibly” segues onto California St, reset your odometer at the first gas station.
      • After 0.6 miles on California St, at a stop light, go left onto Spring St. (well signed)
  • After 0.6 miles on Spring St, at a stop sign, turn left onto US-60 West (well signed)
  • After 61.5 miles on US-60, at a blinking light, turn left onto NM-12 West (well signed, about a half mile past mile marker 78).
  • After 74.7 miles on NM-12, at a T-intersection, turn left onto US-180 East (well signed)
  • After 4.6 miles on US-180 turn right onto Forest Road 232 (well signed, also signed as C013 and signed for Pueblo Canyon Campground, the road turns to gravel). 
  • After 5.9 miles on FR 232, immediately before a road-fork where FR 232A (signed) branches to the right, make a hard-left turn into the trailhead. A Forest Service kiosk (signboard) is visible from the road.
  1. Hikers in the southern New Mexico may prefer to take Interstate 10 to Deming and then US-180 W to Forest Road 232.
  2. FR 232 is currently in great shape. Almost any vehicle could make this drive. 
  3. NM-12 makes a sharp right turn as it goes through the Village of Reserve, this turn is well signed.

Trailhead:

Trailhead – trail is to right of kiosk

The trailhead has an information kiosk with a sign-in box. There are no toilets or trash services. Please sign in – your signature helps to justify the costs of upkeep. Currently there is water nearby in the bed of Pueblo Canyon. Filter this water if you plan on using it – many, many cattle make use of this waterway. 

Data:

  • summed ascent: 2580 feet
  • distance: 5 miles, one way, although my turn-back point is arbitrary.

Hike Description:

Look for cairns when the trail fades

This hike ventures boldy into the rarely visited Blue Range, lying along the Arizona border. The WS Mountain Trail descends south along Pueblo Canyon then this route turns east to ascend the Bear Canyon Trail. Nowhere steep, this terrain still manages to gain and loose surprising elevation. After signing-in at the trailhead kiosk go through the gap in the neighboring fence. A rubbly path leads down to the bed of Pueblo Canyon. When you reach the waterway turn south (left) to begin the descent. In 0.3 miles the water reaches a small confluence with an unnamed draw. Tall cairns stand to both sides of the confluence. Pause for a minute to commit this place to mind. On your return it may seem if the uphill cairn is pointing you into the draw (which has distinct cow-paths). No one wants to feel bewildered this close to the trailhead.

Morning sun on the canyon rim

The canyon bottom currently enjoys a small flow of water, never more than a few inches deep. Dry-footed crossings were always possible (with a little scouting). It was frozen over in the early morning. Don’t let the chill distract you as the rising sun lights up the tall ponderosa on the western rim!  For the first few miles this trail has received some serious TLC. The gorgeous tread means you can take in the sights.

Blocky cairn

In 1.3 miles come to the confluence with the West Fork of Pueblo Creek. Here the trail seems to dead-end, but if you scout about 50 feet up the West Fork you will find a tall, blocky cairn marking where the trail lifts over a steep embankment. (On the map the West Fork looks like a great opportunity for exploration, even if no trails ascend this waterway.)

Sign at Tige Canyon

At 3.2 miles come to a confluence with Tige Canyon. (Tige Canyon has its own trail that has been recently maintained). The confluence is signed. At the sign turn left and follow the WS Mountain Trail as it skirts atop a steep embankment, eventually finding its way down to the bed of Pueblo Canyon. Here the qualty of the tread abuptly declines. This may be due to higher water flows below the confluence and an increasingly “bendy” canyon course. The outside of each bend tends to be steep (sometimes vertical) and poses big challenges to trail makers. With few exceptions the trail crosses to the milder terrain on the inside of each bend. But that milder terrain gets pounded during high-water periods. The tread dives below logjams and burrows under piles of oak leaves. This is normal canyoneering, expect your pace to slow as the navigation issues arise.

Sign at corral

At 4.1 miles, at a point where the faint trail is found on the west side of the canyon (on your right, going in), come to a log corral. In less than 100 more feet you will get to the confluence with Bear Canyon. In this short stretch I flushed a young bull out of the brush. It bluff-charged before veering off to the waterway. Scary – and illustrates how poor situational awareness (such as mine) precedes most backcountry problems. At the confluence, which is signed for Bear Canyon, turn east (to your right, going in) to begin the ascent.

Sign at Bear Canyon confluence

The Bear Canyon bed is narrow and in first quarter mile suffers from recent deadfall. Pick your way over, under and around this nest of logs. There is inviting, open terrain just above but resist that temptation. Soon the canyon bottom opens up. The tread still plays peek-a-boo through the fallen leaves. On this short winter day my turn around time came after covering just a mile up the canyon. During lunch a young elk went trotting past. The map shows that Bear Canyon Trail goes about four more miles rising to parkland near summit block of WS Mountain. It looks extremely inviting. Return the way you came.

Recommendations:

Hunting season fashion.

Some of the side canyons drain large areas. It may be advisable to pick another destination if the recent weather (or the expected weather) includes heavy rainfall.

I went through less than one liter of water on this chilly winter outing. In warmer conditions you will need much more. If there is water in the canyon then filter it before using. There wasn’t a large water flow on this date and I suspect that under drought conditions the water disappears.

The tread has a persistent “hide and go seek” nature. Turn back when you’ve reached your limit of tolerance for navigation risks. 

Signs on the kiosk indicate that this is in the wolf restoration region. I did not see any wolf sign, such as dog-like paw prints or scat, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I did hear canines in the terrain above Bear Canyon, but to my untrained ear they sounded more like hunting dogs rather than wolves.

Watch for cattle and make detours around them. They are skittish and uncomfortable with your presence. 

Desert Lavender has a 2014 post with a video showing much more water that what is described here (and mentioning, in the text, that you might encounter thigh-deep water). The trails in 2014 were in noticeably better shape than now.

The Forest Service has a map showing the trails in the Blue Range that were cleared in the period 2013 to 2019.

Note: there are many Pueblo Canyons, including one near Los Alamos, New Mexico. Make certain you are reading reviews for the correct canyon!