Polvadera Peak (summit is on right)


This is a short and steep desert ramble near Socorro, New Mexico. Access is easy if you have a high clearance vehicle. A tall-walled canyon begins the scramble. The steep mountainside accompanies you from lower to upper Sonoran life zones and from the summit a loop can be formed by descending on a trail and two-track back to the trailhead. Find a sunny winter morning and go!

Note on the route – a navigation error sent me barreling into a side-cut in the lower canyon. It was almost slot-like in places and quite attractive, but most hikers will want to study the map (below) and avoid those “bonus miles”.

Driving Directions:

  • Take I-25 to Exit 156 (signed for Lemitar, north of Socorro).
    • From the south: after 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn left onto Calle del Lemitar (paved but unsigned, although there is a sign reading “Camino Real Marker”). After less than 0.1 miles, immediately past the southbound exit ramp, turn right onto Frontage Road. 
    • From the north: at the end of the ramp come to the intersection with Calle del Lemitar (unsigned). Turn right, away from the underpass. Within 20 feet make another right turn onto Frontage Road.  
  • Frontage Road is paved but not signed, look for a cattle guard about 30 feet up the road. If you drive into a gas station then you have missed the turn onto Frontage Road.
  • After 0.6 miles on Frontage Road, as the road climbs out of a wash, turn left onto a gravel road. The road has a pipe-built gate bearing a small, fading-yellow sign saying “Please Close Gate”.
    • After passing through (and closing) the gate look uphill at the mass of Polvadera Mountain. At mountain’s base, north of your position (to your right), some miles away is a gleaming white microwave tower. That marks the trailhead.
    • While still on the this initial gravel road you will find a fork at 0.2 miles. Bear right at the fork. This should aim your vehicle almost directly at the microwave tower.
  • After 0.8 miles on the gravel, beneath electric-power towers, go right onto the power-line road (unsigned).
    • While still on the power-line road you will come to a barb-wire gate across the road at 0.3 miles. Once again you need to open the gate, drive through, and re-close the gate.
  • After 0.7 miles on the powerline road go left onto a connector road (unsigned).
  • After approximately 0.2 miles on the connector road it will intersect the road that supports the microwave tower (unsigned). Turn left onto the microwave road.
  • After 1.8 miles on the microwave road come to the microwave tower. Park here. The road continues as a ranch road beyond this point, but stretches of it are in bad shape. (Also, there is a water tank for cattle about 0.2 miles further. It is an important courtesy to the ranchers to allow the cattle undisturbed access to that water).

Portions of the powerline road, particulary where it dips into washes, are going to be very challenging to ordinary-clearance cars. A high-clearance vehicle is much recommended.

The barb-wire gate opens on it’s east end (to your right, driving in). You open it by raising a wire loop off the top of the end-post and then you drag the gate out of the way of your car. This particular gate is under a considerable amount of tension. Unlatching and re-latching this it may be difficult for those who are not sufficiently tall and heavy. Bring a strong friend or two!

Bushes brandishing scimitar-class thorns grow along the margins of these gravel roads. Be careful for your tires’ sidewalls.


The trailhead is a few grassy stretches on the side of the microwave tower road. There is a water tank about 0.2 mile further that has a trough beside it. On this date the trough was full, although it is recommended that you filter this water before drinking. There are not toilets or trash services. Be careful of thorned vegetation when parking.


Warning: once again I forgot to turn on the GPS at the start of the hike. The uphill track from the trailhead to the southeasterly pin was “added back” by sketching the lines over satellite imagery in Google maps. Since most of this part of the trail follows a ranch road it should be obvious where to go.

  • lowest elevation: 5380 feet
  • highest elevation: 7295 feet
  • net elevation: 1915 feet
  • distance: 2.5 miles (one way)

Hike Description:

Polvadera from ranch road

From the trailhead hike the ranch road uphill. Pass a cattle tank at about 0.2 miles, currently showing water in its adjacent trough. Please give the cattle as much access as possible to this water by moving off as soon as you can. The road climbs along the outwash from the high-walled canyon you can see above you. For convenience the canyon will be referred to as East Canyon in this route description. 

View from S1, high cliffs are “too far right”!

In 0.6 miles the road plunges over the wash embankment and turns doggedly uphill on the main bed. The hiking is easy on a sandy, mellow grade. On a midwinter’s day the shade from the southern wall was positively chilly (summer will be different!). At 1.0 miles come to a confluence in the canyon. Someone has driven angle iron into the ground across the mouth of the bed that runs uphill to the east. As a consequence, a thick bed of rock and gravel has built up in that branch, nearly burying the ironware. On this date, thinking that a road walk seemed tame, I choose to take the left-hand bed. This first southerly sidecut (nicknamed S1) is a twisty, narrow, attractive way to venture up the mountain. 

It quickly became clear that S1 comes from a drainage south of East Canyon (looking uphill East Canyon is a separate drainage to your right). At 1.2 miles from the trailhead I decided to climb out of S1 and find a way back into East Canyon. The map shows a route initially leading up a rib. That gentle terrain quickly banked into a steep hillside venture. With 20-foot cliffs immediately below it offers an excess of risk. I had to turn about and descend order to get into East Canyon. Avoid these bonus miles by ignoring S1 and clambering over and past the angle iron into the west-ascending bed for another 2/10 of a mile. You should come to a second confluence at that point, which is marked by a two-track that climbs up off of the canyon bed on the height of land between the stream beds. Here take the southerly drainage (to your left on ascent), which runs directly below the dramatic cliff bands of East Canyon.

Twin waterfall in East Canyon

The canyon bottom is beautiful. It has several narrow and dark passages, dry waterfalls that offer non-technical climbing problems and occasionally opens to tremendous views of the upper bowls. The high cliff bands simply soar. There is one more confluence to navigate. The stream coming down from the north is probably the “main” canyon bed because it is the longer of the two. But stay in the west trending sidecut (to your left on ascent), here nicknamed “S2”.  

Upper end of S2 is boxed in

Eventually S2 hits the high open bowl that is its source. The canyon becomes boxed by the high cliffs on the south and newly evident cliffs to the west. Approach those westerly cliff walls while watching for a plausible way up from the bed and onto the north rim of the canyon. The map shows a pin at the location where I left the bed of S2. Fortunately, the climb up to the rim is on relatively gentle terrain. (Even if this terrain is much steeper than the mild canyon bed that brought you this far!). Attain the rim and turn directly uphill. Slog upwards on steep, grassy terrain, frequented by the ghosts of long-dead juniper trees. Decades of drought made plain.

View north across ridgeline to Polvadera summit block

Common sense will tell you that the ridge above you can’t be the mountain’s top. No surprise then, when when this summit proves false. But, what is this? Green things are growing on that higher ridge! It must rise high enough to claw extra moisture out of the air. Enter the domain of living juniper trees to find other high-Sonoran vegetation such as banana yucca and mountain mahogany. Keep slogging to reach the ridge, look north (right, on ascent) to find the true summit block of Polvadera Mountain. 

View across the Plains of La Jencia to Bear Mts

The short and easy ridge ramble guides you to the short and steep summit block. The tiny summit displays a USGS survey marker, a cairn with a climber’s log and a second cairn sporting camera flashes (no idea why). For such a small mountain the views are monumental. The Little Bear Mountains lie to the northwest, both the Jemez Mountains and Sandia Peak (atop the Sandia Range) rise to the north, Manazano Peak atop the Manzano Mountains make the northeast horizon, the Rio Grande flows below, the long ridge of the Oscuro Mountains sweeps the east, the Fra Cristobal to the south along with nearby Strawberry Peak, and South Baldy atop the Magdelana Mountains to the west. Have lunch and contemplate your next steps. On this date (prior distain for road hikes not withstanding) I decided to descend by the two track.

Carpet Cactus Closeup

Look a little north of east to find prominent cattle sheds perched on shelving terrain below the summit. Descend the summit block in that direction. Steep! Small prickly pear cactus, densely furred with long, white needles, find this slope congenial.  They carpet the ground wherever the terrain tries to level out. Watch your footing! At the base of the summit block a rib points toward the cattle sheds. Scout the saddle that forms on this rib for evidence of a trail. Follow the trail as it descends while slowing bending from east to south-of-east. After passing through a gate in a barb wire fence (third pin on the map) the trail disappears in a grassy, level shelf. At the end of the shelf you will come to the two-track. Follow the two-track back into the bed of East Canyon and thence to the trailhead.

Author on Polvadera summit (Ladron Peak in background)


A single liter of water was sufficient for a mild winter’s-day ramble. Once the sun rises above the canyon walls there is no shade, so in hot weather you will want three or four times as much .

If you are not confident of your navigation skills then consider simply following the two-track in. There are places where the trail disappears into the grasses but if you scout carefully you should find the track, or some cairns, within 100 yards. The terrain is almost entirely open. You can see the trailhead from the summit.

Might your day turn wet? Put a shovel in the car. Portions of the road looked like it could get soft in the rain.

It is currently hunting season. Orange outerwear is encouraged.

This was an especially prickly hike. Boots may not be mandatory, but they are recommended.

There is at least one other Polvadera Peak in New Mexico (you will find it on the north edge of the Valle Caldera in the Jemez Mountains). Polvadera means something like “dusty”, so it is no surprise to see the name recycled. Online reviews should mention Socorro, the Socorro Range or the Lemitar Range.

Eric Smith, on Peakbagger, provides a GPS track for ascending Polvadera on the ranch road/trail. It is very straightforward, which may be preferable to the wandering/turnabout GPS track provided here.  

Similarly, Alexander O’Conner has a Peakbagger report, which includes the driving instructions I used for my own exploration.  There are other, earlier, Peakbagger reports worth your attention!

The Albuquerque Journal has a 2013 report that also describes the approach. At that time they thought that ordinary 2-wheeled vehicles could make the approach. Be aware that roads in New Mexico can change quite a bit in nine years time.