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01 Meadow in Buckhead Canyon Confluence.jpg

Meadow where the CDT turns east, ascending toward the Black Range


Trail 77 runs to Mimbres Lake but there is a connector off of Trail 77 that leads to a ridge where it joins the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). The CDT junction lies in a saddle possessing that magic peculiar to high places dominated by huge ponderosa. Look up “numinous” in your dictionary and you are likely to find photographs of Signboard Saddle. Recently the northbound CDT branch, which once ran from the saddle to the east, was re-routed. Now the northbound CDT goes north from Signboard Saddle down a series of spellbinding canyons. Water is currently abundant here, but it is the large firs and huge pines that make this trail an open, airy and engaging hike. Eventually the tread enters a large meadow at the confluence of two canyons and the CDT turns east again to ascend the Black Range. At this is the point a day hiker should consider returning to the trailhead. Be warned, this joy of a trail will tempt you onward towards Canada.

Driving Directions:

02 sign for forest road to trailhead

Sign on FR-150, beside the gravel pad and forest road leading to the trailhead

  • From the junction of US-180 and NM-90 in Silver City, go east on US-180. In Silver City these roads are signed as “Silver Heights Blvd” and “Hudson Street”, respectively.
  • After 7.6 miles on US-180 turn left onto NM-152. The junction is well signed.
  • After 14.4 miles on NM-152 turn left onto NM-35. The junction is well signed. 
  • After 15.3 miles on NM-35 turn right onto Forest Road 150. This is a gravel road with a cattle guard at its start. Currently there is only a small brown Forest Service sign saying “150” to indicate the road. There used to be a conventional road sign that read, “N Mesa Rd”, but some nitwit has stolen it.
  • After 7.8 miles on FR-150, veer right into a large gravel pad and follow a rough and unsigned forest road uphill.
  • After 0.7 miles on the unsigned forest road, immediately past an old corral, reach the trailhead.


FR-150 is also known as North Star Mesa Road and as NM-61 and, sometimes, as Wall Lake Road. At its start there are two bright yellow signs. The first says “HIGH CLEARANCE VEHICLES ADVISED. NO SERVICES 120 MILES”. The next says “SHARP CURVES, STEEP GRADES, TRAILERS OVER 20 FT UNSAFE”. It is true that portions of this long road can be dire. The first 8 miles of road, however, is currently well-maintained. The first half mile is steep and the drop-off from the passenger side can be stimulating, but the road bed itself suffers only from heavy washboard. It was fine to take a sedan.

At 7.3 miles on FR-150 there is a right-hand turn signed for FR-150A to Mimbres River. You want to go straight past this turn, staying on FR-150.

There is no road sign for the unsigned forest road. Look instead for a large brown trail sign saying “Mimbres River Trail 77/Continental Divide Tr 74”. This sign is found at the point where you veer right to turn off of FR-150

The unsigned forest road off of FR-150 is in acceptable shape for about 0.3 miles (crushed rock has been put down) but then it becomes a significant problem. If you have a high clearance vehicle then you will probably be OK. In hindsight, it was a mistake to take the Camry over that last 0.4 miles. There is a small parking spot at the end of the first 0.3 miles and it would have been much smarter to park there and walk that last stretch. Be extra careful if the road is wet. It looks like you could get mired at several different points.


03 The Mighty Camry and corall

The Mighty (beat) Camry and the corral at the trail head

The trailhead is just a rocky pad at the end of the unsigned forest road. There are no toilets, trash receptacles or water sources. Be careful parking your vehicle in the grass that edges the turn-about. The underlying geology is productive of boulders, some of which might come into conflict with your oil pan. There are weathered wooden forest service signs to let you know that both the Mimbres River Trail #77 and the CDT Trail #74 can be reached from here.


  • lowest elevation: 7200 feet
  • highest elevation: 8560 feet
  • net elevation: 1360 feet
  • distance: 8.7 miles (one way)

Hike Description:

04 trailhead sign

Weathered wooden Forest Service sign at the trailhead.

The trailhead has a yellow sign warning of fire damage, eroded trails and risk of deadfall. There are several trails you might reach from this trailhead and those risks may be present on those other trails. The route described here was rather the opposite, about as risk-reduced as a trail building party could make it.

04a Trail 77 Mibres River Trail sign

Junction with Trail 77

From the trailhead follow a two-track north. This track has a full allotment of rock rubble and you will need to watch constantly for safe foot landings. The trail drops gently for 0.4 miles where it reaches a signed trail junction. Trail 77 departs to the right for the Mimbres River. You will want to go straight ahead on the connector trail. This begins a mild ascent amidst large alligator junipers and pinyon pines, at the limit of the Upper Sonoran life zone.

05 Dome from Trail 77 connector

View to tree covered dome

For much of its length this connector trail will run as a single-track close to a barbed wire fence. You have to imagine that ranchers got here under much wetter climate conditions, currently there doesn’t seem to be enough water for cattle to live on. There are occasional views southeast to the southern end of the Black Range and a huge fin of distant rock that might be Cookes Peak. Eventually, in places where the pinyon pines thin, you will get views ahead to a tree covered dome of rock. That dome forms the highest point you will hit on this trip. Trail builders have worked hard here, building switchbacks on the steepest faces about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. As you get near the top views open to the Mogollon Mountains on the western edge of the Gila National Forest and south to the much-closer Tadpole Ridge.

06 bowl to north of dome

View across large bowl to northern rim

The trail does not go all the way to the top of the dome. As soon as the angle eases the tread contours to the dome’s west side and then to the north side. Looking north you will see a huge bowl. The CDT is coming to meet you along the northern rim of this bowl. The trail continues a bit further to the east and then heads north on the bowl’s eastern-most rim. Here the smaller pinyon pines fade and large ponderosa begin to dominate. Long stretches of the trail that are pleasantly covered with duff and improbable heaps of Gamble oak leaves. These stretches are cruelly interspersed with segments paved with golfball-sized rock. Even with this risk to your ankles it can be hard to pull your eyes away from the muscular canyon terrain that dominates the east. It is a sobering view, as well, since there are several burned summits in that direction. These may be testimony to the vigor and travel of the Silver Fire back in 2013. 

07 Signboard Saddle signs

New signboard in Signboard Saddle. Note the turn.

 Eventually the bowl’s eastern rim meets up with that northern rim you spotted earlier. A height of land lying just to the east shapes Signboard Saddle, the domain of soaring old ponderosa pines. The saddle’s walls and the towering pine boles create a cathedral like atmosphere. Some hikers may want to come just for the experience of this saddle. If you choose to push over the top of the saddle then you will come to a trail junction at 3.4 miles from the trailhead. It is here that the connector trail meets the Continental Divide Trail. The old CDT used to come up from the south on your left and departed to the north on your right. The trail to the right, however, is now signed as, “no longer maintained”. You are cautioned against its dangers. The trail builders have decided to re-route the CDT down and away from these risks. Instead of turning right, go directly across the junction onto what used to be called Aspen Canyon Trail #75. Thirty feet further you will see a sign reaffirming that this is the “New CDT”. Initially the tread roams a broad, swale-like drainage. As you descend the walls of the drainage rise and soon you are in the V-shaped space of an unmistakable canyon. There was no surface water in this upper canyon; flow probably occurs only after monsoon rains or rapid snow melt. The trail is in excellent shape however and it offers great cruising.

08 Dry Confluence Cairn

Cairn at first confluence

At 4.7 miles from the trailhead come to a cairn built slightly above a confluence with a similarly sized canyon. The cairn tells returning hikers, “here is the CDT”. This fact can get lost when grass and brush have overgrown the trail and you have two canyons from which to choose. There was no water right at this confluence but on this date the first pools appeared a few hundred feet further down canyon. These pools were laced with algae. CDT hikers coming up from the New Mexico’s Bootheel have seen much worse water sources and a good filter should take care of the problem. Like many waterways in New Mexico the water appears and disappears intermittently. In another quarter mile, past a few minor side cuts, the water becomes much clearer and flows well enough to have a visible current. It could be worth the wait. 

10 Ponderosa meadow

First of the ponderosa meadows

Overall the rate of descent in these canyons is mellow. The steepest sections come just below that cairned confluence. The stream has sawn sharply through dirt and rubble and runs on exposed bedrock, babbling away. At a second confluence, 5.7 miles from the trailhead, the joined debris flow and easing slope have combined to build the first of many spectacular meadows. These are dominated by huge and widely spaced ponderosa but also exhibit equally huge deciduous trees with deeply fissured bark. The ground is strewn with Gamble oak leaves but I don’t think that Gamble oaks ordinarily form 2-foot thick boles. These may be some form of white oak instead. A navigation problem can occur in these meadows. The trail continues to hop from one stream bank to the other. In these flat meadows the stream sometimes churns up soil and boulders alike, confusing the tread. Solving the problem is usually a matter of continuing downhill until the walls of the canyon pull back together and you again see sawed logs or cairns.

11 Park Bench at confluence

“Park bench” at second confluence

A third major confluence is encountered at 7.2 miles from the trailhead. Here the canyon floor is as broad and flat and the walking is easy. So, of course, the trail engineers have decided to place the tread high on the east wall (on your left on descent). There is sense to this – trails on flat canyon bottoms get wiped out by every gully washer to come along. In this part of the canyon the surface water was more consistent, rarely sinking below the stream bed. Right at the confluence there is a thick section of unbarked log that serves as a fine park bench. If you have problems finding the trail look for it 20 feet above and behind this ‘bench’.

13 Blazes, cairns and tread

Blazes and cairns

What follows may be the finest mile-and-a-half of easy strolling on the New Mexico CDT. The trivial navigation problems persist as the trail switches banks, but between blazes and cairns you can hardly go wrong. There is a mixture of shaded and sunny spots. The shade would be most welcome in the warmer months but on this date the temptation was to dally in the sun. There is abundant grass everywhere, a rarity in this part of the state. There are numerous potential campsites. The walls rise and fall, in places creating a hallway-like feeling and in others a sense of being flanked by rolling hills. 

14 signs in Corner Meadow

At 8.7 miles from the trailhead come to a junction of trails formed at a confluence of canyons. Water ran in the streams issuing from both canyons. A trail sign at this junction indicates that the trail heading west will return you to FR-150 (but not to your original trailhead!). To continue north on the CDT you have to turn sharply right and ascend to the east, going upstream toward Reed’s Meadow and the northern Black Range. Tempting! Tempting! Lean your pack against a big old oak, pull out your sit pad, your lunch and a water bottle, then take some time to think it through. If you have to return to the real world then go back the way you came. Otherwise, know that there are only 2800 CDT miles remaining north of this spot. It may not be enough.


15 author in Corner Meadow

Author attired for turkey hunting season.

Do this hike. Bring friends. Take your time.

Be sure to say “thanks” the next time you see a trail team.

Be wary when driving the unsigned forest road that leads to the trailhead. Carry a shovel and a bow saw in your vehicle.

Two liters of water was plenty for a cool November day. Warmer days will naturally demand more.

The choice of a turn-back spot was arbitrary. If you have a strong party and longer daylight hours then the trail towards Reed Meadow should be well worth exploring.


In 2017 and 2018 the US Forest Service was working hard to clear the tread of the CDT from its intersection with NM-35 all the way past the northern border of the Gila National Forest. My thanks to those teams, you folks have given southern New Mexico a gem!

This re-route of the Continental Divide Trail is recent. Even the Continental Divide Trail Association’s own interactive map still shows the CDT going east to west along the ridge between Rocky Point and Aspen Mountain. (You will have to zoom to big green splotch in southern New Mexico, representing the Gila National Forest. Signboard Saddle is labelled as 10_048XX, which is a Bear Creek designation). Similarly, my copy of the Guthook phone app , which was up-to-date as of the start of 2018, still shows the CDT clinging to the ridge top. Caltopo shows the trails described here, but only as dashed lines documented with distance values. The trails are not identified by trail-number or trail-name. (In that Caltopo link Signboard Canyon is located where two trails cross in the center of the window). The AllTrails site similarly shows the CDT as going past Aspen Mountain along the ridge. The new CDT re-route going north from Signboard Saddle is labeled “Aspen Canyon Trail #75”. The Open Street Map identifies the new CDT where it ascends to the northern Black Range as “Black Canyon Trail #72”.

Blog posts from before 2017 will probably not reflect the re-route of the CDT. The first four miles of this route is described in a 2015 post from the 100 Hikes Near Silver City blog (scroll down to where the text reads, “Name: Continental Divide Trail between North Star Mesa Road to Signboard Saddle”). So much has changed since 2015 that the old description is barely recognizable.

CDT hikers should take this report of water in the canyons with a huge grain of salt. Other reports indicate that Aspen Canyon can be dry in drought years. Know that this region has suffered drought or near-drought conditions since the early 2000’s.

01 View into the canyon near the start


The Little Dry Creek Trail rises through spectacular canyon terrain on the wild west side of the Mogollon Mts. Despite its name, the water in the creek bed was flowing cheerfully on this post-monsoon date. A sign at the trailhead says the trail is abandoned, but it looks as though someone has put a great deal of recent effort into keeping the path open for the first three miles – to the point where you first see trunks charred by of 2012 Whitewater Baldy fire. The older maps show that the trail used to continue upward to Windy Gap, which once made for a nice 2000-foot gain. Unfortunately the higher terrain is deeply littered with debris from the fire and is now home to remarkably thorny brush. It has to be admitted that I did not find the upward continuation of the trail. Most people, I think, will want to have a mellow day in the gorgeous lower canyon lands and turn back where the first charred trunks appear. The more adventurous will want to wear ballistic fiber gaiters and maintain a high degree of pace patience. 

Driving Directions:

  • In Silver City NM, starting at the junction of US-180/NM-90, go west on US-180. In Silver City the street signs call these roads “Silver Heights Blvd” and “Hudson Street”, respectively.
  • After 50.5 miles on US-180, past mile marker 63, go right onto Sacaton Road (becomes gravel). 
  • After 2.9 miles on Sacaton Road make a left onto Little Dry Creek Road (signed as Forest Service Road 196). You might be expecting a fork if you’re looking at Google Maps, but the junction looks much more like a T-intersection.
  • After 3.4 miles on Dry Creek Road, at its end, park at the trailhead.

EDIT: the Sacaton Road was re-graded sometime in December. As of 12/25/2018 the road was in quite good shape. The following “original comment” is being left in place to warn drivers that the road can be rough.

The Sacaton Road [was] in poor shape. Fist-sized talus lies strewn across the road in many places and there are sudden dips where the numerous small washes cross over the road. My low-slung Camry made it, but family sedan drivers will want to drive very slowly at each wash crossing. Fortunately, Dry Creek Road is in much better shape. 


02 the Mighty Camry at Dry Creek Trailhead

Kiosk backing the Mighty Camry

The trailhead is just a wide gravel pad with an information kiosk at the end of Little Dry Creek Road. There is no water, trash receptacles or water. There should be little competition for parking space, but you should try to leave space so that folks pulling horse trailers can turn around.


The map above has a red waypoint marker to show where the trail turns away from the stream bed to ascend the west-side wall (on your left, ascending). The blue markers indicate earlier trail features that may be useful in identifying the departure point.

  • start elevation: 6280
  • ending elevation: 7720
  • net elevation: 1440 feet
  • Distance: 4.2 miles (one way)

(A note on blogging conventions: most of the earlier posts made explicit mention of the USGS map (or maps) that cover the trail. This is beginning to seem like a disservice as other mapping options now seem better suited to hiking. Hikers should look into online options such as CalTopo. I haven’t yet used any of the other services, but many online commenters make favorable mention of AllTrails or Open Street Maps as well ).

Hike Description:

03 flood warning

Little Camping Next 3 Miles!

The trail begins immediately to the right of the information kiosk. You will note a bright yellow sign to the left of the kiosk warning that flooding occurs and that camping in flood plains is not recommended. The canyon bottom is narrow, the canyon walls are steep and you will find little camping space outside of this essentially continuous flood plain. The trail ascends for the first quarter mile on an aging and rock-strewn two-track. At the top is a terrific view towards West Baldy and the large folds of weathered rock that conceal this enormous canyon. Drink in the view and continue forward as the two-track dives towards the canyon bed. There isn’t much room for cattle in the canyon bottom so it seems unlikely that ranchers would have developed this road. This two-track may be a product of the generally unsuccessful effort to find mineral wealth in the Mogollon Mountains. 

02 an intrusion of hard rock nearly damming Dry Creek

Intrusion of hard rock, left side of photo

The two-track reforms into a single track path at the canyon bottom. Immediately ahead is an enormous curtain of hard rock that almost dams the creek. The stream beats the seam, however, and water has sawn a narrow slot right through the formation. The trail builders have found a way up the west wall of the canyon (to your left on ascent) to take you safely past this barrier. This establishes a noticeable pattern on the trail. It will amble along peaceably and then suddenly lurch towards the sky to surmount the next waterfall. 

05 waterfall across a hard intrusion

One of many waterfalls in Dry Creek

The creek meanders considerably and the steep outside wall of each bend is hostile to the intent of trail engineers. Consequently, the trail displays a creek-leaping tendency each time a new inside-bend presents itself. It was possible to ascend dry footed on this date, but in wetter seasons it could be a challenge. As mentioned there is a pattern of waterfalls where harder rock intrudes. You may find it worth while to head upstream, off-trail for a short distance, to investigate some of these pretty falls and their deep pools. It can be chilly on an autumn morning. The sun does not reach the canyon bottom until late in the day. Dense stands of pinion pines and scrub oak (Arizona White Oak, making a cross-boundaries appearance) provide further shade for the first two miles of the hike.

06 abandoned mining cabin

Miner’s Cabin

At about two miles you will find a weather beaten,  cabin, falling into ruin. This may be the upper limit of where pack animals could reach and the most convenient place to drop off mining supplies. Building roads and erecting cabins is hard work, testimony to the persistence of those seeking a living in this rugged landscape. Maps indicate that one old mine, the Maverick Prospect, might be found on the east wall above this cabin.

06 water to sky

Canyon Bed to Canyon Rim

From time to time the walls angle steeply back and admit a little sunlight to the creek. In such places the trail warms up and the vegetation thrives. You may get peek-a-boo views of the canyon ahead, where towering rock walls (300 feet high? 600?) will cast the trail back into cool canyon gloom. These are the places where you will see most of the animal sign. There was bear scat on the trail and occasional evidence of elk. At 2.4 miles from the trailhead you will note that the pinyon pine that dominated the lower route has given way to enormous ponderosa pine.

08a Massive cliff flank of West Baldy

Peek-a-boo view to major canyon wall

A mighty wall of rock descends from the flanks of West Baldy Mountain to the east side of the stream bed, and it is chiefly this wall that you will have seen from those earlier peek-a-boo views. Before reaching the foot of this wall, at about 2.8 miles from the trailhead and just before a prominent waterfall, watch for the tread to depart sharply uphill. The trail ascends on the east side (right side, looking up-canyon) and makes a switchback or two. Looking up this eastern cut you will see a large hoodoo high above. This is a clear sign that you are nearing the point where the old trail diverged from the canyon bottom.

A short distance further, at 3.0 miles, come to the end of the cleared portion of the trail. Here you will see the first evidence of fire damage along the trail. There is a camping spot with a fire-ring on a protected shelf beside the trail. This is where the maps show the old Little Dry Creek Trail departing from the stream bed and clambering along above the bed for about a quarter mile, then entering a side cut. This side cut (possibly called Rainwater Canyon) leads to Windy Gap on the ridge. Satellite images show a very obvious tread once you get about 100 feet above the canyon bed, but below the trail is screened by the Ponderosa and Douglas fir that dominates near the water.

08 Mogollon Ridge from turnback point

View to the ridgeline of the Mogollon Mountains

Frankly, I missed the point where the trail departed the canyon bottom and simply continued uphill along the stream bed. The terrain is as wild as any I’ve seen and, despite the fire, quite beautiful. It is markedly more difficult hiking. Part of the difficulty is due to the vegetation that has grown up in the years since the fire. Thorny, tough and dense, it covers holes in the ground and screens the lurking piles of burn debris. Navigation is easy in the canyon bottom but your pace will be slow. Look for short stretches where Little Dry Creek has scrubbed away plants and dirt alike, providing a sidewalk-like path on naked rock. Beware! Ice on this rock can persist all day long. In other places short stretches of animal trail can ease your passage markedly. I turned back after reaching 4.2 miles and having found clear views to the main ridgeline of the Mogollon Mountains. A great day, even though my gaiters will never be the same!


10 Author in hunting season attire

Author in hunting season attire

The trailhead is only 6.3 miles from US-180, but don’t let that fool you. This is wilderness. Bring a shovel and perhaps a bow saw in your car, so that you can handle any minor issues that may occur on the roads leading to the trailhead. A single thunderstorm could create real problems.

I suspect that Little Dry Creek really is dry most of the year. Bring plenty of water. I went through one liter and that was fine for a pre-Thanksgiving day, but in warmer weather you will need a lot more. The Mogollon ridge line can be very dry, so if you are heading up there be extra careful about your supplies.

From the trail the miner’s cabin appears to be in good shape (for an untended “historic place”) but it is not so very good that it couldn’t fall on you. Moreover, it probably houses a population of mice and in New Mexico there is a genuine concern with mice as carriers of hanta virus.

In this deep canyon cell phone service may be non-existent. Let people know where you are going and when you expect to return.

The shade from rock and vegetative sources may make this a nice warm season hike, particularly if you are going to stay in the lower stretches of the canyon.


The Casitas de Gila Nature Blog has an interesting discussion of the trail and its link to mining history in New Mexico and a separate post describing some other historical aspects and the geology of the region.

Doug Scott Art has a very enthusiastic review of the hike (this blog is a terrific resource on the slot canyons and waterfalls in New Mexico).

01 Slot Canyon Skyward.jpg

Skylight in Slot Canyon


This short hike takes you south along a wide canyon bottom, diverts unexpectedly into a vegetative veil and enters a magic little excursion west into a slot canyon. Like most slot canyons it makes up for its short length with a twisting path, cool air, mellow tread and dramatic sense of place. If you are near Silver City (in southwest New Mexico) and have a few hours for a stroll on hot day, then this could be the ticket. On rainy days, however, give this hike a pass.

Driving Directions:

FR 88

The turnoff to Forest Road 88 from NM-35. Going north it will be on your left

Warning! I misplaced my notes on the ride and am mostly just quoting Google. The description of Forest Rd 88, however, is accurate.

  • In Silver City, starting at the intersection of NM-90 and US-180 head east on US-180. In the City NM-90 is signed “N. Hudson St” while US-180 is signed “Silver Heights Blvd”.
  • After 7.5 on US-180 miles turn left onto NM-152
  • After 14.3 miles on NM-152 turn left onto NM-35
  • After 19.5 miles on NM-35, turn left onto Forest Road 88. This intersection is not signed so watch your odometer and look for a gate made up of pipes and chainlink fencing on your left. Beside the gate there is a brown “vertical route marker” indicating that this is  Forest Road 88 (FR-88).
  • After 1.3 miles on FR-88 come to the trailhead next to a decaying corral.

At the start of FR-88 you will have to get out of your car, open the gate, drive through the date, stop and close the gate.

FR-88 is in somewhat rough shape. Drivers with high suspension vehicles will have no problem. The mighty Camry, however, had to go very slowly . Even then it was often necessary to stop and kick the larger rocks off the road’s prominent crown. At approximately 0.3 miles the road crosses over an 20-foot (7 meters) embankment that extends across the canyon. The embankment is steep on both sides. The ascent to the top of the embankment is not a problem. On descent, however, you’ll be flying blind (unless you are on a motor cycle) since your hood will block all sight lines to the road. You will probably want to stop at the top and check that the road is still there!


03 Water hazards on road past trailhead

Water hazard on road just past the trailhead.

The trailhead is just a wide spot where FR-88 intersects with FR-4078T (on older maps this is identified as FR-4202S) and FR-4078R. An aged corral marks this intersection. In another 100 feet the road drops into the river bed and generally stays there. High clearance vehicles should not have a problem with the river bed but sedans should be parked at the intersection.  There are no services at this trailhead.


  • starting elevation: 6240 feet
  • ending elevation: 6480 feet
  • net elevation: 240 feet
  • distance: 1 mile (one way, without continuing up Skates)
  • maps: North Star Mesa, Allie Canyon and Twin Sisters USGS quadrangles

The departure from NM-35 onto FR-88 is shown on North Star Mesa quadrangle, the departure from the bottom of Skates Canyon into the slot is shown on Allie Canyon quadrangle, and the upper reaches of the hike into the slot canyon is on Twin Sisters quadrangle.


04 Tent Rock in Skates Canyon

The tent rock is on the left while the departure point is via the stream bed coming out of the trees on the right.

From the trailhead continue along the road as it heads south on the canyon floor. In about 100 yards the roadbed enters the streambed, which contains some pretty large rocks. It is something to watch for if you’re driving rather than hiking. On this date, just past the end of a monsoon, there was water in the canyon bottom. It is a pleasure to see, given that about a third of the state is experiencing extreme drought or worse.

05 wind and water sculpture

Water sculpture

Skates Canyon has relatively low and vegetated walls while the bottom is broad and sandy. As you near the half-mile point keep your eyes open for a “tent rock” that adorns the west canyon wall. The main canyon swings sharply to the left (to the east) at the foot of this structure but you want to study the vegetation just to the right of this rock. Find a way past the greenery and enter a much narrower canyon with water sculpted rock walls. The bed of the canyon narrows quickly and as the canyon narrows the walls steepen.

07 View up slot canyon

Steep walls

True vertical walls arrive in less than 200 feet. At first the walls are still low enough to admit considerable light, so you may find yourself pushing through vegetation for another 100 feet or so. The walls are conglomerate, with reassuringly hard cement holding the entire mass together. (This is in marked contrast to the loose rubble that characterizes the walls in the Robledo slot canyon).  At this time of year short stretches of running water arose from and disappeared into the sandy stream bed.

07 views vertical

The view vertical

As the walls rise higher the canyon floor darkens and cools; vegetation disappears. The walking is generally pretty easy, save where water occupies the the breadth of the floor. The slot meanders continuously, making it hard to track your exact position. Navigation is not a problem, however, since your only real options are (1) forward or (2) backward. There is a four foot high waterfall about a quarter mile up the canyon. There is a large log pinned to the southern wall, which makes the climb over the falls quite easy.

08 Waterfall and webbing

Waterfall, webbing and pole (for scale)

In contrast, a second waterfall at 0.5 miles up the slot is something of a challenge. It rises 10 to 12 feet and has overhangs that make the ascent problematic. Currently there is water coming over the falls to add a slippery quality to the issue. Most visitors will want to turn around here. There is a battered length of green webbing draped down the falls. It is not recommended that you trust your well-being to this cordage. I chose to climb the falls (experiencing occasional regrets) without my pack and used the webbing to drag my pack up after I got on top.

Above the falls the walls are much lower and soon begin to lean back. In less than 500 feet, about a mile from the trailhead, the vegetation becomes vexatious. If you’ve left your machete at home you may find that it is time to turn back.

On return to the bottom of the main canyon I chose to turn south (right on descent) and follow the canyon bottom (see the map, above). It is a very pleasant ramble on cool September day but not especially wild. Judging from the tracks on the canyon floor there must be occasions when ATVers congregate here. This “extra” leg to the south is perfectly pleasant but does not have a particularly striking quality.


Pick another destination if there is rain in the forecast. The logs along the canyon bottom are evidence that the water flows can be violent on occasion.

That said, the gentle flow of water in the canyon bottom on this date was a very welcome sight. It is not, however, guaranteed. You will want to bring your own drinking water. A liter was more than sufficient on this cool day.

I suspect that the canyon bottom can be icy in the winter time. It may be best to reserve this for the warmer months.


Doug Scott has a great website that provides a great introduction to New Mexico’s slot canyons (and waterfalls), including this one.

Southern New Mexico Explorer has some great photos of a canyon termed “Mossy Slot Canyon” off of Skates Canyon. I’m not 100% certain that it is the same canyon as described here, but many of the photos look familiar.

01 Burro Mts from Tyrone Road

Jack’s Peak, Burro Mountain and Feguson Mountain (obscured) in Big Burro Mountains


This route follows a green canyon bottom up into the fold between Burro Peak and Ferguson Mountain where it strikes the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). It then takes the CDT south over Burro Peak to the antenna-whiskered heights of Jack’s Peak. The route is one of the suggested alternatives for CDT thru-hikers and is well maintained. It could be a “destination hike” for anyone living in southern New Mexico, particularly in the winter season. For folks living close-by it offers a first-class opportunity to get those hiking legs back in shape as the season nears.

Driving Directions:

If you are coming from the south then drive Interstate-10 to Lordsburg and take one of the exits for Old Route 10/US-70/Motel Drive. If you are coming from the east (Deming or Las Cruces) this is exit 24. If you are coming from the west (Tuscon) this is exit 20A. Turn onto Motel Drive and continue driving into Lordsburg.

  • In Lordsburg look for the “US-70/NM-90 to Silver City” junction. This junction is signed using large green highway signs. Enter onto US-70 west
  • After 2.2 miles turn right onto US-90, signed for Silver City.
  • After 30 miles, just past mile-marker 30, watch for a yellow junction sign labeled “TYRONE RD”.
  • Go left onto Tyrone Thompson Road (signed), which is gravel.
  • After 3.9 miles, where Tyrone Road crosses a sandy wash, turn left into the wash. The drop into the wash is a little rough but it is doable in a sedan if you go slow. As you enter the wash you will find a post signed “4249F”.  Park here.

If you are coming from the north then drive to the intersection of US-180 and NM-90 in Silver City. (Inside the city these roads are named Silver Heights Blvd and N. Hudson St, respectively).

  • Turn south on NM-90/N Hudson St
  • After 12.4 miles, past mile marker 31, turn right onto Tyrone Thompson Road (signed) and proceed as above.

Tyrone road crosses several low points. The correct wash is immediately past the intersection with Forest Road 827 (signed) coming in on your right. A roadside sign saying “Help Prevent Wildfires” is also immediately before the wash.


02 Camry beside FR 4249F

The mighty Camry parked alongside FR 4249F (Tyrone Road is in background).

The trailhead is just a wide spot on FR 4249F. There are no toilets, trash receptacles or water. It is important to note that you will be parking in a canyon bottom. This may not be good practice in monsoon season. If you look back you will see that Tyrone Road is underpinned by about five large culverts. This tells you that large volumes of water comes down this canyon from time to time. If it is rainy then you will want to pick another destination.

There is a another road that departs from this wash that rises to the west out of the canyon bottom, roughly parallel to Tyrone Road. Don’t follow it, stay on 4249F in the canyon bottom!


Note: the map shows a short extension, north on the CDT, that takes you to Mud Spring

  • Starting Elevation: 6320 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 8020 feet
  • Net Elevation: 1700 feet
  • Distance:  4.3 miles (one way, without the Mud Spring extension)
  • Maps: Burro Peak, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

04 Trail departs from 4249F

Point where the Deadman Canyon Trail departs from FR 4249F (left side of photo).

Follow FR 4249F for about 500 feet. The road will pull to the southwest side of the wash (left on ascent) and eventually turn back and cross the canyon bottom. Immediately before this crossing look for a prominent path that stays on the left side of the waterway. This is the main Deadman Canyon trail. The initial mile is a pleasant stroll along side the waterway, with canyon walls rising on either side dominated by ponderosa pines. The trail soon leaps through a semicircle carved into hard rock and begins a long but generally gentle ascent into the Burros.

05 grassy swale

Swale-like canyon bottom

At 1.4 miles from the trailhead the trail abruptly switchbacks onto the southwest wall (to your left, on ascent) and briskly climbs to the narrow-topped rib that also serves as the canyon rim. The trail follows the rib above the steepening and broken terrain of the canyon bottom then gradually contours below the ridge and back to the canyon bed.  The overall pitch of the terrain eases here. On this date the canyon bottom was covered with lush green grass – not your typical Chihuahuan scene. Indeed, in the middle of this pastoral setting was a tiny stream with several small pools. The quality of the water was poor. Dense algal blooms were found in each pool.

06 Unsigned trail junction, go rt on return

Unsigned trail junction – go right on return!

Above this watery wonderland you will encounter a ranch road that is still very much in use. Turn right and follow it for about 20 feet, watching for a path that departs to the left so as to stay near the canyon bottom. Wind your way through numerous Ponderosa and the occasional alligator juniper. Soon you will come to a trail junction. Study the junction carefully so you will recognize it on return, then turn to your left and head uphill.

20 Sign at Deadman Canyon junction

Sign at junction with CDT

In another 100 feet come to the signed junction with Continental Divide Trail. The sign is a few feet north of the junction proper and is aimed at CDT hikers (see photo). There is no mention of the Deadman Canyon junction that lies adjacent to this sign. At the junction turn south (to your left on ascent) and follow the tread as it traverses the lower flanks of Ferguson Mountain and then begins a steep, well-engineered assault on Burro Peak. The fold of land between Ferguson and Burro is the scene of considerable forest devastation. It may be that years of drought and bark beetle attack have caused this sad loss of old ponderosa pines. At first it may seem odd that this devastation should occur on the north-facing slopes of Burro Peak. Once you get to the south facing side, however, you’ll note that big firs can’t be wiped-out there for the simple reason that there aren’t any.

08 View South from Burro Peak

Jack’s Peak (antennae), Pyramid Peak (small, dark cone, mid picture), Big and Little Hatchet Mountains are on horizon above Pyramid Peak

The trail crosses just below the summit of Burro Peak. It is worth wandering a few feet off the trail to peer over the tops of mountain mahogany thickets and look into the adjacent terrain. The hill region north and west of the main Big Burro peaks look green by desert standards. In contrast, there is little vegetative coloring in the enormous basin comprised of the north end of Animas Valley (which runs between the Peloncillo Mountains on the Arizona border and the Animas Mountains in mid boot-heel) and the north end of the Playas Valley (which runs between the Animas Mountains and the Big Hatchet Mountains).

09 Cholla Cacti

Cholla on south side of Burro Peak

Are you up for a little more hiking? Then continue on the CDT south as it drops down through the cacti, banana yucca, mountain mahogany and scrub oak that occupies the south facing flank of Burro Mountain. No ponderosa here! It is a short descent to the forested saddle connecting to Jack’s Peak but the tread is very rocky and it requires attention. Look back once you get to the saddle because this is cattle country and some of the cattle trails leading off the saddle can be misleading.

10 Jack's Peak trough

Trough below Jack’s Peak Cistern

The tread then makes short work of the ascent to Jack’s peak. The trail switchbacks through ponderosa until you hit a well-maintained road near the summit. If you were to turn left onto the road then you would rise the remaining 100 feet to the the antenna array that has grown on the high point of Jack’s Peak. From the base of these antennae you get long views south to Pyramid Peak (near Lordsburg), the Florida Mountains to the southeast and the Little Hatchet and Big Hatchet ranges in the southern Bootheel. The many dishes up there are presumably sending off microwave communications. It isn’t clear how much of a health risk that may be.  If you scout the area to the right of the trail/road junction you will find a large flat area paved with concrete. A pipe collects the water pooling on the pavement and runs it to the Jack’s Peak Cistern (a corrugated-steel cylinder). Below the cistern there is a concrete trough. On this date there was only an inch or two of water in the trough. It was quite clear. Rest your feet, have a snack and enjoy the shade and cool breezes.  Return the way you came.


11 Author and Mountain Mahogany on Burro Pk

Author on Burro Peak

I went through less than a liter on a very mild April Day. Bring along extra water because there are going to be periods in which water is hard to find in the Burros.

If you run short of water then you might want to hike the extra quarter mile from the signed junction with the CDT north to Mud Spring. The spring is currently full and it seems to have a reputation for being as reliable as any water source in the Burros.

If there is no water in Deadman’s Canyon, Mud Spring, or Jack’s Peak Cistern then there is one further possibility. If you follow the maintenance road from Jack’s Peak downhill for about a half mile you will come to a junction where the CDT leaves the road to your left (watch for a wall-like cairn). Follow the trail about 30 feet and you should come to an in-ground (dirt) tank. Every time I’ve seen it the water has looked foul – but if it is an emergency…

I wore “ballistic gaiters” against the threat of thorn bushes and cacti, thinking that this trail might be somewhat abandoned. Instead, the tread proved to be in excellent shape. The few thorny segments are very short and it was easy to deal with them.

Remember that your car is parked in a wash. If the weather turns wet then you should turn too.

There seems to be another Deadman’s Canyon in the Sacramento Mountains over by Alamogordo, NM. This other canyon gets a lot of attention at the HikeArizona site. Don’t confuse the two!


KateOnTheRoadLessTraveled has a post in which she describes a portion of the CDT hike down from Burro Peak through Deadman’s Canyon. (Scroll down to Day 15). Interestingly, on an early May day she found quite a bit of water in the canyon, more than I found. This was in 2015, which was still a pretty severe drought year for most of New Mexico.

SheRaHikes also makes mention of the water in Deadman’s Canyon. (Scroll down to “Day 8”). Evidently the water in April of 2015 was low and murky, so it looks like Kate may simply have been lucky with the rain patterns.

A large majority of the search results I got for looking for Deadman’s Canyon has to do with fluorite minerals. Evidently this is quite a hotspot for rock hounds.


Snow on the Big Burro Mountains


This route is a pleasant morning’s stroll into the Big Burro Mountains. The trail takes you from an easily accessed trailhead across ponderosa strewn slopes and across sunny meadows. There are views from the Big Burro Mountains across the northern end of the Mimbres Basin to the Cobre Mountains. This would be a great place for introducing newcomers to the backcountry.

Note that the CDT braids out in the Big Burro Mountains. This particular “strand” lies on the CDT route that takes you from the Big Burro Mountains all the way up to US-180, about 12 miles west of Silver City.

Driving Directions:

03 Note the Q!

Note the “Q”

If you are coming from the south then drive Interstate Highway 10 to Lordsburg and take the exit for NM-90 north towards Silver City.

  • After mile-marker 30 on NM-90 watch for a yellow junction sign labeled “TYRONE RD”.
  • Go left onto Tyrone Thompson Road (signed), which is gravel.
  • After 7.4 miles, where the road briefly levels, look for Forest Road 4248Q on your right and park in the tiny turnout there. The “Q” is important! There are quite a few alphabetic variations of FR-4248 departing from the Tyrone Road.

If you are coming from the north then drive to the intersection of US-180 and NM-90 in Silver City. (Inside the city these roads are named Silver Heights Blvd and N. Hudson St, respectively).

  • Turn south on NM-90/N Hudson St
  • After 12.4 miles, past mile marker 31, turn right onto Tyrone Thompson Road and proceed as above.

Tyrone Road has two slightly ambiguous forks. The first is at 5.8 miles and has a brown forest service sign pointing left for “Burro Mountain Homestead “. Go left. The second fork is at 6.5 miles and has a commercial sign saying “Burro Mountain Homestead” (no arrow). Go right.


Burro Pk trailhead

The Mighty Camry, at intersection of Tyrone and4248Q

There is parking for just one car at junction with FR 4248Q. There is a marginal widening of the roadway about 50 feet further and a second forest road entrance about 250 feet beyond that (on the left of Tyrone Road). The problem is that the road grader has left tall banks of gravel at the road edges, so you will need either a high clearance vehicle or a good shovel to park safely in those two alternative spots.


  • start elevation: 6740
  • end elevation: 7560
  • net elevation: 850 feet
  • maps: Burro Peak, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

04 Meadows and mountains

Meadows below Ferguson Peak

From FR 4248Q continue up Tyrone Road to where the CDT crosses the road. Turn south (to your left) to enter onto the trail. The initial two miles is an easy ramble on a generally obvious tread. The trail winds through stands of ponderosa, crosses the occasional grassy meadow and concerns itself chiefly with dropping into and rising out of the numerous small waterways that furrow the flanks of the Big Burro Mountains. This terrain is still under the influence of the Chihuahuan desert, with much prickly pear, cholla and even a few small columnar cacti poking out along the flanks of the tread, while alligator juniper and pinyon pine compete for the skyward reaches.

05A Mud Spring

Mud Spring (there is a trough below the spring)

The trail goes almost due south towards Burro Peak, crossing a woods road at mile 1.1. Generally the tread is very clear, and where ambiguities arise there are cairns and (occasionally) the rounded triangle emblem used to signify the CDT. Watch these, as the trail builders have often placed these at the end of switchbacks, particularly where you might wander off the trail onto watercourses that have strikingly trail-like features. At 1.6 miles the trail reaches the base of the northern most peak, Ferguson Mountain. The tread swings to the east and begins a gradual rising ascent along the northeastern flank of the mountain. At 2.1 miles you will note a profusion of tracks leading downhill. There, just 30 feet below the trail, is Mud Spring. On this date Mud Spring was full and the trough below the spring had a thickening skein of ice.

07 Trail junction (looking back)

Signed junction (click to enlarge)

Ponderosa begins to dominate the terrain. On this date snow dusted the forest floor. A chilly February wind can make you very glad to have a jacket with you. At 2.7 miles from the trailhead come to a junction (signed) with another “braid” in the network of trails that is the CDT. It may be that the departing trail heads down Deadman Canyon to an intersection with Tyrone Thompson Road, offering another approach to the Big Burro Mountains. (This seems very likely from the maps, but I have not as yet checked it out).

08 Burro Peaks & distant mts in Gila NF

View from turnaround point back to Ferguson Peak.

Continue on the main CDT trail as it turns south and enters the dale separating Mt Ferguson from Burro Peak. Here some sort of localized disaster has struck the ponderosa population – there are a few acres of logs flattened higgelty-piggelty. It may be some combination of drought and beetle stress plus a strong microburst laid these trees low. Fortunately the trail builders have been out in force, and the tread threads the maze without the need for high stepping. On this date I managed a few of the switchbacks above the dale, trying to get to Burro Peak. At 2.8 miles from the car I hit my turnaround time – just as views were opening up to Mt Ferguson and out across the sere Mimbres Valley. Was that snow up on the distant Black Mountains? I couldn’t be sure, but it seems likely given the local dusting. I turned back but you may be more fortunate. Burro Peak lies just above! Beyond that lies the siren call of Jack’s Peak with its stunning (if antennae-laced) views of the basin and range domains to the south. Happy hiking!


Get all your non-hiking friends together and go! They may complain about blisters, fatigue or appointments but this is a sure cure for the mid winter blues.

These peaks are pretty far south and they are not very high. Still, bring warm clothing. The winds can be cutting.

Mud Spring looked clean but it is clearly visited by all sorts of creatures and a filtering system is going to be useful. I’m not certain how reliable this water will be later in the season, so even though one liter should be enough for one person, you might want to bring two.


The Continental Divide Trail Coalition recommends an 8-mile traverse of the range with a shuttle setup.

As mentioned above, there is a second trail leading from Tyrone Road to Burro Peak that joins the trail described here. There is an entry at SummitPost that I believe describes this alternative route.

The post at Southern New Mexico Explorer also indicates that the side road off of Tyrone Road, “shortly after the Gila National Forest sign” is the Deadman Canyon approach into the Burro Mountains. Take note – he describes the summit of Burro Peak as forested and with limited views. Also, he describes a nearly-70 degree day for which short sleeve shirts were perfectly adapted.


This site includes GIS data that describe the hiking routes. There have been a couple recent requests for instructions on how to download this data and now there is a semi-reasonable (that is, not simple) response. Instructions for downloading the data can be found here.

The data is not professionally vetted nor is it even double-checked. Use it at your own risk. Comments describing problems with the data are gratefully accepted. Please be careful up there!