Archives for posts with tag: Franklin Mountains

Overview:

Hiking offtrail in the Franklin Mountains State Park

East side of the Franklin Mountains.

This route is a desert ramble in a strikingly urban environment. It was shaped by a late start, by poor interpretation of satellite imagery and by a thwarted attempt to ascend a small slot canyon on the flanks of the Franklin Mountains. In all, a great little excursion. It is included here because a civilized stroll in Chihuahuan terrain may interest newcomers, because thwarted attempts are by no means unusual and because there aren’t many ways to better spend a cool November day than by rambling footloose in the desert.

Driving Directions:

  • From University Avenue in Las Cruces, enter I-25 South.
  • After 2.9 miles the interstate merges with I-10 East.
  • After 16.9 more miles, take Exit 162 for NM-404 (signed for Anthony/Chapparal).
  • After 0.3 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn left onto NM-404.
  • After 8.1 miles, just a few feet short of a traffic circle, go right on a connector that merges into NM-213 (War Road) going south.
  • After 2.6 miles, at the Texas border, the road becomes Farm To Market 3255/Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Continue straight.
  • After 4.9 more miles, at a traffic light, turn right onto Jon Cunningham Road.
  • After 0.4 miles come to a T-intersection with Officer Andrew Barcena Drive. Straight ahead is the entrance for the parking lot for a city park.  Park in the parking lot.

Looking at Google Maps you will see a number of roads extending from Martin Luther King Jr Blvd west toward the Franklin Mountains, north of Jon Cunningham Road. These are private roads, however, and not open to the public. I stopped at one of these ranch roads and talked with Richard, a cattleman, who was very cordial. His first concern was for the oil pan of my low-slung Camry on such roads. He pointed out that his road was in such bad shape that he was having it graded, then invited me to come back after the grading was done. (The grader drove past while we were talking). Since this guide is not private I had to decline his very kind offer.

Trailhead:

trailhead for Franklin Mountains Desert Ramble

The mighty Camry (actually, the incapacitated Camry) poised in its native heath.

The trailhead is a parking lot for the Chuck Heinrick Park in the North Hills neighborhood of El Paso. I did not see any trailhead services other than the parking spaces. The location is very popular with both mountain bikers and folks out walking the dog. On nice weekend days you may find it necessary to park along the flanking streets.

Although the city park is free, entrance to the Franklin Mountains State Park is not. After walking about a quarter mile from the parking lot you will enter the state park. There you will have to fill in a form on an envelope (it is a good idea to bring along a pencil) and pay. On this date the fee was $5.00, but check the state website for up-to-date information.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 4140 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 5220 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1080 feet
  • Distance: 8.7 miles
  • Maps: USGS North Franklin quadrangle

Hike Description:

03 south along the dam

Head uphill  from the parking lot towards the sloping concrete reinforcement-walls of a flood control dam. Just before reaching the dam, turn left and follow a path up onto the top of this embankment. Your destination is to the northwest, but first you must dodge around the flood control basin uphill of the dam. Head south on the embankment top (the first righthand path dead-ends in the basin), and follow the dam as it curves uphill . At 0.3 miles from the trailhead, reach the border of the Franklin Mountains State Park. Fill out the deposit envelope and leave your entrance fee. The road returns north until you are back parallel with the trailhead and then bends to the west. This part of the trip is a road ramble and very popular. Runners, dog walkers and bicyclists are thick on the ground.

hiking, scrambling near Anthony's Nose Franklin Mountain

View to Anthony’s Nose and the north Franklin Mountains

Take a moment to get oriented as you ascend the lowest skirts of this mountain range. To the north lies the highest point of the Franklin Mountains in New Mexico, a prominence named Anthony’s Nose. This peak, shaped like the schnoz of a reclining man, soars over the end-point of this route. To get there you will be roving over the ribs and weaving up the arroyos that sculpt the bajada.

View of the southern Franklin Mountains.

View of the southern Franklin Mountains. Navigation Hill is the green prominence in the mid-ground.

To the south you will see Mundy’s Gap and North Franklin Mountain. In the mid-ground is a small foothill, labeled on the topo-maps as point 4857. Here it is referred to as as Navigation Hill. Study this foothill as you hike since it is a very useful marker of near-the-trailhead terrain. As you ascend the slopes the road starts to bend south towards Mundy’s Gap and away from the northern reaches. So, when the road points itself at the north flank of Navigation Hill, depart from the road to the right (north) to cross a wide arroyo and rise to a rib top on the far side. On this date I scared up four jack rabbits and a lizard. This would be the only reptile noticed on the hike; a rare instance where sightings of warm-blooded organisms out-numbered the cold blooded.

flora on the Franklin Mountains hike.

Well camouflaged cacti, appearing to be burrowing into the terrain.

Much of the magic on this hike, both black and white, lies in the needle-y, spiny, thorny, bristly, pokey, and saw-like natural flora. Here you will find all the Chihuahaun favorites: long leafed sotol, feathery mesquite and tall yucca. One genus that deserves particular mention is the stout-leafed and needle-pointed agave, sometimes called shin daggers. These grew to near lawn-like density on the tops of the lowest ribs – the sort of lawn that would force croquet to be played with medicine balls and war hammers. Another striking plant is a species of cactus (shown above) that is four or more inches in diameter but only rises an inch or two above the soil line. An online search showed some similarity to Enchinocactus horizonthalonius, also known as “Eagle Claw Cactus”. Boots make it possible to move amidst these plants. The sneaker footed will want to stay on bike trails.

Possible fossilized burrows

Possible fossilized burrows

Steer toward Anthony’s Nose. Even in November the desert is still scattered with flowering plants in yellow, white and purple display. The bushier of these tend to cluster in the arroyos where some of the geology of the Franklin Mountains is also on display. The fossil shown above is composed of a dense array of bumps arranged hexagonally. This seems to be the mineralized record of burrows formed by an ocean dweller named Paleodictyon nodosum, which apparently survives to this day in the deep oceans. Here in the state park, cacti and sea bottom co-exist.

A deep gully points straight at Anthony's Nose on ascent.

A deep gully points straight at Anthony’s Nose on ascent.

At 2.1 miles from the trailhead intersect an obvious bike trail that makes long, S-shaped switchbacks as it ascends a rib between two large arroyos. Follow it uphill until it intersects an old road and turn right on the road to head north along the foot of the Franklin mountains. At 2.6 miles the road descends into a major drainage. Looking uphill you will see that this drainage collects the water from the ridgeline south of Anthony’s Nose. Head uphill in this arroyo on a pleasant, sandy bottom. Soon, however, the terrain steepens and the once broadly-sloped banks rise high and vertical as the waterway becomes a trench-like gully. Be wary. Where water has undercut the banks a loose matrix of soil is holding bowling-ball sized rocks over thin air.

View towards the ridgeline, with the walls of a slot canyon gleaming in the sunlight.

View towards the ridge line with the walls of a slot canyon gleaming in the sunlight.

Several canyons descend from the ridge line to feed into the gully. At the confluence of these canyons, find a high road cut into the mountainside that crosses the waterway. Find an exit from the gully bed and stroll on the high road to the south bank of the gully. Looking up-canyon, scan for what may be a rising system of grass covered ledges or, possibly, a road abandoned long-long ago. This apparent road stays along the south side of the canyon as the canyon rises and furrows into smaller streams. Above the furthest visible point on the road there seems to be a slot canyon. Experienced scramblers may want to ascend the slot canyon. Others will have a better time taking in the views, having a bite to eat and returning as described in the paragraph after next.

scrambling a slot in the Franklin Mountains

Blocked slot canyon with brush covered chock stone (double click for greater detail)

Leave the high road by climbing over an embankment and find the grass-covered ledge/road. Follow it along the canyon wall and note how the vegetation has changed. On the bajada there was some space between plants. Here they are firmly entangled, if no less thorny. Each little open grassy space is a major improvement in your circumstances. In just 0.2 miles this ledge/road system runs into a side canyon and ends. Descend into the main waterway on sloped, but solid, terrain. Push past the dense brush in the bottom of the stream and ascend steep and loose gravel to the north bank. Let the upper walls of the slot canyon be your guide as you ascend. You are almost in the slot canyon when you come to a watercourse carved into the north wall that is packed with a virtual river of prickly pear. Ascend on the sloped north wall until you reach a point where you can ford this virtual river. The next watercourse also looks pear-packed, but it is navigable. Descend to the canyon bed and you will be in the floor of the slot. A mere 50 feet up the slot there is a large vertical chalkstone with dense bushes growing on top. Skillful climbers might find a way around this blockage (there is an apparent weakness on the south side). On this date, however, this formed the turn-around point.

hiking the Franklin Mountain State Park

Navigation Hill (left) as seen from the high road.

Return down canyon to the high road. On the high road, turn south and enjoy easy ambling on a wide tread with the Franklins towering over your right and views into suburban El Paso on your left. The road will strike a rib and make a long contour to the east, double back into a canyon, and then return to the front of the range. Here, five miles from the trailhead, leave the road southeast along a gently inclined rib that is pointed a little east of Navigation Hill. As you near its foot, swing directly towards Navigation Hill, cross a large arroyo and arrive at a dirt road. Cross this road and rise directly onto the next rib. Scout to the east and find a wide bike trail heading due south towards Navigation Hill. After hiking 6.1 miles from the trailhead, come to a signed intersection with the road back to the trailhead. Head east on the road as it rounds Navigation Hill, and follow the road back to the trailhead.

Recommendations:

♦Do this hike on a nice winter’s day. If you’ve not been out in the Chihuahuan Desert before, then you could hardly ask for a better opportunity to ramble. There is enough company (joggers and bikers) that you will not feel totally on your own. Navigation problems are obviated by the mountains on the west, the extensive housing tracts on the east, and the mass of Navigation Hill near the trailhead. A heavy dust storm could be problematic, but that just means paying attention to the weather and weather forecasts.

♦Enjoy the back country of this state park in heavy boots and long pants. The desert is not kind to people in sneakers and shorts. I was glad to have on ballistic-fiber gators. These gators are usually sold as protection from snakes, but they also armor your shins against thorns and spines.

♦The bikers I encountered were unfailingly polite and seemingly expert. Still, even the best bikers have moments of poor bike management – it is smarter to stand aside just as you would for a horse rider.

♦As with all desert sojourns, take along some extra water. Surprisingly, I got through almost all of the 4 liters that I had brought with me. Next time I’ll bring along six.

♦The short scramble up to the slot canyon could be very uncomfortable for a new hiker; the terrain is steep and loose and prickly. It is poor location to learn climbing moves.

Links:

♦Desert hikes get very little attention and the terrain adjacent to the Franklin Mountains is no exception. A terrific overview of the biking, hiking and climbing opportunities has been posted by Outdooraholic on the Summit Post site.

♦On-Walkabout has an extensive description of hiking in similar terrain on the west side of the Park (aiming for Anthony’s Nose) that includes some very useful photos of the terrain.

♦Greg at the Greg’s Running Adventures site celebrates the terrain in the Franklin Mountains State Park from a runners perspective.

♦Devon, at Southern New Mexico Explorer, has several brief posts in which he illustrates the terrain and comments on the difficulties sometimes encountered in steep desert desert terrain and sometimes encountered in near-urban environments.

Overview:

North Franklin Peak (on left) and the big rib forming West Cottonwood Canyon (right)

North Franklin Peak (on right) and the main ridge line of the Franklin Mountains (extending to the left)

This is a road walk in a Texas state park, reaching the highest point in the Franklin Mountains. It is completely enjoyable and a great way to get some vertical if your hours are limited. This might be an especially good choice for a hot day in mid-summer since the initial stretch is on the west side of the range and protected from the morning sun. There is no other source of shade, however, so a very early start would be recommended. From the summit there are views south down to El Paso and across the Rio Grande into Mexico. (There are some big mountains in our southerly neighbor). To the west you will see the Potrillo Volcanic Field (including Cox Peak) and to the north you’ll have an excellent view of the southern end of the Organs. I had hoped for, but did not find, a view east to the very distant Guadalupe Mountains.

Driving Directions:

  • From Lohman Ave in Las Cruces, enter I-25 going south.
  • After 4.8 miles, where I-25 ends, merge onto I-10 going east.
  • After 24.9 miles, in Texas, take Exit 6 for Loop 375 / Transmountain Road / Talbot Ave. The exit ramp merges almost immediately with South Desert Road, a frontage road.
  • After 0.2 miles, at a stoplight, go left onto Loop 375. The Loop is undergoing extensive construction, so the initial road is limited to a single lane. Follow it straight up towards the mountains. Because of the construction you will be directed to go past the Franklin State Park entrance and continue for short distance (estimated 0.8 miles) to a left-hand exit that allows you to U-turn and go back to the park.
  • After 5.0 miles from the start of Loop 375 (and after looping back), go right into Franklin Mountains State Park.
  • After 0.8 miles, turn right at a sign for Mundy’s Gap.
  • After 0.4 miles, the road ends at the trailhead

On return, as you drop down the Transmountain Road and come close to I-10, you will re-enter a thicket of orange traffic barrels. I’ve been through the thicket three times recently, and have been struck but the fact that there are signs for I-10 East, but no signs for I-10 West. To return west, wend your way through the barrels staying to the right. You will approach a stoplight at an intersection with North Desert Road and go right onto this frontage road. There is an entrance for I-10 West just a few hundred feet down the frontage road.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry, below Mundy's Gab (left), "the big rib" (forming West Cottonwood Canyon, in middle) and North Franklin Peak (right)

The mighty Camry, below Mundy’s Gab (left), “the big rib” (forming West Cottonwood Canyon, in middle) and North Franklin Peak (right)

The trailhead is paved, there is a trash receptical and a trail sign. There are no other amenities at the trailhead, but downhill, at a picnic site about half a mile away, there is a pit toilet. I did not see any water. There is a day use fee for the park, currently $5.00. The pay station is on the right as you enter the park.

Data:

  • Starting elevation: 4890 feet
  • Ending elevation: 7192 feet
  • Next elevation: 2300 feet
  • Distance: 4.1 miles (one way)
  • Maps: The start of the hike begins on the Canutillo quadrangle and, at Mundy’s Gap, moves onto the North Franklin Mountain quadrangle and stays there to reach the summit.

Hike Description:

View north across bajada to Organ Mountains

View north across bajada to Organ Mountains

From the trailhead, look straight east and pick out the broad pass called Mundy’s Gap. The trailhead is situated in the bed of West Cottonwood Canyon. This canyon initially climbs to the foot of the Gap, but then swings south around an enormous rib and climbs high in the direction of North Franklin Peak. Head uphill from the trailhead on a gravel road aimed directly at the pass. At 100 feet, come to an unsigned fork. The eastward fork is West Cottonwood Trail and the southerly fork is the Agave Trail. Bear to the south (right) to stay on the Agave Trail. The trail rises as it bumps across coalescing alluvial fans at the base of the range (the “bajada”), reaching a broad slope at 1400 feet from the trailhead.

View of boulder field as it snakes down the big rib

View of boulder field as it snakes down the big rib

At this point the trail swings east and heads directly towards Mundy Pass. Find yourself entering a canyon populated with cacti, chaparral, yucca and sotol. This classic Chihuahuan community will accompany you almost all the way to North Franklin Peak summit. A big rib descending from the south guards the entrance into the canyon. At two-thirds of a mile, cross a 100 foot wide stretch of boulders in an unusually tall and narrow boulder field. It is just a guess, but there may be a high spring on the rib that contributes to an aggressive release of large stones.

Sunrise striking the big rib and a view into upper West Cottonwood Canyon

Sunrise striking the big rib and a view into upper West Cottonwood Canyon

At 0.8 miles find a second intersection of the Agave Trail and the West Cottonwood Trail, directly under Mundy’s Gap. Here the canyon swings sharply south. Surprisingly, the original road engineers chose to cross the canyon bed and leave it heading north, clinging to the uppermost reaches of the bajada at the base of steep cliffs north of Mundy’s Gap. The road does not gain much elevation on this portion of the route, but ambles steadily along, passing a number of inexplicable orange traffic cones, until at 1.4 miles, it makes a deft switchback and lunges for the Gap.

View from Mundy's Gap east into a canyon named here (unofficially) as Mundy's Canyon.

View from Mundy’s Gap east into a canyon named here (unofficially) as Mundy’s Canyon and into Northeast El Paso.

At 1.8 miles, reach the Gap and pause to soak in the views to the east. At your feet lies the headwaters of a canyon containing Mundy’s Spring. It is not named on the maps, but assume for now that it is “Mundy’s Canyon”. In the middle distance lies Northeast El Paso. Going north along the near edge of the city is US Route 54, which soon bears off a bit more to the east and goes arrow-straight to the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico. South of that lies the western-most wedge of Texas and a great deal of northern Mexico.

Signed fork offering choice of peak or canyon destinations. (Go right!)

Signed fork offering choice of peak or canyon destinations. (Go right!)

Continue onward, cross the headwaters of Mundy’s Canyon and reach the outmost point of a rib at 2.3 miles. A sign at a trail junction points uphill for North Franklin Peak, and downhill for “Tin Mine”. (Wikipedia says that the mine was not commercially successful, but has the distinction of being the only tin mine in the United States. The latter claim might be incorrect, as tin mining camps have been set up in Alaska as well).

Indian Peak (on left) an unnamed knob, and the final col, below the summit block of North Franklin Peak.

Indian Peak (on left) and an unnamed knob viewed from East Cottonwood Canyon.

As you rise into East Cottonwood Canyon the vegetation becomes more sparse and new prominences become evident to the south. These appear quite tall, but this is a trick of perspective. The dark, distant and cliff-faced summit is called Indian Peak. At 6330 feet it is quite bit lower than North Franklin. The true summit is more nearly south (to the right of Indian Peak).

View to switchbacks below the final col.

View to switchbacks below the col between Indian Peak and the summit block of North Franklin Peak.

..

..

Clamber up and out of East Cottonwood and enter a new canyon (unnamed) that is quite broad in its upper reaches. The trail begins ascending more steeply as it aims for a col between North Franklin and Indian Peak. This is very open terrain and would be a warm struggle on a hot June afternoon. Come at last to the col, at 3.1 miles. Pause to read a sign with strict injunctions against messing around with unexploded missile parts and other forms of live ammunition. (The Castner Range is a military firing range reported to be closed but one where unexploded ordinance is a major issue. It is located at the southeast foot of North Franklin Mountain).

South Franklin Peak from the summit of North Franklin Peak

South Franklin Peak from the summit of North Franklin Peak

Rather, cross the col to the south, enter a shallow drainage, and begin addressing the summit block of North Franklin Peak. The trail switchbacks frequently as it rises up the drainage. Arrive at the ridge line at 3.8 miles and follow the trail as it turns south on a mellow incline. Finish on the broad, flat summit at 4.1 miles. From the summit enjoy great view of the Potrillo Volcanic Field, Organ Mountains, Juarez Mountains and several ranges whose names I do know, but appear to be part of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. Locally, pick out Loop 375 as it crosses the Franklins at the foot of North Franklin Peak, intersects US54, and heads west across Northeast El Paso and into the Fort Briggs Military Reserve. At this time of year the Rio Grand is in its “Rio Sand” phase and is not easily found.

Return the way you came.

Recommendations:

Author in foreground, Anthony's Nose in middle ground, and Organ Mts faint on the horizon

Author on summit in foreground, Anthony’s Nose in middle ground, and Organ Mountains faint on the horizon.

As mentioned in the Overview, this hike could be done in the summer provided that you get an early start. It was very pleasant in late March as well. Other than the possibility of a snowfall in midwinter, it looks like a great, year-round training hike.

The trailhead parking lot was full when I got back at about noon (this was on a Saturday). I don’t know if the State Parks Department is tolerant of people parking alongside the road. In the worst case, I imagine that you could always find a parking spot in the picnic area. That would add about 0.4 miles to the length of a one-way hike.

Following trail signs, I tried to find the Tin Mine that is supposed to lie somewhere in the canyon below Mundy’s Gap. I only went as far as the bed of Mundy’s Canyon before turning around. The USGS map says I turned around too early, there are open pit mines a little more than a mile from the Gap.

Links:

Mountains of Franklin Range, depicted at Franklin Park Headquarters on the east side.

Mountains of Franklin Range, depicted at Franklin Park Headquarters on the east side.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has information about fees, closures, some basic maps and other data. I owe a debt of gratitude to the kind hiker who found my camera and gave it to the Park rangers and to the rangers for getting it over to the Lost and Found where I could easily retrieve it. Thank you, all! (This post would have been considerably less colorful without their essential help).

The trail attracts mountain bikers (this link has a map recommending use of the West Cottonwood Trail) and fitness fans (this link has an endorsement of a nearby microbrewery).

William Musser, writing on Peak Bagger, has a good description of the hike.

There are those who regard unexploded munitions as an acceptable risk. This link has a great picture of a collared lizard as well as closeups of the summit on Indian Peak.

The University of Texas has an approachable geological overview of the Franklins.