Archives for posts with tag: New Mexico

01 View into the canyon near the start

Overview:

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. 

Trailhead:

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.

Data:

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!

Recommendations:

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.

Links:

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 Jack's Peak

View past pines to summit of Jack’s Peak

Overview:

The Jack’s Peak Trail is an out-and-back expedition into the Burro Mountains of southern New Mexico that has much to offer. It is easy to access, it is fun to hike, it crosses two significant life zones, it offers a great morning’s exercise (well within the ability of most hikers), and provides views all the way to the the distant mountains of northern Mexico. Jack’s crown of antennae diminishes the Peak’s claim to wilderness, but those of us who carry cell phones into these mountains cannot complain too much about that. Frankly, it seems unlikely that people will travel from Albuquerque or Tuscon just just to hike this particular trail. For folks who live in the Silver City – Las Cruces – Lordsburg area, however, this destination offers a sovereign cure for the perils of cabin fever. 

Driving Directions:

03 kiosk at start of trail

Trailhead kiosk

  • From Silver City, at the junction of US-180 and NM-90 (signed as Silver Heights Blvd and N. Hudson Road within the City), go south on NM-90.
  • After 21.4 miles on NM-90, past a sign saying “Continental Divide Trail”, turn right onto Forest Road 4090-O (turns to gravel).  You’ll find the sign and the turn just past mile marker 22. 
  • After 0.3 miles on FR 4090-O, at the far end of a closed loop in the road, park at the trailhead. The trailhead is marked by a kiosk saying “Jack’s Peak – CDNST Trailhead”

FR 4090-O is rutted. It is perfectly passible in a sedan but a little caution is advised.

If you are driving north on NM-90 out of Lordsburg you will go past mile marker 21 (it’s there, I checked). Then you will drive over a small hill with a sign saying “Continental Divide 6355 feet”. Near the bottom of the hill there is another sign saying “Continental Divide Trail” after which you’ll find the left turn onto 4090-O.

Trailhead:

02 The Mighty Camry at Jack's Pk trailhead

The trailhead is simply a wide spot along FR 4090-O. There are no toilets, water or trash recepticals. Indeed, a sign on the kiosk marking the trailhead pleads with visitors to pack out any garbage they bring in with them. It seems that visitors do pay attention. There was little litter along the trail. The loop at the end of FR 4090-O brings you through a large and very attractive meadow. Even in the chilly month of October it was home to several RVs and campers.

Data:

  • starting elevation: 6380 feet
  • ending elevation: 7960 feet
  • net elevation: 1580 feet
  • distance: 4.2 miles (one way)
  • maps: USGS Burro Peak quadrangle

The CDT no longer runs exactly as shown on the 1999 version of the USGS map. See the GPS route in the map above for more current guidance.

Hike Description:

04 Broad height of land above trailhead

This height of land obscures the view to Jack’s Peak

From the kiosk head north in sandy, juniper-shaded terrain.  Ahead of you is a broad and steep height-of-land that prevents you from seeing the summit of Jack’s Peak. In about a quarter mile the trail comes to the foot of this steep landscape and swings to the west, preferring a long ascending contour rather than a direct assault. Soon, however the land is slashed north-to-south by Whitetail Canyon. Here the trail turns up-canyon, clinging to the upper reaches of the canyon walls. This is Upper Sonoran terrain. The cholla and prickly pear cacti compete with with banana yucca and mountain mahogany. It is surprising to learn, from Julyan’s valuable The Mountains Of New Mexico, that the core of the Burro Mountains is igneous. The fist-sized talus under your feet has the pale coloration and granularity of sandstone. Perhaps these are the remains from the sedimentary layer that suffered the igneous intrusion. 

06 Yellow Cliff

Yellow cliff below the high ridge

Eventually the trail clambers up onto the canyon rim just above a knoll, which makes a good landmark for your return trip. Whitetail Canyon remains on your left while an unnamed drainage falls sharply off on your right,  leaving you atop a rib. Follow this rib as it ascends, “staircase style”, with steep passages over softer rock alternating with relatively level passages on the hard stuff. After four or five of these steps you will note that the trail is heading directly toward a high ridge fronted by yellowish cliff. Pinyon pine becomes more dominant. Suddenly the trail comes to an unexpected gap where the terrain drops steeply into a canyon draining to the east. 

05a (maybe) layer cake

A level stretch before the next riser

Here the trail loses it’s northerly fixation and swings to the northwest. It becomes  a mild up-and-down ramble as the trail skirts around the headwaters of the intervening canyon and eventually swings back north. There is another short pattern of slogging up steep risers and crossing brief shelves. Eventually, at about 2.6 miles from the trailhead, come to the top of the ridge that is fronted by that yellow cliff band. As you arrive you will leave the Upper Sonoran behind and enter the Transition life zone. Juniper and pinyon  give way to Ponderosa Pine. 

07 Florida Mts from top of yellow ledge

view to the Florida Mountains

At the ridge the trail turns sharply east. Glimpses north thru the pines reveal the antenna-strewn summit that is your destination. Views open up to the southeast, where the Florida Range dominates the horizon. The large bowl to the northwest contains the headwaters for Sawmill Canyon. Reaching point 7651 (shown on the USGS map) the trail finds a narrow ridge that will again allow it to resume its northerly course. This is very pleasant, Ponderosa-shaded terrain. There were deer, cow and horse tracks on the trail, but surprisingly little evidence of bootprints. Scattered along this section of trail is snowy white quartzite – sandstone that has seen some high temperature and pressure.

08 earthern cattle tank

Earthen water tank along the trial

At 3.6 miles from the trailhead come to an earthen water tank. It seemed nearly full on this date, but this is the end of monsoon season and in other times of year the water levels will vary. It is very muddy. You would want a serious pre-filter and filter system before using this water. (In fact, there is a water source just minutes away that often has clear water so you may want to hold off).  Past the tank come to the Jack’s Peak Road, a well maintained gravel road used to service all those antennae. Study this intersection carefully as you’ll want to recognize it on return. Then follow the road uphill. 

10 Mimbres basin and Cookes Peak

View across the Mimbres Basin, east to Cooks Peak

As you near the summit you will find a level stretch where a cabin once stood. All that is left is a foundation and a freestanding chimney. Are you looking for water? Go straight north, past the right-hand side of the chimney, and ascend a small rise. At the top you will find a large rectangular concrete catchment. From the north edge of catchment a pipe runs to a corrugated steel water tank and (below the tank) there is an open concrete trough. The trough currently holds about 6 inches of clear water.  To the north lies the highpoint of the range, Burro PeakFrom the trough return to the road and follow it to the summit. There is some serious looking communications gear here. Take a few fast snaps of the incredible terrain, including the eye-catching Cookes Peak, then get away from all that microwave activity.  Have lunch amidst the pines and return the way you came.

Recommendations:

11 author at chimney

The author, dressed for hunting season

This is a wonderful hike on an autumn day. It might be chilly but it should be doable on most midwinter days. The lower slopes are poorly protected from the sun. It would be best to find another hike on scorching, midsummer days.

Most people will want to carry their own water for this hike. On this date a 700 ml bottle was plenty. On warmer days, of course, you would want much more. Comments on the Guthook app (a phone-based navigation app) report that the concrete trough near the summit was dry at earlier times this year. Try to keep your stays short when stopping near the earthen water tank and the summit trough. Those are both likely to be critical resources for wildlife in the Burros.

I saw a surprising number of cattle along the trail. Give the lack of grass on this hike these cattle may be pretty stressed. Go gently and give them as wide a berth as you can.

I saw a grand total of one lizard on this date. I suspect that the chilly nights of late have encouraged the others to den up.  The challenge poised by our venomous neighbors on the trail may be close to a minimum.

Links:

The 100 Hikes In Silver City site has a brief report on the trail (although not all the way to the summit).

CDT hikers give mention to this part of the CDT: Peter Shaw in 2011 here, Mudbug in 2016 here, and Kate On The Road Less Traveled in 2015 here (scroll down to Day 15). It is hard to do much more than hike, eat and sleep on the trail so these mentions are understandably brief.

 

 

01 Grassy Flats

Grassy Flats

Overview:

This route description serves two purposes. First, it describes a mellow, well-maintained, and lonesome trail among the gently rounded hills north of the Burro Mountains in southern New Mexico. It was a great hike on this date and in greener conditions (after the monsoon, for example) it could be terrific venture. Second, it is also describes how a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) can go wrong. The problem is that the tread described here is beautifully engineered and CDT-signed, but in 2018 it seems to dead-end at a spot called Grassy Flats. Thru-hikers take note! In 2018 most thru-hikers will want to follow the directions (given below) to turn away from this dead-end section of the CDT and follow Forest Road 810 (FR 810) as it descends into the upper reaches of Saddlerock Canyon.

Driving Directions:

  • From Silver City, at the intersection of US-180 and NM-90, head west on US-180
  • After 13.6 miles, just past mile marker 100, turn left onto Saddlerock Road (gravel)
  • After 4.4 miles, at a wide spot in the road, pull off the road.
    • At 1.3 miles on this road you enter the National Forest over a cattle guard. It is there, I believe, that the road becomes FR 810.
    • At 1.8 miles on this road you will come to a fork, bear to the right to stay on FR 810.

My choice of trailhead parking is arbitrary. I stopped when the roadbed got softer than I liked (loose sand in the bottom of a wash), but the mighty Camry could easily have gone to the gate at the upper end of the canyon.

At its intersection with US-180 the road going up Saddlerock Canyon is signed as “Saddlerock Rd”. On Google Maps, however, this road is designated as Saddlerock Canyon Road.

Trailhead:

02 tank with algal and clear volumes

Spring/tank with some water, much algae

The trailhead is any wide spot on FR 810 where you choose to park. There are no amenities. If you drive to about 4.7 miles you should see a side-cut coming into the main canyon on your right. This side cut will probably have tire-tracks leading into it because just 100 feet off the main canyon there is a spring/metal tank, which currently has water in it. There is a considerable volume of algae bloom in this tank, but there are clear-ish volumes of water as well. This water would need to be filtered or boiled pretty hard before using.

Data:

The blue car-icon marks the “trailhead” (the spot where I left my car, your choice of trailhead may vary). The blue “wavy” icon shows where this section of the CDT dead-ends at Grassy Flats Tank. The yellow hiker icon is meant to indicate a NOBO thru-hiker who is on the CDT, just a little before arriving at the intersection of the CDT with FR-810.

  • low elevation: 5310 feet
  • high elevation: 5970 feet
  • net elevation: 660 feet
  • distance: (for day hiker route) 5.3 miles (one way)
  • maps: Mangus Springs, NM and Bullard Peak, NM quadrangles

Hike Description:

03 confluence of upper canyons

Canyon confluence

Let’s begin with a description for the day hiker who wants to get to Grassy Flats. CDT thru-hikers may want to scroll down a few paragraphs to where it says So let’s stop for a moment. From where you parked your car continue up Saddlerock Canyon. (The map above has a car-icon where I left the Camry). As mentioned, the flat and sandy canyon bottom can be enchanting on its own, particularly in early-morning light. Some of the rock has a striking yellow color and other exposures are a mineral blue.  As you near the upper end of the canyon you will pass through the first fence to appear since you drove over the cattle-guard as you entered the National Forest. On this date the fence had a wide opening that you could drive a car through. Immediately beyond you will see the confluence of two canyons. Straight ahead is a waterway signed for “riparian restoration”. The Forest Service is asking you to leave this waterway alone. Please do.

04 view from active CDT across FR 118 to dead-end trail

CDT Marker Posts on both sides of road

Hard on your right is the second canyon. FR 810 continues up this waterway. Follow this upper canyon as it ascends gently over bluish rock. This is clearly the playing area of ATV enthusiasts as the canyon bottom is packed and tracked. A half mile past the entrance to this canyon you will go through a gate in a fence, please close the gate behind you. Just past the gate FR 810 departs from the canyon bottom on your right. Take the road. It climbs steeply. At 1.1 mile come to a small height of land where the regular Continental Divide Trail comes in from your left.

05 typical CDT marker

Typical CDT marker

Wait! Look again and you see that the post on the left side of the road has a blue-and-white CDT insignia, but the post on the right side of the road also has a blue-and-white CDT insignia. (Typically these are rounded plastic triangles printed with “CTD”; the central “T” is shaped like an arrow to point the way). It looks as if the CDT goes straight across the road. This is where the dead-end problem arises. The trail coming in from your left (inbound) is the active Continental Divide Trail. The trail going off to your right is one of the CDT’s not-yet-complete improvements. The CDT Coalition hopes to have this variant active soon. The problem is that this dead-end trail is so obvious and so very well signed that it can have a strong allure for footsore and tired thru-hikers.

So let’s stop for a moment and address thru-hiker needs. Thru-hikers who reach this junction will want to know that the obvious trail directly across the road is a dead end. How do they recognize this in 2018?

06 rolling hill country north of Burro Mts

View of hills north of Burro Mts

If you look at the map at the top of the blog you will see a yellow hiker-icon that represents a north bound CDT hiker on the active trail just before arriving at the junction.  Many such hikers carry the Guthook app and may be aware that they are near the “diverging arrows” icon at mile 142.4, which is where they arrive at this potentially troublesome junction. Alternatively, they may be following the Ley Map NM37b, which has a bold numeral 2 (enclosed in a circle) at this junction. If they carry a GPS with the Bear Creek waypoints then they should look for waypoint marked 06-260RR.

07 SOBO sign- also indicates that dead end trail is near

SOBO’s sign, NOBO’s warning

But what about the happy-go-lucky thru-hiker who is simply ambling along thinking about lunch, snakes, scenery and foot placement? There is one very valuable clue that this hiker should know about. About 200 feet before arriving at the road this north-bound (NOBO) hiker will notice an old-fashioned Forest Service sign (made of very weathered wood) that is attached high on an alligator juniper. The sign faces north and is intended to tell south-bound (SOBO) hikers that they are on the CDT and that it is 3.5 miles to FR 118. For NOBOs, this means “wake up! – there are navigation difficulties ahead”.

Once aware, however, the hiker should have little problem. NOBOs arriving at the junction in 2018 will just ignore the obvious CDT marker across the road, turn to the east (right), follow the road down to the bed of Saddlerock Canyon, then follow the canyon out to US-180.

08 sign for Grassy Flats

Grassy Flats 3 mi: a good sign (for day hikers)

Enough then, of through hiking. What should you do if your objective is to visit Grassy Flats? Day hikers can fearlessly turn north (to the right, inbound) and follow the dead-end trail. It is a beauty. Hard working trail crews have places numerous CDT insignia (I counted seven). Additionally there are a couple of those skinny, brown flat-posts, which do not necessarily say “CDT” but warn users that motorized vehicles are not permitted. Many other forms of trail-sign exist such as rock-walls built to support the tread in waterways, sawed deadfall and water bars. You will see a weathered wooden Forest Service sign that says “Continental Divide Trail 74 / Grassy Flats 3 miles / NM Hwy 180 8.5 miles”.  There are few difficulties to navigation.

09 brown flat-post at road junction

Brown flat-post at junction where the trail meets an old two-track

At 2.6 miles after turning onto the dead-end section you will come to a road junction marked with a brown flat-post. Turn to the right and follow the road uphill. You will stay on this road all the way to Grassy Flats. There are several prominent side-trails, but these are really cattle paths. Ignore them and stick to the two-track. At 3.4 miles from the start of the dead-end CDT section come to the Grassy Flats tank, a surprisingly large pond created by an earthen dam placed across a small canyon. On this date the water in the tank was a pretty thick mixture of algae, cow waste and mud.

10 Grassy Flats tank

Grassy Flats Tank

I scouted around but did not see any signed trails leading further north from Grassy Flats. The old road, which has become quite faint, seems to continue by climbing onto the rim of the canyon that contains the tank. Perhaps that will be the eventual path that the CDT takes in its final configuration. For now, find a place reasonably free of cow patties and rest your legs. Enjoy the remarkably open terrain and the skittish bovine company. Once you’ve had enough, return the way you came.

Recommendations:

11 View south towards Burro Mountains

View from trail south towards the Big Burro Mountains

This is an excellent training route for spring time hikers looking to regain some lost trail tone. Bring along some friends and enjoy cool, late-February or March hiking in these hills.

On this outing I only consumed a liter of water.  It is probably a good idea to carry your water and not have to drink from Grassy Flats tank. You might be able to find some cleaner water if you continue a ways down the canyon that contains the tank, but that is not guaranteed.

The cattle around Grassy Flats were clearly alarmed by my presence. I doubt they see very many people. It helps to try and detour widely around them, particularly in the open Flats area. Cattle flee less gracefully than gazelles, so try to avoid stressing them.

Links:

Dan Bedore’s website makes mention of Grassy Flats and, notably, of seeing a black bear there. He also says that bushwhacking out from Grassy Flats to US-180 was hard work. I can surely believe that.

Snow on the Big Burro Mountains

Overview:

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.

Trailhead:

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.

Data:

  • 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!

Recommendations:

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.

Links:

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.

 

01 Black Peak from CDT

Black Peak seen from the Continental Divide Trail

Overview:

This is a mellow hike along a wonderfully maintained tread to a 9000-foot summit and back. Despite the altitude and season the tread was almost entirely snow-free. On a sunny day you could hardly ask for a better mid-winter exercise. Of course we’ve just been through months of drought conditions and that has a big effect on the snow – your milage may vary. If you are searching for a true wilderness experience then the thicket of antennae atop Black Peak may not be to your taste. That said, any stroll in the Gila is a sovereign cure for the cabin-fever blues.

Driving Directions:

02 NM-15 just before CDT crossingThe Interstate Highway 10 corridor (I-10) links  El Paso, Texas to Las Cruces, Deming and Lordsburg in New Mexico, then heads towards Tuscon, Arizona. To get to the trailhead you first need to get to Silver City, which lies north of the I-10 corridor. If you are coming from the east then take route US-180 north out of Deming. If you are coming from the west then take route NM-90 north out of Lordsburg.

If you come into Silver City from Lordsburg on NM-90

  • At the intersection with US-180 in Silver City turn right onto US-180 East.
  • After 0.5 miles, at a stoplight, go left onto NM-15 (a.k.a Pinos Altos Road)
  • After 8.3 miles turn left onto a small gravel turnout and park.

If you come into Silver City from Deming on US-180

  • As you approach Silver City you will see a “Silver City/Altitude 5900 ft” sign on your right at the top of a small hill.
  • After 0.5 miles, at the first stop-light in town, turn right onto 32nd St.
  • After 1.3 miles, at a 4-way stop, turn right onto NM-15/Pinos Altos Dr.
  • After 7.3 miles turn left onto a small gravel turnout and park.

NM-15 is a twisty and demanding drive, making it easy to miss the gravel turnout. Watch for a sign on the left side of the road saying “Gila National Forest” (shown above). In a few hundred feet past this sign you will see a gravel road departing to the left signed as “4258J” (this is where the CDT rises up to NM-15). In another 100 feet the gravel turnout will be on your left. Past the turnout, in another 150 feet you, will see a large sign saying “WELCOME / Trail of the Mountain Spirits”.

Winter driving on NM-15 can be hazardous. Snow on the road banks tends to melt during the day and then form ice patches as the sun sets. Similar mechanisms scatter rocks onto the roadbed during the night. It pays to be extra careful on this part of the drive.

Trailhead:

03 the Mighty Camry at the trailhead

The Mighty Camry in its native heath. Notice the purple sign past the gravel turnout saying, “Welcome / Trail of the Mountain Spirits”

The trailhead is just a gravel pad on the side of the road. There is no water, trash receptacles or toilet. I brought water with me, but Bear Creek is nearby. If you were to head downhill on the CDT you might find water there. The Ley maps for the CDT indicate that this is an uncertain water source. It looks like 2018 could be a drought year so it is probably best to bring your water with you.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 6750 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 9010 feet
  • Net Elevation: 2260 feet
  • Distance 7.8 miles (one way)
  • Maps: USGS Twin Sisters and Fort Bayard quadrangles

Hike Description:

04 old roadbed

Washouts in the road bed

From the trailhead go back along NM-15 to the junction with Forest Road 4258J. Look uphill, opposite the forest road, and you will see the trees bearing the rounded-triangle CDT logo. Head uphill along the trail. The lowest reaches of the trail have recently received a great deal of attention. The tread is clear and there are numerous large cairns. At 0.3 miles from the trailhead there is a junction with a road. If you look right you will see trailhead parking at the end of Forest Road 4258 and straight ahead is an animal track. Turn left, and follow the washed out road as it climbs.  A side road comes in from your right at 0.6 miles (you need to veer slightly left to stay on the CDT). The tread rises steadily and is demanding enough to keep you warm on a mid-winter’s morning.

05 semi-ambiguous fork

Ambiguous fork. The white patch on the left is a sign saying “Trail”.

At 0.8 miles come to a slightly ambiguous fork. The right-hand fork heads straight up the rib face while the left-hand fork levels off and contours around the western end of the rib. The left fork is signed as “Trail” but does not specify which trail. Take the left fork. You are still on a gently rising and rock-strewn 2-track, but at this point you have risen considerably above the floor of Bear Creek and get great views into the western domains of the Gila National Forest.

06 Fog shrouded western Gila Forest

The western Gila mountains, atypically shrouded in low clouds.

Eventually the road rounds the end of the rib, turns to the east and steepens to approach the rib top. The steeper angle seems to bring out the talus – watch those ankles! On your left is a heavily corrugated bowl containing both Miller Creek and Little Cherry Creek. At 1.9 miles the trail reaches the rib top and levels out. On this date recent rains brought new problems into play. Atop the rib the road bed contains an improbable amount of clay. When wet this clay is clingy stuff. It can form snowshoe-like masses of dirt around hiker’s boots. Did it come in on the winds? Was it deposited on an ancient sea floor and is now being exposed by erosion? If you are hiking at a later point in the season then you are not likely to have this particular problem. Instead you may encounter these clay particles as wind blown dust.

6a road sign at otherwise unsigned junction

Remaining sign near trail junction.

At 3.0 miles from the trailhead the road comes to a junction where aged sign-boards survive but the text that once adorned these boards has burned out and faded away. On the far side of the junction there is a stake identifying the road you are on as FR 4258. Leave the road by turning left (on ascent) and continue eastward towards Twin Sister Peak. The new tread is a long -neglected forest road that has almost fully evolved into  a regular foot trail. It makes a long approach along the rib top, past agave gardens and through stands of pinion and aligator juniper. At 3.7 miles come to an unsigned junction with another aging woods road and go straight across.

07 Twin Sisters

Twin Sister summits

Eventually the pair of knolls for which Twin Sisters Peak is named pulls into view. As you near them the pinion yields to ponderosa. The trail rises sharply then contours around the northwestern base of the knolls. Beyond them you gain the rib-top proper and are rewarded with good views to the south. Immediately below your feet is the canyon containing Twin Sisters Creek. In the medium distance you will see the strikingly prominent Bear Peak and the slightly more distant, triple-humped Burro Range. In the far distance lie the low hills above Lordsburg, New Mexico. The terrain steepens and the trail obligingly begins to switchback. A huge effort has gone into making this trail. Boulder fields have been re-organized into easy treads. Gully crossings are supported by rock walls.

09 forested flank of Black PeakFor a long stretch the trail takes you through gorgeous old-growth ponderosa pines, more park-like than any “real forest” has right to be. Each large tree is separated from its neighbors by 30 feet or more and the forest floor is covered in needles. In fact, the trail itself is covered in needles; remaining visible only as a faint furrow in the forest floor. Look for artifacts such as water bars and sawed-off deadfall help to confirm you are on course.  At about 5.9 miles come to a signed intersection with the Little Cherry Creek trail, departing to your left. Stay on the CDT and in a few hundred more feet come to a circle of five Forest Service trail signs. Here the Sawmill Wagon Road Historic Trail comes in from the south (on your right on ascent) and it appears that a connector trail goes down to the Little Cherry Creek trail on your left. Veer slightly to your right to stay on the Continental Divide Trail.

12 Unsigned junction to Black Summit

Cairn at base of burned tree marking summit junction.

Douglas firs begin to make an appearance as you near the top . Also making an appearance are certain grim reminders of a recent burn. The trail swings to the northwest and at 7.6 miles comes to a fork that is clearly signed. CDT through-hikers will want to stay to the right, but to get to the summit of Black Peak you should veer to the left onto the Signal Peak Trail. In another 0.1 miles come to an junction marked by a prominent cairn at the base of a large burned tree. Turn sharply south (left on ascent) and follow an informal tread to the summit of Black Peak. Antennae crowd this summit, but there are terrific views across Silver City, past the Burro Mountains and into true basin and range territory down in the boot heel. Return the way you came.

Recommendations:

99 author loosing weightMost hikers will not have to deal with the “feet of clay” problem since these mountains are normally dry. So dry, in fact, that you don’t want to gamble on finding any water along the trail. Bring a full day’s worth.

In the picture to the left I’m pouring out a gallon of water. Normally I don’t squander water on dry trails, but on today’s hike I took the extra gallon as part of getting into shape. Pouring this weight off while on the summit makes the descent much easier on the knees.

Sadly, there was only one thin and small patch of snow along the entire route. Since there has been two days of rain in Silver City I was hoping for much more. Even the higher Mogollon mountains to the west looked to be snow free. This is shaping up as another bad year for fires.

As with the neighboring Signal Peak trail, this is a beautiful, easily accessed and very well maintained trail. Folks in southern New Mexico who have tired of winter trips across Baylor Pass or around the Pine Tree trail should consider this venture to Black Peak as a terrific alternative.

Links:

The Gila Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico have done some of the maintenance along the CDT, for a writeup see a post on their website here. In it they suggest an interesting 13 mile loop up the Signal Peak trail to Black Peak (so a much different approach than the route described here) and a return via the CDT and Forest Road 89.

Rather strangely, that’s about all of the write-ups I’ve found on hiking the CDT from NM-15 up to Black Peak. Don’t let that dissuade you, this is a great day hike.

 

01 South Sandia Summit from north

South Sandia Peak seen from the north, along the Sandia Crest

Overview:

This is a fun and strenuous alternative to the much-traveled Embudito Trail. The Embudito Trail lies near the bottom of Embudito Canyon and its views are limited by canyon walls. The Oso Ridge Trail is placed high on the Canyon’s northern rim and has terrific views down to the Albuquerque Basin, west to Mount Taylor and north to the cliffs adorning the Northern Sandias. The Embudito Trail makes long switchbacks across the Sandia’s imposing high face, producing a relatively gentle ascent. The Oso Ridge Trail faces squarely into the fall line, producing a steep ascent. On either trail you will get to South Sandia summit. From the summit this route descends along the Embudito Trail to Oso Pass and then departs onto the Whitewash trail and finishes with a brief road walk back to the trailhead. It is a terrific workout.

Driving Directions:

  • Take Interstate-25 (I-25) north through Albuquerque and get off at exit 232 for Paseo Del Norte Blvd NE / NM-423.
  • After 0.1 miles merge into the left-most lane of the Pan American Frontage Road N. You will want to move over into the two right-most lanes on the Frontage Road.
  • After 0.3 miles stay to the right of a traffic island at the intersection with Paseo Del Norte Blvd NE / NM-423. Turn right onto NM-423, going east to the Sandias.
  • After 4.8 miles, at a T-intersection, turn right (going south) onto Tramway Blvd.
  • After 3.1 miles, at a light, go left onto Montgomery Blvd.
  • After 0.5 miles, at a four-way stop, turn left onto Glenwood  Hills Drive NE.
  • After 0.5 miles turn right onto Trailhead Road NE
  • After 0.2 miles arrive at the trailhead at the end of Trailhead Road NE.

(This route works for those who are coming into Albuquerque from the north – like me. For many people, particularly those coming into Albuquerque from the east, it will be much shorter to take the Tramway Blvd exit from I-40 and head north on Tramway Blvd to where it intersects Montgomery Blvd then continue as above).

Trailhead:

02 Mighty Camry at Embudito Trailhead

The mighty Camry in Embudito Canyon

The trailhead is a paved parking area. There are no fees. I did not see any trash cans, toilets or water. Entrance to the parking area is gated, but the gates were wide open at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I did not see any signs indicating that the gates are routinely closed. You can check the hours of operation on Albuquerque’s Open Space webpage. There are several homes adjacent to the parking area – early-arriving hikers should try to minimized noise.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 6240 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 9782 feet
  • Elevation Gained: 3542 feet
  • Miles: 10.0 miles round trip
  • Maps: USGS Sandia Mountains quadrangle (for trailhead) and Tijeras quadrangle (for summit)

Hike Description:

03 Embudito Trail #192

Sign for Embudito Trail #192

From the north edge of the parking lot (left side, as you drive in), walk up over a berm and drop down to its far side, then follow the trail as it heads alongside the berm into the canyon. The trail soon pulls out into the canyon bottom and in less than 100 yards goes through a fence opening, passing an iron sign for the Embudito Trail #192.

 

04 North Rim Embudito Canyon

Height of initial rise

The trail crosses the canyon outflow and continues along the south-facing side of a small rise – this is the north rim of Embudito Canyon where it descends to the canyon mouth. I did not notice a path going up onto the rise, but the terrain is completely open and it is no trouble scrambling up onto the height of the rise. On the height you will find a well defined climber’s tread. Turn your back to the Albuquerque basin and ascend. It is steep in places and foot placement becomes an important task. Don’t become too absorbed in that one aspect of the hike! Behind you are great views out to Mt Taylor (a little hazy on this date) and Cabezon, while to your left lie the huge cliff faces of the Sandia’s northern ridgeline.

 

05 Sandia Ridge from N Embudito Rim

View from rim: South Sandia Peak is the high-point on the right and your approach is between the two knolls immediately north (to the left) of the peak

After 1.4 miles you get a small reprieve, descending gently in terrain populated by numerous junipers and jumbles of strikingly rounded boulders (the weather can be hard on a young rock). There is a potential bailout point, marked with a cairn, that departs to the south (right on ascent), which may lead to the bottom of Embudito Canyon. Continue straight on Oso Trail and you’ll find that your reprieve is over – the rim invites you to engage your quads and make some altitudinal gains. The reward is a high point at 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Here you will find a useful glimpse of your destination. South Sandia Peak is the local high-point on the Crest. You can see it on the right side of the picture above. North of the summit (to its left in the photo) lie a series of crest-top knolls. The first knoll north of South Sandia Peak has a cliff-like face. You will be ascending in the darkly forested region north (left) of that cliff face.

07 Battlement Cliff

Nearing Vertical Forest: battlement-topped cliff

You now get a great rim-top ramble. Views open to the bowl on your left (which contains the Pino Canyon trail) . Juniper fades to pinyon and pinyon to ponderosa. The tread climbs up each bump along the canyon rim, sometimes followed by a steep descent but always with greater gain than loss. Where the tread crosses glades you will see the battlement-like top of the first knoll north of South Sandia Peak. Sometimes the tread lunges south, appearing to aim directly at South Sandia, but have no fear.

7a first Crest views

First views from the Crest, looking north

The cliff face eventually pulls near (staying on your right) and the terrain begins to seriously steepen. The sandy tread segues to forest duff. Big Douglas Fir crowd the path as you enter the Vertical Forest. The tread makes a half-hearted switchback or two, but there is not enough room for such indulgences. Eventually the trail is forced to cut north across  the waterway. Slogging upward, you will find a incursion of scrub oak lunging down the hillside on your left. The tread flees back across the canyon bed and plunges into the Douglas fir. Slowly, there appears a hint of light coming from low between those big tree-trunks up above. Could that be the Crest? Or is this a deceitful and cruel transition into steep and impenetrable Gambel Oak? Pop out of the firs, pass a sharply leaning single-seed juniper surrounded by small aspen and then, boom!, you are on the Crest.

08 summit view

Summit view: northeast to Ortiz Range (middle ground) and faint Sangre de Cristo Range (left horizon)

Just past the aspen, 4.0 miles from the trailhead, you will come to a faint T-intersection with an informal trail that runs along the west side of the Crest. (We will call this tread the West-Crest Trail). Turn south (to your right on ascent) and follow the tread over that now-familiar “first knoll”, drop to a saddle and ascend through trees to reach a cliffy section below the summit. Find a path up the rocks and arrive at South Sandia Summit, 9782 feet above sea level. This summit is often exposed to chilly winds. Fortunately there is a well-protected notch on the summit’s east side. On a clear day you will have great views: southeast to Ladron Peak, west to Taylor, north to the highpoint of the Sandias, and northeast to the Ortiz Mountains (mid distance) and the Sangre de Cristo Range (horizon). Views south and southeast are blocked by trees.

10 Summit Block from south across meadow

View back, across the broad meadow to the summit block

You could return to the West-Crest Trail and continue south, but on a windy day it is worth departing the summit east on a trail that quickly crosses the above-mentioned notch, descends to an escarpment-like rock wall, follows the wall south (to where the wall sinks into the soil) and then descends very steeply off of the summit block. This will deposit you in a large meadow. Here the trail pretty much disappears. Cross the meadow angling to the west (to your right). This will return you to the west side of the crest and back to the West-Crest Trail. Turn left (south) and follow the tread as it enters an enormous open bowl, home to innumerable scrub oak.

10 descent into Oso Pass

Oso Pass: trail to left is Three Guns Spring, trail to right is Embudito. Go straight up the leaf-lined gully for the Whitewash trail

The trail angles down into the bowl and at 4.9 miles ends at an intersection with the Embudito Trail (currently signed!).  Turn downhill (to the right) on the Embudito trail and follow it as it gently traverses two or three open bowls. Reaching a large rib the trail turns downhill and descends swiftly to Oso Pass. At the Pass you could turn right to stay on the Embudito Trail or turn left to head north along the Three Guns Trail. Both trails are signed. Instead, go across the pass to what looks like a small gully and ascend from the pass on the (unsigned) Whitewash Trail.

11 boulders, ponderosa and cliff faces

Ponderosa, bolders and views

The upper Whitewash is one of the prettiest places on the west face of the Sandias. It is the domain of widely spaced Ponderosa and Douglas fir, sunny glades, enormous egg-shaped boulders and occasional views to the Sandias and the Albuquerque basin. It seems unnaturally flat, its long shelves of erosion resistant rock joined by short, sharp descents. At 7.2 miles from the trailhead, come to a small meadow where the trail forks. The more deeply worn tread falls off to the left, while a much less worn tread veers off to the right.

12 junction at head of Sunset Canyon

Well-used left fork and less-used right fork, which might return to Embudito

Here you are at the head of Sunset Canyon. The map suggests that if you take the less-traveled trail to the right you would be returned directly into Embudito Canyon. On this date, however, I took the more-traveled fork left (this fork is shadowed in the photo, but you can get a larger and clearer image on a computer screen if you click the image). This tread goes onto the rim separating Sunset Canyon in the north from Embudo Canyon in the South. Most people descending this path are interested in getting to the Embudo trailhead. Follow this tread and you soon find that it departs the top of the rim and clings to the north-facing wall of Sunset Canyon (contouring around a large bump on the rim). At 7.7 miles the trail regains the top of the rim. A cairn marks an intersection where a trail goes left to descend into Embudo Canyon. Keep going straight, staying up on the rim of Sunset Canyon.

13 view across Sunset and Embudito Canyons

View to north rim of Sunset Canyon and beyond to Sandia Peak

The rim begins making a series of steps, dropping rapidly through pinyon pine and down into the realm of juniper. The trail bed on these drops is covered with pea-sized gravel. Take your time. The tread amounts to a steep pile of ball bearings. At 8.9 miles the trail reaches a saddle and an intersection, go right and descend the few remaining feet to the bottom of Sunset Canyon. Here the trail braids out immensely. Cross the canyon and pick up a good tread near the wall on the north side. Turn downhill towards the houses at the mouth of the canyon. Pass through a gate in a wire fence (unsigned) and onto Cedarbrook Avenue (paved). Descend Cedarbrook and turn right onto Glenwood Hills Drive, follow that to Trailhead Road, and ascend Trailhead Road to return to your vehicle (about 0.8 miles on road).

Recommendations:

14 summit pose

December: goose down and fleece!

This route is one of the steeper trails leading up to the Sandia Crest. If you have a party that is not well adapted for altitude then you might want to find a less challenging tread. On the other hand, if this proves to your liking then you might want to consider scrambling to the high-point of the Sandia Mountains via TWA canyon.

If there is snow or ice on the ground then you’ll need traction devices. This is especially true if you are going to descend along the Vertical Forest portion of the trail. Poles and microspikes would be required. If it is truly icy then you might want full-on crampons.

I went through a liter of water on a cold December day. On a warmer day you’d want a multiple of that.

The new sign at the junction of the Embudito Trail and the informal tread I’ve called “West-Crest Trail” is loosely attached to its post. On this date the wind was banging it around. Eventually that sign will split off unless someone helps. If you’re going up in the near future please consider bringing along a crescent wrench and tightening the hex-head screws. (Leave a comment so others will know, thanks)!

In the future I would try the right fork at the head of Sunset Canyon. If it “goes” then the road-walk can be avoided.

Links:

My interest in this hike was initially spurred by an exceptional trail report on the Paint, Dig, Write, Hike, Gaze site. That author descended along the full length of the Embudito Trail rather than switching to the Whitewash – it is a good option to consider.

The ASCHG has a brief write-up of this trail. It includes a very useful map. As with the report mentioned above, this route also descends entirely on the Embudito Trail. (Note: there is another Oso Ridge Trail in California, don’t get confused!)

The Strava site has an interesting variation in which you follow the north rim of Embudito Canyon up through the Vertical Forest to the Crest. Then turn back and descend the forest. At the point where you return to the rim they depict a trail descending into Embudito Canyon and then down the canyon and back to the car.

 

 

 

Truchas, N Truchas, Chimayosos over cairn top

Truchas (left), North Truchas (center) and Chimayosos Peaks (right)

Overview:

Is it possible for a short backpacking trip to be “impossibly scenic”? Inquiring minds need to know. Pack your gear, jump in that car and get the answer to your question with a strenuous scramble into the heart of the Santa Fe Mountains. There are streams, deer, high peaks, bugling elk, tarns, soaring fir forests, mountain goats, sunny meadows, gorgeous views and sore, sore quads in your future. This is why we have the word terrific.

The trail is also demanding and lonesome. This route would be a poor choice for a party fresh from sea level, youngsters, acrophobes, route-finding novices or scramblers trying to get back into shape.

Driving Directions:

  • Take Interstate-25 (I-25) to exit 299, northeast of Santa Fe. The exit is signed for Glorietta/Pecos NM-50.
  • After 0.1 miles, at the end of the northbound ramp, turn left onto NM-50. This junction is not signed, but it helps to know that NM-50 ends at this junction. If you were to turn the other way, to the right, you would be on Fire Station Road heading into Glorieta, NM.
  • After 0.1 miles, having crossed over I-25, stay on NM-50 where it makes a 90-degree right-hand turn. There is no stop here, even though it looks as if you were arriving at a T-interesection. There are several signs at the junction, the most useful indicating that the Glorieta Conference Center is to your left and the town of Pecos is to your right.
  • After 5.9 more miles, at a four-way stop, turn left onto NM-63 in Pecos, NM.
  • After 19.2 more miles arrive at Cowles, NM and continue straight ahead on Forest Road 555. The most prominent feature at this junction is a bridge crossing the Pecos River on your left and a green road sign saying “Cowles”. There is a tiny wooden “555” sign on your right, but it is hidden behind a small fir tree. On Google Maps Forest Road 555 is labeled “Cabana Trail”.
  • After 2.3 miles turn right onto a drive signed “Wilderness Camping”. A brown Forest Service sign just before this drive points up the drive for “Trailhead” and “Equestrian Camping”.
  • After 0.3 miles park at the trailhead.

The roads are paved except the loop where the trailhead is located. The gravel loop is currently in excellent condition.

NM-63 from Tererro to Cowles (about 5.5 miles) is paved but it is rough, very narrow, and twisty. The fall-off from the road edge can be cliff-like. Allow extra time to drive this short distance and be prepared to slow to a crawl if you encounter oncoming vehicles (especially trucks dragging trailers). Fortunately, the road bed of FR-555 is wider and smoother.

Trailhead:

02 The Mighty Camry

The mighty Camry at the trailhead for Beatty’s Trail

This is a full service trailhead with potable water, bear-proof trash receptacles, aluminum can recycling, vault toilets and trailhead signage. The fee for parking is currently $2.00 per day, although there are discounts for military service passes and other national passes. The multi-agency recreation.gov site has a detailed description of the camping opportunities and seasons, but it is very much focused on $10-per-night car camping. There does not seem to be any mention of the trailhead fees. Similarly, the USDA site only mentions the $10 fee, but the signs at the trailhead clearly state the $2 trailhead parking fee.

Data:

  • Starting elevation: 8830 feet
  • Ending elevation: 13,110 feet
  • Net elevation: 4280
  • Distance: 27.0 miles, round trip
  • Maps: maps: USGS Cowles Quadrangle and Truchas Peak quadrangle

The net elevation gain is a little misleading here due to the fact that several peaks are visited on this scramble. The GPS record indicates that you’ll be ascending about 5100 feet and descending 2400 feet on the first day. The second day involves a gain of 3300 feet and a descent of 5980 feet.

Hike Description:

Day 1.

Montane grasslands, burn-scarred forest, high peaks and New Mexican skies.

Pecos Baldy (leftmost summit) & East Pecos Baldy (right end of the high ridge)

The hike from the trailhead to Pecos Baldy Lake is a national treasure. The route descriptions for East Pecos Baldy and Truchas Peak (exploratory) both rave over the glories of this segment. Interested readers can click through to get details. To summarize, you hike along a scrupulously maintained tread (Beatty’s Trail #25 to Jack’s Creek Trail #257) that will bring you through Douglas fir forest, high montane grasslands, distinct groves of aspen and spruce, a short stretch of burned forest, thickets of corkbark fir and Engleman spruce – all in the company of spectacular views into the the Sangre de Cristo Range and the headwaters of the Pecos River. If this doesn’t have you humming “The Sound Of Music” then nothing will.

04 East Pecos Baldy above Pecos Baldy Lake

East Pecos Baldy from Pecos Baldy Lake

After hiking 7.4 miles from the trailhead come to the intersection of the Jack’s Creek Trail #257 with the Skyline Trail Trail #251. A short distance above this intersection the Jack’s Creek Trail enters the basin where Pecos Baldy Lake sits below East Pecos Baldy. Fire is not permitted within 200 feet of the lake, so it is probably best to retreat back to the Skyline trail. Here you can head west (go left on ascent) to several campsites that have great views of both East Pecos Baldy and the lake. These are sites are exposed, however, so they may not be the first choice under windy conditions. Less dramatic but better protected sites can be found on the Skyline Trail just east of the junction. This is a popular destination so it pays to arrive early. Set up your camp and re-pack your bag for the trip up to Pecos Baldy.

View of grass covered saddle at junction of Skyline Trail and E. Pecos Baldy Summit Trail, the latter marked by paired cairns across the grassy saddle

East Pecos Baldy Summit Trail signpost (twin-cairns are below the left edge of the Skyline sign, click to enlarge.)

The ascent to Pecos Baldy and East Pecos Baldy begins by hiking west on the Skyline trail as it traverses the rim of the basin. (A description of the East Pecos Baldy route under snowy conditions can be found here). At the basin’s edge the trail goes by a sign reminding east-bound hikers that fires are not allowed near the lake. Here the trail forks. Go right onto the more-traveled fork. The tread meets a steep-sided and heavily forested rib and begins to rise. Crossing a broad, swale-like drainage the trail pokes over the far bank onto terrain that is very steep indeed. Alarmed, the trail switchbacks abruptly and clings to the side of the swale, which is also steep. The tread twists as it pushes through the trees, but eventually makes a convincing turn westward (to your right on ascent) and begins a long leg that emerges from the forest onto a grassy saddle. In the saddle you will find a signed junction with the East Pecos Baldy Summit Trail #275.

click to enlarge

View to Pecos Baldy (left) and the Obligatory Gratuitous Bump (center)

The sign may be obvious but the Summit Trail is faint. For guidance, look across the saddle and on the far side you will see a pair of cairns. Pass between them and you will find yourself on the tread. The trail takes you up over talus and scree, weaving between widely-spaced spruce. The angle is steep and the air will be thin. Take time to look around – is that Penitente Peak, over there by Santa Fe Baldy? Eventually, at about 1 mile from camp, the trail reaches the ridgeline. You could turn right for nearly instant gratification in bagging the summit of East Pecos Baldy, but for now turn to the left and study it’s western neighbor, Pecos Baldy.

click to enlarge

East Pecos Baldy viewed from top of the Obligatory Gratuitous Bump

The view is of a ridge connecting Baldies east and west, interrupted by the usual Obligatory Gratuitous Bump (OGB: a firm reminder that convenience is not a major force in epeirogenesis). Descend towards the bump along a climber’s tread. This is an arctic-alpine environment graced by lichen and glittering with metamorphic rock. (I met a NMU geologist here, who was kindly identified the glittering material as quartzite). The boot path reaches to the top of the OGB and then nearly disappears. There is good reason for this; from the top of the bump you get an excellent closeup view of the ascent to Pecos Baldy and it isn’t for everyone. Take a good look and poll your party. Is everyone OK with off-trail terrain that is steep and (in places) somewhat exposed? After all, you do have the option of bagging East Pecos Baldy and getting back to camp in time for a well earned supper!

click to enlarge

View, off-route, across grass-lined avalanche chute to a rib.

Those chosing to continue should descend from the bump to saddle below the summit block. The terrain falls sharply away from both sides of the saddle, making the ascent along the ridge’s rocky spine the only obvious option. The initial pitch is straightforward. Generally stay on the spine, but watch for several stretches where you can get off the spine to the south (your left, on ascent) wherever you see a boot path left by earlier climbers. Eventually you will come to a decision point where you could lateral south across a grass-lined avalanche chute or continue up the spine as it starts to soar. (I started into that chute but turned back, the footing is sketchy).

click to enlarge

View from Pecos Baldy to Truchas Peak massif (center) and Chimayosos (on left)

Stick close to the rocky spine and climb in class 2-to-3 terrain up to a shoulder. The protected areas along the steep spine hold a dwarf evergreen that may be bristlecone pine. It certainly bristles! Those sharp-pointed green needles can pierce unwary fingertips. It is easy hiking from the shoulder to the summit. Be sure to study the Truchas massif to the north – that’s your destination tomorrow. Return to camp the way you came, but take a minute to walk to the summit of East Pecos Baldy and it’s dizzying view down to Pecos Baldy Lake.

Day 2.

click to enlarge

Trailrider’s Wall (center), Truchas and North Truchas Peaks (horizon)

From camp head east on the overlapping Skyline Trail/Jack’s Creek Trail. The trail initially winds through evergreen forest, emerging to view montane grasslands at about 0.6 miles from camp. Here you will find a junction where the Jack’s Creek Trail departs due east (to your right on ascent). Stay on the Skyline trail (to your left on ascent) as it swings north and enters the grasslands. At 1.1 miles from camp there are striking views to a set of cliff bands below you (called the Trailrider’s Wall) and glimpses of Truchas Peak, North Truchas Peak and Chimayosos Peak. Keep your camera out because the views will keep coming from this point forward.

click to enlarge

Bighorn lambs and ewes – fierce guardians of the Skyline

This ridge-top trail is obvious and frequently marked by large cairns – several over five feet tall. It may be that these stone monuments are meant to guide skiers during the spring backcountry season. Or they could be the work of hikers caught in the throws of grandeur-induced delirium. You can’t be sure. The tread twists, rises and falls as it sticks to the ridge top. High winds are a common occurrence so keep a jacket handy near the top of your pack. There are signed junctions for trails coming in from the west (to your left on ascent), but these trails are extremely faint. It may be helpful to know that these trails lead to Trail #164, which parallels the Skyline Trail on the the west side of the ridge where it may be less windy. At 2.3 miles from camp the Skyline makes its sole switchback, gently descending into the low saddle below Truchas Peak.

click to enlarge

Grassland, forest, Obligatory Gratuitous Bump II (left peak) and summit (right peak)

In this low saddle, about 2.8 miles from camp, come to lonely signpost indicating that the Skyline trail is about to depart the ridge by descending to the east (to your right on ascent). Here you will be going off-trail so take a moment to study the terrain ahead. You need to cross another half mile of grassland, ascend through forest, and then gain a middle saddle on the broad rib leading up to Truchas. Between the middle saddle and the true summit is a false summit (Obligatory Gratuitous Bump II), that you must either climb or circumnavigate. You can presume that there is a short descent on the far side of this bump to a high saddle, then a long slog up a boulder field to where the rib meets the ridgeline a little west of the summit.

12 mystery construction project below OGB II

Construction ruins and the boulder-strewn face of OGB II (right)

Once your mental map is ready go off-trail directly towards Truchas Peak. There are hints of a tread across the grassland, but it is easier to watch for cairns. These will take you into the forested stretch. At the edge of the forest you will find an obvious tread, so navigation is not a problem. At 3.4 miles from camp the forest thins and you enter the middle saddle you spotted from below. In the center of the middle saddle there is a strange gouge in the grass – the ruins of an old construction project of no discernible purpose. It is, however, a great landmark for your return.

click to enlarge

Cairn atop OGB II and view to the true summit of Truchas Peak

From here you must either ascend Obligatory Gratuitous Bump II or circumnavigate it. The latter is possible, but poses navigation problems. The terrain on the southwest side of the Bump is broken by gullies slashed into the bedrock – all these gullies are steep and all are vertically walled. More will be said about the problem towards the end of this route description, but for now suffice to say that only scramblers with robust navigational skills should opt for this approach. Navigation is trivial, however, if you simply ascend the south face of OGB II. You may want to put away your hiking poles as there are places where it is convenient to have four firm points of contact with the rock. The terrain slowly turns a bit greener as the angle eases and at 3.7 miles from camp you’ll arrive at the summit cairn atop OGB II. From the cairn descend about 150 vertical feet on easy terrain to the high saddle, directly below the summit block.

13 faint climbers tread on rib leading to main ridge

A faint boot path on the boulder and talus strewn rib

The rib you’ve been following trends north-northwest towards the ridge-line. There is a good climber’s tread, but finding it is a task. The best approach is stay on the top of the rib as you ascend or, wherever that is inconvenient, on the west side of the rib (to your left on ascent). The rib begins to lose definition as you ascend, and you will be simply climbing the south side of the mountain towards the ridge – a little west of the true summit. At 4.2 miles from camp gain the ridge. Pause for a moment to study your entrance point so you know where to depart on descent. Then turn uphill for an easy (if still breathless) ramble to the summit.

click to enlarge

View from Truchas summit to Middle Truchas (left), “Medio” Truchas (center) and North Truchas (right). At far right is Chimayosos.

The top provides a grand view of the world. East lies the famous prominences of the Santa Fe Mountains including Santa Fe Baldy and Lake Peak. North lies the remaining Truchas massif and the enormous tumult of the Sangre de Cristo range, extending all the way into Colorado. West lies Chimayosos Peak and the headwaters of the Pecos River. South lies Pecos Baldy, the long valley carved by the Pecos River and the southern limits of the Sangre de Cristo range.

15 OGB II from summit, trail goes from saddle to cliff at right

View down to OGB II and trails leading west (rightward) around the bump.

The southern view also includes the high saddle (uphill of OGB II). You will see a couple goat trails that lead from this saddle toward a cliff band on the west side of the Bump. This is a usable alternative to re-climbing OGB II. Follow these trails and you will go past the foot of a cliff face, after which you will come to the first of three rock-walled gullies. It doesn’t seem to be especially tractable at first and it may be tempting to turn back and just climb the wretched bump! But look closely and you can find a steep, gravelly path that gets you into the highest reaches of the gully bed. On the far side there is a steep but short ascent up the opposing rock wall. (This point might be particularly hard to discover if you were on ascent, which is why it is recommended that most scramblers simply climb the Bump). From the top of far wall you can see the middle saddle with its peculiar ruins, but as you descend towards it you encounter a second gully. The trick is to ascend since the origins of the gully are not far above your head. Then, on your way back to that saddle, you should pass above a third gully. If you should run into this third gully then repeat the climb-and-traverse trick. From there it is easy to get to the saddle and return the way you came in.

Recommendations:

Do this scramble! (But first see the comments below).

The trail up to Pecos Baldy Lake is very popular and many of the campers at the lake will also ascend to East Pecos Baldy. In contrast, the other legs of this scramble are quite lonesome. Make certain that someone knows your intended route and your estimated time of return.

Acute mountain sickness is genuinely possible on this scramble. Truchas Peak is the second highest peak in New Mexico. At 13,108 feet it is 608 feet higher than the altitude where airplane pilots are required to use oxygen when flying with passengers. Visiting scramblers should be given opportunity to acclimate before the hike. Do know the signs and symptoms for acute mountain sickness and it’s more severe forms, HAPE and HACE. An excellent discussion can be found at altitude.org

Pick a nicer day!

Author on Truchas summit, about to be rained on.

Don’t be like me! It was unwise to press forward on a monsoon morning where cumulus clouds were obviously building. By pure luck the storms passed to the south of me, but thunder is an dangerous sort of background music for long ridge rambles.

I think that elk hunting season is open – at least I talked to two hunters who were inquiring after elk sightings. Other hunting seasons (fall turkey season) have definitely started. A bit of orange gear would not be out of place.

Links:

In an exploratory route description I mentioned posts at ChrisGoesHiking, Sam at Landscape Imagery, and an overview article at SummitPost as being useful guides for folks interested in this route to Truchas Peak.

Otherwise the online material is surprisingly scant. Some of the most popular sources, including Peakware and HikeArizona, did not provide the kind of information I thought was needed. Treat this as further evidence of how lonesome this scramble can be.