Archives for posts with tag: Robledo Mountains

Overview:

Robbed Peak from knoll

Robledo Peak from knoll

This is a short but dramatic hike that is located close to Las Cruces. The drama comes from a contorted slot canyon – the genuine article with walls spaced just a few feet apart and towering more than 50 feet above your head. For newcomers it could be a stellar introduction to the mountainous desert of southern New Mexico. That said, this is not the “competent rock” that graces some of the nation’s most famous slot canyons. Instead the walls are composed of Robledo-rubble loosely cemented together. It would be an exceedingly poor location for riding out an earthquake. As with all slot canyons, you do not want to be trapped in there if a sudden storm drenches the higher reaches. Make certain to pick a nice day and go!

Looking south on the bone-dry Rio Grand.

Looking south on the bone-dry Rio Grand.

Note that the trailhead is on the east side of the Rio Grande while the hike is on the west side. That is no problem when the river has been shut off, but probably impassable when the river is running full during irrigation season. Check the river conditions before setting off! After reaching the upper end of the slot you can continue ascending in a wider canyon bed and come eventually to a tall waterfall. Most people will want to turn back here. This route description, however, continues the ascent with a scramble up a steep waterway to the canyon rim and then an easy ascent to a nearby knoll.

Driving Directions:

Entrance to the slot canyon (closeup) viewed from the levee road.

Entrance to the slot canyon (closeup) viewed from the levee road.

Route to the trailhead used on this date:

  • From University Avenue in Las Cruces, turn north onto Valley Drive (Valley Drive becomes NM-185)
  • After 13.5 miles, turn left onto Hope Road (gravel)
  • After 0.6 miles, at what appears to be a T-intersection, turn right onto a gravel road (not signed). This gravel road stays on top of the levee on the east side of the Rio Grande
  • In 0.3 miles, veer left onto a flood plain road. Park on the flood plain.

This parking spot can not be recommended (see the hike description below for the kind of bush bashing that parking here entails). For this reason the map below shows a red warning sign with exclamation mark. Instead, park on the flood plain much closer to the spot where Hope Road intersects the levee road. The map marks this preferred spot with an icon of two hikers.

Edit: a comment was posted from the RV-Dreams.com site and that link describes an attempt at this hike that failed because there was water in the Rio Grande (gasp). Looking at Google Maps, there is an possible alternative, although it is one that I haven’t explored.  Here are the directions as provided by Google:

  • On Valley Drive/NM-185, going north, turn west (left) onto Shalem Colony Road (possibly signed as County Road D052).
  • After 1.2 miles, past the bridge over the Rio Grand, turn north (right) on County Road D013
  • After 5.5 miles find a corral on the rising land to the west (on your left). Find a place to park your car and walk back to the corral. 
  • NOTE: this approach will remove the need to cross the Rio Grande and deal with riverside thorn thickets. You can skip over the first two paragraphs in the hike description, but check out the photo of the corral so you’ll recognize it as you drive by. 

Trailhead:

The Mighty Camry, poised high and dry on the Rio Grande floodplain.

The Mighty Camry, poised high and dry on the Rio Grande floodplain.

The trailhead is just a spot on the flood plain along side the Rio Grande. There are no amenities. You don’t want to leave your car here if it happens to be the day that the managers at Caballo Reservoir release impounded water into the river. Current release data can be found here, but it does not necessarily include any advisories about future releases. Last year (2014) water was scheduled for release in May. If anyone knows where to find release advisories, please leave a comment below. Otherwise, search the news sites before going.

Data:

  • Starting elevation: 3920 feet
  • Ending elevation: 4960 feet
  • Net Gain: 1040 feet
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Map: USGS Leasburg, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

Corral on the west side of the Rio Grande

Corral on the west side of the Rio Grande

If you are using the recommended parking site, then head directly across the Rio Grande, climb up onto the far bank, and work uphill until you find a gravel road that parallels the river (about 0.1 miles from the car). Turn right (north) and follow the road until you come to a corral on the left-hand side of the road (to the west).

If you are using the same parking site that was used on this hike then head directly across the Rio Grande, climb up over the bank and find yourself in a thorn bush thicket. Within the thicket (and within 20 feet of the bank) you will find a cattle trail. Turn left (south) and follow the trail until the heavily interlaced branches of the thorn trees begin to thin and junipers start appearing. As soon as you can tolerate the notion, turn your back to the river and bash your way past the brush and juniper. In 200 feet, encounter the road that parallels the river. Turn left (south) and follow the road until you come to the corral.

Approaching the mouth of the Slot Canyon.

Approaching the mouth of the Slot Canyon.

From the corral turn uphill towards the mouth of the canyon (which is clearly visible). The terrain is strewn with fist-sized rocks and the footing is awkward, expect to go slowly as you ascend. As you get further from the river the plant life becomes sparser and travel becomes easier. Much of the green bush is mesquite and creosote. Above you (and somewhat to the south) lies Robledo Peak. To the north is Lookout Mountain. There are innumerable lizards scurrying about the dry water courses. On this day I saw no snakes, although another party reported seeing a garter snake. Our reptilian neighbors seem to be returning from their winter get-aways.

View straight up to the sky.

View straight up to the sky.

At 0.7 miles from the trailhead enter the canyon and you will find that the temperature drops considerably. The canyon bed writhes and twists. The bed itself is paved with rocks that (presumably) have fallen from the walls above you. There are no navigation problems, although there are intriguing mini-slots that come into the main canyon from time to time. Long-time desert dwellers accustomed to big-sky views will find the skinny-sky to be a bit claustrophobic.

View to the waterfall that marks the end of the hike for most hikers.

View to the waterfall that marks the end of the hike for most hikers.

The slot is not terribly long. As you reach 1.2 miles from the trailhead the walls begin descending and then angling off. A much broader, arroyo-like conformation is adopted. The canyon bottom, which was free of vegetation in the slot, becomes a bit greener. Having reached 1.4 miles from the trailhead you will find yourself at the foot of a tall waterfall. This is a shady and green spot to have a bite to eat and a sip of water as you marvel at what water can do to hard rock. Many hikers will want to turn back at this point and enjoy the slot canyon on the way out.

View of upper reaches of the slot canyon

View of upper reaches of the slot canyon. The knoll that formed the turn-around point is in the center.

You can ascend to the rim of the canyon in a narrow gully on the south wall of the canyon (on the left, looking uphill). This gully is just to the left of the main waterfall. It is steep in places and choked with loose rock. You will want to be comfortable with mildly exposed rock-climbing moves. As you near the rim it can be helpful to pull out of the gully to your left to gain better quality rock (although still fairly rotten). Near the rim the angle eases and animal trails appear, follow them below the rim and ascend into the upper reaches of the canyon.

Wide open terrain on the flanks of Robledo Peak, as seen from the knoll.

Wide open terrain on the flanks of Robledo Peak, as seen from the knoll.

In it’s upper reaches the canyon walls are gently sloped. Descend into the canyon bed and immediately climb the far wall (the north side of the waterway). The terrain is open and quickly brings you into the domain of ocotillo plants and small juniper bushes. At 1.8 miles from the car, find yourself at the top of a knoll with tremendous views to Robledo and Lookout Peaks, long views of the dry river bed below, and vistas of the Dona Ana Mountains. This is wide open terrain and very inviting for those who relish a ramble.

Concentric red markings on a hand-sized boulder - a surprisingly common pattern in these sedimentary rocks.

Concentric red markings on a hand-sized boulder – a surprisingly common pattern in these sedimentary rocks.

On this date, however, I turned back for the trailhead. Rather than down-climb back into the canyon, follow the northern rim as it weaves down the bajada. The sedimentary rocks are colorful. On this date it was a little disappointing to get “skunked” of any fossil finds. As you near the mouth of the canyon the rib you are on nose-dives and becomes divided by a small waterway. It helps to stay on the north bank (left, looking downhill) as the falloff on the north side is gentler. Find your way back down to the mouth of the canyon, descend the alluvial fan below to the corral and then cross the Rio Grand to the trailhead.

Recommendations:

Closeup of an old juniper growing at the foot of the waterfall.

Closeup of an old juniper growing at the foot of the waterfall.

The cool part of the hike, from both wow-factor and temperature points of view, lies in the slot canyon. If your party is not comfortable with exposed scrambling then turn them back at the waterfall.

Consider bringing a climber’s helmet into the slot canyon. The canyon bed is littered with rocks, some of which fell from the canyon rim. Getting beaned would hurt.

The upper part of the hike, above the waterfall, is completely exposed to the sun. Even the juniper trees are too stunted to provide meaningful shade. You’ll want sunscreen and other sun gear. I got through two liters of water on a fairly cool April day.

Links:

Apparently the slot canyon serves as a grasshopper graveyard in the autumn. The reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News  comments on the abundance of large insects on a November hike. On this date there were some flies, but nothing especially notable.

If you love slot canyons, then Southern New Mexico Explorer has a second post in which a number of alternative slots in the region are named. Doug Scott has provided an even more extensive list of canyons (both slot and box canyons) across New Mexico.

Joeseph j7uy5 has a flickr photo stream (including GPS tracks) of an exploration of this part of the Robledos.

George Ray has posted a video that captures a considerable fraction of hiking in the slot canyon.

UPDATE: The LC Sun-News is reporting that this year the river will begin flowing some time in late May, 2015. Keep an eye on that river!

2013-03-30 02 false summit view to Mesilla Valley

View to Mesilla Valley and Organ Mts from Robledo false summit

Overview:

This scramble takes you from canyon to mesa and from mesa to mountain top.  Two features might be born in mind.  First, in his description of this hike Greg Magee (author of Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area) calls this hike “extremely strenuous”.  He is right.  Don’t be fooled by the short distance or the limited amount of altitude gained.  Second, for us newcomers there is a route finding hazard to this seemingly easy hike. Navigating across a mesa can be tricky, especially if you are trying to find the point where you had previously exited a canyon.  Quite a few canyons are born in the debris fields flanking the Robledo Mountains.  It is hard to know which one to take, and once inside a canyon your view to distant landmarks becomes extremely limited.  Dust storms or heavy rains could make it even more difficult to find your way back to the car.

Driving Directions:

  • From Las Cruces, head north on I-25 to Exit 19 for Radium Springs.
  • At the end of the exit ramp, turn west (left) on New Mexico 157.
  • After 1.5 miles come to a T-intersection with New Mexico 185.  Turn right (north, bending to west)
  • After 1.8 miles you will find Faulkner Canyon Road on the left (unpaved).  Turn left (south).
  • After 0.7 miles you will encounter a gate across the road.  As usual, you will have to unchain the gate and push it aside (it is a little on the heavy side), drive through, then close and re-chain the gate.
  • After an additional 1.1 miles you will come to the trailhead.  See trailhead description below.

The Faulkner Canyon Road follows the bottom of the canyon.  It has been a desperately dry year this year, but I suspect that there are wetter times when you don’t want your car to be parked anywhere along the wash floor.  Keep an eye on the weather.  This year the chief hazard seems to be soft places in the road bed.  My low-slung Camry sedan negotiated the road, but there were nervous moments when the surface went soft beneath the tires and the steering column took on a life of it’s own.  Carry a jack!

Trailhead.

2013-03-30 01 Robledo trailhead

Car at trailhead – note flat area to left of the Camry carrying a brush thicket. That thicket is the start of the trail

There isn’t much to identify the point in the road where you park your car.  The canyon that makes up the start of the hike comes in from the south (on the left as you are driving in).  Unfortunately that canyon is not immediately apparent from the road.  Instead, outwash from the canyon has created a large flat area on the left that has a high density of small trees and shrubs.  Unfortunately, the exact same description can be made of the canyon immediately north.  If you drive to a point where the road comes close to brushing against a water-carved dirt-and-rock wall on your passenger’s side, then you’ve probably just missed the parking area – back up 50 feet.  The best advice is to watch your odometer.

Although the roadbed was soft in places it looked as though the road had been recently graded.  The grader left large banks of sand on either side of the roadbed.  There was no way that my sedan was going to push over these sandbanks so I had to shovel an opening in the bank before I could get my car off the road.  Some portions of the wash are made up of loose sand and it would be easy to get a car stuck there – chekc your chosen parking spot carefully. This stretch of road was oriented in a WSW direction, so by departing to the left hand side you will be heading SSE.  Once you penetrate into the thicket of brush you should find numerous cattle trails all heading for the mouth of the canyon.  Important hint: the brush will hide your car from you on your return, so it pays to take note of high landmarks around your car!

Data

Magee puts the hike at about 12.5 miles.  My navigation mis-steps put the total closer to 14 or 15.  The climb up to Robledo Peak ascends about 1800 feet.  The Lookout ascent adds an additional 800 feet of gain.  The only cover comes from the canyon walls.  In the middle of the day that is the same thing as no cover at all.  There was no sign of water anywhere. From the summits even the Rio Grande looked parched.

Hike:

2013-03-30 05 clutter in canyon before waterfall

Rock rubble (in foreground) and the first waterfall (in background). The watefall is probably 15 feet high, but can be skirted on either side of the canyon.

Negotiate the brush south of the trail until you hit the cattle trails, and then follow the most SSE-ly of  those until canyon walls surround you.  In a half a mile, you’ll come to the first of two rock ledges that would be impressive waterfalls in the event of rain.  The first fall is about 15 feet high and steeply overhung.  Unless you are a competitive rock climber ascend either flank of the canyon until you can find a way past the falls.  After another 0.6 miles you will come to the second falls.  It is much smaller and a manageable climb for most people.  Above this waterfall you will find a hodge-podge of small drainages joining together, presumably funneled by the same rocks that make up the waterfall.  It is time to leave the topological certainty of the canyon bottom.  Ascend to your left in a westerly direction and meet the mesa at the canyon rim.  If you want to follow the canyon on your way back out, make special note of the landmarks around this exit point.  To the north is a small hillock on the mesa, which I termed The Nubbin.  It makes for one good landmark.  (Note that there is a separate gully between you and The Nubbin.  This gully includes an impressive cliff/waterfall and is probably not a good way to get back to the trailhead).

2013-03-30 10 junipers just before uppermost canyon

Juniper cluster near the third canyon confluence. The false summit shown top/right of the photo

To the southwest you will get your first clear view to both Lookout (nearer) and Robledo (further south).  Between them are a couple drainages, the second of which has a jeep track.  Go south, skirting past the debris fields from Lookout, find the jeep track, and follow it up the major drainage between Lookout and Robledo.  About a quarter mile up the road you will see an obvious jeep track coming in from your right, semi-blocked by a rusty metal pole of about 6 foot length.  Ascend the new jeep track to the end.  At the end you will get views up into three canyons.  Take the left-hand canyon.  The terrain immediately becomes steeper and there is much rock hopping and small climbing moves to make.  In a quarter mile there is a second confluence of drainages, again take the (steep) left hand route.  That only goes for a few hundred feet to the third confluence marked by three juniper trees (shade!) in the waterway.  This time, go right and follow the bed to the col that marks the head of the canyon.

2013-03-30 12 false summit view to Radium Springs

View to Radium Springs from the false summit on Robledo approach.

The map shows that I lost patience with the canyon and tried a direct ascent towards what I presumed was Robledo Peak.  What I got was a false summit cloaked with an ocotillo forest.  It was a shock to realize that my destination was still a quarter mile away and 100 feet higher.  For future reference, go all the way to the col and then make an ascending traverse up the southwest face of Robledo to get to the col on the far side of the false summit.  From there it is an easy ascent to the true summit.    It is roughly five miles from the trailhead to Robledo summit.  The views of Mesilla Valley and Las Cruces to the south and Lookout Mountain to the north are grand.  The Rio Grande, however, puts in an awfully limited appearance.  I did not see so much as a sparkle in the sunshine to suggest the presence of water.

To get to Lookout Peak return by the approach route back to the junction of jeep roads.  On that descent I was surprised to find a climbers tread in the approach canyons, generally about 15 to 30 feet above the canyon floor on the southern wall.  The tread is spotty, but there are occasional cairns to look for.  It makes the descent far easier than rock hopping.  It is about 1.3 miles from the summit back to the metal post marking the junctions between jeep roads.

Back at the junction I turned right to follow the jeep track to Lookout Mt.  A more skillfull navigator would have noticed a road coming steeply down from the northern wall of the canyon in a small drainage.  I blithely stepped past this landmark and continued along the canyon floor for a while before realizing that I was re-ascending Robledo Peak.  Climbing to a nearby knoll I clearly saw the road for Lookout three-quarters of a mile behind me.  Stupidity is its own reward.

2013-03-30 Lookout Summit towards Robledo Peak

View of Robledo Peak (left) and false summit (immediately to right of Robledo) from Lookout Peak. You can see part of the road leading to Lookout in the center of the picture.

Getting back to the road leading towards Lookout and following it was no problem.  At one point the road turns and drops east into a drainage.  Rather than follow the road, it is far easier to leave the road and ascend north-west to gain a gentle ridge that takes you to the microwave antennas on the summit.  The road that you left rejoins you at the summit.  Including my excursions to Robledo Peak, it was 8.8 miles to from the trailhead to Lookout Peak.  Lookout gives you a fine view of Radium Springs and the San Andreas Mountains.

To return to the trailhead follow the road east along the summit ridge until the road departs sharply to the left.  Stay on the summit ridge as it gently drops and then rises to a bump in the middle of the ridge.  (Further along there is another bump that forms the eastern-most part of the ridge).  After scouting, however, I thought that the easiest way down was by a rib descending NNW from the middle bump.  This is the route that Magee also recommends.  The surface is composed of talus and loose dirt at a steep enough angle that descent is slow.

From up high on the descent it is obvious that the mesa is cut up by a large number of gullies, washes, canyons and swales.  Which of these will take you to your car is less obvious.  Fortunately, the “Nubbin” is easily identified.  But I was sufficiently unsure of my position that I thought I would stay up high on the mesa rather than risk descent into the “wrong” canyon.  The mesa is covered with cattle trails that made for fast passage through the withered grass, innumerable cacti and rare juniper.  The northernmost extension of the mesa separates into two projections, a north-pointing finger and a north-east pointing finger.  I was glad to see that descending from the north finger would be easy.  Dropping off of the north finger places you back in the correct canyon (as confirmed by the lower waterfall) and that takes you back to the flats.  Head east through a confusion of cattle trails and peer-around to find the car.

Recommendations:

I was extremely happy to have a topo map and compass with me on this hike.   A GPS with good backup batteries would have been welcome.  I packed a gallon of water but felt that it really didn’t leave me with enough surplus.  This despite the fact that it probably didn’t get much above 85°F.  It would have been a terribly dry night if for some reason I had needed to camp on the mesa.  Note that my dawn start was very chilly and I was wearing a fleece vest for the first mile or so.  Also, it was a lonesome hike.  I didn’t see another bootprint or even any cattle on the entire trip.  People in trucks appeared along the access road to the microwave towers as I began my descent off of Lookout, so there were a few others out in this terrain.  Not many!

From Robledo Peak you get great views out toward the Cibola National Forest (containing Magdelana Peak, Valles Canyon, Broad Canyon and Pina Peak).  It is bone dry, big and empty.  But sometimes looks can be deceiving.  On the way back to Las Cruces I stopped in Radium Springs at the Rio Grande bridge.  There actually is water there.  Where the stream was 10 feet across it moved with a visible current, but in those places where it broadened across the sands to 30 feet width is seemed perfectly stagnant.  It didn’t look like enough volume to water your lawn, let alone central and south New Mexico.