Archives for posts with tag: Socorro County
Socorro Mountains at dawn, Strawberry Peak on the right side and distant from the main block of mountains
Socorro Mountains from I-25 (Strawberry Peak on the right, separated from the main block)

Strawberry Peak is named for its resemblance, from some perspectives, to a downside-up strawberry. An outlier from the Socorro Mountains, it towers above the desert. The peak is eye candy for mountaineers driving south on Interstate-15. Don’t get distracted! Up close this is a very moderate mountain (7000 feet) that can be scrambled. The summit block gets a class two rating since few scramblers will feel any need for a rope. The approach is a long desert ramble launched from the floor of the Rio Grande basin, rising onto a broad bajada and chasing an arroyo to the base of the peak. A short and strenuous ascent brings you from base to summit.

Land notes: the land immediately to the south of this hike belongs to the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC) at New Mexico Tech. “Energetic material” means “explosive”. Unexploded ordinance lies scattered in that terrain and the EMRTC has a vigorous enforcement effort to keep people off the test grounds. Portions of this trail cross ranch property. The ranchers have been generous in allowing hikers, runners and bicycle riders to use their land. Keep yourself safe and keep the trail open by staying on the trail.

Driving Directions:

  • From I-25 near Socorro, NM (driving either north or south) take exit 150 and follow the ramp system to where it joins California Street at an intersection with a stoplight. Reset your odometer. Proceed onto California St.
  • After 0.3 miles on California St, turn right onto Bullock St. 
  • After 0.7 miles on Bullock St, at the third stop sign, come to an intersection with Lopezville Road. Continue straight ahead onto the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology where the road becomes Olive Dr (Olive Drive is not signed at the intersection).
  • After 0.2 miles on Olive Dr, at a stop sign, turn right onto Canyon Rd.
  • After 0.5 miles on Canyon Rd turn right onto East Road.
  • After 1.1 miles on East Rd come to a gate. If the road is gated then park on the gravel pad before the gate. Otherwise, after 1.5 miles on East Rd come to a small, paved turnout on your left and park.

At the 0.4 mile mark on East Road you will come to a stop sign at a four-way intersection. To stay on East Road you must turn right. In my short experience East Road been gated on weekends. If you come on a weekday you will save yourself a total of 0.8 miles of road-walking.

Trailhead:

The Mighty Camry parked at locked gates across East Road

There are no services at either the gravel pad before the East Road gate or at the paved pad at the formal trailhead. The popularity of this trailhead can cause parking overflows. You might try parking on the broad shoulders of East Road. Mesquite (that side-wall killer) grows at the shoulder margins. Have care for your tires.

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Data:

  • lowest elevation: 4680 feet
  • highest elevation: 7039 feet
  • net elevation gain: 2360 feet
  • distance 7.7 miles (one way, including road walk)

Hike Description:

The first fork, just before power lines

If you’ve parked at the gate then hike north on East Road for 0.4 miles. Look for the formal trailhead – a small paved pad on the west side of the road. This unsigned trailhead offers a gate through a barbed wire fence. Close the gate after you go through and enter private ranch land. The trail meanders south and meets with another barbed wire fence in 100 yards. A high-stepping ladder surmounts this difficulty. This portion of the trail sees many bicyclists; expect the tread to have a U-shaped cross section holding tire-loosened rock. The Rio Grande runs past only a few miles away, but here you stand in the Chihuahuan desert. Creosote bush completely dominates the terrain. In warmer months you will want to watch for snakes. At 1.2 miles you will reach a power line. (All distances in this route description include the 0.4 mile road walk). Immediately before the power lines watch for a fork in the trail. Go right and follow the trail as it parallels the power line. At the top of a small rise the path swings to the west (to your left, heading in) and leaves civilization behind.

Faint fork to the right? Take it!

 The tread heads towards a tiny conical hillock, denoted as point 4874 on USGS maps. The trail splits just before reaching this hillock. Like many, many other junctions on this trail there will be an obvious fork going south and a fainter fork going north. Here is the rule: always take the faint northerly route (go right, heading in). The trail swings around the hill and climbs a bit. From the hillock the trail drops into a wash and then climbs 80 to 100 feet onto a broad bajada. From the top be sure to look back. Views extend north to Polvadera Peak, northeast to Manzano Peak in the Manzanos Range, across the Rio Grande to the Quebrada hills, southeast to the dome of Carrizo Peak and south along the front of the Socorro Mountains, past the Chupedera hills and down to the distant San Andreas Mountains.

Strawberry Peak in the distance: the gully-top is at lower-center

Wind your way west, entering BLM lands, as the trail stretches across the mellow bajada. At 2.7 miles come to another junction with a prominent fork dropping south into an arroyo and a much fainter fork heading northwest. Remember: take the faint northerly track. The bajada portion of the hike ends at 3.8 miles. Nogal Arroyo appears off to your right and you must find a way down to the bed of the arroyo. The trail first drops into a small side-cut, rises on the far side, and quickly reaches the rim of the main arroyo. Finally, nosing west along the rim, the tread comes to a gully that drops briskly to the arroyo bed. If you look west along the arroyo you should see a windmill. Descend the gully on a cow path. (The arroyo rim trail continues past the top of the gully. If you find yourself pulling away from the main arroyo above another sidecut then you’ve missed the gully. Turn back). Follow the bottom of the Nogal Arroyo west. For several hundred yards you will be crossing private land. The windmill provides water for cattle and wildlife, please stay a good distance away. 

Windmill and Strawberry Peak from arroyo

The arroyo bottom has long stretches of compacted sand interspersed with jumbles of basketball-sized boulders. Plates of a whitish and fibrous mineral, most likely a form of gypsum, are abundant. At 5.5 miles from the trailhead come to a confluence where the main arroyo bends to the south. Take the northerly fork.

The map shows that I took the wrong fork and found myself trending further and further south. Piles of desk-sized boulders clog the south fork, you won’t find such piles elsewhere on this hike. On this date there were pools of water as well, but the salts precipitated next to the pools make drinking from them inadvisable. If you are worried about your course then you can scramble up the sides of the arroyo and look for the ruins of a rock house. If the ruins are north of you then you are off course. Best practice: stay close to the north side of the arroyo as you near Strawberry Peak – that will take you into the north fork and keep the Peak on your left.

Caprock on a rubble pile

At 5.7 miles from the trailhead the terrain on the south side of the north fork (left on ascent) starts to rise. Watch that side for a big pile of loose rubble topped with a thick and slanted slab of cap rock. Just past this odd configuration a gully leads steeply up the foot of Strawberry Mountain. Leave the bed of Nogal Arroyo and ascend on the south side of the gully (left on ascent). After the initial steep pitch the angle mellows. Pick your way around juniper, prickly pear, and boulders towards a pair of cliff-fronted knolls. At the base of the knolls the terrain flattens to a narrow and grassy shelf. Cross the shelf and ascend between the knolls. A cattle path rising between the knolls offers solid footing. 

Second shelf: wide and flat

Past the knolls the terrain flattens dramatically in a wide shelf. Cattle love this place – every tuft of grass has been grazed to its roots. Watch your footing because tiny but prodigiously armed cacti lie scattered on this small plain. Cross to the base of a second pair of knolls and ascend the gully between them. Once again a cow path up this gully improves the footing considerably. 

Third shelf: lumpy. Look for the waterway to the left.

Past these knolls the terrain forms a third shelf, distinctive for its numerous lumps and hollows. On this date I crossed these lumps directly toward Strawberry Peak. The footing on the next rise was not attractive. You may want to wind around the lumps going south and catch the waterway that rises to the fourth (and final) shelf.

Fourth shelf: below the summit block

At the edge of the final shelf take a moment to study the scramble ahead of you. You will be ascending the southwest facing slope (the left-facing slope in the picture). Also, take note of where you are standing. The open shelf offers many options for descent, some of these options could make you very grumpy. When you know how to enter and how to leave then cross the shelf, contouring to the south (left on ascent), to attain a low shoulder.

View of the Magdelana Mountains from summit.

From the shoulder climb directly to the summit on steep, scree-covered terrain. The scree lasts for a rise of about 400 feet. At this point the surface becomes more rocky but maintains the steep pitch. After having ascended a total of 600 feet the angle mellows. The summit block has mild exposure, but the chief risk from a tumble comes from the belligerent vegetation. Arrive at the summit having travelled 7.7 miles. The summit houses offerings to space aliens and includes a phone for calling home. The views are grand. To the north lies the nearby Ladron Mountains, the semi-distant Manzano Mountains and Sandia Peak in the far Sandia Mountains. To the east find Carrizo Peak, the El Capitan Range and the north end of the White Mountains. The Socorro Mountains dominate the south. To the west, across La Jencia plain, find South Baldy amidst the entirety of the Magdelana Mountains. Sign the climbers log, phone home and return the way you came.

Recommendations:

Alien offerings

The summit log has several entries from people who ran the entire length of this trail. I am impressed. Still, it would not be much fun to have your foot stabbed by the cacti and mesquite found here. More importantly, the ascent on loose scree begs for both foot protection and ankle reinforcement. Wear boots.

Two liters of water was enough for an overcast, windy and cool autumn’s day. In warmer conditions you will need at least twice that amount.

I treated this hike as a training exercise and took a full backpack. Mistake! The excess gear (together with some strong winds) threatened my stance on the steep-sided summit block. This tread rewards those who pack lightly.

The land owners along this route deserve your thoughtful consideration. Pack out litter. Give any cattle you encounter as wide a berth as you can. The windmill is a working piece of ranch gear and you can avoid stressing the cattle by staying away from it.

Links:

An valuable Summitpost entry gives due consideration to the possibility that you may end this hike in a secret CIA prison.

An entry on Peakbagger provides the basic data on this hike. Take a look at the trip report by Thomas Denham for another GPS track and more recommendations on route decisions.

The Albuquerque Journal presents a useful list of suggested hikes for this region that includes Strawberry Peak, although that route description seems to have been taken from the SummitPost entry.

Overview:

Vicks Peak seen from FR-225. Rock Springs Canyon  is the darkly shadowed canyon coming in from the right side.

Vicks Peak seen from FR-225. Rock Springs Canyon is the darkly shadowed canyon coming in from low on the right side.

This scramble takes you into the high, cool and extraordinarily beautiful San Mateo Mountains of Socorro County. (There is a second “San Mateo Range” up north in Cibolo County, NM). Vick’s Peak climbs to over 10,000-feet at the southern end of the range. Rock Springs Canyon begins up on Vick’s northern flank, descends to the east and then wraps to the south at the base of the peak. The south wall of the canyon is formed by the spectacular cliff faces of Vick’s Peak. The north wall of Rock Springs Canyon is made of an ancillary ridge that begins on the north-south ridgeline of the San Mateo Mountains and juts out to the east. This ridge is an unnamed wonderland of cliffs and hoodoos, separating Corn Canyon to the north from Rock Springs Canyon to the south. Questionable navigation choices took me up its steep and oak-entangled flanks. I starting thinking of this ridge as “Pestle Ridge” because it ground down my scrambling ambitions the way a rock pestle grinds down corn.  As an alternative, future explorers may want to try following the canyon bottom all the way to the main ridge line.

Driving Directions:

  • Sobering overcast at Exit 100 off of Interstate-25

    Worrisome overcast at Exit 100 off of Interstate-25

    From Lohman Drive in Las Cruces, enter Interstate 25 (I-25) heading north.

  • After 98.0 miles take exit 100 for Red Rock
  • After 0.3 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn west (left) on an unsigned road.
  • After 0.3 miles arrive at a T-interesection (stop sign) with NM-1. Turn north (right) onto NM-1.
  • After 4.7 miles arrive at the junction where Forest Road-225 meets NM-1. The junction is well signed. Turn west (left) onto FR-225, which is a gravel road.
  • After 15.9 miles arrive at the trailhead. The road is rough in places. In a family sedan it may take longer to travel this 16 mile stretch than the entire rest of the trip. Here are a few landmarks to look for:
    • After 13.5 miles on FR-225 come to a junction where 225A continues straight ahead to Springtime Campground and FR-225 makes a sharp left. The junction is well signed. Go left. Soon the road begins to climb and is steep in places.
    • After 15.3 miles on FR-225 come to a cattle guard on a height of land.  Two rough side roads come in on your left, one before the cattle guard and the other just after. Stay on FR-225.
    • After 15.9 miles on FR-225, after a long and remarkably straight descent from the height of land, FR-225 makes a gentle curve to the right and then a sharp leftward bend. An old mining road comes in from the right. Park just past the intersection.

FR-225 is drivable but in places it will be pretty hard on your suspension. There are aged tracks from road-grading machinery, so it has received reasonably recent attention. In several places it dives into canyon beds – bad places to be caught if a heavy rainstorm is drenching the mountains above.

Trailhead:

The Mighty Camry, parked at the sharp turn on FR225 (going left) with an old road coming in from the right.

The Mighty Camry, parked at the sharp turn on FR225 (going left) with an old road coming in from the right.

Immediately below the intersection of the old mining road and FR-225 there is a parking spot large enough for one car. The surface is uneven – I had to jack up the Camry to free it from a protrusion – but it gets your car off the narrow confines of FR-225. The mining road itself is very rough, but drivers with high clearance vehicles can ascend the steep initial 50 feet to find a broad and safe parking area. The trailhead is informal and no services are provided.

Data:

  • Starting elevation: 7800 feet
  • Ending elevation: 9600 feet
  • Net elevation gain: 1800 feet
  • Distance: 1.9 miles one way
  • Maps: USGS Vicks Peak, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

A stack of cliff faces high on Vick's Peak

Stacks of cliff faces high on Vick’s Peak (double-click to enlarge).

The original plan for this post was to describe a route to the main ridge line of the Magdalena Mountains via Rock Springs Canyon. It was hoped that it might become a guide to summiting Vick’s Peak as well. As Mr. Burns gleefully notes, plans “gang aft agley“. In fact, the experience did not produce very much in terms of a scramble guide. Treat this post, instead, as a summary of how to spend a splendid day lost in one of New Mexico’s grandest sky islands. If it encourages you to explore this part of the San Mateos then that would be great.

Grassy, open terrain in the lowest stretches of Rock Springs Canyon.

Grassy, open terrain in the lowest stretches of Rock Springs Canyon.

There are two ways to start the scramble. You can walk up FR-225 for about 50 feet and enter directly into the main bed of the canyon. However, it is a bit more pleasant to hike up the old mining road for 150 feet to a point where you can see the sign on a gate blocking further motor vehicle travel. (Look for a stone fire-ring on your left). Turn off the road on the uphill side and enter the canyon bottom. The terrain is open, shaded and grassy. There is no trail, but here in the canyon bottom there are no navigation difficulties. You will encounter some thickets and occasional deadfall, but there is plenty of room to move around such barriers.

Initial view to the

Initial view to the “northern gatepost” at the start of the upper canyon.

This is the domain of ponderosa pine interspersed with alligator juniper and the occasional pinyon pine. The initial slope is very mellow. If a formal trail were to be introduced here it would be considered family friendly. After a half a mile you will begin to get glimpses into the upper canyon. This terrain is distinguished by a pair of cliffs that pinch in on both the north and south sides of Rock Springs Canyon – naturally occurring gateposts separating the high country. The rock is spectacular. Up close you can see that the northern gatepost is well on its way to being carved into hoodoos.

A portion of the

A view down-canyon to the topmost portion of the “southern gatepost” on the sides of Pestle Ridge.

Just past the gateposts, about 0.9 miles from the trailhead, encounter an opening in the trees. For unclear reasons a grove of ponderosa is dying – many trees are plainly dead snags and others in the last stages of losing their brown needles. This sad opening does give you a glimpse into the canyon’s highest reaches. As you would expect, there are numerous cliff faces on the famously rocky flanks of Vick’s Peak. It was unsettling to note the many towering outcrops that appear on the “Pestle Ridge” side of the canyon as well. Worried about getting trapped in the bottom of a box canyon, I took a look at the terrain leading directly up hill towards the top of Pestle Ridge. In the low part of the canyon the terrain was open and the walls were not especially steep. Turning directly uphill, I started wandering towards a prominent fin of rock. For the record, this is not a recommended route.

08 fin and rockfall on flanks of Pestle Ridge

The fin of rock (and open rockfall) that lured me onto the steep flanks of Pestle Ridge.

My naive hopes for an easy approach to the main San Mateo ridgeline were crushed as the pines gave way to steep and dry terrain on which Gambel Oak intertwined with mountain mahogany, punctuated with “shin dagger” agave. This kind of bush-bashing is a way of life in the Organ Mountains, where you expect to encounter long reaches of importunate vegetation. But this was the San Mateo Range, home to fine wandering terrain like San Mateo Peak and the trail to Myers Cabin!  A more experienced New Mexico explorer would have turned around after penetrating just 20 feet into this vegetative miasma. After all, there would have been nothing wrong with following the bed of Rock Springs Canyon into a high (and possibly impassable) box end. Instead, lured by glimpses of pine high above, a kind of mindless, “straight at em” mantra took over my navigational thinking. It took an hour and a quarter to gain the 800 feet to the ridge top. This at considerable cost to pants, shirt, hat, bootlaces and hands. This is not how experienced scramblers navigate a wonderland.

South Baldy (right) and North Baldy (left) in the Magdalena Range.

View to what I now think is Carrizo Peak (right) and perhaps Lone Mountain (left). The original post mis-identified the mountains as North Baldy and South Baldy, but these peaks are too far away and too far south to be in the Magdalenas.

In contrast, the top of Pestle Ridge is just about everything a scrambler could ask for. It is a rise-and-fall ramble in a ponderosa and Doug fir forest with outstanding views across Rock Spring Canyon to the summit of Vicks Peak. There are equally inspiring views north-north-east, across Mulligan trough to the bold prominences of South Baldy Peak and North Baldy Peak in the Magdelana Mountains. Beautiful terrain. The hours had gone by, however, and my turn-around time arrived at a point just a few hundred feet below the the main San Mateo ridgeline. This area is calling out for further exploration.

View to false summit on Vick's Peak from the turn-back point.

View to false summit on Vick’s Peak from the turn-back point.

Return to the low point on Pestle Ridge and take note of a gently sloping draw that looks like a better route for returning to the canyon bottom. In fact, it proves to be an excellent alternative. There were short steep pitches, but these were never long and don’t require any climbing moves. The chief difficulty is that the bottom of the draw is occasionally debris-chocked. You have to move around or over these piles of log and brush. If the upper end of the main canyon proves impassable then this draw would be a very handy alternative. The draw segues almost imperceptibly into the main bed of Rock Springs Canyon. (Future explorers who wish to remain in the main canyon on their ascent should stay close to the north side – the left hand side looking uphill). Return to the trailhead via the canyon bottom.

Recommendations:

The author at the turn-back point.

The author at the turn-back point.

♦This is a beautiful spot. I doubt that I’ve seen anything more attractive anywhere in New Mexico. Scramblers who are in good shape ought to put this high in the to-do list. Bring a camera, a sense of adventure and a couple strong friends.

♦I can’t think of any reason why anyone, anywhere or at any time might want to follow my track up the wall of “Pestle Ridge”. Instead, try exploring the bottom of Rock Springs Canyon all the way to the main San Mateo ridge line. Alternatively, ascend the draw that was used on this day’s descent. Edit: see this post for a route description that takes you up Rock Springs canyon to the summit of Vicks Peak.

♦Rock Springs Canyon was entirely dry on this date. Bring all the water that you might need.

♦This is a scramble in wild terrain! A map, compass and navigation skills are essential. A GPS is a great tool – I had mine with me – but be careful of leaving your navigation needs to something that can break or run out of battery power. Vick’s Peak is heavily forested above the main ridge line and has distinct navigation challenges.

♦As mentioned in the driving directions, Forest Road 225 crosses several canyon bottoms and even follows along the canyon beds for short sections. A drenching rainstorm in the San Mateos could make your exit drive far more exciting that anyone could hope for. Bring lots of patience, at least one shovel and a pick if you come to the San Mateos with rain in the forecast.

♦Also, FR-225 gets bumpy where rocky shelves appear in the road. These were blasted out to make the original road, but they can be very rough on your car’s springs and shocks. Ditto for those places where previous drivers have churned up a muddy road bed and then left it to harden into contorted gullies. Oil pans are fragile things, go slow and careful. Where FR-225 makes long descents, consider shifting your vehicle into first gear.

Links:

Searches for “Rock Springs Canyon” AND “San Mateo” turns up a list  sites where they offer geological place names or location data (or “nearby” hotels!). This scramble seems to be missing from all of the usual sources for hike information including Trail.Com and SummitPost.Com. There are more hits with “Vicks Peak”, but all the ones I read suggest approaching either from the Springtime Campground to the north or from Burma Road to the south. Evidently, Rock Springs Canyon is a little too lonesome even for the internet.

Overview:

San Mateo Mountains ridge line (roughly where San Mateo Peak is) as seen from Forest Road 225

San Mateo Mountains ridge line (roughly where San Mateo Peak is) as seen from Forest Road 225

Many trails in central New Mexico suffer (if that is the word) from a lack of attention. The Apache Kid Trail No. 43 is a spectacular exception. A well engineered tread takes you from the Springtime Campground up the headwaters of Nogal Canyon and then along the ridge line of the San Mateo Mountains. The tread is obvious and trail junctions are well signed. Water was (on this occasion) abundantly available at the San Mateo spring. There is a short stretch of downed trees as you leave the Apache Kid Trail for the San Mateo Peak Lookout Trail, but that stretch is easily passed. Folks who aren’t acclimated should know that the summit elevation is just over 10-thousand feet. The ridge and summit are heavily forested, so you will need to climb the fire tower to get 360-degree views. That tower is not in full repair.

Driving Directions:

  • From University Avenue in Las Cruces, get onto I-25 North
  • After 97.3 miles, take the exit ramp for Exit 100, Red Rocks.
  • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, go left (west) on an unsigned road. This road will take you over the highway.
  • After 0.3 more miles, at a T-intersection, turn right onto NM-1 (north)
  • After 4.6 more miles, just past a sign for Forest Road-225, turn left (west) onto FR-225
  • After 13.2 more stony and bumpy miles, come to a junction where FR-225 makes a hard left and FR-225A continues straight. Go straight ahead on FR-225A.
  • After 0.4 miles come to the Springtime Campground, your trailhead. Park just before a cattle-guard in the campground. If you look just uphill of the cattle-guard you will see a Forest Service sign for the Apache Kid Trail (the sign is small).

If you are driving south on I-25, say from Albuquerque, then it may be useful to use a slightly different route described in the Myer’s Cabin report.

FR-225 is a gravel road that crosses several arroyos. It can be driven in a family sedan, but at low speed if you value your alignment. Running water could make your exit a little more exciting than hoped, so keep an eye on the weather and perhaps carry a shovel in the vehicle.

The mighty Camry parked below dawn-illuminated cliffs at the campground.

The mighty Camry parked below dawn-illuminated cliffs at the campground.

Trailhead:

The Springtime Campground has three-sided shelters, vault toilets, picnic benches and grills. Reports say that water in the campground is not reliable. A pipe descending from a spring to the campsite was making promising gurgling sounds, but it was not easy to find the outlet. It’s best to bring your own water.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 7,560 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 10,139 feet
  • Net Gain: 2,580 feet
  • Distance: 4.1 miles, one way
  • maps: USGS Vick’s Peak quadrangle

Hike Description:

Apache Kid Trail sign just uphill of the cattle-guard in the Springtime Campground

Apache Kid Trail sign just uphill of the cattle-guard in the Springtime Campground

From the trailhead, head up-canyon on the Apache Kid Trail. The headwaters of Nogal Canyon is a complex of converging stream beds. After 0.4 miles the trail makes a feint into a drainage coming in from the east, abruptly switchbacks west, crosses over a small rib and places you along a second waterway descending from the north. The canyon walls are generally eroded, but every now and then a sharp needle of tougher rock leaps for the sky – spectacular in the light of the rising sun.

Spires of stubborn stone and views east to the headwaters of Springtime Canyon.

Spires of stubborn stone and a peek east towards the headwaters of Springtime Canyon.

At 1.1 miles come to the point of departure from the canyon bottom. Switchbacks come hard and fast as the trail strives for altitude. This is the sun drenched domain of pinyon pine and alligator juniper. It is sufficiently open that good views open to the surrounding canyon walls and down-canyon to the graben holding the Rio Grande. Eventually the switchbacks themselves give up and the trail contours south and west to reach a rib descending from the main ridge line. Rising north on this ridge the tread passes several possible campsites.

Ridge-top junction between the Apache Kid Trail and the Shipman Trail.

Ridge-top junction between the Apache Kid Trail and the Shipman Trail.

Having journeyed 2.1 miles, arrive at the main ridge line. A grassy meadow occupies the saddle where the trail crosses the ridge – the perfect spot for a break. Passing over the ridge top you re-enter the forest and arrive at the junction of the Apache Kid Trail and the Shipman Trail #50. The latter would take you south towards Vick’s Peak and San Mateo Mountain. Here, however, stay on the Apache Kid trail and ramble north towards San Mateo Peak.

Interior canyons of the Apache Kid Wilderness.

Interior canyons of the Apache Kid Wilderness.

The interior of the Apache Kid Wilderness is a fantastic jumble of water carved volcanic rock. This portion of the trail provides soaring views over terrain cut by Mateo, Smith, Milo and Nave Canyons, along with their innumerable tributaries. You will have left the pinyon pine and the alligator junipers behind by the time you arrive at the junction with the Milo Canyon Trail #49 at 2.5 miles.

Full trough of water at the San Mateo Spring

Full trough of water at the San Mateo Spring

The Apache Kid Trail continues north, passing a crumbling log cabin and arriving at the San Mateo Spring at 2.7 miles. An immense amount of effort has gone into protecting the spring. A trough placed along the trail has been set into concrete. Pipes connect the trough to the spring. The spring is also encased in concrete and has a heavy metal cover. The spring is reportedly unreliable, but on this date the trough was brimming full and the water was perfectly clear. Reflect on the job of carrying the trough, pipes, spring cover, signage and all that cement up this trail and continue ascending on the Trail.

Small, widely spaced trees growing on bare and gravelly ground.

Small, widely spaced trees growing on bare and gravelly ground.

Soon the tread begins a new series of long switchbacks. The nature of the woodland changes as well – small and widely spaced pines grow on steep terrain. There is almost no understory, just gravelly soil and trees. The near-complete lack of shrubs and grasses suggests that a fire may have occurred recently, but none of the older trees are blackened. Perhaps this odd niche is akin to a serpentine barren where soil toxins discourage the smaller plants.

Contrasting sky, conifer and aspen.

Contrasting sky, conifer and aspen.

Above the switchbacks the trail resumes its northerly course and at 3.2 miles comes to a junction with the trail for the San Mateo Peak Lookout. Go left onto the Lookout trail, which is not quite as obvious as the Apache Kid tread but still easily followed. In 100 yards hit an entanglement of downed trees with many more trees still propped over your head. Thread your way through the tree jam (barely more than 50 yards) and begin ascending through a near-miracle’s worth of old-growth forest. Ancient Douglas firs of huge girth (but stubby stature) intermingle with aspen and pine. Between the trees is a wealth of grasses, which remained very green on the late-October date of this report.

View through a tower platform that is missing boards

View through a tower platform that is missing boards

Pass the junction for the Cowboy Trail at 4.0 miles and, barely a tenth of a mile further, come to the summit. There is fire tower, a cabin and a decaying corral. The forest is still quite thick, although there are views to the northern reaches of the Apache Kid Widerness and beyond to the Withington Wilderness. The fire tower remains standing, but portions of the platforms are missing. Be extra cautious with any ascent.

Magdalena Range from the San Mateo Peak fire tower.

Magdalena Range from the San Mateo Peak fire tower.

The views from the upper tower are great. To the northeast lie the Magdalena Mountains, to the southeast lies the Fra Cristebol Range. Beyond them, far to the southeast you can see the San Andreas Mountains. The broad expanse of gleaming desert floor due south is actually the Elephant Butte Reservoir. South and west lie the Black Range and beyond them lie the mountains of the Gila National Forest. To the northwest lies the Plains of San Augustin (home of the Very Large Array observatory). Descend carefully and return to the trailhead the same way you came in.

Recommendations:

Author descending the San Mateo fire lookout tower

Author descending the San Mateo fire lookout tower

♦This is a beautiful trail. It is not too terribly long and has a reasonable amount of vertical gain. This would be terrific destination for newcomers to the mountains of New Mexico.

♦Know, however, that these are lonely mountains. There was no one else at the trailhead either in the morning or in the afternoon. I saw no one else while hiking.

♦There are two ranges in New Mexico named after Saint Matthew. The range described here lies to the west of I-25 in Socorro County. The “other” San Mateo range lies to the  north of I-40 in Cibola County.

♦Just to keep things interesting, there are two peaks within the Socorro range called “San Mateo”. The summit described here is “San Mateo Peak”. If you were to follow the Shipman Trail #50 south you would find a summit called “San Mateo Mountain”.

♦This is hunting season. You will probably want to wear some orange if you go into these mountains. On this trip there wasn’t a single gunfire report, but the range is touted for it’s wildlife.

♦We’ve had a pretty good monsoon season so the springs are currently reliable. The San Mateo Spring is reportedly intermittent so in drier times bring your own water. I went through about two liters.

♦Many aspen trees are nearly bare. If you want to see some of the most striking color that New Mexico has to offer then get into them-thar hills as soon as possible!

Links:

♦Bob Mitchael, at the Sierra Club, has a 1999 report with interesting comments on the geology and surprisingly lush botanical resources on San Mateo Peak.

♦A good description (pdf) of the entire Apache Kid Trail has been provided by the Magdalena Chamber of Commerce.

♦The Albuquerque Hiking meet-up group has done this hike. One report cautions to expect several inches of snow for a mid-winter trip to the summit.

♦A. Jackson Frishman at FrishmanPhotos has an image of the southern end of the San Mateo Mountains. A glance at the photo may be enough to make you grab those hiking boots and get outdoors. Do bear in mind that he is showing San Mateo Mountain (not San Mateo Peak). The neighboring prominence is sometimes called Vic’s Peak rather than Vick’s Peak. This makes sense since it is named after a Mimbreño Apache leader named Victorio. “Vick’s Peak”, however, is the USGS designation. For the sake of navigators, here we will stick with the USGS usage.

♦Matt Basham has filed a report on the cultural and natural resource in the Magdalena Ranger District. The body of the report is interesting and the appendix showing color photos of plant life in the area is also worth studying. I learned that the brush that has been referred to on this website as “scrub oak” is perhaps better called Gambel’s Oak.

♦RWStorm describes this trail and provides many useful pictures at hikearizon.com

♦If you plan on taking an unacclimatized party up over 10,000 feet, then it pays to be aware of the symptoms and treatment of acute mountain sickness. A succinct treatment is given here.