Archives for posts with tag: Socorro


North Baldy from the south

Overview:

Central New Mexico contains many hiking gems, but even in that company the Hop Canyon Loop in the Magdalena Mountains is a lustrous stunner. It offers easy access, a clear tread, vertiginous canyons and an unruly mob of high and darkly forested peaks. The Hop Canyon Loop tours a sky archipelago and offers a lightly exposed extension onto North Baldy Peak. Ambitious hikers could add a second side trip to South Baldy for a rousing and exhausting day in the mountains.

Read the rest of this entry »
Sierra Ladrones seen from the north (the high point lies to right of the notch)

Overview:

The rugged and ancient Sierra Ladones lie only 50 miles south of Albuquerque. You will not, however, be troubled by crowds. Unpaved roads take you to a ‘trailhead’ in a range devoid of trails. Towering above the surrounding desert, Ladron Peak is a trial for legs and a challenge for navigators. Experienced scramblers will enjoy the isolation and the demands. Novice hikers will not. The summit offers incomparable views across central New Mexico. Take strong friends and scramble Ladron.

There are two adjoining peaks that compete for “high-point” status. Older maps sometimes place the “Ladron Peak” label on the shorter, eastern summit. Current USGS maps place that label on the taller, western summit. This post follows the current convention.

Read the rest of this entry »
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.

Read the rest of this entry »
01 Ridge Containing Black Mountain
View of ridge containing Black Mountain from NM-59 (foreground peak is probably Beaver Points Mountain).

Overview: 

This hike is a mellow stroll to a lookout tower on the northern edge of the Gila Wilderness. Wolf Trail #773 has a clear tread, a manageable vertical gain and a summit low enough to be snow-free for much of the year. The summit view swings from Vick’s Peak in the San Mateo Range to the northeast, passing Hillsboro Peak in the Black Range to the east, Black Peak in the Pinos Altos Range to the south and winding up on Whitewater Baldy in the Mogollon Mountains to the west. There may be no better place for getting an overview of this huge and varied National Forest. The roads are paved for much of the way, so access is relatively easy. These roads do wiggle and writhe, however, so getting here is not especially fast.

To be clear, this is Black Mountain in Catron County on the northern boarder of the Gila National Forest. It is not Black Peak (near Signal Peak) on the southern border of the Gila National Forest. Nor is it Black Mountain (near Whitewater Baldy) on the western border  of the Gila National Forest. In fact, none of these peaks lie within the Black Range on the western border of the Gila National Forest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Overview:

View of Vicks Peak from Forest Road 225

View of Vicks Peak from Forest Road 225. Doubleclick to enlarge.

This scramble takes you into the wild and lonely sky-islands of the San Mateo Mountains in Socorro County, New Mexico. It begins on the mellow bottomlands of Rock Springs Canyon, springs onto steep boulder fields near the San Mateo ridge line and finishes with a pathless ascent of the forested summit on Vick’s Peak. Don’t bring novice hikers. The route is short, strenuous and spectacular.

Driving Directions:

Nearing the Springtime Campground on the upper reaches of Nogal Canyon. Vicks Peak at top center.

Nearing the Springtime Campground on the upper reaches of Nogal Canyon. Vicks Peak at top center.

  • From University Avenue in Las Cruces, enter Interstate 25 (I-25) heading north.
  • After 99.7 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 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 cattle guard on a height of land.  Two rough side roads come in on your left –  one before the cattle guard and one just past the cattle guard. Stay on FR-225.
    • After 15.9 miles on FR-225, after a long and remarkably straight descent from the height of land, the road makes a gentle rightward curve and then a sharp leftward bend. An old mining road comes in from the driver’s right. Park just past the intersection.

FR-225 is drivable but in places it will be pretty hard on your suspension. In several places it crosses canyon beds – bad places to be stuck if a heavy rainstorm is drenching the mountains above.

Trailhead:

The Mighty Camry at the trailhead. The old mining road coming down from above/right of the car.

Cliffs on Vick’s Peak tower over the Mighty Camry at the trailhead.  The mining road can be glimpsed coming down to the right of the car.

The trailhead is just a small and rough parking spot beside Forest Road 225. There are no services. Folks driving high clearance vehicles may be able to drive the old mining road 150 feet to a wide and safe parking area

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 7760 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 10,256 feet
  • Net Elevation: 2500 feet
  • Distance: 2.4 miles (one way)
  • Maps: USGS Vicks Peak quadrangle

Hike Description:

Game trail on grassy canyon bottom at the start of the scramble.

Game trail on grassy canyon bottom near the start of the scramble.

From the car, head up the mining road for 150 feet. You will find an opening in the trees with lots of parking space and a rock fire-ring on the left side of the road. A gate bars the road just a little further along. Turn uphill (right) and enter the open and frequently grass-covered bed of Rock Springs Canyon. There is no trail and no navigation problem. Simply probe uphill near the canyon bed, skirting around debris piles and pushing past occasional thickets. The open nature of the terrain is due to the big ponderosa pine that shade the canyon. You could hardly ask for a nicer way to warm up for a scramble. If you stay a bit high on the south side of the canyon (the left side going uphill) you may find yourself on an old mining road crisscrossed with deadfall. The road is faster, but the canyon bottom is more attractive.

View to South Gatepost from the bottom of Rock Springs Canyon

View to South Gatepost from the bottom of Rock Springs Canyon

After hiking 0.9 miles from the trailhead you will find yourself walking between matched cliffs on the south and north sides of the canyon. These I’ve termed The Gateposts, since they separate the lower portion of the canyon from the upper reaches. They are worth noting, since they act as navigation beacons when viewed from the main San Mateo ridge line.

A drift of bleached logs, four to six inches in diameter, tangled on the canyon bottom.

A drift of bleached logs, four to six inches in diameter, tangled on the canyon bottom.

Past the gateposts the terrain steepens. Ponderosa and pinyon pines dominate the bottom of the canyon, while Gambel Oak thickets hold the walls. There is less room to navigate around debris piles. As you ascend watch for waterways coming in from the north (from your right, looking uphill) as some are quite prominent. A moment’s inattention could send you on an unexpected journey. A big cliff dominates the canyon above you and it can make an explorer uneasy – what sort of tricky maneuvering might be needed to get past such a wall? At 1.3 miles you will find your answer. There is a pinch point where the cliff wall lunges towards Vicks peak. Thwarted, it leaves a canyon narrows for you to ascend in safety and comfort. Even the debris piles thin out here, presumably carried off by storms past.

A rock spire lofts towards the sky (left) while on the right is an opening to a boulder field.

A rock spire lofts towards the sky (left) while on the right is an opening to a boulder field.

Enjoy the shade while it lasts. The footing on the canyon bottom becomes increasingly rubbly. On your left you will see breaks in the woods where piles of shattered rock hold the forest’s encroachment at bay. On your right the canyon wall becomes a palisade of dizzying rock spires. Eventually, those spires will force you out of the forest and onto the rock piles. This is not pebble-size scree nor fist-sized talus, but a rather a slope containing small boulders – on average about the size of a basketball. Continue your westerly ascent along the shallowest gradient available. The footing is not bad, but your pace will probably slow considerably.

Cliff above boulder field, descending to the right. At the end of this decent is a snag, dead at its to but  retaining a green skirt of living branches at its base.

The main cliff above the boulder field, descending to the right. At the end of this descent is a snag, dead at its top but retaining a green skirt of living branches at its base.

The boulder field broadens dramatically as you ascend. After a steeper pitch the terrain benches and you will be able to see to the main San Mateo ridge. Above you, about mid-way up the remaining boulder field, you will see a tree that has lost all of its upper branches but retains a dense green “skirt” of living lower branches. Reach this tree having hiked 1.7 miles from the trailhead. On this date I turned directly for Vicks Peak to the south, a steep ascent up a loosely piled boulder field. There are alternatives. Consider staying on the lowest incline to reach a saddle on the main San Mateo ridge. The footing will probably be better and you should be able to follow the ridge to the peak.

Boulder field on Vick's Peak, looking toward

Boulder field on Vick’s Peak, looking out toward “Pestle Ridge”. The Gatepost cliffs are prominent in the center of the photo.

To follow the route used on this date, depart from the “skirted” tree towards the largest cliff to the south. The footing is tricky since many of the boulders are only loosely held in place. There is a scattering of trees at the base of the cliff (shown in the photo above). The trees provide detritus for moss to grow in, and the moss plus soil helps to stablize the slope. High above the boulder field you will see a dense forest. A “finger” of this forest extends down the slope. When you rise high enough, about 1.9 miles from the trailhead, leave the base of the cliff and contour southeast to reach this narrow strip of forest. It is much easier to ascend on the duff that carpets this forested segment. Stay to the left side of this narrow strip of forest, looking southeast over the upper end of the boulder field. You will want to avoid the false summit that lies north-north-west of Vick’s Peak, so you need to work your way a little further southeast.  About 200 feet below the upper end of the boulder field leave the narrow strip of forest and cross 100 – 200 feet of boulder field to enter the main forest.

Climber's tread on the ridge to Vick's Peak

Climber’s tread on the ridge to Vick’s Peak

The high flanks of Vick’s Peak are covered with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and occasional aspen groves. Performing a rising traverse through this forest is tricky. Pathfinders often fail to climb enough on such traverses. You will want a compass and experience navigating with it. True north is 12-degrees west of magnetic north in this area. Set your compass’s declination and follow a bearing of 184 degrees from true north. Familiarize yourself with the local landmarks so you can descend the same route. At 2.1 miles from the trailhead come to the ridge that joins Vick’s Peak to its false summit. Pause to make certain that you will recognize this point on descent, where you will exit the ridge. Then turn south (to your left as you get onto the ridge) and follow the ridge as it ascends gently through open forest. There is a faint path, but in places the tread fans out into game trails and in other places it briefly disappears. Simply staying on the ridge will get you to the summit.

San Mateo Mountain (left), false summit on Vick's Peak (right) and beyond to the San Agustin Plains

San Mateo Mountain (left), false summit on Vick’s Peak (right) and beyond to the San Agustin Plains

At 2.4 miles from the trailhead the forest gives way to summit meadow. A tall cairn stands at the summit. I did not find a summit register. There are at least two brass plaques marking where the Geodesic Survey has surveyed the peak. You can pick out the Caballo Cone on the north end of the Caballo Range, the long sweep of the Black Range, high South Baldy in the Magdalena Range, the Manzano Mountains, the San Andreas Mountains and the Fra Cristobal Range. Close up, there are terrific views to the false summit on Vick’s Peak and nearby San Mateo Mountain. A vigorous party could descend north-north-west to the saddle holding Myer’s Cabin (being wary of mine shafts) and ascend San Mateo Peak before returning. Are you feeling oppressed by rapidly developing cumulus clouds? Snap some quick photos, grab a bite to eat and scamper back the way you came.

Recommendations:

The author, blocking your views to the Magdalena Mountains.

The author, blocking your views to the Magdalena Mountains.

Last week I visited this same area and made a few recommendations that can be found here.

The upper boulder field used on ascent for this route is steep and the rocks are not well consolidated. If you ascended to the “skirted tree” but continued upward on the low-angle portion of the field to the San Mateo ridge line, then you may find better footing. From the saddle you should be able to follow the ridge as it arcs southwest and then south (over Vick’s false summit) to attain the true summit.

This hike averages about 1000 feet per mile. The gentle grade in the first mile assures you of harsher grades in the last mile. You will need to expend considerable effort at altitudes that reach 10,256-feet. Altitude sickness is a real possibility. A good summary of the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness can be found here.

The wind over Vick’s Peak was more than merely cool. At noon on a day in late May the wind was positively chilly. That, plus the discovery of a micro-snowfield lingering between boulder-field rocks, tells you that an emergency bivouac would be icy. Pack fleece.

There are two San Mateo Ranges in New Mexico. If you are looking for maps or other guides to this region, make certain that you are getting data on the San Mateo Range in Socorro County, not the range in Cibola County!

Links:

As mentioned last week, there isn’t much data on hiking into Rock Springs Canyon. This week I extended the search into hunting or rock-hounding web sites. No luck! You will be entirely on your own once you drive FR-225 past the fork to Springtime Campground.

Anna has done the hard work involved in downloading the map data and making it available to everyone. You can find the route data at Gaia GPS, https://www.gaiagps.com/public/l3bsL2NH45BEjZH55pnHppR0/?layer=GaiaTopoRasterFeet

Overview:

01 South Baldy, Magdalena Mts

South Baldy Summit from US 60

The Magdalena Mountains form a small range close to the town of Socorro, New Mexico. This hike ascends up Copper Canyon, which is beautifully forested and in some stretches carries surface water, reaches the main ridge line and then ascends the summit block for South Baldy. This summit is the highest point in the range. It is also center for research – just below the summit is the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. On this date I descended north along the ridge line towards North Baldy, which is slightly less lofty but more lonesome (although a private road runs close to the summit). I ran out of time before I ran out of mountain, so the North Baldy portion of the route report is only exploratory. The ridge ramble lies above 9300 feet and the thin air adds substantially to the challenge. This route is a much under-rated ascent in mid-state New Mexico.

Driving Directions:

  • From University Ave in Las Cruces, enter I-25 going north
  • After 146 miles, take exit 147 for US 60/West 25/Socorro/Magdalena. The exit ramp simply becomes California Street/Interstate 25 Business Loop going north.
  • After 1.0 miles, go left onto Spring Street/US-60 West. Follow signs to stay on US-60 West
  • After 15.5 miles, go left onto Water Canyon Road.
  • After 4.6 miles, where the pavement stops and gravel road begins, go right onto Forest Road 406
  • After 0.2 miles, go right into the Water Canyon Campground (signed) and park.

The mighty Camry, resting at the trailhead

The mighty Camry, resting at the Water Canyon trailhead

Drivers with high clearance vehicles can continue on FR 406 for another 0.6 miles and park where a sign says “Dead End”. Sedan drivers will take a look at the deep gullies and rocky protrusions in the road and park at the camp ground.

Trailhead:

The Water Canyon Campground has family and group camp sites. There are pit toilets. I did not see any evidence of water.

Data:

 

  • Starting Elevation: 6840 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 10,783 feet
  • Net Elevation: 3943 (warning: the gross elevation gain is greater due to saddles and knolls on the ridge line)
  • Distance: 18.6 miles (round trip)
  • Maps: The USGS Magdalena quadrangle has roughly 90% of the hike, but the summit block for South Baldy is on the South Baldy quadrangle. It was very useful to have both maps.

Hike Description:

Departure point from road onto Copper Canyon Trail

Departure point from road onto Copper Canyon Trail

From the trailhead, ascend the gullied dirt road for about 0.6 miles to where it serves as the stem in a T-intersection with a second dirt road. A sign on the embankment across the road directs you onto trail 10, the Copper Canyon trail. Ascend the trail as it passes a large open field on the outflow from Copper Canyon. There are several buildings along the trail in advancing states of disrepair, a few visible cattle, and fencing along side the trail. Initially the fencing is wire grid, but eventually changes over to standard barbed wire. A downed sign indicates where you enter the National Forest. Shortly past that point the barbed wire ends and you enter into the bed of Copper Canyon.

Tunneling through signs of spring in Copper Canyon

Tunneling through signs of spring in Copper Canyon

In the lower reaches of the canyon trail T10 is a tunnel through the trees. Other hikers have amused themselves by creating tall stone cairns, often top-heavy in appearance and some are none-too stable. The trees include some alligator juniper, a second juniper species with bark in slender exfoliating strips (Rocky Mountain juniper, perhaps), pinyon pine, ponderosa, and Douglas fir. On this date, water was flowing in places. It wasn’t clear if this flow is the result of a recent storm or if Copper Canyon is an unusually reliable source of water (the US Drought Monitor indicates that this area of New Mexico is currently under severe drought conditions). Later in the day the canyon becomes a markedly humid spot.

05 cabin ruins

Abandoned cabin along the side of T10

The trail stays near the bed of the canyon, crossing whenever flatter or more open terrain becomes available. Be extra careful with the map shown in this post – tree coverage made it impossible to get a high quality trail data from satellite imagery. You won’t go wrong if you stick close to the waterway up the canyon as far as the ruined log cabin, which is reached at 3.8 miles from the trailhead. The front wall of the ruin is gone and little remains of the other three sides. Some iron sheets still occupy space on the forest floor, but the occupants are clearly long gone. In less than 100 more feet, come to a fork in the trail. The branch to the left rises to the Magdalena ridge line at 10,300 feet. The branch to the right is the northern branch of the Copper Canyon Trail. The 1995 USGS map shows it heading towards the main ridge line where you could continue to North Baldy. See comments below on the degraded nature of the northerly tread.

Trail sign at junction of Copper Canyon Train T10 and North Baldy Trail T08

Trail sign at junction of Copper Canyon Train T10 and North Baldy Trail T08

Go left, toward South Baldy. Here the canyon swings towards the southwest and rises directly towards the summit of South Baldy. This is the realm of large firs and a surprisingly large number of aspen – it must be quite a sight when the aspen turns autumn gold. Even on a springtime day, however, there are memorable views to the ridge line with its large meadows alternating with forested slopes. If you aspire to use the northern branch of the Copper Canyon Trail you might want to work on committing this view to memory, as it will guide your exploration of the degraded trail. At 4.6 miles, after a very steep 0.8 miles, arrive at the ridge line in open meadows. Strangely, the tread disappears just before the crest, simply head over the top and drop down the back side for a loss of about 20 feet to intersect the main ridge line. (A sign marks the crest, and unlike all the other trail signs this one is still standing).

Massive, lightening resistant insulators on South Baldy summit

Massive, lightening resistant insulators on South Baldy summit

To get to South Baldy, go left (south) on Trail 8, the North Baldy Trail. It winds through smaller meadows and a stand or two of ponderosa and Douglas fir, coming to an intersection immediately below the summit block at 5.0 miles. The main trail trail goes straight across the meadows, but the fainter branch trail to your right is a more direct approach to the summit. Go right through a narrow block of trees and enter the open west face of the summit block. The faint trail you are on stays below the summit, apparently headed toward the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. Leave the trail as the summit comes into sight and ascend to the high point at 5.3 miles. The top is forested on the northern side, but there are fine views southwest towards the San Mateo Mountains and Vick’s Peak, due south to the Caballo Range and Turtleback Peak, and a glimpse through the haze east to Sierra Blanca. You are standing on terrain used by the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research to study lightening strikes. There may be no worse place in the country to greet new acquaintances of the cumulonimbus persuasion.

Magdalena Ridge Observatory

Magdalena Ridge Observatory

This part of the hike is, all by itself, a great day. If you’ve done enough damage to your boots then return the way you came and enjoy a really wonderful outing. On the other hand, those Vibram soles might need greater contact with this hard world. If so, then make a mini-loop by continuing east along the forest-meadow border and drop down the summit block. In 1000 feet from the summit encounter the main ridge trail, T08, just above the Water Canyon Road. Go left, into the trees. The trail is very easy to follow and returns to the summit block intersection having traveled 6.0 miles from the car. (Again, the map depicts a series of guesses where the trail disappears into the trees).

Rock lined tread where the path crosses from the west side of the ridge to the east side.

Rock lined tread where the path crosses from the west side of the ridge to the east side.

Once back to the ridge, head north as the trail rises and falls on the knolls and saddles of the North Baldy Trail. The tread drops off on the western side of the ridge and stays there (with brief glimpses over the ridge) until mile 7.5. In a particularly wide and grassy saddle, look for a gully (actually an old mining road) ascending from the west. This road rises all the way to the ridge line and goes over to the east side of the Magdalena Mountains. The 1995 USGS Map indicates that this is the point at which the north branch of the Copper Canyon Trail comes in, but see the comments below. For now, follow the trail, here handsomely lined by rock guides, as it continues north, now on the east side of the ridge line.

White cliff face and true summit (right) of North Baldy

White cliff face and true summit (right) of North Baldy

The trail crosses several meadows and a strikingly pleasant col (potentially a great campsite) at 7.7 miles, then arrives at an intersection with a trail rising from Hop Canyon at 8.3 miles. The Hop Canyon Trail is not shown on either the 1995 or 2013 USGS maps. Follow the sign for North Baldy, taking the right-hand path and descending. The tread still bounces up over each knoll, but the subsequent fall is always longer and steeper as the ridge line falls from 9800 feet to 9300 feet. North Baldy comes into view, with a large and unforested wall of smooth white rock extending to the west. Reach the low point on the ridge at 10 miles, facing into a canyon leading to North Baldy Summit. It is here that I ran out of time and had to turn back. From the looks of the trail ahead, the path to the summit should be pretty clear.

View of davit high in cliff wall

View of a drift mine high in a cliff wall

My plan was to return the 2.5 miles to the saddle where the trail crossed from west of the ridge to east of the ridge, find the mining road, and return by the north branch of Copper Canyon road. To my surprise, the mining road (shown in red on the map) simply ends at a mine. There is no hint of a trail continuing from the road terminus. Backing up a few hundred feet, there is a tall cairn built by the side of the road with a hint of a trail descending steeply into the confused terrain of the Copper Canyon headwaters. (This is where it might pay to have studied the high terrain when ascending the Copper Canyon Trail). If you probe down this tread you will find trail hints, such as a stump-top cairn and a faded pink tape tied to a bush, but the trail is never very clear – it was hard to distinguish stream beds from possible trail beds. Eventually I decided to return to the ridge and head back to meadow in which south Copper Canyon Trail T10 intersects North Baldy Trail T08.

Evening light on a scarp, possibly from magdalena fault thrust

Evening light on a scarp, possibly from magdalena fault thrust

Skipping this side excursion, you might want to return directly to the intersection of the south Copper Canyon Trail and North Baldy Trails, having hiked  approximately 14 miles. Return down copper canyon for a day’s total of 18.6 miles.

Recommendations:

Author at turn around point

Author at turn around point

I went through four liters of water on this hike and could have used more. Dehydration is affected by activity, warm springtime weather, the humidity within the canyon and sweat-evaporating breezes on the ridge line. I suspect that an important factor is the thin air above 9000 feet, which certainly encouraged panting in this hiker. I was still feeling a little dehydrated more than a day after the hike, which is not the usual response. Bring lots of water.

14 Sunrise on approach US 60If you are entering New Mexico from lower terrain then give yourself some time to acclimatize and also know how to recognize acute mountain sickness. Especially, if you are not feeling well then it may be a mistake to hike the North Baldy branch of this route. The return from the low point on the ridge to the upper end of Copper Canyon Trail (south branch) involves almost 1000 feet of gain – exactly the wrong thing for AMS sufferers.

San Mateo Range from South Baldy

San Mateo Range from South Baldy

The trampled terrain at and below the mine has made it truly difficult to find the northern path leading out of Copper Canyon. On ascent, once you’ve reached the the fork in the trail (above the old log cabin) you will probably want to avoid the mine by going south (left) towards South Baldy. If the north fork is necessary to your plans then I think you will want to explore the northerly path from the bottom. That is, ascend past the cabin to the fork and go right. The trail at the fork is very clear. It is only a guess, but I think the path will lead you close to the mine. If you can see the mine then you should be able to find the broad road that takes you from the mouth of the mine up to the ridge line. My efforts to find the north branch starting from the ridge top were unproductive and tiring.

Sign at junction where the north and south extensions for Copper Canyon Trail diverge

Sign at junction where the north and south extensions for Copper Canyon Trail diverge

The path up the canyon is well shaded. That plus the coolness arising from the altitude might make the Copper Canyon Trail a good mid-summer workout. On the other hand, there is little chance to view the surrounding skies. It would be awkward to ascend to the ridge line only to find a cell of thunderclouds sweeping toward you from the west. Get your meteorologist’s permission before heading out in monsoon season. Above the canyon the forest of tall trees reaches all the way to the summit of South Baldy, so shade is found to the high point of the range. The ridge walk is much more sun-exposed and you might want to give that path a mid-summer pass.

Links:

The Magdalena Mountains are part of the Cibola National Forest, which is huge (parts of the forest are found in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico). A more local resource is the Magdalena Ranger District, headquartered in the town of Magdalena. It is worth checking for road status and fire alerts. In fact, there is a notice that on Monday the National Forest/National Grasslands will begin Level One fire restrictions. Essentially, that means no campfires or fireworks, although you can still use camp stoves. It seems pretty reasonable, give then current drought conditions.

Sonja, at the Overly Ambitious Me site, has some interesting photos of mines along the trail in Copper Canyon and comments on how thunder storms can affect your visits to the Magdalena Mountains.

A succinct but tremendously useful descriptions of trails in the Magdalena Mountains can be found at the Magdalena-NM website (PDF). This is an unusual Chamber of Commerce site, in which the Chamber has made a very thoughtful attempt at providing good recreational information for locals and visitors alike. Kudos to the leadership! They also have descriptions of the hiking trails in the San Mateo Mountains (PDF) and a set of links to several large-scale maps of the hiking and mountain biking trails in the region.

Some of the comments on Summit Post make note of how snowy this approach can be in wintertime. You might need snow shoes in winter.

A brief trail description appeared in 1998 in the Albuequerque Journal. It is notable because as far back as 16 years ago writers were encouraging people to be careful trying the “top down” approach on the north branch of the Copper Canyon Trail.