01 Jack's Peak

View past pines to summit of Jack’s Peak

Overview:

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

Driving Directions:

03 kiosk at start of trail

Trailhead kiosk

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

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

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

Trailhead:

02 The Mighty Camry at Jack's Pk trailhead

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

Data:

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

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

Hike Description:

04 Broad height of land above trailhead

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

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

06 Yellow Cliff

Yellow cliff below the high ridge

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

05a (maybe) layer cake

A level stretch before the next riser

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

07 Florida Mts from top of yellow ledge

view to the Florida Mountains

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

08 earthern cattle tank

Earthen water tank along the trial

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

10 Mimbres basin and Cookes Peak

View across the Mimbres Basin, east to Cooks Peak

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

Recommendations:

11 author at chimney

The author, dressed for hunting season

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

 

 

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01 Slot Canyon Skyward.jpg

Skylight in Slot Canyon

Overview:

This short hike takes you south along a wide canyon bottom, diverts unexpectedly into a vegetative veil and enters a magic little excursion west into a slot canyon. Like most slot canyons it makes up for its short length with a twisting path, cool air, mellow tread and dramatic sense of place. If you are near Silver City (in southwest New Mexico) and have a few hours for a stroll on hot day, then this could be the ticket. On rainy days, however, give this hike a pass.

Driving Directions:

FR 88

The turnoff to Forest Road 88 from NM-35. Going north it will be on your left

Warning! I misplaced my notes on the ride and am mostly just quoting Google. The description of Forest Rd 88, however, is accurate.

  • In Silver City, starting at the intersection of NM-90 and US-180 head south on US-180. (At first your actual direction will be due east). In the City NM-90 is signed “N. Hudson St” while US-180 is signed “Silver Heights Blvd”.
  • After 7.5 on US-180 miles turn left onto NM-152
  • After 14.3 miles on NM-152 turn left onto NM-35
  • After 19.5 miles on NM-35, turn left onto Forest Road 88. This intersection is not signed so watch your odometer and look for a gate made up of pipes and chainlink fencing on your left. Beside the gate there is a brown “vertical route marker” indicating that this is  Forest Road 88 (FR-88).
  • After 1.3 miles on FR-88 come to the trailhead next to a decaying corral.

At the start of FR-88 you will have to get out of your car, open the gate, drive through the date, stop and close the gate.

FR-88 is in somewhat rough shape. Drivers with high suspension vehicles will have no problem. The mighty Camry, however, had to go very slowly . Even then it was often necessary to stop and kick the larger rocks off the road’s prominent crown. At approximately 0.3 miles the road crosses over an 20-foot (7 meters) embankment that extends across the canyon. The embankment is steep on both sides. The ascent to the top of the embankment is not a problem. On descent, however, you’ll be flying blind (unless you are on a motor cycle) since your hood will block all sight lines to the road. You will probably want to stop at the top and check that the road is still there!

Trailhead:

03 Water hazards on road past trailhead

Water hazard on road just past the trailhead.

The trailhead is just a wide spot where FR-88 intersects with FR-4078T (on older maps this is identified as FR-4202S) and FR-4078R. An aged corral marks this intersection. In another 100 feet the road drops into the river bed and generally stays there. High clearance vehicles should not have a problem with the river bed but sedans should be parked at the intersection.  There are no services at this trailhead.

Data:

  • starting elevation: 6240 feet
  • ending elevation: 6480 feet
  • net elevation: 240 feet
  • distance: 1 mile (one way, without continuing up Skates)
  • maps: North Star Mesa, Allie Canyon and Twin Sisters USGS quadrangles

The departure from NM-35 onto FR-88 is shown on North Star Mesa quadrangle, the departure from the bottom of Skates Canyon into the slot is shown on Allie Canyon quadrangle, and the upper reaches of the hike into the slot canyon is on Twin Sisters quadrangle.

Description:

 

04 Tent Rock in Skates Canyon

The tent rock is on the left while the departure point is via the stream bed coming out of the trees on the right.

From the trailhead continue along the road as it heads south on the canyon floor. In about 100 yards the roadbed enters the streambed, which contains some pretty large rocks. It is something to watch for if you’re driving rather than hiking. On this date, just past the end of a monsoon, there was water in the canyon bottom. It is a pleasure to see, given that about a third of the state is experiencing extreme drought or worse.

 

05 wind and water sculpture

Water sculpture

Skates Canyon has relatively low and vegetated walls while the bottom is broad and sandy. As you near the half-mile point keep your eyes open for a “tent rock” that adorns the west canyon wall. The main canyon swings sharply to the left (to the east) at the foot of this structure but you want to study the vegetation just to the right of this rock. Find a way past the greenery and enter a much narrower canyon with water sculpted rock walls. The bed of the canyon narrows quickly and as the canyon narrows the walls steepen.

 

07 View up slot canyon

Steep walls

True vertical walls arrive in less than 200 feet. At first the walls are still low enough to admit considerable light, so you may find yourself pushing through vegetation for another 100 feet or so. The walls are conglomerate, with reassuringly hard cement holding the entire mass together. (This is in marked contrast to the loose rubble that characterizes the walls in the Robledo slot canyon).  At this time of year short stretches of running water arose from and disappeared into the sandy stream bed.

 

07 views vertical

The view vertical

As the walls rise higher the canyon floor darkens and cools; vegetation disappears. The walking is generally pretty easy, save where water occupies the the breadth of the floor. The slot meanders continuously, making it hard to track your exact position. Navigation is not a problem, however, since your only real options are (1) forward or (2) backward. There is a four foot high waterfall about a quarter mile up the canyon. There is a large log pinned to the southern wall, which makes the climb over the falls quite easy.

08 Waterfall and webbing

Waterfall, webbing and pole (for scale)

In contrast, a second waterfall at 0.5 miles up the slot is something of a challenge. It rises 10 to 12 feet and has overhangs that make the ascent problematic. Currently there is water coming over the falls to add a slippery quality to the issue. Most visitors will want to turn around here. There is a battered length of green webbing draped down the falls. It is not recommended that you trust your well-being to this cordage. I chose to climb the falls (experiencing occasional regrets) without my pack and used the webbing to drag my pack up after I got on top.

Above the falls the walls are much lower and soon begin to lean back. In less than 500 feet, about a mile from the trailhead, the vegetation becomes vexatious. If you’ve left your machete at home you may find that it is time to turn back.

On return to the bottom of the main canyon I chose to turn south (right on descent) and follow the canyon bottom (see the map, above). It is a very pleasant ramble on cool September day but not especially wild. Judging from the tracks on the canyon floor there must be occasions when ATVers congregate here. This “extra” leg to the south is perfectly pleasant but does not have a particularly striking quality.

Recommendations:

Pick another destination if there is rain in the forecast. The logs along the canyon bottom are evidence that the water flows can be violent on occasion.

That said, the gentle flow of water in the canyon bottom on this date was a very welcome sight. It is not, however, guaranteed. You will want to bring your own drinking water. A liter was more than sufficient on this cool day.

I suspect that the canyon bottom can be icy in the winter time. It may be best to reserve this for the warmer months.

Links:

Doug Scott has a great website that provides a great introduction to New Mexico’s slot canyons (and waterfalls), including this one.

Southern New Mexico Explorer has some great photos of a canyon termed “Mossy Slot Canyon” off of Skates Canyon. I’m not 100% certain that it is the same canyon as described here, but many of the photos look familiar.

01 Burro Mts from Tyrone Road

Jack’s Peak, Burro Mountain and Feguson Mountain (obscured) in Big Burro Mountains

Overview:

This route follows a green canyon bottom up into the fold between Burro Peak and Ferguson Mountain where it strikes the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). It then takes the CDT south over Burro Peak to the antenna-whiskered heights of Jack’s Peak. The route is one of the suggested alternatives for CDT thru-hikers and is well maintained. It could be a “destination hike” for anyone living in southern New Mexico, particularly in the winter season. For folks living close-by it offers a first-class opportunity to get those hiking legs back in shape as the season nears.

Driving Directions:

If you are coming from the south then drive Interstate-10 to Lordsburg and take one of the exits for Old Route 10/US-70/Motel Drive. If you are coming from the east (Deming or Las Cruces) this is exit 24. If you are coming from the west (Tuscon) this is exit 20A. Turn onto Motel Drive and continue driving into Lordsburg.

  • In Lordsburg look for the “US-70/NM-90 to Silver City” junction. This junction is signed using large green highway signs. Enter onto US-70 west
  • After 2.2 miles turn right onto US-90, signed for Silver City.
  • After 30 miles, just past mile-marker 30, watch for a yellow junction sign labeled “TYRONE RD”.
  • Go left onto Tyrone Thompson Road (signed), which is gravel.
  • After 3.9 miles, where Tyrone Road crosses a sandy wash, turn left into the wash. The drop into the wash is a little rough but it is doable in a sedan if you go slow. As you enter the wash you will find a post signed “4249F”.  Park here.

If you are coming from the north then drive to the intersection of US-180 and NM-90 in Silver City. (Inside the city these roads are named Silver Heights Blvd and N. Hudson St, respectively).

  • Turn south on NM-90/N Hudson St
  • After 12.4 miles, past mile marker 31, turn right onto Tyrone Thompson Road (signed) and proceed as above.

Tyrone road crosses several low points. The correct wash is immediately past the intersection with Forest Road 827 (signed) coming in on your right. A roadside sign saying “Help Prevent Wildfires” is also immediately before the wash.

Trailhead:

02 Camry beside FR 4249F

The mighty Camry parked alongside FR 4249F (Tyrone Road is in background).

The trailhead is just a wide spot on FR 4249F. There are no toilets, trash receptacles or water. It is important to note that you will be parking in a canyon bottom. This may not be good practice in monsoon season. If you look back you will see that Tyrone Road is underpinned by about five large culverts. This tells you that large volumes of water comes down this canyon from time to time. If it is rainy then you will want to pick another destination.

There is a another road that departs from this wash that rises to the west out of the canyon bottom, roughly parallel to Tyrone Road. Don’t follow it, stay on 4249F in the canyon bottom!

Data:

Note: the map shows a short extension, north on the CDT, that takes you to Mud Spring

  • Starting Elevation: 6320 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 8020 feet
  • Net Elevation: 1700 feet
  • Distance:  4.3 miles (one way, without the Mud Spring extension)
  • Maps: Burro Peak, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

04 Trail departs from 4249F

Point where the Deadman Canyon Trail departs from FR 4249F (left side of photo).

Follow FR 4249F for about 500 feet. The road will pull to the southwest side of the wash (left on ascent) and eventually turn back and cross the canyon bottom. Immediately before this crossing look for a prominent path that stays on the left side of the waterway. This is the main Deadman Canyon trail. The initial mile is a pleasant stroll along side the waterway, with canyon walls rising on either side dominated by ponderosa pines. The trail soon leaps through a semicircle carved into hard rock and begins a long but generally gentle ascent into the Burros.

05 grassy swale

Swale-like canyon bottom

At 1.4 miles from the trailhead the trail abruptly switchbacks onto the southwest wall (to your left, on ascent) and briskly climbs to the narrow-topped rib that also serves as the canyon rim. The trail follows the rib above the steepening and broken terrain of the canyon bottom then gradually contours below the ridge and back to the canyon bed.  The overall pitch of the terrain eases here. On this date the canyon bottom was covered with lush green grass – not your typical Chihuahuan scene. Indeed, in the middle of this pastoral setting was a tiny stream with several small pools. The quality of the water was poor. Dense algal blooms were found in each pool.

06 Unsigned trail junction, go rt on return

Unsigned trail junction – go right on return!

Above this watery wonderland you will encounter a ranch road that is still very much in use. Turn right and follow it for about 20 feet, watching for a path that departs to the left so as to stay near the canyon bottom. Wind your way through numerous Ponderosa and the occasional alligator juniper. Soon you will come to a trail junction. Study the junction carefully so you will recognize it on return, then turn to your left and head uphill.

20 Sign at Deadman Canyon junction

Sign at junction with CDT

In another 100 feet come to the signed junction with Continental Divide Trail. The sign is a few feet north of the junction proper and is aimed at CDT hikers (see photo). There is no mention of the Deadman Canyon junction that lies adjacent to this sign. At the junction turn south (to your left on ascent) and follow the tread as it traverses the lower flanks of Ferguson Mountain and then begins a steep, well-engineered assault on Burro Peak. The fold of land between Ferguson and Burro is the scene of considerable forest devastation. It may be that years of drought and bark beetle attack have caused this sad loss of old ponderosa pines. At first it may seem odd that this devastation should occur on the north-facing slopes of Burro Peak. Once you get to the south facing side, however, you’ll note that big firs can’t be wiped-out there for the simple reason that there aren’t any.

08 View South from Burro Peak

Jack’s Peak (antennae), Pyramid Peak (small, dark cone, mid picture), Big and Little Hatchet Mountains are on horizon above Pyramid Peak

The trail crosses just below the summit of Burro Peak. It is worth wandering a few feet off the trail to peer over the tops of mountain mahogany thickets and look into the adjacent terrain. The hill region north and west of the main Big Burro peaks look green by desert standards. In contrast, there is little vegetative coloring in the enormous basin comprised of the north end of Animas Valley (which runs between the Peloncillo Mountains on the Arizona border and the Animas Mountains in mid boot-heel) and the north end of the Playas Valley (which runs between the Animas Mountains and the Big Hatchet Mountains).

09 Cholla Cacti

Cholla on south side of Burro Peak

Are you up for a little more hiking? Then continue on the CDT south as it drops down through the cacti, banana yucca, mountain mahogany and scrub oak that occupies the south facing flank of Burro Mountain. No ponderosa here! It is a short descent to the forested saddle connecting to Jack’s Peak but the tread is very rocky and it requires attention. Look back once you get to the saddle because this is cattle country and some of the cattle trails leading off the saddle can be misleading.

10 Jack's Peak trough

Trough below Jack’s Peak Cistern

The tread then makes short work of the ascent to Jack’s peak. The trail switchbacks through ponderosa until you hit a well-maintained road near the summit. If you were to turn left onto the road then you would rise the remaining 100 feet to the the antenna array that has grown on the high point of Jack’s Peak. From the base of these antennae you get long views south to Pyramid Peak (near Lordsburg), the Florida Mountains to the southeast and the Little Hatchet and Big Hatchet ranges in the southern Bootheel. The many dishes up there are presumably sending off microwave communications. It isn’t clear how much of a health risk that may be.  If you scout the area to the right of the trail/road junction you will find a large flat area paved with concrete. A pipe collects the water pooling on the pavement and runs it to the Jack’s Peak Cistern (a corrugated-steel cylinder). Below the cistern there is a concrete trough. On this date there was only an inch or two of water in the trough. It was quite clear. Rest your feet, have a snack and enjoy the shade and cool breezes.  Return the way you came.

Recommendations:

11 Author and Mountain Mahogany on Burro Pk

Author on Burro Peak

I went through less than a liter on a very mild April Day. Bring along extra water because there are going to be periods in which water is hard to find in the Burros.

If you run short of water then you might want to hike the extra quarter mile from the signed junction with the CDT north to Mud Spring. The spring is currently full and it seems to have a reputation for being as reliable as any water source in the Burros.

If there is no water in Deadman’s Canyon, Mud Spring, or Jack’s Peak Cistern then there is one further possibility. If you follow the maintenance road from Jack’s Peak downhill for about a half mile you will come to a junction where the CDT leaves the road to your left (watch for a wall-like cairn). Follow the trail about 30 feet and you should come to an in-ground (dirt) tank. Every time I’ve seen it the water has looked foul – but if it is an emergency…

I wore “ballistic gaiters” against the threat of thorn bushes and cacti, thinking that this trail might be somewhat abandoned. Instead, the tread proved to be in excellent shape. The few thorny segments are very short and it was easy to deal with them.

Remember that your car is parked in a wash. If the weather turns wet then you should turn too.

There seems to be another Deadman’s Canyon in the Sacramento Mountains over by Alamogordo, NM. This other canyon gets a lot of attention at the HikeArizona site. Don’t confuse the two!

Links:

KateOnTheRoadLessTraveled has a post in which she describes a portion of the CDT hike down from Burro Peak through Deadman’s Canyon. (Scroll down to Day 15). Interestingly, on an early May day she found quite a bit of water in the canyon, more than I found. This was in 2015, which was still a pretty severe drought year for most of New Mexico.

SheRaHikes also makes mention of the water in Deadman’s Canyon. (Scroll down to “Day 8”). Evidently the water in April of 2015 was low and murky, so it looks like Kate may simply have been lucky with the rain patterns.

A large majority of the search results I got for looking for Deadman’s Canyon has to do with fluorite minerals. Evidently this is quite a hotspot for rock hounds.

 

01 Grassy Flats

Grassy Flats

Overview:

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

Driving Directions:

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

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

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

Trailhead:

02 tank with algal and clear volumes

Spring/tank with some water, much algae

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

Data:

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

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

Hike Description:

03 confluence of upper canyons

Canyon confluence

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

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

CDT Marker Posts on both sides of road

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

05 typical CDT marker

Typical CDT marker

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

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

06 rolling hill country north of Burro Mts

View of hills north of Burro Mts

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

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

SOBO’s sign, NOBO’s warning

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

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

08 sign for Grassy Flats

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

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

09 brown flat-post at road junction

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

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

10 Grassy Flats tank

Grassy Flats Tank

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

Recommendations:

11 View south towards Burro Mountains

View from trail south towards the Big Burro Mountains

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

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

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

Links:

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

Snow on the Big Burro Mountains

Overview:

This route is a pleasant morning’s stroll into the Big Burro Mountains. The trail takes you from an easily accessed trailhead across ponderosa strewn slopes and across sunny meadows. There are views from the Big Burro Mountains across the northern end of the Mimbres Basin to the Cobre Mountains. This would be a great place for introducing newcomers to the backcountry.

Note that the CDT braids out in the Big Burro Mountains. This particular “strand” lies on the CDT route that takes you from the Big Burro Mountains all the way up to US-180, about 12 miles west of Silver City.

Driving Directions:

03 Note the Q!

Note the “Q”

If you are coming from the south then drive Interstate Highway 10 to Lordsburg and take the exit for NM-90 north towards Silver City.

  • After mile-marker 30 on NM-90 watch for a yellow junction sign labeled “TYRONE RD”.
  • Go left onto Tyrone Thompson Road (signed), which is gravel.
  • After 7.4 miles, where the road briefly levels, look for Forest Road 4248Q on your right and park in the tiny turnout there. The “Q” is important! There are quite a few alphabetic variations of FR-4248 departing from the Tyrone Road.

If you are coming from the north then drive to the intersection of US-180 and NM-90 in Silver City. (Inside the city these roads are named Silver Heights Blvd and N. Hudson St, respectively).

  • Turn south on NM-90/N Hudson St
  • After 12.4 miles, past mile marker 31, turn right onto Tyrone Thompson Road and proceed as above.

Tyrone Road has two slightly ambiguous forks. The first is at 5.8 miles and has a brown forest service sign pointing left for “Burro Mountain Homestead “. Go left. The second fork is at 6.5 miles and has a commercial sign saying “Burro Mountain Homestead” (no arrow). Go right.

Trailhead:

Burro Pk trailhead

The Mighty Camry, at intersection of Tyrone and4248Q

There is parking for just one car at junction with FR 4248Q. There is a marginal widening of the roadway about 50 feet further and a second forest road entrance about 250 feet beyond that (on the left of Tyrone Road). The problem is that the road grader has left tall banks of gravel at the road edges, so you will need either a high clearance vehicle or a good shovel to park safely in those two alternative spots.

Data:

  • start elevation: 6740
  • end elevation: 7560
  • net elevation: 850 feet
  • maps: Burro Peak, NM quadrangle

Hike Description:

04 Meadows and mountains

Meadows below Ferguson Peak

From FR 4248Q continue up Tyrone Road to where the CDT crosses the road. Turn south (to your left) to enter onto the trail. The initial two miles is an easy ramble on a generally obvious tread. The trail winds through stands of ponderosa, crosses the occasional grassy meadow and concerns itself chiefly with dropping into and rising out of the numerous small waterways that furrow the flanks of the Big Burro Mountains. This terrain is still under the influence of the Chihuahuan desert, with much prickly pear, cholla and even a few small columnar cacti poking out along the flanks of the tread, while alligator juniper and pinyon pine compete for the skyward reaches.

05A Mud Spring

Mud Spring (there is a trough below the spring)

The trail goes almost due south towards Burro Peak, crossing a woods road at mile 1.1. Generally the tread is very clear, and where ambiguities arise there are cairns and (occasionally) the rounded triangle emblem used to signify the CDT. Watch these, as the trail builders have often placed these at the end of switchbacks, particularly where you might wander off the trail onto watercourses that have strikingly trail-like features. At 1.6 miles the trail reaches the base of the northern most peak, Ferguson Mountain. The tread swings to the east and begins a gradual rising ascent along the northeastern flank of the mountain. At 2.1 miles you will note a profusion of tracks leading downhill. There, just 30 feet below the trail, is Mud Spring. On this date Mud Spring was full and the trough below the spring had a thickening skein of ice.

07 Trail junction (looking back)

Signed junction (click to enlarge)

Ponderosa begins to dominate the terrain. On this date snow dusted the forest floor. A chilly February wind can make you very glad to have a jacket with you. At 2.7 miles from the trailhead come to a junction (signed) with another “braid” in the network of trails that is the CDT. It may be that the departing trail heads down Deadman Canyon to an intersection with Tyrone Thompson Road, offering another approach to the Big Burro Mountains. (This seems very likely from the maps, but I have not as yet checked it out).

08 Burro Peaks & distant mts in Gila NF

View from turnaround point back to Ferguson Peak.

Continue on the main CDT trail as it turns south and enters the dale separating Mt Ferguson from Burro Peak. Here some sort of localized disaster has struck the ponderosa population – there are a few acres of logs flattened higgelty-piggelty. It may be some combination of drought and beetle stress plus a strong microburst laid these trees low. Fortunately the trail builders have been out in force, and the tread threads the maze without the need for high stepping. On this date I managed a few of the switchbacks above the dale, trying to get to Burro Peak. At 2.8 miles from the car I hit my turnaround time – just as views were opening up to Mt Ferguson and out across the sere Mimbres Valley. Was that snow up on the distant Black Mountains? I couldn’t be sure, but it seems likely given the local dusting. I turned back but you may be more fortunate. Burro Peak lies just above! Beyond that lies the siren call of Jack’s Peak with its stunning (if antennae-laced) views of the basin and range domains to the south. Happy hiking!

Recommendations:

Get all your non-hiking friends together and go! They may complain about blisters, fatigue or appointments but this is a sure cure for the mid winter blues.

These peaks are pretty far south and they are not very high. Still, bring warm clothing. The winds can be cutting.

Mud Spring looked clean but it is clearly visited by all sorts of creatures and a filtering system is going to be useful. I’m not certain how reliable this water will be later in the season, so even though one liter should be enough for one person, you might want to bring two.

Links:

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition recommends an 8-mile traverse of the range with a shuttle setup.

As mentioned above, there is a second trail leading from Tyrone Road to Burro Peak that joins the trail described here. There is an entry at SummitPost that I believe describes this alternative route.

The post at Southern New Mexico Explorer also indicates that the side road off of Tyrone Road, “shortly after the Gila National Forest sign” is the Deadman Canyon approach into the Burro Mountains. Take note – he describes the summit of Burro Peak as forested and with limited views. Also, he describes a nearly-70 degree day for which short sleeve shirts were perfectly adapted.

 

01 Black Peak from CDT

Black Peak seen from the Continental Divide Trail

Overview:

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

Driving Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trailhead:

03 the Mighty Camry at the trailhead

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

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

Data:

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

Hike Description:

04 old roadbed

Washouts in the road bed

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

05 semi-ambiguous fork

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

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

06 Fog shrouded western Gila Forest

The western Gila mountains, atypically shrouded in low clouds.

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

6a road sign at otherwise unsigned junction

Remaining sign near trail junction.

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

07 Twin Sisters

Twin Sister summits

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

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

12 Unsigned junction to Black Summit

Cairn at base of burned tree marking summit junction.

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

Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

 

01 Signal Peak LookoutOverview:

This is a short hike, steep in the early stretches and distinctly civilized in terms of the antennae and fire lookout on Signal Peak.  The tread is clear, much of the route is sunny and at 9000 feet it is low enough to to tempt when winter starts to drag. This outing demands little in terms of planning. Just grab your pack, round up all the cabin fever victims and head into the Gila National Forest.

Driving Directions:

The southern part of New Mexico is traversed by Interstate Highway 10 (I-10). From east to west this highway links El Paso (TX), Las Cruces, Deming, Lordsburg and then heads towards Tuscon (AZ). To get to the trailhead you first need to get to Silver City, which lies north of this corridor. If you are coming from the east then take route US-180 north out of Deming. If you are coming from the west then take route NM-90 out of Lordsburg.

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

  • At the intersection with US-180 turn right onto US-180 East.
  • After 0.5 miles, at a stoplight, go left onto NM-15 (a.k.a Pinos Altos Road)
  • After 14.4 miles, immediately before a cattle guard, turn left into the parking for the Signal Peak Trail (there are signs for the trail on the road).

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

  • As you approach Silver City you will see a “Welcome To Silver City/Altitude 5900 ft” sign at the top of a small hill.
  • After 0.5 miles, at the first stop-light in town, turn right onto 32nd St.
  • After 1.3 miles, at a 4-way stop, turn right onto NM-15/Pinos Altos Dr.
  • After 13.3 miles, immediately before a cattle guard, turn left into the parking for the Signal Peak Trail (there are signs for the trail on the road).

Winter driving on NM-15 can be hazardous. Snow on the road banks tends to melt during the day and form ice patches when the sun sets. The road twists enough to inflict motion sickness on a rattlesnake and it performs these contortions on the cliffs above Bear Creek. Learn to love the traction.

If you are returning home by way of Deming then it can be easy to miss the point where you turn left onto 32nd St. Look for a 4-way stop. Just before the stop there are signs signs on NM-15 indicating that you should turn left to get to the Nation Forest Service Offices. At the stop you should see a fire station on your right.

Trailhead:

02 The Mighty Camry

The Mighty Camry, midst snow and ice.

The trailhead is just a gravel parking area. There are no toilets, water or trash receptacles. There is only space for two or three cars. If it is full then the reports say there is additional parking a few hundred feet up NM-15. There is an old forest road, signed 4257E, that departs to the west (wrong direction) out of the parking area, don’t go that way! Instead, cross NM-15 to the signed entrance to the Signal Peak trail #742.

Data:

Note on KML file: I left my GPS unit turned off at the start of the hike. Consequently, the initial 0.6 miles is missing but the tread is obvious and the return track shows the entire route.

  • Starting Elevation: 7220 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 9010 feet
  • Net Elevation Gain: 1790 feet
  • Distance: 3.9 miles (one way)
  • Maps: USGS Twin Sisters quadrangle

Hike Description:

03 Sign on far side of NM-15Cross NM-15 to find the signed start of the Signal Peak trail. The tread drops into a broad meadow, strikes the foot of Signal Peak and begins climbing in earnest. On a cool winter morning your fingers stay chilled for a while but the rest of you warms up fast. The tread is obvious even where it was cloaked in an inch or so of snow. The terrain is populated by young ponderosa pine and (if you look into the woods on either side) rotting old stumps. Apparently the trail you’re on is an old woods road. The largest growing trees looked to be about 10 to 12 inches in diameter, so perhaps the logging occurred 80-100 years ago.

04 Rock wall marking switchbacks

Snow dusted trail alongside boulders

At the half mile point the trail passes a wall of 20-foot tall boulders and begins switchbacking steeply to gain the top of a rib. The rib is itself steep enough to keep those switchbacks coming. At 0.9 miles you will reach a broad shelf and a glimpse through the surrounding ponderosa of the summit block. To your right you will get views to the southeast, including the round-top Twin Sister Peak (apparently the namesake of the USGS quadrangle) and the more distant Bear Mountain. The trail now contours around the summit block and makes a rising traverse along the block’s southeast face. Openings in the trees provide views to the southeast.

05 View SW from below summit block

Twin Sisters Peak (left, rounded hill in middle distance) and Bear Mountain (on horizon just right of middle)

The traverse ends at a small watercourse (1.9 miles from the trailhead) and makes a brisk turn to the north. In another tenth of a mile it comes to what seems to be a junction. To your left an obvious tread that ascends steeply towards a large block of stone that is partially screened by a small ponderosa. It turns out that this is a dead end. Instead, turn right and follow the tread as tops another rib and then follows the rib past hoodoos and scrub oak to gain the summit of Signal Peak, 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

08 tower view of Black Range

Black Range on horizon and snow-clad approach road below the tower.

The summit is populated with antennae, a fire tower, supply hut, picnic table (with grill), a rustic helicopter pad and a strikingly well-maintained road coming up on from the southeast. This is a great place to take a break and drink in the surrounding views. The top of the tower is padlocked for the season, but you can still ascend the tower steps to get distant views north and east. (The south and west are blocked by trees). To the southeast lies the forested dome of Black Peak. Is your party up for a nice ridge ramble? Pick up that bag and follow the road out.

13 sign past the gate

Entrance to CDNST/Signal Peak trail overlap.

The road arrives at a sturdy metal gate at 2.5 miles from the trailhead. Immediately past the gate the road makes a sharp turn to the left and begins to descend from the ridge. You should stay high and find the entrance to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST). It is currently flagged with a yellow sign warning hikers that trees along the trail are fire-damaged and especially prone to fall. True that; you will almost immediately begin to see fire scars on some of the trunks. The trail stays below the ridge top, on the northeast side. That does provide some amount of shelter from the prevailing winds.

17 Sunny saddle before black peak

Sunny and open saddle

At 3.1 miles the trail begins a traverse of fire killed trees. It makes for a desolate winter scene. It also, however, opens expansive views to the north. You can only hope that the soils remain stable long enough to get this terrain reforested. Keep an eye out for woodpeckers – they seem to have no problem with coniferous devastation. In less than a quarter mile the fire damage eases and the tread resumes its quiet, rise-and-fall ramble through the trees.  Watch for a sunny and open saddle above you, that is a sign you are nearing Black Peak.

16 cairn indiating trail to Black Peak

Burned trunk with cairn; trail goes up along the right side of the photo

The fire has produced an unusual amount of deadfall and this deadfall can obscure trail junctions. Keep an eye open as you reach 3.8 miles from the trailhead, about 8940 feet of elevation. There is a blackened tree trunk on the right side of the trail (which may be the source of some of the deadfall) with a cairn at it’s base. Go off the CDNST and follow the short, boot beaten tread steeply uphill to Black Peak, 3.9 miles from the trailhead. This is another antenna-dominated summit, but one with terrific views to the south and west. Enjoy the views and return the way you came.

Recommendations:

18 author on signal peak

Author on Signal Peak

This is an exceptionally clear tread, which is useful when there is a dusting of snow that might otherwise raise navigation issues. If you’re looking for a mellow winter hike and are getting a little bored with the Pine Tree Trail in the Organ Mountains then drive over to Silver City and enjoy a new winter destination.

On this date there was just a dusting of snow, rarely getting over the top of my hiking shoes. I was happy to have gaiters with me as they protect the opening of the shoes and add warmth. If the snows got any deeper then it would be very advisable to wear boots and to watch for navigational challenges that pass your comfort level. Turning back is the smartest option under those conditions.

The side-trail up to Black Peak can be a little hard to detect, particularly in contrast with the well defined CDNST. Watch for that sunny saddle and the cairn, keep your map in hand and monitor the ridge top. I had an altitude watch and found it very useful for checking the location on my map.

Links:

Fire closures are a real thing, as this hike makes obvious. It pays to check in with the National Forest Service website, here. It includes good additional instructions about how to find parking for this hike if the first parking area is filled.

The 100 Hikes Near Silver City website documents a summer approach to Signal Peak. They note that it is a popular trail and they encountered several other parties on an April outing.

Southern New Mexico Explorer provides a brief description of this trail and comments about being invited up onto the top of the lookout tower – evidently the views are great.

The Hike Arizona site also describes the trail and recommends it for people who are traveling along NM-15 to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Finally, the Summit Post writeup suggests that you can drive to the summit and provides directions. (I doubt that they meant for you to try this in wintertime).