The trail begins on a mining road, but above the mine the trail becomes spotty. Navigation isn’t too difficult as it follows a water course, but it is steep in spots with some modest climbing moves. It is strenuous. Caveat: I turned around before reaching the summit, so this post only describes the lower part of the trail.
- Take I-25 to Exit #6.
- Follow signs on exit ramp to US 70 East. (Note: if you are starting in Las Cruces then just follow Main Street towards the north-east, it turns into US 70 after crossing I-25).
- Follow US 70 for 10.3 miles (16.6 km) and take the NASA Rd exit.
- Almost immediately (o.2 miles, or 300 meters) turn right onto Baylor Canyon Road, heading due south.
- Follow Baylor Canyon Rd for 3.6 miles (5.8 km) to the trailhead. There is a cattle guard in the road immediately before the trailhead. The trailhead is just a wide dirt parking area on the left side of the road. The trail begins on a mining road that heads uphill to the east. There is no sign naming this road, but there is a very small sign (reading vertically) saying that you are on public lands in a wildlife study area.
N 32° 21.948' W 106° 36.865'
The photo shows the trailhead and the cattle guard on Baylor Canyon Rd. The mining road goes uphill (east) and has a cattle guard at the start. The mining road is in pretty tough shape. Greg Magee in his guidebook “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area” recommends that you leave your vehicle close to Baylor Rd. That is certainly true of the family sedan. A high clearance vehicle could easily go a little further (there is a turn-off about a half mile up the road). However, it then gets very rough. I came across two young fellows trying to extract a very high clearance Ford truck from a bit of driving difficulty. They seemed to think that it would not be a problem, but most folks would not want to deal with the issue. I walked the road.
According to Google Maps, the elevation gain is 3000 feet (910 meters) and a rough sketch of the trail using Map My Run indicates about 3.5 miles (5.9 km) from the trailhead to the summit.
Follow the mining road past a ruin (an old bunk house, perhaps?). In about one and a half miles (2.4 km) the road forks, go left. Shortly thereafter the road ends at a wash that is filled with tailings from the mining operation. There are several mine openings a short distance uphill, but to follow the trail go directly across the tailings to find the trail. Here, it is an actual footpath and not a road. The trail climbs out of the wash and turns uphill for about 100 yards (90 meters). It goes close to several very deep shafts. Falling in would truly wreck your day. Caution is advised. There are several mining trails so watch for the hiking trail to turn sharply left and start a rising traverse north to the canyon. When you enter the canyon, look around so you will know where to leave the canyon on return!
Once in the canyon, follow the water course and watch for cairns to help guide the way. Where several water courses come together, the trail generally stays close to the right hand wall of the canyon (looking uphill).
This has been a tough year for rain, although in the last two weeks several thunderstorms have marched through. Still, it was surprising to see how green things remained in this “sky island“. Unlike the floor of the Chihuahua Desert, the vegetation here is pretty dense and bushwhacking through it is hard and sometimes bloody work. Generally, do not expect to find water on the route.
Having said that, there were water seeps at several points along the trail. Most of these seeps were just enough to keep the sand moist. Those spots were dense with flies, black-winged moths and tiny lizards. There was one stretch of rock carrying a water “tank”. It was very, very green water. The yucca-mesquite-creosote bush vegetation at the trailhead gave way to different vegetation as the altitude changed. There was an elongated, tubular cactus that became very common. For what it is worth, do not try to use this kind of cactus as a belay. It hurts.
There is a large hillock of rock in the middle of the canyon as you get to about 7000 feet. I stayed to the right and it was perfectly hikable. There was no-one else on the trail and, aside from cairns, hardly any evidence that people had been up there at all. Feeling a little past my comfort point (and having forgotten to pack any lunch) I turned around at about 7200 feet. According to Magee, the trail continues climbing to a col, which was visible from the hillock. Then, you can turn right and follow a ridge up to the summit shown in the photo. Next time!
It was a poor decision on my part to try this trail as a solo hike. It would have been far more fun with a couple of friends. It might also be a little more temperate later in the year. The car was doing a pretty good blast-oven impersonation by the time I got back to the trailhead. Five quarts of water was perfectly sufficient.
What’s with the checkered shirt? It is almost the only long-sleeve, button down, cotton shirt in my closet. I like the collar, since it can be turned up to protect the neck from sunburn, and also having sleeves that can be rolled up when it is shady in the morning and rolled down when it is blazing at noon.