Towering over Truth Or Consequences, NM, Turtleback Peak is the highest point on a north-south trending ridge. The initial part of the trail rises up to the low end of the ridge line and is occasionally steep (near the left side of photo). The ridge line itself ascends steadily and surmounts at least five “prominences” before striking the actual summit block, although everyone counts prominences differently so your mileage may vary. The summit is labeled on Google Maps as Caballo Cone (high point in photo). There is no shelter from the sun at any point, but the trail provides a pleasant high-desert stroll on a winter weekend.
The notes on roads and distances are slightly open to question, since they were recorded on the way back from the mountain rather than on the way to the mountain. (Bushy Mountain was the original destination, but Country Road A010 was too water logged and Turtleback became the day’s target).
- From University Av in Las Cruces, enter I25 headed north
- In 77.9 miles, take Exit 79 for Date Street in Truth Or Consequences, NM
- In 0.3 miles, at the ramp end, go right onto Date Street
- In 1.9 miles, go left onto E Third Avenue/NM 51
- In 3.1 miles (immediately after the bridge signed “Rio Grande”) go right onto Turtleback Drive/A005 (this road was not signed when I was there). It begins paved but turns to dirt after about 100 feet.
- In 1.9 miles, turn left onto a very short, unsigned road.
- In 50 feet (approx) park car at trailhead.
Turtleback Drive crosses the mouth of Mescal Canyon directly on the canyon bed. Judging from the size of the boulders on either side of the road, this might not be the best choice for mid-monsoon season.
The turn-off for the short trailhead road lies immediately after a small rise in Turtleback Drive that contains a cattle guard. If you miss the turn-off, then you will very soon (roughly 0.2 miles) come to open farm fields on the right side of the road.
The trailhead has room for just a few cars, be careful when parking. There are no amenities.
- Map: Engle Quadrangle (USGS product 281347. Download as zip)
- Starting Elevation: 4280′
- Ending Elevation: 6080′
- Net Elevation Gain: 1700′
- Distance: 2.3 miles, one way
The actual trail is shown on the map in blue. On the way up, however, I walked past the well-cairned and seemingly unmissable trail entrance. Eventually the tread at my feet disappeared and my easiest option was to go cross country to the ridge. I’ve attempted to recapture my route using the orange line. The terrain is entirely open and very inviting to such off-trail rambles.
As mentioned above, I went off-trail for the initial approach. It isn’t easy to recapture that track and it isn’t obvious that anyone would care. The details of the description here are derived from what I saw of the formal trail while returning from the summit.
From the car head southwest (the same direction as you were driving on Turtleback Avenue). Very quickly you will come to cairns signaling that the trail turns left and climbs steeply up an embankment. The trail is strewn with small rocks and becomes a little hard to find particularly when it enters ocotillo patches. In about half a mile of steady upward slogging it intersects a much better defined trail. Go right on this new trail (making note of the intersection for the hike back). In another quarter mile the trail begins a steep ascent up a rib that will take you to the ridge line, arriving in less than a mile from the trailhead.
On the ridge line you can scarcely get lost. The trail hugs the top of the ridge, dropping briefly to one side or the other to avoid the narrow rock fins that occasionally occupy the highest terrain. The ocotillo and other thorny plants have been largely left behind. The trail winds by occasional cacti and creosote bushes, but there are few patches of heavy growth.
It is a matter of rise-and-fall, rise-and-fall, as you cross the several prominences that form the ridge. Some of the notable prominences are found after you’ve hiked 1 mile, 1.2 miles and 1.5 miles. It makes you wonder if the darn thing will keep rising and falling forever. The views north to Elephant Butte reservoir are beautiful. There is something unworldly about that blue water against a sere desert landscape.
At 2.2 miles you will top out on the last false summit and see the true summit just above you, not more than 100 yards away. It is an easy stroll to the summit with views south to Palomas Gap and Timber Mountain (highest of the Caballo Mountains), east 50 or more miles to the San Andreas Mountains, north to the reservoir, the Fra Cristobal range and the San Mateo range, and west to the Aldo Leopald Wilderness. Much of south-central New Mexico is in plain sight from up here. It is slightly disappointing to report that there were no indications of snow. The reservoirs have risen with the monsoon rains, but at just 10% of capacity there is obvious room for improvement.
Return the way you came. Or, given the open quality of the terrain, by some other route.
This is a fun and fairly easy amble by New Mexican standards. Due to its shadeless nature (not a single tree to be seen) and desert location it may be that a winter visit is best. Thunderstorms or heavy rainfall might be good reason to postpone a visit. There is one fin of rock that is hard to skirt around, and although there is little exposure it would be uncomfortable if a gust of wind knocked you into the neighboring cacti and boulders.
This is a great hike for a short day or if you simply need a “plan B” for more aggressive plans.
On the way back I stopped off for a pulled pork sandwich (good) and fries (excellent) at Sparky’s in Hatch NM. I’ll return, even if mango-chile shake seemed better on paper than on palate.