The route described here departs from the conventional approach and cannot be generally recommended. Neverless, the description gives a general sense of what you can expect on the usual approach to Florida Peak: off-trail scrambling, steep terrain, poor footing in talus field crossings, bashing through brush and occasional mild exposure. On this particular day the scramble was complicated by a dusting of snow. The footing was unusually deceptive. This is a wild and beautiful spot. It is hard to believe that it gets so little attention.
- From Main Street in Las Cruces (near University Ave) enter I10 West.
- After 38 miles, take exit 102 for Alkela Flats.
- After 0.2 miles reach a stop sign at the end of the ramp and go left (west) on Frontage Road. There is no sign naming the road, but a sign for “Rock Hound State Park” points you in the right direction.
- After 0.3 miles turn left (south) onto Geronimo Road. This immediately crosses an overpass for I10.
- After 0.2 miles, immediately after the overpass, come to a stop sign at a 4-way intersection with NM 549. Go right (west) on NM 549. This intersection is signed and there is another sign for Rock Hound State Park.
- After 13.5 miles come to an odd intersection where NM 549 west forks and (separately) NM 143 comes in from the south. Turn hard-left (south) onto NM 143.
- After 5.5 miles go right onto a road signed Gap Road. A few feet down this road you’ll also see a sign indicating that it is also NM 198.
- After 0.6 miles come to a point where the paved road, NM 198, makes a sharp right turn. Gap road (signed) continues straight ahead as a gravel road. Go straight onto Gap road. A few feet down the road you will see another sign identifying the gravel road as being CR B023.
- After 1.6 miles come to an adobe gate identifying the upcoming terrain as “Tres Lomas Ranch”. Continue through the adobe gate on CR B023.
- After an additional 0.8 miles on CR B023 turn right onto an unsigned primitive road that heads directly toward the Florida Range.
- In less than 0.1 miles on the primitive road, come to a widened area that serves as the trailhead. The primitive road is ledgy and soft suspended passenger cars should go cautiously.
The primitive road is easy to miss. It isn’t much of a road and it is slightly screened by a juniper tree. On this date the rocks pushed aside by a road grader created a berm across the mouth of the primitive road. I had to shovel aside some of the rocks so that my low-suspended car could turn off of CR B023
The trailhead is simply a flat spot slightly above CR B023. There are no amenities. Parking is limited. Perhaps four or five cars, parked carefully, could be left there. High suspension vehicles could go considerably further up the primitive road.
- Trailhead: 4760 feet (per USGS)
- North Florida Peak Summit 7440 feet (estimated from USGS)
- South Florida Peak Summit: 7448 feet (per USGS)
- Net Gain: 2700 feet
- Distance: 5.1 miles round trip
- Maps: The twin summits of Florida Peak are awkwardly placed on USGS maps. The North Summit is on the bottom-left corner of the Florida Gap quadrangle. The South Summit is in the top-left corner of the Gym Peak quadrangle. The canyons make for an exceptional hodgepodge of contour lines. This would make a great challenge if you’re trying to teach someone about topo maps, but proved discomforting in the field. It might be convenient to get the two quadrangles immediately to the west. These are Capital Dome (north) and the South Peak (south) quadrangles. If you were to circumnavigate North Florida Peak as described here then the westerly maps are useful in staying oriented to the terrain.
From the trailhead, follow the primitive road as it ascends gently into lower Windmill Canyon. In about half a mile pass a low set of sheer cliffs to your right (north), useful as a marker for “almost there” on the trip back to the car. The road crosses the Windmill Canyon bed at about 0.8 miles as you enter the mouth of the lower canyon and then ends at a set of shot-up watering tanks at 1 mile.
Follow the tread uphill from the tanks. In about 50 feet the trail crosses a small stream bed, rises a few feet to the far bank and forks. The right-hand fork is easy to see and goes to an old mine. The left-hand fork, which was pretty obscure on this date, heads directly up-canyon following the stream bank. If you miss this branch and get to the mine (a six-foot deep hole in solid rock) then the faint tread headed towards the canyon bed will take you back to the trail.
At about 1.4 miles a secondary drainage comes in from your right (from the west) while Windmill Canyon bends a bit to the south. This comprises the end of the lower canyon and the start of the upper canyon. I think this is where Magee (in Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area) recommends that day hikers turn around. The trail, already sketchy, becomes even fainter past this point. It heads into brush that grows in enthusiastic abundance in the bed of the upper canyon.
It is probably preferable to stay in the canyon bed and cope with the brush. Apparently, that is the standard route (see description of the descent, below). On this journey, however, I stayed to the right (west) of the canyon bed and sought a path in the zone above the densest brush but below the steeper open slopes on the rib. At about 1.7 miles, tired of side-hilling, I headed straight up the sloping canyon wall. My hope was that the rib coming down from north of the North Summit would offer more balanced footing. Thwarted by a small rock prominence near the rib top I skirted below it and climbed again, only to find that the entire remaining rib line was guarded by rocky fins and spires (some very striking). Not wanting to descend I kept at the base of these fins on reasonably good ground but without any relief from side-hilling.
Eventually the North Summit pulled into view. North of the summit was a ridge line that formed the top of a bowl that drops into a deep side-canyon leading to Windmill Canyon. Continuing up the rib will bring you into the bowl and then onto the ridge.
The North Summit is fairly technical (rated as 4.0 or higher) and beyond my comfort zone in a solo hike. To reach the non-techical South Summit it seemed easiest to drop a short distance down from the ridge line towards the west. Reach steep, traversable terrain in about 100 feet and contour along the north side of the North Summit.The worst difficulty here is the extremely dense brush. This side of the North Summit is protected from the sun and the limbs on the bushes were interlocked to a remarkable degree. They are entangled, moreover, by an abundant grass-like shrub that produces a pod (a seed pod I presume) protected by a dense array of spines. This is no place for bare legs or low hiking shoes! It was great to have on “ballistic fiber” gaiters and heavy hiking boots. The protected terrain also retained an inch or so of snow – beautiful to look at but unwelcome on the occasional exposed passage.
At about 2.4 miles reach a rib that descends from the North Summit towards the west. From here, view a bowl that opens to the southwest with far less vegetation. Hurray! There is even a discernible trail that goes across the upper levels of the bowl. The trail disappears at a rock wall on the far side of the bowl. Head uphill and cross the rocky rib into a narrow drainage where the far (northern) wall is choked with bushes. Pushing past those bushes will put you below the South Summit. The South Summit has it’s own false summit off to the west, which I mistakenly ascended at about 2.7 miles. (It is not recommended). From the false summit it is about 100 feet of gain to the South Summit at 2.8 miles.
From the South Summit descend southeast to the ridge line at 2.9 miles. From this ridge, drop into Windmill Canyon as it drains north-north-east back towards the trailhead. The upper reaches are fairly open and the chief difficulty is negotiating the loose talus. (Snow in this protected bowl reached far, far, far down the canyon). Stay near the canyon bed. The terrain is only occasionally demanding. Steep narrows in the bed are created by erosion-resistant rock. Often these narrows can be identified from above because juniper trees grow where the harder rock holds back the water. At about 3.7 miles rejoin the faint tread that took you into into the upper canyon. From here it is 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.
- Stay near the canyon bottom on the ascent. (Don’t go to the rib top).
- Don’t go if there is snow. If you do go when there is snow then get here early (short days) and be prepared to hike slowly.
- If you have gators then wear them. Everyone writing about Florida Peak makes note of its prickly nature. Good boots are essential.
- Ask your state representative about putting in a formal trail.
- In warm weather, watch for our reptile friends. (See the links below).
LizardBoy’s Summit Post is a fun description with due notice that in the warmer months the peak can be rattle-y.
Adam Helman has comments on the route up the technical parts of North Florida Peak,scroll down to the Sat Nov 12, 2005 description.
As mentioned above, the USGS maps can be awkward to use. This awkwardness is swept aside at peakbagger.com. This digital map is a fantastic way to orient yourself to the terrain in a Google-Maps sort of interface, but apparently with full USGS detail. The map is labeled “Google Maps Dynamic Maps”, choose the “CalTopo” option from the drop-down menu in the upper-right part of the map. You will have to use the enlargement tool (“+”) to make it useful.