This is a road walk in a Texas state park, reaching the highest point in the Franklin Mountains. It is completely enjoyable and a great way to get some vertical if your hours are limited. This might be an especially good choice for a hot day in mid-summer since the initial stretch is on the west side of the range and protected from the morning sun. There is no other source of shade, however, so a very early start would be recommended. From the summit there are views south down to El Paso and across the Rio Grande into Mexico. (There are some big mountains in our southerly neighbor). To the west you will see the Potrillo Volcanic Field (including Cox Peak) and to the north you’ll have an excellent view of the southern end of the Organs. I had hoped for, but did not find, a view east to the very distant Guadalupe Mountains.
- From Lohman Ave in Las Cruces, enter I-25 going south.
- After 4.8 miles, where I-25 ends, merge onto I-10 going east.
- After 24.9 miles, in Texas, take Exit 6 for Loop 375 / Transmountain Road / Talbot Ave. The exit ramp merges almost immediately with South Desert Road, a frontage road.
- After 0.2 miles, at a stoplight, go left onto Loop 375. The Loop is undergoing extensive construction, so the initial road is limited to a single lane. Follow it straight up towards the mountains. Because of the construction you will be directed to go past the Franklin State Park entrance and continue for short distance (estimated 0.8 miles) to a left-hand exit that allows you to U-turn and go back to the park.
- After 5.0 miles from the start of Loop 375 (and after looping back), go right into Franklin Mountains State Park.
- After 0.8 miles, turn right at a sign for Mundy’s Gap.
- After 0.4 miles, the road ends at the trailhead
On return, as you drop down the Transmountain Road and come close to I-10, you will re-enter a thicket of orange traffic barrels. I’ve been through the thicket three times recently, and have been struck but the fact that there are signs for I-10 East, but no signs for I-10 West. To return west, wend your way through the barrels staying to the right. You will approach a stoplight at an intersection with North Desert Road and go right onto this frontage road. There is an entrance for I-10 West just a few hundred feet down the frontage road.
The trailhead is paved, there is a trash receptical and a trail sign. There are no other amenities at the trailhead, but downhill, at a picnic site about half a mile away, there is a pit toilet. I did not see any water. There is a day use fee for the park, currently $5.00. The pay station is on the right as you enter the park.
- Starting elevation: 4890 feet
- Ending elevation: 7192 feet
- Next elevation: 2300 feet
- Distance: 4.1 miles (one way)
- Maps: The start of the hike begins on the Canutillo quadrangle and, at Mundy’s Gap, moves onto the North Franklin Mountain quadrangle and stays there to reach the summit.
From the trailhead, look straight east and pick out the broad pass called Mundy’s Gap. The trailhead is situated in the bed of West Cottonwood Canyon. This canyon initially climbs to the foot of the Gap, but then swings south around an enormous rib and climbs high in the direction of North Franklin Peak. Head uphill from the trailhead on a gravel road aimed directly at the pass. At 100 feet, come to an unsigned fork. The eastward fork is West Cottonwood Trail and the southerly fork is the Agave Trail. Bear to the south (right) to stay on the Agave Trail. The trail rises as it bumps across coalescing alluvial fans at the base of the range (the “bajada”), reaching a broad slope at 1400 feet from the trailhead.
At this point the trail swings east and heads directly towards Mundy Pass. Find yourself entering a canyon populated with cacti, chaparral, yucca and sotol. This classic Chihuahuan community will accompany you almost all the way to North Franklin Peak summit. A big rib descending from the south guards the entrance into the canyon. At two-thirds of a mile, cross a 100 foot wide stretch of boulders in an unusually tall and narrow boulder field. It is just a guess, but there may be a high spring on the rib that contributes to an aggressive release of large stones.
At 0.8 miles find a second intersection of the Agave Trail and the West Cottonwood Trail, directly under Mundy’s Gap. Here the canyon swings sharply south. Surprisingly, the original road engineers chose to cross the canyon bed and leave it heading north, clinging to the uppermost reaches of the bajada at the base of steep cliffs north of Mundy’s Gap. The road does not gain much elevation on this portion of the route, but ambles steadily along, passing a number of inexplicable orange traffic cones, until at 1.4 miles, it makes a deft switchback and lunges for the Gap.
At 1.8 miles, reach the Gap and pause to soak in the views to the east. At your feet lies the headwaters of a canyon containing Mundy’s Spring. It is not named on the maps, but assume for now that it is “Mundy’s Canyon”. In the middle distance lies Northeast El Paso. Going north along the near edge of the city is US Route 54, which soon bears off a bit more to the east and goes arrow-straight to the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico. South of that lies the western-most wedge of Texas and a great deal of northern Mexico.
Continue onward, cross the headwaters of Mundy’s Canyon and reach the outmost point of a rib at 2.3 miles. A sign at a trail junction points uphill for North Franklin Peak, and downhill for “Tin Mine”. (Wikipedia says that the mine was not commercially successful, but has the distinction of being the only tin mine in the United States. The latter claim might be incorrect, as tin mining camps have been set up in Alaska as well).
As you rise into East Cottonwood Canyon the vegetation becomes more sparse and new prominences become evident to the south. These appear quite tall, but this is a trick of perspective. The dark, distant and cliff-faced summit is called Indian Peak. At 6330 feet it is quite bit lower than North Franklin. The true summit is more nearly south (to the right of Indian Peak).
Clamber up and out of East Cottonwood and enter a new canyon (unnamed) that is quite broad in its upper reaches. The trail begins ascending more steeply as it aims for a col between North Franklin and Indian Peak. This is very open terrain and would be a warm struggle on a hot June afternoon. Come at last to the col, at 3.1 miles. Pause to read a sign with strict injunctions against messing around with unexploded missile parts and other forms of live ammunition. (The Castner Range is a military firing range reported to be closed but one where unexploded ordinance is a major issue. It is located at the southeast foot of North Franklin Mountain).
Rather, cross the col to the south, enter a shallow drainage, and begin addressing the summit block of North Franklin Peak. The trail switchbacks frequently as it rises up the drainage. Arrive at the ridge line at 3.8 miles and follow the trail as it turns south on a mellow incline. Finish on the broad, flat summit at 4.1 miles. From the summit enjoy great view of the Potrillo Volcanic Field, Organ Mountains, Juarez Mountains and several ranges whose names I do know, but appear to be part of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. Locally, pick out Loop 375 as it crosses the Franklins at the foot of North Franklin Peak, intersects US54, and heads west across Northeast El Paso and into the Fort Briggs Military Reserve. At this time of year the Rio Grand is in its “Rio Sand” phase and is not easily found.
Return the way you came.
As mentioned in the Overview, this hike could be done in the summer provided that you get an early start. It was very pleasant in late March as well. Other than the possibility of a snowfall in midwinter, it looks like a great, year-round training hike.
The trailhead parking lot was full when I got back at about noon (this was on a Saturday). I don’t know if the State Parks Department is tolerant of people parking alongside the road. In the worst case, I imagine that you could always find a parking spot in the picnic area. That would add about 0.4 miles to the length of a one-way hike.
Following trail signs, I tried to find the Tin Mine that is supposed to lie somewhere in the canyon below Mundy’s Gap. I only went as far as the bed of Mundy’s Canyon before turning around. The USGS map says I turned around too early, there are open pit mines a little more than a mile from the Gap.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has information about fees, closures, some basic maps and other data. I owe a debt of gratitude to the kind hiker who found my camera and gave it to the Park rangers and to the rangers for getting it over to the Lost and Found where I could easily retrieve it. Thank you, all! (This post would have been considerably less colorful without their essential help).
William Musser, writing on Peak Bagger, has a good description of the hike.
There are those who regard unexploded munitions as an acceptable risk. This link has a great picture of a collared lizard as well as closeups of the summit on Indian Peak.
The University of Texas has an approachable geological overview of the Franklins.