This hike is follows a jeep road up a canyon and then along the ridge-top of the Caballo Mountains. Frankly, it doesn’t merit the same superlatives awarded to other hikes described on this website. The road bed is dense with rubble – seemingly sized to twist ankles. Any sense of remoteness is eroded by the antenna thicket atop Timber Mountain and a set of ridge-top cabins. You may have to stand aside for ATV and motorcycle traffic on the trail. Against that, this is a healthy day’s outing, reasonably close to Truth Or Consequences. The view down to Caballo Reservoir and the view north to Elephant Butte Reservoir are both striking. The vista sweeps in the San Andreas Range, the Dona Ana Mountains, Organ Mountains, Robledo Peaks, the Cook Range and the Black Range. There are distant views – on a good day – of the Sacramento Mountains, the Franklin Mountains, the Florida Mountains, remote peaks of the Gila Wilderness and distant ranges in Mexico. Caballo ridge is lined with juniper and pinyon and is still showing an abundance of wildflowers.
First side note: this is the third or fourth time that I’ve tried to approach the Caballo Mountains Road from the south. The first few times I was turned back where low spots in County Road A070 were either submerged or too deep in muck for a low-suspended car. This time (following Greg Magee’s excellent directions in his “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area” guide) there was a new snag. Magee’s directions indicate that you depart County Road A070 to the left (west), going through a gate, over the railroad tracks, and then immediately through a second gate. This departure point is evident, but now it is posted with a sign saying that the rail crossing is private. Use of the rail crossing requires permission of either the railroad or of the owner of the property. Many land holders are generous with hikers, hunters and horseman so I backed off and spent a large part of the morning exploring alternative routes. The directions below describe the best route I found. Some distances have been estimated from Google Maps and these are indicated with “(G)”.
- From University Ave in Las Cruces, enter I-25 heading north.
- After 73.7 miles (G) take Exit 75 for Williamsburg.
- After 0.3 miles (G) the exit ramp merges onto the I-25 Business Loop (South Broadway) going northeast.
- After 2.5 miles (G) South Broadway forks onto one-way roads. Drivers going north-east veer slightly to the right onto North Broadway Street (a continuation of the I-25 Business Loop)
- After 0.5 miles (G) North Broadway curves to the left and at the next intersection the I-25 Business Loop forks. You could make a hard-left onto Main Ave (taking you back in the direction of Exit 75) or go straight onto Date Street. Go straight onto Date Street.
- After 0.3 miles (G) turn right onto NM-51 (also known as Third Street)
- After 10.2 miles turn right onto Windmill Road (signed, the roadbed is gravel). On most maps this road is also designated County Road Ao08. It can be somewhat tricky to stay on CR-Ao08.
- At 0.8 miles from the start you will come to an unsigned fork. Go right to stay on Windmill Road.
- At 4.8 from the start you come to a signed intersection with Nelson Road (useful as a navigation check), go straight ahead to remain on Windmill Road.
- At 6.3 miles from the start the road merges with another road coming in obliquely on your right (maps denote this “other road” as also being County Road Ao08). Stay on the combined CR-Ao08 as it veers slightly to the left.
- After 6.9 miles on Windmill Road/CR-Ao08 a road coming in obliquely from your right merges with Ao08 and the combined road veers slightly to the left. This new combined road is called Powerline Road, presumably because it runs in a perfectly straight line along side a major power line.
- After 3.0 miles on Powerline Road turn right onto Slater Road (signed).
- After 1.5 miles come to a T-intersection with Lyons Road (signed). Go right onto Lyons road.
- After 0.6 miles, rising up in hilly country, come to an intersection with an unsigned road. On the maps this is County Road Ao03. Go left onto Ao03. (See photo of intersection, below).
- After 3.8 miles, as the road rises onto the flank of Timber Mountain, come to a flat (-ish) spot that can be used as a trailhead. This is where I parked. People with high-clearance vehicles can drive all the way to the top. Bikers and ATVers can drive the entire length of the trail.
Second side note: exit 79 off of I-25 can ordinarily be used to enter or leave Truth Or Consequences. On this date, however, exit 79 was partially blocked – you couldn’t get onto I-25 South at exit 79. New Mexico’s DOT has a press release (pdf) saying that work on the exit is expected to continue for about 80 days (more or less). That would put the re-opening at about Christmas, 2014. The press release also says that “the public will have access to the northbound off ramp”. So, you might be able to use exit 79 to enter the city from the south (caveat emptor).
The trailhead used on this trip is simply the last near-level spot beside the road up to Timber Mountain. Above this spot the road becomes steeper, much more gullied and rock-strewn. There are no trailhead services.
- Starting Elevation: 6020 feet
- Ending Elevation: 7350 feet
- Net Elevation: 1330 feet
- Distance: 5.6 miles one way
- Map: USGS Apache Gap quadrangle
At the trailhead there are good views north to the Elephant Butte reservoir. With that reminder, make certain you have adequate water supplies, shoulder your pack and head up Hadley Canyon on the road. Looking down, note that Sierra County has made strenuous effort to keep the road bed well above the bed of the canyon – good engineering practice. On steep spots someone has also put down patches of concrete, apparently to resist the damaging effect of spinning tires and running water. The concrete, however, has long-since broken up and now forms part of the rubble that is typical of steeply inclined gravel roads. This is no place for the family sedan. Watch your footing.
If you have seen the Caballo Mountains from I-25, then you might think of the range as a near-barren domain of soaring cliffs. Here on the east side the terrain is more gentle and lightly forested. The trees seem to be mostly juniper. These appear to be the one-seed juniper reported to be common across much of New Mexico. Many of these junipers were carrying bluish-purple berries. It looks like good terrain for deer. In fact, there were two hunters on the road who had had a successful morning. The road climbs up and across the north face of Timber Peak, heading west.
At 0.9 miles you come to a low saddle and get your first views to the west. At your feet lies the north end of the Caballo Reservoir. On the horizon are the mountains of the Black Range. The road switchbacks and begins a gentle contour back towards the east for 0.4 miles, switchbacks again, and returns you to a much higher point on the Caballo Mountains ridge. The antennas that occupy the summit of Timber Mountain are seen above a sheer cliff showing numerous layers of sedimentary rock. Indeed, the rock you are standing on, the rock into which the road has been gouged, is a thick band of limestone.
Initially the road charges up the ridge straight towards the cliffs, but then loses its nerve and curls east and then south to skirt the summit block. At 2.3 miles from the trailhead the road arrives back at the ridge line, south of the antenna thicket. The ridge here is quite broad and might, in earlier times, have supported a forest. Currently this part of the crest is recovering from a fire. Since there are scattered junipers that remain green it appears that the fire was not particularly intense. This may be the Timber Mountain Prescribed Fire Project. Prescribed fires are a fairly tough form of medicine, but a great deal better than the fire bombs that have so damaged the Gila Wilderness and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness.
From here you could either turn north and ascend to the antennas or turn south and descend towards Brushy Mountain. This report describes the southerly route. In part this is a judgement error, reflecting my low enthusiasm for summiting among high-intensity microwave towers. It turns out that the microwave towers are not on the true summit (see “Links”, below). Hikers who follow the road up and past the antennas should find a short leg of ATV-trail hiking that will take them to the true Timber Mountain summit.
To go on the southerly route turn left and follow the road down the gentle incline of the ridge line. The views are excellent. To your left lies the Jornada del Muerto Desert Basin, confined on it’s easterly side by the San Andreas Mountains. To the south the Doña Ana Mountains poke up from the desert floor, and beyond them you’ll find the high spire of the Organ Needle topping the Organ Mountains. The view to the west is dominated by the Black Range. South of those mountains lies the prominent cone of Cooke’s Peak in the Cooke Range. In several spots you may be able to pick out South Florida Peak in the distant Florida Mountains as they tower over the town of Deming, NM. Watch your footing, as it is easy to get caught up in this panoply of New Mexico mountains. The view back towards Timber Mountain presents an epic display of stratigraphy.
Eventually the ridge-top levels out, bumps along for a ways and at 4.3 miles from the trailhead you come to a fork in the road. The left-hand fork is where CR-Ao03 officially leaves the ridge and descends back into the Jornada del Muerto Desert Basin. To the right is a more heavily utilized roadbed that rises towards Brushy Mountain. In the fork there is a dense juniper tree that offers a little shade to weary travelers.
The ascent to Brushy Mountain is a very gentle one. The road ambles over small bumps and winds its way past stands of junipers and pinyon pine. Looking ahead you will see that the summit is spit in two, with both sides of the spit appearing to be the same height. (See the image at at the start of the post). It is the bump on the left that claims greater prominence. Consequently, when you come to a second fork, one where the more heavily utilized roadbed falls off to your right, you will want to go straight ahead on the lesser-used road bed.
At 5.6 miles from the trailhead arrive at the road’s end above the west-facing cliffs of Brushy Mountain. The summit’s high-point is off-road. Wend your way about 100 feet past cacti, juniper and pinyon pine to arrive at the summit. Take in views north to Vick’s Peak in the San Mateo Range and a glimpse over the Black Range at peaks in the Gila Wilderness. Have some water, take in some nourishment, and after resting up return the way you came.
♦One of my earliest hikes in New Mexico was to Hillsboro Peak – a great hike. The return drive along NM-152 points you straight at the towering cliffs of the southern Caballo Mountains. These cliffs, hanging improbably over the blue waters of Caballo Reservoir, are a visual feast and perhaps gave rise to exaggerated expectations for this ramble. On balance, I would recommend that newcomers to the range first hike Turtleback Mountain, further north in the range. That peak is not nearly as striking, but the terrain has a much wilder feel.
♦At this writing it is easier to get to the trailhead from the north (exit 75 on I-25) than it is to come in from the south (exit 32). If you have Magee’s guidebook you may want to annotate the driving directions. In any case, navigating the roads in the Jornada del Muerto Desert Basin is unusually challenging. Bring good maps. I have the New Mexico Gazetteer and it was tremendously helpful.
♦Don’t forget your camera! I did and the quality of the photography took a hit after resorting to my cell phone. Photographing the mountains is an oddly difficult task, but a good zoom lens makes the job much more approachable.
♦There is very little protection from the sun on this hike. Even in October insolation at 7000 feet can be strong enough to wear on a hiker. A good hat, sunscreen and lots of water are still very necessary.
♦Hunting season is still on. Take advantage of the remaining days before Halloween to get a supply of orange clothing stored away.
♦Fun facts: Peakery.com rates Brushy Mountain as the 1107th highest point in New Mexico and the 12,349th highest peak in the United States.
♦The folks at Geocaching.com have caches up on the ridge. Their website shows photos of the Caballo Reservoir taken from the ridge in times of markedly lower drought stress.
♦Southern New Mexico Explorer has done this hike and provided a brief report and offers several photos capturing the muscular nature of the terrain.
♦Scott Surgent reports on a trip to Timber Mountain. That report rehearses the potential frustrations with the roads out in the Jornada del Muerto Basin (do bring good maps). He summits on Timber Mountain (which I did not do on this hike).
♦Donna Catterick has a captivating photo of this portion of the Caballo range. It appears to have been taken near Truth Or Consequences and it looks eastward into Burbank Canyon. This canyon pushes up against the ridge between Timber Mountain and Brushy Mountain. I got the sense that ascending Burbank Canyon might lead up to Brushy Mountain. Later, driving on I-25 and looking directly at the same terrain, I got the sense of, “what, are you crazy?”. Those are colossal cliffs.