San Miguel County High Point Trip Report

Elk Mountain (11,661 ft)

Date: September 23, 2002
Author: Ken Jones

On the map, this one looked easy - just drive Forest Service road 645 up Willow Creek and head up to the summit area. Only, when I got to the bottom of FS 645 it was closed. They were doing some work on a pile of mine tailings, and there was no indication if/when the road would be reopened. So I took a chance on another road, one that none of my maps said would go through - and it did!

Details: From Interstate 25, head north on New Mexico state highway 63 through Pecos, to a point just short of milepost 20 (yes, this is roughly 20 miles from I 25) - call it virtual milepost 19.9. On the right side is the turnoff for Forest Service route 646. My Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) map shows a gate on the road, but it was open this day.

Set your odometer and turn right (0.0). Follow FS 646 as it winds up the hill. There are a number of less-well-traveled side roads, but everywhere there was any question at all I found it signed as to which fork was the right road with a little brown "646" sign. This is an excellent, broad USFS dirt road, and it goes farther than it is shown on any map I have.

At 8.3 miles from NM 63, road 646 meets up with another road, labeled FS 156 on my SFNF map. However, I found no road signs whatever either here or any further along this route. After 646, they're missing. This junction is at about 9,850 feet at a switchback on FS 156 (the SFNF map puts this in Section 30 but the USGS shows no section lines at this point). Bear right (uphill) on FS 156. The road is narrower and steeper than 646, but should still be passable by a passenger car (as long as it's dry). Continue 1.8 miles to a three-way fork (10.1 miles from NM 63). Take the leftmost fork as it climbs along the high ridge. Ignore side turnings to campsites. At 13.0 miles from the highway, turn right on the Elk Mountain summit road. This drops, more than you might expect, at first, but don't worry - it will go up. At 13.7 miles you reach a steep, loose switchback that might be the end of the line for passenger cars (though I think I could have made it in one). In another mile (to 14.7 miles) you'll reach the top of Elk Mountain.

I fully Martinized this one in a 4WD; my butt was still in the driver's seat when I reached out a put my left foot on the highest rock. There are towers and a building up here, and expansive views.