Valencia County Highpoint Trip Report

unnamed point (8,960+ ft)

Date: July 1, 2004
Author: Ken Jones

Previous reports have provided routes from the east side to visit this near-liner. Generally speaking, they are preferred because they make it more reasonable to visit Manzano Peak (Torrance County) on the same hike. However, if you wish to hike only Valencia county the following route is nice. 1

Drive: From the junction of NM highways 47 and 304 (east of Belen), head southeast on NM 47 for 2.0 miles. Turn left on an unsigned dirt road (there is a sculpted concrete wall here); this is what DeLorme calls "N Navajo Rd". Follow this excellent (when dry) dirt road northeast and then east past many forks to a "T"-shaped intersection -- my memory says this is 8 or 9 miles. Turn left and head north for about 3 miles to a major gravel road heading east. This is unsigned, but has a cattle guard and several posts and pipes that look like they once held signs. Turn right (east) and follow the main road to its end at a former USFS campground. After entering USFS land at a gate, keep left at minor junctions to a trailhead in about 0.5 mile. There are rough spots, but I'd have dragged a passenger sedan in here if I'd not had high clearance.

I've misplaced my notes with the precise mileages. I'll update this report if I come across it. Note that the driving approach from Los Lunas (to the north) is much more complicated. I recommend heading south to Belen and following the directions above.

Hike: There are two trails here. The obvious one heads through a fence past a metal wilderness sign and up a canyon -- do not take this. Instead, look to the right for a shot-up sign indicating the Salas Trail, which says it reaches the crest in 7 3/4 miles (I don't think it's that far after trail rerouting). Walk past this sign and follow the main trail. It is two-track at first and there are a number of other ATV tracks in the area.

If you follow the main trail, you'll come to a fence and wilderness sign in about 0.25 mile. From here, the trail is quite reasonable to follow (despite warnings I received to the contrary from the USFS). It is usually a good tread and there are cairns in virtually all the questionable spots. Two items to note in particular -- bear left and follow the cairns at a tumbled-down building just after crossing the outflow from Canon de Salas and keep left where a fork drops right at about 7200 feet. Do not be concerned where the trail does not follow the route given on the topo map. It has been rerouted, and generally to a more efficient route. The climb to the 8600-foot ridge is more direct and has a few switchbacks added; expect to scratch your legs on scrub oaks here but the trail can be followed beneath the vegetation. At the Valencia county summit area, the trail is actually right up on the ridge and on the north side; you can almost touch the register from the path.

I easily found Richard Carey's register from a few years ago, with mostly known names. I question its placement, however. My GPS and map work leads me to think the county line is actually about 20-25 meters east of the cairn, which would put the county highpoint at the top of the little knoll instead of as a liner a bit east of the top. In any event, it's easy to walk the crest there for 100 meters to be sure you've hit the key spot.

1Possible reasons for doing only Valencia County include fire closure on the east side, as I experienced; much snow at higher elevations in the early season; or you already have Torrance county.