Colorado/New Mexico April 2004 Trip Report


This trip combined two goals into one journey -

* Surveying / climbing guide duties in southwestern New Mexico.

* County highpointing on the plains of eastern Colorado.

The purpose of this combination was two-fold. The cost was some $200 less than the cost of two separate trips. Second, it opened-up May for a road journey to Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks with my parents. Without this combination trip, I would have gone to Colorado in May.

The first weekend, April 9-11, was in southwest New Mexico, and featured numerous highpointers and venues - each person meshing his plans with others in a finely orchestrated timeline.

Trip Details

The table illustrates schedules for every member of the southwest New Mexico component of this trip. HP = "highpoint".

April 7 April 8 April 9 April 10 April 11
***** ***** ***** ****** ******
A.H. San Diego to Tucson to Big Hatchet Peak Big Hatchet Peak Mystery Peak Mystery Peak; begin drive with D.C. to Denver
D.C. Greenlee County, AZ HP Mica Mountain - Saguaro National Park HP Cookes Peak - Luna County HP Organ Needle - Doña Ana County, NM HP Mystery Peak; begin drive with A.H. to Denver
E.E. San Diego to Big Hatchet Peak Big Hatchet Peak Organ Needle - Doña Ana County, NM HP Cookes Peak - Luna County HP; begin return to San Diego
K.J. Seattle to El Paso to Las Cruces, NM Organ Needle - Doña Ana County, NM HP (aborted) Valencia County, NM HP; return to Seattle
S.C. San Diego to Tucson to Big Hatchet Peak Big Hatchet Peak Mystery Peak return to Tucson
S.S. Phoenix to Coronado National Forest Mystery Peak Cookes Peak; return to Phoenix
"John" Alamogordo, NM to Big Hatchet Peak Big Hatchet Peak; return to Alamogordo

I describe below only my personal experiences.

Thursday, April 8

I flew from San Diego to Tucson, whence S.C. and I drove to Hidalgo County, New Mexico. We met "John" in Hatchet, and then investigated an alternative approach to Big Hatchet Peak for the following morning. E.E. arrived at our car camp about eight o'clock.

Friday, April 9

All four of us (S.C, E.E., "John", and myself) climbed Big Hatchet Peak in quite good time, some two hours up, having made it in S.C.'s vehicle to road's end in Thompson Canyon on the southeast side. Weather conditions were flawless. Big Hatchet is number eight on the New Mexico prominence list.

E.E. departed in his rental for Organ Needle, the Doña Ana County highpoint. "John" went his way, while S.C. and I drove to a camping spot in the Coronado National Forest for the evening. S.S. appeared about one hour after sunset, all sleeping until dawn.

Saturday, April 10

I guided S.S. and S.C. up "Mystery Peak", using a new route investigated earlier by M.C., and, the previous November, by K.J. and E.E. It is far preferable to the scree slog suffered by R.C., G.H. and myself the previous May.

E.E., K.J., and D.C. had succeeded on Organ Needle despite poor weather and a late start.

S.S. drove to Deming, meeting E.E. and D.C. for dinner. S.S. then continued with E.E. to Cookes Peak, the Luna County highpoint. D.C. arrived at our campsite in the Coronado National Forest at 1 a.m., quite tired and with no desire for a dawn start the following day.

Sunday, April 11

D.C. climbs "Mystery Peak", and returns to S.C. and myself about 2 p.m. After returning to our campsite, S.C. departs for Tucson and I drive with D.C. towards Colorado, taking a room in Las Vegas, New Mexico by late evening.

Monday, April 12

D.C. and I continued to Denver, noting that the storm had dumped snow down to the 5,500 foot level in Colorado. Raton Pass was icy. I was upset that my week of county highpointing would be severely effected by snow. D.C. was unconcerned, figuring that the warm temperatures would melt the stuff in a day or two.

On approach to DIA (Denver International Airport) we visited the Adams County highpoint. Looking north to a second area with the same contour elevation, I was not satisfied that I had completed the county. D.C. left me at Budget Rental, and then attended the opening home game of the Colorado Rockies baseball team.

By 1 p.m. I was driving towards the Arapahoe County highpoint along toll road E-470. I "hit" the two possible highpoints and proceeded south on I-25 to exit 163 for the Elbert County highpoint.

While parked along the county line road, I hiked north to the contending Elbert highpoints - except for a hill which I returned to do near the end of my trip.

Back west to I-25, south, to an exit in downtown Colorado Springs. Gassed-up, had some coffee, and I was shortly on the gravel road grid bound for the Lincoln County highpoint.

The Lincoln highpoint, a liner, was the obvious rise along the south side of the road, and some 2,000 feet east of the last road junction enroute.

Still with plenty of daylight, I headed south, without returning to pavement, towards Crowley County. I received permission from the lanky grandson of the (now deceased) Mr. Bledsoe, and was able to drive my rental all-the-way north to the highpoint area. After twenty minutes and a mile of hiking, Crowley County was mine.

Daylight remained. I continued generally south towards Otero County with the aim of getting close to the following morning's hike. I managed the hairpin loop just past the railroad tracks and onto the dirt road leading generally west on National Grasslands to the highpoint area.

It was a mudbath. The recent snows had made a mess of the road. After two miles I decided not to chance it any longer. Rather than park for the night I got the hell out'a there, fearing the auto would sink in the mud overnight.

Mud was everywhere on the car exterior - front hood, windshield, side panels, and the entire front and back of each wheel well. I had a close call with a trip-ruining (and expensive) tow truck call some thirty miles from any town with services.

It was dark, about 9 p.m. I continued southwest in the direction of Trinidad, eventually parking at an abandoned building roadside. Still shaken by the experience, I ate supper in the dark with little joy. I awoke about 2 a.m. to cold feet and decided to exit the driver seat and lay down on the rear seats inside my sleeping bag. It was more comfortable. I decided to adopt this sleeping configuration for the remainder of my journey - regardless of whether it would be chilly enough to use the bag.

Tuesday, April 13

Frost on the windows meant the radio was right - it had been in the upper twenties before dawn. I eventually headed east towards Baca County, stopping first for gas and coffee at the only town that had not turned ghostlike.

Baca County was a boring hike - a liner on the east slope of Carrizo Mountain.

I took a dare and made a remarkably good guess as to how I could access the approach to Black Mesa, the Oklahoma state highpoint, without returning to pavement via Springfield, Colorado and/or Boise City, Oklahoma. Basically I headed south from the Baca highpoint area, winding up at the correct trailhead northeast of Black Mesa.

I made excellent time - 1 hour 7 minutes up and the same time down. I had the state highpoint to myself this Tuesday.

I continued south to Kenton, had some soda and ice cream (actually, a chile and tamarind popsicle with Spanish labeling), and headed via Boise City to Springfield and then the Prowers County highpoint.

I climbed the south of Twin Buttes, some 300 feet of elevation gain, and then headed south back to Springfield, thence west on route 160 to access route 109 northwest for Bent County.

The southwestern mesa was achieved at sundown, whence I explored possible remote sites for my overnight car bivouac along a nearly unused county road east of 109.

Wednesday, April 14

The remaining six areas, along the "C" - shaped mesa northeast of route 109, were visited early morning after a pre-dawn start cross-country from a reparked auto. The largest contour, most northeasterly of the six, is definitely the highest of all six contending areas.

Back at my rental by nine or so, I headed north on route 109 and spent an hour at a convenience store cleaning my hands and face, shaving, making phone calls, and enjoying a malted ice cream.

Next was Kiowa County - one which was trivially done as a quarter mile hike west from my parked vehicle.

I drove to the ranch for doing Cheyenne and Kit Carson Counties. Once there, my rental was coaxed clear to the Cheyenne County higpoint - a rise at the county line and atop a cattle guard. Opening the left door, I Martinized the county by stepping on the highpoint without exiting. A two mile round trip north, on foot, got me the pair of possible highpoints for Kit Carson County.

I drove east to Kansas along I-40. Mount Sunflower is definitely misnamed - however it was silly to see all the fuss made about this broad hill just a mile from the Colorado border. Chalk up another state highpoint!

I drove north along good gravel to I-70, and entered Colorado with about an hour of daylight. By 8 p.m. it was twilight - and I had just enough time to visit the Yuma County highpoint, a slight rise at a road junction, prior to calling it a day. I parked and camped along the highway 59 leading north to route 36 and Washington County.

Thursday, April 15

Washington County was "done" about 7 a.m. and I was then headed north and west to the Judson Hills of Morgan County.

The benchmark was located some twenty minutes and 1.2 miles from my auto, and I returned after another seventeen or so. Talk about speed hiking!

Back onto I-76, this time east to exit 80, at Sterling, for Phillips County. I did not need to visit all eleven 4,110+ ft contours - my 1X hand level, borrowed from D.C., eliminated some without the need to get to them on-foot. I efficiently used the one-mile checkboard pattern of the gravel road grid to eliminate the majority of the hiking by driving to the nearest points of each contending contour.

The 4,110+ ft contour northeast of the area abutting the 4,120 ft contour (on the western county boundary) was certainly among those visited.

Sedgwick County, northeasternmost of the Colorado counties and hence most remote from my San Diego home, was then visited. A liner, this hike lasted some thirty minutes and was perhaps 1.5 miles round trip.

Still just before 4 p.m., I drove north, via Haxtun, to again intersect I-76. After phone calls and gasoline I headed west on I-76 to Sterling, thence west on route 14 and north on route 71 to the Nebraska border. Thereby I approached the Logan County, Colorado highpoint from the north. I camped one-half mile south of the missile silo and enjoyed supper on the trunk's top by gathering twilight. Remarkably my cell phone worked - having a conversation with dad back in Encino, California.

Friday, April 16

My Logan bid began at dawn, now about 6:15 a.m., and was completed by around 8 a.m. I visited an additional highpoint, as spot elevation 4,931 ft, located as described in this report.

Panorama Point, highpoint of Nebraska, was Martinized. The property immediately west of the approach road taken north to the highpoint monument is bounded by an electric fence that appears to interfere with the tracks of the approach. Clearly an eastern approach to the Colorado-Nebraska-Wyoming tripoint, one mile west, is now rendered difficult.

I drove north to I-80, and at Pine Bluff, just inside the Wyoming border, called ahead to the Terry Bison Ranch to notify them of my plans for the Weld County highpoint the following day.

Meanwhile, closer at-hand, the afternoon's venue was Laramie County, Wyoming. To that end I continued, west past Cheyenne, to exit 342.

The private approach road is easily negotiated in a low-clearance vehicle. A hiking route up the southeast face of the highpoint summit was aborted owing to private property concerns. I reparked my rental near a lake on the east side, and then bushwhacked up the northeast face with perhaps five hundred feet of gain. After touching the highest boulder I descending slightly to enjoy a snack of assorted cookies and milk prior to making my retreat downslope.

As it was now only 1 p.m., and there was easily enough time to do Weld County before dark. However I had made arrangements for Saturday morning and did not want to "rock the boat", possibly risking access privileges.

I drove through Cheyenne's historic downtown district, finding cheap motels on both the eastern and western edges thereof. After supermarket shopping I took a room for some $22 and just vegged-out for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.

Saturday, April 17

I awoke at 5 a.m., gassed-up, got some industrial strength coffee, and drove out of town - crossing back into Colorado around 6 o'clock. I parked and was hiking, again at daybreak, eastbound to the Weld County highpoint in the Terry Bison Ranch. Here is my report for Weld County.

There remained but three counties in the Denver area - all basically drive-ups. D.C. had recommended Thunder Butte of Douglas County to fill-in some of my spare time. Unlike the bulk of my trip, Thunder Butte was an actual mountain! Since the skies were clear, I decided to attempt Thunder Butte in the afternoon, and save the drive-ups for the morning since they did not depend upon good weather.

The drive to Denver was some 100 miles. I then headed for the hills, eventually going south on route 67 to a trailhead for Thunder Butte (9,836 ft).

A bushwhack ensued, some 4.6 miles round trip with 1,300 feet of elevation gain. I took 1 hour 10 minutes up and 40 minutes down (fast). A long snack break near the end raised the elapsed time to some 2 hours 40 minutes.

Rather than return north, I examined my DeLorme atlas and noted that route 67 led south to route 24, which in turn led into Colorado Springs. This was preferable - as I would return to Elbert County and do the hill that I had neglected several days earlier.

In Manitou Springs I stopped at a "dairy store" and, since my highpointing was (basically) finished with complete success, stopped an hour (horrors!) to enjoy a pint of ice cream with various mix-ins. The Atkins low-carbohydrate peanut butter / chocolate pint was understandly quite rich and creamy, containing an abundance of calories derived from fat. Unfortunately, owing to its low sugar content, I was hungry just 2-3 hours later! This would not occur with a normal pint of ice cream.

Incidentally, any person who follows the Atkins diet acts with neither knowledge of human physiology nor the documented long-term risks of a high-fat regimen.

After nabbing the hill for Elbert County, I headed back to I-25, took exit 184 near Castle Rock, and car-camped on a pullout near a housing construction site. At 1:58 a.m. a police officer knocked on my window and asked if everything was O.K. Frankly, I was glad to see that somebody was looking out for me.

Sunday, April 18

Up at 6 a.m. and driving north, caffeine-laden once again. I returned to Adams County, this time via I-70 instead of the toll road. I drove north to near the northern contour which I had not visited with D.C., and, in full view of the farmer's home, ran into his field and got the county to my personal satisfaction. J.M. later informed me that exhaustive back-sighting obviated my efforts. Besides, the landowner refuses permission.

Broomfield County was accessed via I-25 north, thence west on route 128.

Denver City and County was accessed via route 121 south. At the telephone junction box I called E.E. and reviewed my trip. It was 10 a.m. - exactly. I took a brief nap in the auto.

Upon awakening I phoned J.M. and arranged to meet him that evening at his home in Golden. I called my mother and told her about my immediate plans - to visit our old condominium at 3828 South Yosemite Street, where we had lived from 1967-1969.

On the way east to Yosemite, along route 285, I could not find a store selling good wine as a gift for J.M. and his ladyfriend. Evidently no liquor exceeding 3% alcohol is sold in Colorado on Sunday. I purchased a six-pack of imported beer and a half-pound package of smoked Alaskan salmon for them.

The home was there - humble yet adequate.

I gave the car an automatic washing. The wheel wells were still filthy. However in general the auto was cleaner than the "average" rental after 2,000+ miles of driving.

I arrived at J.M.'s home mid-afternoon and ate my own lunch with extra-heavy smoked dried herring, Norwegian potato bread, lettuce, sour cream, butter. A Zagnut candy bar with J.M.'s peach and chocolate chip ice creams was quite enjoyable.

The evening was highlighted by a dinner of buffalo bratwurst with baked beans, sauerkraut, pasta salad, and assorted condiments. Frozen fruit bars for dessert.

Monday, April 19

J.M. had recommended the American Alpine Club library immediately at-hand in Golden. They were closed on Monday. I spent two hours browsing the hallways and looking at mountain-oriented books in a gift store.

I visited a unique "Old West" store in downtown Golden. It sold antiques and memorabilia from the 'fifties etc..., including assorted hard candies that I am still enjoying; a large assortment of mini liquor bottles; and a plush, nine-inch bison to commemorate my journeys through the plains of Colorado.

I visited the Colorado Train Museum just outside Golden, choosing to not purchase the seven dollar entrance ticket, simply viewing the trains from a modest distance behind a network of fence lines.

I drove east to explore the newly opened Rocky Mountain Arsenal Nature Preserve. They were closed except for weekends.

I returned west to buy sweaters for family members at the train museum gift store. The American Hotel indeed had a room for $19.95 plus tax. They are located just north of I-70 at exit 267. Only catch is that you need advance reservations - and the room telephone does not accept incoming calls. A cell phone does fine.

After re-packing for the flight home, I spent the evening watching TV after a "meal" of five mini liquor bottles (with sweets), and leftover solid food.

Tuesday, April 20

I returned the rental to Budget, fuel full on the meter, after 2,149 road miles. Thank goodness for unlimited miles! The flight home on Frontier Airlines was uneventful.


Twenty-five counties is a personal record for one trip. On the flip side, I receive little satisfaction in visiting flat counties. The only reason plains counties were done is because I eventually plan upon a Colorado state completion.

I now have fifteen states in my home glob (including Montana); nineteen state highpoints; and 229 counties overall. My home glob area is now 767,542 square miles; while my total area is now 789,054 square miles.

The twenty-one Colorado counties completed in 5-6 days makes for a Colorado one week "state sprint" record - surpassing the previous record of twenty in one week.