Northern New Mexico end Sepember 2002 Trip Report


At the start of the season, way back in April, I had planned upon a whirlwind trip at the end of September that would involve flying into Albuquerque from San Diego with Edward Earl - whence we would fill in county highpoints along the western tier of New Mexico counties in the continuing effort to secure a 500 statute mile home glob radius.

However that plan did not account for being layed off by Peregrine Systems in mid June. After Labor Day weekend I was still without a job. Furthermore I had purchased a beautiful new Toyota Tacoma over said weekend - and I wanted to test its off-road capabilities on a major driving trip.

So a new plan was developed wherein I would collect several New Mexico counties, with only a subset of them being with Edward Earl over the final September weekend. In addition Scott Surgent wanted to climb the San Juan cohp (county highpoint), Beautiful Mountain, on a Tuesday - his day off from teaching duties.

The initial plan entailed climbing Truchas Peak - the twofer HP (highpoint) of both Rio Arriba and Mora Counties. I would then retrieve Edward from Albuquerque and we would climb five county highpoints on the weekend - Cibola and McKinley Counties on one day; Torrance and Valencia Counties on another day; and Sandia Crest of Bernalillo County "in the cracks" whenever time permitted. I would return Edward to the airport mid-day Monday and then climb the San Juan cohp with Scott Surgent on Tuesday. I would gain eight counties.

Upon conferring with Jobe Wymore, Andy Martin, and various Forest Service personnel around the mountain, I decided that Truchas Peak was finished for the season. Indeed, every possible approach route seemed to have its own peculiar problem. Jobe's approach from the west was rendered difficult by a fire that had destroyed the campground - and so the approach road had been closed. The shortest approach, from the northwest, was rendered dangerous by numerous reports of vandalism. The northern approach would be full of snow and was about 30 miles round trip - calling for an overnight backpack. The southern approach was ill-documented and also would take more than a single day.

So I abandoned Truchas Peak for the season upon receiving a promise from Edward that he is interested in doing it next year - likely on a trip with Santa Fe Baldy of Santa Fe County included.

Seeing as Edward Earl was interested in doing the NM counties with challenging mountains as their highpoints, and also noting that I may someday consider a NM state completion, I decided to incorporate NM eastern plains counties into my trip in place of Truchas Peak. Thereby a new itinerary was formulated wherein the highpoints of Guadalupe, De Baca, and Quay Counties would be visited - plus a summit attempt for Elk Mountain of San Miguel County. I would gain ten counties.

Indeed, here is a trip itinerary as prepared for my parents prior to my departure. The itinerary contains material designed to allow my mother to have peace of mind as I travel alone - which is why the tentative driving route is included.

Trip Details

The trip begain on Tuesday September 24, 2002. I awoke around 4:40 AM in San Diego, zeroed the trip odometer and was driving by 5:13 AM from the gas station. I took a motel in Winslow after 555 road miles.

I passed the New Mexico border some 660 road miles from home the following morning. Gallup was only twenty miles later. Passed through Albuquerque around the noon hour (it was now Mountain Daylight Savings Time), and continued east on I-40 to the exit at Clines Corners. Got gas and headed towards Vaughn and the first cohp of the trip - BM Leon of Guadalupe County (6,339 ft).

Jobe Wymore's description given to me by personal correspondence was accurate. Got up a very pood road using 4WD for the first time with my truck. The entire hike lasted six minutes.

Was back to the road grid by perhaps 4 PM and, with three hours of daylight remaining, headed SE on route 60 to the second cohp - De Baca County (Loma Alta, two areas - 5,583 ft). The hike lasted 20-30 minutes and was done in tennis shoes as with BM Leon.

Took a motel in Fort Sumner - feeling good after having gotten two counties on a day originally slated for just driving.

In the middle of the night I realized that I could stuff more counties into my trip with the remaining time window than originally planned. Around 4:30 AM (now Thursday) I got out of bed and studied the deLorme NM maps - learning to my amazement that a simple counterclockwise loop would get me both Curry and Roosevelt Counties in addition to the ones originally planned upon.

I awoke the motel manager around 5:30 AM (which took some chutzpah) and offered him cash (actually, $9) for the use of his personal computer so as to get the relevant trip reports and maps off "my website" (which I view as ironic).

Armed with the required information I drove east by dawn's first light, and then north on county roads to the Roosevelt cohp - a liner. I continued in a zigzag fashion on county roads, trending northeast, to the Curry cohp - another liner.

Rather than take the shortest route to the Quay cohp (Luciano Mesa), I drove north to I-40 for gas, driving through Tucumcari (with Tucumcari Mountain looking nice), and then back south to Luciano Mesa.

Here are details of visiting the Quay cohp.

I drove the "historic" route 66 (now as NM 156) west to intersect I-40 immediately east of Santa Rosa. It was good gravel most of the way. By now it was about 2 PM and I decided, with so much daylight remaining, to drive in the general direction of Elk Mountain - the San Miguel cohp.

Here are details of visiting the San Miguel cohp.

I had driven to the summit area of Elk Mountain on the very afternoon that I was slated to have visited just the lowland county highpoints! I was a full day ahead of schedule. Drove to Santa Fe and took a hotel room for the night.

Friday the 27th was a free day. My plan was to visit a museum in Los Alamos on scientific research as performed at the LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory); shop around for my mother in central Santa Fe for some Indian jewelry; and then visit a museum on the Atomic Age located at Kirtland AFB near the Albuquerque airport.

These plans changed radically when I made reservations to an restaurant in Chimoya acclaimed for their New Mexican cuisine. I enjoyed a very filling lunch that featured spicy appetizer; a traditional combination platter; and two desserts - pine nut chocolate mousse and tequila-apple cheesecake. The mousse was especially delicious with honey intended for their sopapillas. The tequila cheesecake was best with extra tequila from a tiny size (like the kind you see on airplane flights) bottle that I just so happened to have brought inside for the occassion.

I took a driving tour of the old town area in Santa Fe - noting that every structure was made in the adobe style - including a McDonald's and a Texaco station! Parking was a major problem and so I proceeded directly southwest to Albuquerque. By the time I arrived near the Kirtland AFB entrance it was 4 PM - and so I took a nap in my truck and headed directly to the airport terminal where I browsed inside stores for three hours waiting for Edward's flight to arrive.

I drove to the trailhead via route 337 - arriving around 10 PM. We heated up our meals under threating skies and went to sleep - me in the driver's seat and Edward Earl on the open truck bed. Eventually Edward got wet by nighttime rain - and at around 6 AM decided to sleep in the campground bathroom.

At about 8 AM Edward decided it was time to go on our all-day hike to the Valencia and Torrance county highpoints - in the rain. I was reluctant to do so: after all, I had already gotten to six county highpoints and could, at least in principle, return here on a drier day at the end of my trip. Nevertheless I decided to go along even though I felt it was a mistake - if the rain kept up all day I could easily get soaked despite wearing a GoreTex shell. Hypothermia was a risk. My jacket zipper failed to function properly.

Quite frankly this hike was not much fun. Although it ceased raining after about one hour (fortunately for us), the reascent to the main ridge after the Valencia "liner" (actually it was a bump with maybe 40 feet of prominence) followed by continual up-and-down to Manzano Peak was not enjoyable. We summited Manzano Peak, the Torrance cohp, at about 2 PM. It was a three hour return to my truck - so making for a nine hour journey as 8 AM to 5 PM.

We drove back north on route 337 to I-40, and passed through Albuqurque to reach Grants about 70 miles further west. Our plan was to camp somewhere on public land in the vicinity of the McKinley cohp for the following morning (Sunday). At night it was difficult to locate the correct Forest Service road.

Here are details of visiting the McKinley cohp.

After Cerros de Alejandro of McKinley County, rather than driving all the way back to I-40 in Grants, we decided to take our chances and follow Forest Service roads south in a more direct approach to the trailhead for climbing Mt Taylor of Cibola County. The going was very slow at times, with the road condition often worrying me as to the continuing possibility of a tire puncture. Eventually we made it to the trailhead for Mt Taylor.

The hike up Mt Taylor was rewarding - and uneventful except for some high winds for the last 500 vertical feet or so. On the summit we met a student in geology who had also come up for the day. He gave us a nice discussion of the local geology - pointing out the ancient caldera of which Mt Taylor was just a bump on the rim of some prehistoric 14,000 foot behemoth. It was windy enough to wear gloves.

I enjoyed a new treat on top - a jar of sunflower butter! Of course I just had to try it several ways ... both savory and sweet. It was purchased quite cheaply before the trip at Ralph's - about $2.19 for a 12 oz jar.

After a rapid descent from Mount Taylor we drove back to the interstate and headed east to Albuquerque for visiting the Bernalillo cohp on the following morning. On beginning the drive up to the summit lot we noted signs warning that no camping is allowed anywhere on the mountain. We consulted a local authority who advised up to camp on the south side of I-40, some ten miles away, at a certain facility with unmarked campsite areas. This we did by waning light at around 6-7 PM.

Here are details of visiting the Bernalillo cohp.

After dropping Edward off at the airport I went to Old Town in Albuquerque - for I had learned that the Museum of the Atomic Age had moved from Kirtland AFB (likely owing to the events of September 11, 2001). I spent about 1 1/2 hours at the museum and enjoyed nearly the entire array of exhibits. I also walked around the Old Town area and noted both the architecture and the variety of stores devoted to art and New Mexican culture in general. For some reason all other museums were closed for the day.

I slept under my truck for about twenty minutes - it was too hot inside and I really wanted to sleep in order to drive safely to Gallup for the room (Motel 6) that my mother had reserved for Scott Surgent and myself the previous evening upon consulting her by cell phone from our camp sight near Tijeras and I-40. In so doing she eliminated the uncertainties I had regarding where and when to meet Scott for our climb of Beautiful Mountain the following day.

Scott Surgent arrived in my room about 10 PM and we made plans to awaken at 5:30 AM and hit the road a full hour before dawn.

Beautiful Mountain involved some very rough driving encountered immediately after the turn right and some 2.8 miles before the "jumping off point" for the actual climb as recommended by Jobe Wymore in his trip report. I indeed was worried that the vehicle might tip over on its side - but Scott spurred me onward from outside the truck.

Scott and myself located the weakness in the cliff band which allows access to the summit plateau. I took a compass bearing and proceeded the fifteen minutes to the summit proper. From our perch we noted higher terrain across the border in Arizona as well as Ship Rock beneath us and well in the distance.

The vertical gain from my truck was perhaps 900 feet to the summit.

On descent we took a wrong turn (or did we?) and wasted time finding our way, just as it started to rain. I had enough of this terrible driving for one trip - and handed the wheel to Scott. He enjoyed the handling and complimented my new truck's abilities in general.

Driving south on route 666 we stopped for food - Scott had a burrito and "Funyuns" (the faux onion ring treat), while I enjoyed a pint of butter pecan ice cream with various tidbits of candy bars saved for the occassion.

Twelve counties in one trip suddenly gave me a total of 17 New Mexico counties - fully half of the state!

We parted ways in a Walmart parking lot - Scott driving back to Phoenix while I took a nap and drove on I-40 across the Arizona border.

I decided to finally visit Winslow Crater. The $10 entrance fee was worthwhile because the indoor exhibits were state-of-the-art. In addition one views the crater itself from various lookout points on its rim. Nobody is normally allowed down into the crater.

The drive south from I-40 to Winslow Crater (some six miles) confirmed my feelings - a stiff wind was blowing out of the south that would eat up gas mileage were I to continue past Flagstaff that evening on route 17. Thereby I took a room (again at a Motel 6) in Flagstaff for the night.

The following morning I was on the road by about 7 AM. At first the drive south on route 17 was quite unpleasant owing to a rainstorm with occassional hail on the Coconino Plateau. Upon descent into the Phoenix area things cleared up nicely. I bypassed downtown (recommended) by going counterclockwise around the northwest ramparts of the city on route 101. I made the 495 miles from Flagstaff to home by about 3 PM Pacific Daylight Savings Time.

The trip odometer read 3,132.5 miles when I pulled into my parking space on Wednesday the 2nd of October. My truck had consumed $225 in gasoline - so making for 14 miles to the dollar and, using a reasonable estimate for the mean price per gallon on the trip, about 21 miles per gallon.