Northern New Mexico June 2003 Itinerary

Dear mom and dad,

        I provide here an itinerary for my upcoming New Mexico (hereafter "NM") completion trip . There are eight counties remaining (I already have twenty-five), all of them in the north part of the state. Starting elevations and summit elevations are considerably higher than on my last trip, and so heat will be less of a concern. That said, it is always advisable to begin early to avoid the nearly inevitable afternoon sprinkles.

Five people have completed NM, a small number that contrasts with statistics for other southwest states: Arizona 27, California 15, Colorado 13, Nevada 15, Utah 14. To a fair degree this relative lack of completers has to do with demographics: New Mexico has the smallest population of the four corners states. However Nevada has even less people. The other reason New Mexico has few completers is plain - Animas Peak of Hidalgo County, NM - a county I've already done as of my very last trip.

Of the eight counties remaining, one pair, Mora and Rio Arriba Cos., share a common highpoint (Truchas Peak (13,102 feet)). Hence there are really seven highpoints to visit - none of which pose the restricted access or semitechnical issues seen on my previous trip.

Nevertheless there are some time contraints on my travels that have been accounted for in my planning. I list these two constraints first because they are the only parts of my travels for which exact dates are not subject to change. The remainder of the trip itinerary "works around" these two constraints.

1) The Baca Ranch has historically owned property surrounding the highpoint of Sandoval County (Redondo Peak (11,254 ft)). Recently their land has been purchased by a conservation group, and they are slowly opening up the now public land to outdoors enthusiasts on a limited basis.

In June, self-guided hikes are available for purchase on specific weekend days (Friday-Monday). After June, a lottery system has awarded access to a group of forty-eight lucky elk hunters.

I have purchased a ten dollar ticket for Monday, June 16. Therefore I MUST be in Sandoval County that morning - which is easily achieved provided I depart San Diego early on Saturday, June 14.

The unsupervised "El Cajete" hike for which I have signed up is a trail walk. I am not interested. It is simply a "cover" for me to divert up the mountain and attain its summit. This is not entirely legal since the Jemez Indians consider the Redondo Peak sacred and have specifically requested that nobody hike above ten thousand feet. Although I cannot personally get into trouble (there are no roads or patrols onto the summit), should the nature group get wind that I was attempting to gain the summit on THEIR organized hike, they might have some explaining to do to the Jemez Indians.

Please do NOT make any telephone calls describing my plans. To do so will ruin this means of climbing Redondo Peak for all future highpointers.

2) I will be meeting Edward Earl the evening of Thursday, June 19 at the Albuquerque airport (hereafter ABQ). We will then climb the highpoint of Santa Fe County (Santa Fe Baldy (12,622 ft)) on Friday, June 20. The trailhead is at a ski resort.

We will then meet Scott Surgent the evening of Friday, June 20 at the Jacks Creek Campground well to the south of Truchas Peak.

Scott will be renting his own car since I told both Scott and Edward that three people with overnight backpacking gear will be too much for just my truck (actually, not true: but it would be quite uncomfortable since one person would have to sit in the jump seat behind the driver).

The three of us will climb Truchas Peak via a long, southerly approach, camping overnight on the trail at perhaps eleven thousand feet. The snowline is a critical issue. At the start of June Edward called the ski resort and learned that the snowline was about 11,500 feet. Three weeks later, when we are on Truchas (at nearly the same latitude as the resort), the snowline should be higher still. Nevertheless we are bringing a snow shovel (to dig out a campsite), and snowshoes (should the snow be too deep for postholing - a thankless exercise that consumes enormous amounts of energy).

The nearest town is Cowles, at the northernmost end of route 63. Our climb is scheduled for two days - Saturday and Sunday. The southern approach is in the Pecos National Forest District. Here is a contact number in case you don't hear from me by, say, MONDAY evening -

(505) 757-6121 (Pecos District - as for John Buller)

There is plenty of meltwater and even a few lakes high up - so if trouble occurs, for whatever reason, time is on our side. Furthermore, the temperatures will be very moderate - I estimate 60 degrees by midday and down to 30 degrees before dawn. Nobody is going to freeze or burn up on this trip.

Scott returns to Phoenix on a 9:30 pm flight Sunday evening, the 22nd. It is inconvenient for me to return Edward to ABQ when Scott can do so on my behalf. Edward's flight to San Diego is on Monday morning at 9 am - so he will need a motel room for the night. If I am feeling grubby (which is likely) then I can share Edward's room - although it means some backtracking to my next venue.

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Given the above constraints, here is one possible itinerary. Ultimately bad weather and how I feel will determine the actual itinerary - it is impossible to say with absolute certainty what is being done on a given date.

Saturday June 14

Depart San Diego and drive about two-thirds of the way to northern NM. Go east on I-8, through Yuma, to Gila Bend. Turn north on route 95 and meet I-10. Take I-10 through Phoenix and then route 17 north to Flagstaff. Take I-40 east across the NM border. Campsite uncertain - I refuse to be constrained by a motel reservation when I may, or may not, feel like driving more.

Sunday June 15

Complete drive to Sandoval County. Reach ABQ via I-40. North on I-25 and exit at route 550 northwest to the Santa Fe National Forest. Camp there. In principle I could drive 800-900 miles in one very long day, Saturday, allowing me to "squeeze in" Tuesday's venue (see below) on Sunday. In practice I would't enjoy such a day at all, driving from 5 am to 9 pm with only bathroom breaks at gas stations.

Monday June 16

Sandoval County highpoint (Redondo Peak (11,254 ft)). See above description as time constraint #1. The nature preserve opens at eight am.

It is a short drive east on route 501 to the Los Alamos area for the next day's venue. Being on National Forest land, on may either camp at a recognized site (there is at least one), or just camp at a pullout in the road. It is completely legal - Edward and I have done it more than a dozen times.

Tuesday June 17

Los Alamos County highpoint (liner on Caballo Mountain (10,480+ ft)). There are no good trip reports on for this county. I am considering no less than five possible driving approaches to the base of Caballo Mountain. I have printed out eighteen maps. All of the approaches should be drivable. Question is, once parked, which trail is the best ... or even exists, with cutbacks in trail maintainance in the last several years. I may spend a few hours in Los Alamos, or Santa Fe, looking for local trail books to learn author recommendations. This county is the most uncertain - largely from lack of good information.

The hike itself should take one-half to two-thirds of a day, with an elevation gain of 2,000 or 2,750 feet depending on the trail chosen. If no trail exists (even though they are indicated on the topographic charts), then I will have to go cross-country, using good old map and compass skills, plus my GPS to ascertain the exact position of the liner: getting to a mountaintop is easy - you just trend uphill. Getting to a fictitious point on a county boundary on the slope of a mountain is more navigationally challenging. I have written down the GPS coordinates for the Los Alamos liner - and can program these coordinates into the GPS unit the previous evening.

Wednesday June 18
Thursday     June 19

This is lay time that resulted from mother's desire that I not begin the trip until AFTER Friday, June 13. The eight counties of this trip are geographically arranged so that it makes no sense to get the remaining, easternmost counties in this time window, only to return to ABQ for getting Edward for the following weekend: I would need one additional day for that plan to work, i.e. getting the eastern counties PRIOR to meeting Edward would have required that I leave on Thursday, June 11; climbing Redondo Peak on Friday; Los Alamos on Saturday the 14th; and all remaining counties prior to the weekend with Edward and Scott.

I might, however, have time for the following (and PROVIDED that I do not have to re-attempt Los Alamos County on a second day owing to navigational problems) -

Colfax County highpoint (Little Costilla Peak (12,584 ft)). This is a six mile round trip with a 2,600 foot elevation gain. See Ken Jones' trip report for a description -

However even THIS plan, i.e. of getting Colfax County after Los Alamos County, requires additional driving in order to get Edward from ABQ. So for now let us assume that Wednesday is a back-up day for Los Alamos in case my first attempt failed ... and that Thursday is a sightseeing day.

Edward Earl's flight arrives at 7:25 pm Thursday evening the 19th.

Friday June 20

Santa Fe County Highpoint (Santa Fe Baldy (12,622 ft)). From the Santa Fe Ski Resort, taking the Winsor Trail. Snow higher up is nearly guaranteed. 2,600 foot elevation gain. Camp at either of two sites near Cowles - in proximity to the Jack Creek trail for Truchas Peak.

Meet Scott Surgent this evening.

Saturday June 21
Sunday   June 22

Mora and Rio Arriba County Highpoint (Truchas Peak (13,102 ft)). Second highest in the state. Getting these counties will connect Colorado into my home glob, since I already have Taos County (the NM state highpoint, Wheeler Peak) and three adjacent counties in southern Colorado (from Blanca Peak in summer 2000). Blanca Peak is the only three-fer in the country! Here is a picture of me at its summit -

However I am getting off-topic. See above for detailed considerations regarding Truchas Peak.

Monday       June 23
Tuesday       June 24
Wednesday June 25

Three counties remain after the weekend with Edward Earl and Scott Surgent - Colfax County, Harding County, and Union County. Colfax County was described above. The remaining two counties can be done in a single day, including the drive in-between (but see below regarding heat).

Harding County Highpoint (Sugaroaf Mountain (6,455 ft)). This has a 400 foot elevation gain and is quite trivial - except for one point: the lower elevation makes this one a hot hike that should preferably be done in the early morning. It can be done in just over one hour.

Union County Highpoint (Sierra Grande (8,720 ft)). This can be driven-up if one is willing to risk auto problems. I am not willing to take that risk. Instead, I would walk up the four mile jeep road with a 2,000 foot elevation gain. The road lies on private property. Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe generally accomodate highpointer desires and grant access provided they are informed in advance of one's intentions. I have their telephone number. If access is not granted, then an all-public-lands approach is available from the east - and would consume six hours hiking.

Both Harding and Union Counties are lower in elevation than the remaining venues - and it is preferable, although not essential to hike to their respective highpoints in the morning. Unfortunately that might mean doing them on separate days even though they can, from the twin perspectives of hike duration and driving distance, be combined in a single day. Stated differently, one cannot be at both venues, simultaneously, at dawn.

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I will drive home via southwestern NM rather than via I-40, Gallup and Flagstaff. If Colfax is my final county then I will take I-25 through Las Cruces and thence to Lordsburg. Otherwise (Harding, Union) I will drive diagonally downward via routes 54 and 70 to Las Cruces (a scenic route past White Sands National Monument and Organ Needle) and then to Lordsburg.

I'll take a motel room in Lordsburg - the next day I want to visit the County Assessor's Office to learn about boundary lines for property on the quadrangle to which I have been assigned. This information is public record and my assignment as volunteer surveyor suggests that I learn such information firsthand. I do not intend upon surveying on this trip - it is WAY too hot.

I can drive home in one day from Lordsburg - about 575 road miles, after spending a day there. I'll purchase a small clay pot - as I promised myself last year when I set out to complete NM.

I have not provided a return date because there are too many uncertainties. For instance, I might have time to do Harding and Union Counties before meeting Edward - over Wednesday and Thursday the 18th and 19th. There will almost certainly be a day when the weather is too poor for hiking. I cannot say - only that I will try to remain until all has been completed: the alternative of returning a second time is unacceptably expensive unless incorporated into a future trip next season.

        Love, Adam