On Walkabout On: The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

Just a short drive outside of the southern New Mexico village of Cloudcroft is the area’s most popular hiking trail to the Mexican Canyon Trestle.  Since the trail follows parts of the old Cloud Climbing Railroad that once ran from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft, it makes sense that the trail begins at a reconstruction of the town’s old railway station:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The construction of this  railway line by the El Paso & Northeastern Railroad to Cloudcroft was completed in 1900.  It was created primarily to transport lumber from the Russia Canyon in the Sacramento Mountains.  Due to the railroad it was determined that a village of some sort would need to be constructed on the crest of the Sacramento Mountains in order to service the railroad.  It was also believed that this village would make a great tourism destination as well to escape the heat of the New Mexican desert.  Thus the village of Cloudcroft was constructed at an altitude of nearly 9,000 feet.  The railway to this village was thus given the name of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Mountain Railway.

Freight to include the timber from Russia Canyon was carried on the railroad from 1900 until 1947.  The train also carried passenger up to Cloudcroft as well but ended the service in 1938 due to the opening of the road to Cloudcroft for automobile use.  After the railroad was closed in 1947 it was stripped of usable material and what remained fell into disrepair.  The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail allows visitors to view what remains of this historic railroad.

The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail is a loop hike of about a couple miles through the forest and down to the trestle:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail is just one of many hikes around Cloudcroft, but recently The Enchanted Trail has been completed which is the mother of all trails in the region:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

On this trail it is possible to walk south from Alamogordo along the Sacramento Escarpment to Dog Canyon.  Hikers would then hike up Dog Canyon and up to the Sunspot Observatory on the crest of the Sacramento Mountains.  From there hikers would then hike to Cloudcroft and finally back down to Alamogordo.  This is a multi-day hike that would probably take about 4-5 days to accomplish.  I would love to have the time available and someone to hike with to attempt this hike.  I however have hiked a few of the different stretches of the trail so I am quite familiar with it already.

From the railway station my wife and I walked down a short paved trail to a lookout.  The paved trail was wheelchair accessible and my wife was able to easily push my infant daughters stroller to the lookout with no issues either.  This lookout provides an incredible view down into the Tularosa Basin:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The day we visited the sky was an amazing blue, free of the dust that frequents the air often in this area of New Mexico due to the wind.  The white sands of White Sands National Monument is easily visible from the lookout.  Just an absolutely beautiful view that everyone visiting Cloudcroft should take the time to complete the short 10 minute walk to the lookout to checkout.  From the lookout the trail down to the trestle begins.  This trail is not paved, it is a dirt trail:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The dirt trail is well maintained but definitely not navigable by a wheelchair or baby stroller.  Because of this my wife stayed back with my daughter at the lookout while I went to hike the trail.  From the lookout the trail provides a number of views of the surrounding thickly forested Sacramento Mountains:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

Until I hiked this trail I didn’t realize that at one time there was actually once a railway trestle that was even more impressive than the Mexican Canyon Trestle that was called the “S” Trestle:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

This is all that is left of the “S” Trestle today:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

As impressive as the “S” Trestle was it wouldn’t make sense to repair it today because it can’t be seen from Highway 82 like the Mexican Canyon Trestle can.  So this lonely trestle is left to sit here as a lonely reminder of the Cloud Climbing Railroad’s glory days:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

On this section of the trail I also noticed that I was walking on the old track bed of the Cloud Climbing Railroad:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

After walking a short ways down the old track bed, the Mexican Canyon Trestle lookout came into view:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The lookout looked to be of fairly new construction and had an informative plaque that explained the history of the Mexican Canyon Trestle that was built in 1899:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

Here is what the plaque had to say along with this classic image of the railroad:

Crossing over Mexican Canyon Trestle was an unforgettable experience for passengers on the Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway(A&SM).  Author Dorothy Jensen Neal said, “…from the middle of the swaying trestle, looking to the top of a towering escarpment or glancing at the floor of the canyon below, no doubt, a few (passengers) wondered if they would ever live to tell of the spectacle and, if so, why”

Built in 1889 of local Douglas fir, the Mexican Canyon Trestle is as long as a football field and as tall as a 6-story building.  It is the largest trestle still standing in the Lincoln National Forest, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The lookout definitely provides a great view of what the trestle looks like today:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The trains traveling on this rail line moved at a slow crawl for most of the trip because of the steep grades of up to 6%, the many hairpin turns, and the need to cross the railway’s 58 trestles.  At the time of its operation the A&SM railway was the highest standard gauge track in the United States.

Besides admiring the trestle I also made sure to appreciate the beautiful aspen trees that towered around the look out as well:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The lookout also provided a some what obscured view compared to other areas around Cloudcroft of the Tularosa Basin down below:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

Despite all the brush, the glistening white sands of White Sands National Monument was clearly visible.  From the lookout I then proceeded to follow the loop trail back to its start point.  Along the way I passed by another historic marker for the “Devil’s Elbow”:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

The marker just explained how dangerous the work to cut the limestone for the tracks were for the railroad workers.  Many workers ended up being killed by the explosive blasts needed to make the railway.  The “Devil’s Elbow” is one of the visible remnants of the blasting needed to make this railroad:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

As I began to ascend back up the trail I began to get some really good unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

These mountains are thickly forested with ponderosa pines and it is easy to understand why the railroad was built to exploit this abundant natural resource:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

Eventually I found myself back at the lookout where my wife and infant daughter was waiting for me and enjoying the great views as well:

Picture from the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

I ended up completing this loop hike in about an hour.  It is an easy and really a quite enjoyable walk that anyone visiting Cloudcroft should check out if physically able.  It is an opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, get some fresh air, and learn a little bit about Cloudcroft’s railway past.

I have always thought that the reconstruction of the Cloud Climbing Railroad from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft would become a major tourist attraction much like the Puffing Billy Railway in Australia is for the state of Victoria.  There is a lot of potential for the idea I think, but it would take a very large initial investment to make it happen considering that the trains would have to be bought and restored, the tracks & bridges reconstructed, and support facilities built.  It would be an enormous undertaking but I think it would have long term value for the area.   For the time being though I will just have to continue to enjoy this railway by foot, which the Trestle Trail is a great place to get started.

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8 Responses to On Walkabout On: The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

  1. The enchanted trail sounds like a lot of fun and not that far from me. I will have to mark it high on my to do list. Is the Lincoln National Forest re-opened for the public yet? I haven’t heard if they have gotten rain out that way yet.

  2. Dobbs says:

    Steven, yes the Lincoln National Forest trails are still closed so the Enchanted Trail cannot be hiked right now unfortunately. We are on the verge here in El Paso for setting a record for the most consecutive days without rain.

  3. Alexa says:

    I realize this post is over a year old, but I just had to comment and say thank you! I am heading to Ruidoso for the weekend (it’s probably my 15th time going) and plan on making a day trip to Cloudcroft (at least my 6th time going here). I am very excited to learn about this little trail/overlook area of the trestle. Thanks for a great article and info.

  4. Dobbs says:

    Alexa I hope you enjoy your visit to Cloudcroft. The walk to the trestle really is a gem of a walk and a must do for anyone visiting this nice little village.

  5. Desertrat says:

    About 1975 I took a group of amature photographers from Ft. Bliss to Cloudcroft for a day of picture taking.We spent about two hours at the trestle. I walked on the trestle full length. taking pictures. It is sad to see how it has deteriated. :sad:

  6. kt jonas says:

    a beautiful easy hike with lots of gorgeous scenery..well worth the effort…IF you have the time, go across the street to the Osha atrail..its very very pretty and an easy hike..circular and easy to do…give it a try.

  7. Marie C Senter says:

    Is there any restrictions regarding ‘shooting’ the trestle…as a writer of a series of mystery stories wrapped around junior high kids in a small town l960 who use the local wooden railroad trestle and No Name Creek as activity centers….could I use pictures of this treasure in/on my book? TRESTLE OVER NO NAME CREEK
    number 1 is ‘out’ but with # 2 and # 3 needing release, I am needing three shots of a trestle for covers. Who
    could tell me ‘yes’, ‘no’, etc? Thank you for sharing your adventure…and pictures. How is the ‘gran’?
    Keep active. Marie C. Senter San Antonio, Texas

  8. Dobbs says:

    Marie, I do not see any reason why if you take a picture of the trestle that you could not use it in your book. If you would like to use my picture of the trestle please let me know and I can send it to you.

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