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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
This is all that is left of the “S” Trestle today:
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:
On this section of the trail I also noticed that I was walking on the old track bed of the Cloud Climbing Railroad:
After walking a short ways down the old track bed, the Mexican Canyon Trestle lookout came into view:
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:
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:
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:
The lookout also provided a some what obscured view compared to other areas around Cloudcroft of the Tularosa Basin down below:
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”:
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:
As I began to ascend back up the trail I began to get some really good unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains:
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:
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:
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.