Picture of the Day: Grazing Land In the Sacramento Mountains

Sacramento Mountains Grazing Field

This is a picture I took of a green field up in New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains that is used to graze cattle on.

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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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On Walkabout On: New Mexico’s Highway 82

Here are some pictures from a route that I often take to drive up into the beautiful Sacramento Mountains in southern New Mexico.  This route is Highway 82 that runs between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft.  The first part of the highway that ascends up the Sacramento Escarpment from Alamogordo offers some incredibly beautiful high desert scenery:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

There are a few lookouts along the route up the mountains that offers some great opportunities to take pictures:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Here is the view from one of these lookouts looking east towards the tunnel that Highway 82 passes through:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Here is a view of this tunnel from the lookout just before the tunnel’s western entrance:

Picture from New Mexico's Highway 82

Here is a view down the rugged canyon that does have permanent flowing water and even a small waterfall at its bottom:

Picture from New Mexico's Highway 82

Picture from New Mexico's Highway 82

This permanent water source along with Dog Canyon further south are the only two permanent water sources along the Sacramento Escarpment.  Right across from the lookout was some rugged cliffs from the Sacramento Escarpment that was once home to some early Native-American settlers that were attracted to this location due to the nearby permanent water source:

Picture from New Mexico's Highway 82

This camp is known as the Fresnal Shelter and was occupied by hunter gatherers that frequented the area between 6000-500BC which was estimated by using radiocarbon dating of charcoal found in the shelter.  Some artifacts found at the shelter was stone tools and basket fabrics, but there was no evidence of pottery found.  It wasn’t until around 1000AD that the Mogollon culture was found to be developing pottery in the area.

About halfway up the highway and just past the cave Highway 82 begins to enter into the pinon pine forests found at about the 5,000-6000 foot altitude level.  It is here that there is a number of small communities with a variety of shops for travelers to stop and check out.  The place that my wife and I always stop to check out is the Old Apple Barn that cannot be missed right along the highway:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

The Old Apple Barn has a number of local products such as fruits and honey.  It is also has a number of items from local artists and other various nicknacks.  If visiting I highly recommend trying some of the elk sausage and local cider they sell.  Make sure to save some room after eating the elk sausage to try out either some of their home made fudge that is just outstanding.   From the Old Apple Barn the highway continues to ascend up the Sacramento Mountains and into the lush ponderosa pine forests found in the higher elevations of these mountains:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

Just before Highway 82 reaches the small and scenic tourist town of Cloudcroft there is a lookout that provides an iconic view of the Sacramento Mountains which is the historic Mexican Canyon Trestle:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

In the 1890’s the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad completed a rail line to the newly established city of Alamogordo.  Soon after the line was completed survey crews were already trying to see if it was possible to construct a spur line into the Sacramento Mountains in order to harvest wood from the thick forests up there.  It was determined that the line could be made up the mountains and this trestle was part of that railway line that was completed in 1900.

Since we were visiting in the early spring there was still some snow lying on the ground:

Picture from Highway 82 In New Mexico

From the Mexican Canyon Trestle it was just a short drive up to Cloudcroft:

Picture from Cloudcroft, New Mexico

With the construction of the railway line it was also determined that a village of some sort would need to be constructed to support the timber and railway industries being developed in the mountains.  Additionally it was believed that the mountains would make for a great tourism area considering its incredible views at it’s 9,000 feet of altitude.  Thus a catchy name for this new village was needed and so that is how the name Cloudcroft, (pasture of the clouds) came to be:

Picture from Cloudcroft, New Mexico

Today the town is still a regional tourist attraction that proudly shows its Old West character:

Picture from Cloudcroft, New Mexico

My wife and I use drive up here to check out the various shops and over at the Burro Street Exchange building there is a small cafe and sandwich shop that my wife and I stop at to get a cappuccino and lunch:

Picture from Cloudcroft, New Mexico

Picture from Cloudcroft, New Mexico

All in all a trip up Highway 82 to Cloudcroft is a really nice day trip and one my wife and I usually make one every couple months just to escape the desert that surrounds El Paso.  When up in Cloudcroft the there is a noticeable change in air quality and temperature which has caused this little village to be a tourist destination for many decades now and probably for many more to come.

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Picture of the Day: The Sacramento Escarpment, New Mexico

Sacramento Escarpment

This is a picture of the Sacramento Escarpment just south of Alamogordo, New Mexico.  The canyon in the center of this photo is the infamous Dog Canyon and if you look really closely at the top of the mountain you can see the Sunspot Observatory.

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On Walkabout At: Dog Canyon, New Mexico – Part 3

Previous Posting: Dog Canyon, New Mexico – Part 2

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After completing my hike to the top of New Mexico’s Dog Canyon Trail, I still had another 5.5 miles ahead of me to walk back down the trail  However, walking down the trail provided me many great views of the surrounding canyon walls and the below Tularosa Basin which I never seemed to tire of:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Before I knew it I was on the edge of the tree line and about to re-enter the high desert that encompasses most of this canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

While hiking this trail I was surprised that I didn’t see any wildlife, but there was plenty of signs of wildlife along the trail such as this batch of deer crap:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I eventually found myself back at the deadly Eyebrow:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

While walking towards The Eyebrow I had a nice view of the 2nd Bench that I crossed earlier in my hike:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

As I walked across The Eyebrow the 2,000 foot cliffs were just extremely impressive.  Anyone that looks closely at the below photograph can see Dog Canyon Trail and the steep drop off down the mountain below the trail:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is what the US cavalrymen would have saw if they looked up They Eyebrow when they were under attack by the Apaches:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is another picture of the steep cliffs of The Eyebrow:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Up at the top of the cliffs I could easily imagine the Apache Indians rolling those boulders off the top of the cliff down on the US cavalrymen below:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

As I walked across They Eyebrow I made sure to continue to take in the beautiful views back down the canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I also noticed the black smoke mark left on the side of The Eyebrow that I wondered was of recent vintage or something left over from the canyon’s Native-American past?:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

When I finally crossed The Eyebrow I made sure to take a look back at those impressive cliffs:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

From The Eyebrow I was soon back at Frenchy’s cabin and the nearby spring:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The high cliffs are even more impressive to view from Frenchy’s cabin oasis:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

From Frenchy’s cabin I was once again cross the 2nd Bench:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

While crossing the 2nd Bench I could see where rain water has eroded dirt from above down the canyon to form the 2nd Bench:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

From the 2nd Bench here is the view back towards The Eyebrow:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is the view out towards White Sands National Monument:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is a view of a prominent rock feature out in the Tularosa Basin that actually looks volcanic when viewed from this vantage point:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here are a few more pictures from my trip back down Dog Canyon Trail:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Eventually I found myself back on the edge of the Sacramento Escarpment:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is the view from the escarpment out into the Tularosa Basin:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Before I knew I was exiting the Lincoln National Forest and saw the visitor center of Oliver Lee Memorial State Park below me:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I also had a better view of the rock walls that Frenchy had made to enclose his cattle in Dog Canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is the final picture I took looking back up Dog Canyon from the edge of the escarpment:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Once back at the visitor center I officially ended my round trip hike of 11 miles through Dog Canyon.  This hike is really a must do for anyone living in southern New Mexico or the El Paso, Texas area due to both its scenic beauty and historical significance.  It took me just under 4 hours to reach the top of the hike and 3 more hours to walk back down.  In total I spent 7 hours hiking on the trail which most other people it would probably take a bit longer since I am in pretty decent shape.  So if planning to hike this trail make sure to budget an entire day and to get an early start in the morning.  This hike is not to be missed, so get over to Alamogordo and check it out.

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On Walkabout At: Dog Canyon, New Mexico – Part 2

Prior Posting: Dog Canyon, New Mexico – Part 1

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After finishing up my water break at the old cabin of Francois Jean Rochas known as “Frenchy” by the locals, I then proceeded to follow the trail further up into the higher reaches of New Mexico’s, Dog Canyon.  Shortly after leaving the cabin I reached mile marker 3 of the 5.5 mile one way hike:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

From the cabin the trail was quite steep as it switchbacked towards the major rock feature of the trail known as “The Eyebrow”:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The trail begins to flatten out a bit as it passes The Eyebrow which is a notorious ambush site in Dog Canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Dog Canyon has long been used by Native-American tribes, most notably the Apaches as a reliable water source.  Additionally, Dog Canyon was a natural castle for anyone trying to defend it. The canyon actually reminded me of some of the canyons I saw in Afghanistan that served as natural fortresses for the Taliban that they were able to hold despite the use of all the modern weaponry that the US has.  Terrain is a critical factor in warfare and in particular choke points.  The Eyebrow is the biggest choke point in the canyon due to the trail along the cliff’s base being the only way to access the upper reaches of Dog Canyon.  The trail was narrow and on one side is a massive cliff face and on the other is a steep drop off.  Because of this choke point They Eyebrow was often used by Apache tribes to ambush US Cavalry soldiers that tried to enter Dog Canyon.  The first ambush happened on February 8, 1859 when 32 men from Ft. Bliss, Texas led by US Army Lieutenant H.M. Lazelle entered Dog Canyon in search of Apaches that had allegedly stole some cattle and mules a few days earlier.  A group of Apaches met with Lieutenant Lazelle and said that they were not the ones who stole the animals.  He did not believe them and attacked the Apaches.  From the cliffs above the eyebrow Lt. Lazelle’s men were ambushed by a number of Apaches firing down on them.  The soldiers were routed out of the canyon with a number of men wounded and killed.

San Juan, a Mescalero Apache chief. National Archives.

(Image from Texas Beyond History)

The most infamous ambush in Dog Canyon happened in August of 1878.  US Cavalry Captain Carroll Henry led his company of soldiers into the canyon in search of a group of Apaches.  The cavalrymen had just completed a brutal trek across the Tularosa Basin to include the White Sands in the August heat.  At The Eyebrow the cavalrymen were forced to march with their horses in a single file line and this is when the ambush began.  The Apaches not only shot a number of cavalrymen out of their mounts, but rolled boulders from above down on them that caused a number of the cavalrymen to fall down the steep cliff sides to their deaths.  No one knows for sure how many have died in ambushes in the canyon, but it is estimated to be more than 100.  Not every US military force was defeated by the Apaches in the canyon though.  In March 1863 the famous American tracker, Colonel Kit Carson commanded a military force that successfully defeated a group of Apaches holding up in the canyon by using surprise.  Major William McCleave led a company size force to Dog Canyon and his Indian scouts had told them that the Apaches were unaware of his movement to Dog Canyon.  Major McCleave wasted no time in pressing their advantage by silently marching up the canyon that night and launching their attack.  They killed up to 25 Apaches and scattered the rest out of Dog Canyon.  A few days later the group of Apaches surrendered to Colonel Carson at Ft. Stanton.  The last group of Apaches was finally defeated and driven from Dog Canyon in 1881.  You can read more about the ambushes at Dog Canyon at this link.

Fortunately now a days no one has to worry about getting ambushed in Dog Canyon.  As I crossed The Eyebrow I didn’t find myself looking up for falling boulders or bullets, but instead just admired the view back across the canyon and out towards the Tularosa Basin:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Once across The Eyebrow the trail begins ascending again which provided this good view of how the Apaches were able to roll boulders and shoot down on anyone trying to cross the trail that follows the base of the massive cliff face:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The trail just continued to be all up hill after The Eyebrow and fully exposed to the sunshine.  It was March when I conducted this hike and the constant hill climbing combined with direct sunlight made me quite hot and I consumed a lot of water.  I can only imagine how hot this trail would be to conduct in the summer time.  Fortunately up ahead I could eventually see the tree line approaching that would at least finally give me some shade:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I began to hit the first small pinon trees at the 4 mile marker:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Besides pinon trees I began to see little plants like this one here that I’m not sure what it is:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

As I continued up the trail more and more trees became visible:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

At the 4.5 mile marker I was rewarded with a nice view of the upper heavily forested heights of the Sacramento Mountains:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I then proceeded to walk into a pleasant grassy valley that had the occasional pine tree to provide some shade from the sun:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

He is a cactus that I noticed that had some how found enough dirt that had blown into the cracks of this rock to sustain itself with and actually grow to quite a large size:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Towards the end of the valley the trail enters a heavily wooded area:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Before entering the wood line though I passed a small dam that was made probably at some point as a watering hole for cattle:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I have no idea if cattle are still allowed to graze up here but I saw no evidence of any cattle any where during the hike.  Anyway at the 5 mile mark is when I entered the tree line that consisted mostly of large pinon and juniper trees:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The last half mile of the trail is a steep switchbackign ascent up into the higher reaches of the mountains:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Finally at the 5.5 mile mark is when I came to the upper trailhead of the Dog Canyon Trail:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The trailhead is accessed by a 4 wheel drive road that can either be used to drop off or pick up hikers using the trail:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Since I didn’t have any ride waiting for me that meant I had to turn around and walk another 5.5 miles back to the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park where I parked my truck.  From the top of trail I was rewarded with views like this of the Tularosa Basin down below:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I also had a partial view of the White Sands National Monument as well:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

With views like this accompanying all the way down the mountain at I didn’t mind having to walk another 5.5 miles to complete this hike.

Next Posting: Dog Canyon, New Mexico – Part 3

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On Walkabout At: Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I often have to drive on Highway 54 to Alamogordo, New Mexico from my home here in El Paso, Texas.  Along the way I always pass the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park which is home to a hike deep into the Sacramento Mountains called the Dog Canyon Trail:

I have heard from friends that this hike is one of the best in the region so finally on a recent weekend I decided to take a day and hike this canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I would find out that not only was this an extremely challenging and beautiful hike, but this now peaceful canyon has had a colorful and often violent past.

I woke early and arrived at Oliver Lee State Park after about an hour drive from El Paso around 7:00AM in the morning:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Oliver Lee State Park is much more than just the start for the Dog Canyon Trail, it also has a large visitor center and a number of campsites for visitors:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The first thing I decided to check out before heading out on my hike was the ruins of the cabin constructed in 1886 by Francois Jean Rochas who was known as “Frenchy” to the locals:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Frenchy constructed the cabin and and nearby rock walls to enclose his cattle:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

He also was successful in irrigating crops and vineyards on his property with water from the canyon.  It was this access to a reliable water source in such an arid area that would later bring great trouble to this Frenchman who just wanted to be left alone. What is interesting about Frenchy is that before arriving at Dog Canyon he has been linked to being the builder of the famous wooden staircase in the Lorretto Chapel in Santa Fe that has caused some people to believe he was a holy figure such as St. Joseph.  You can view pictures of my visit to Santa Fe and the chapel at this link.  Anyway no one really knows why Frenchy decided to move to Dog Canyon, or even to New Mexico for that matter, but where ever he lived, he led a solitary life and was largely regarded as being a hermit.

From Frenchy’s cabin I then walked up to the visitor center but it was closed.  However, I didn’t come here to see the visitor center; I came here to see Dog Canyon and behind the building I found the start of the trail:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

This one way 5.5 mile hike begins at about 4,300 feet in altitude and reaches to over 7,000 feet at the end of the trail.  Immediately from the start of the hike, the trail begins a steep ascent up the canyon, which provided great views of the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

It wasn’t long before I was stopping to admire the great views across the Tularosa Basin:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is a view of the Jarilla Mountains that lies between El Paso and Alamogordo that interestingly enough to this day hobby gold seekers continue to prospect for gold at:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Off in the distance I could see the old ranch house of Oliver Lee that the park is named after:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Oliver Lee (1865-1941) was a famous gunfighter that owned a large ranch along the edge of the Sacramento Escarpment that became instrumental in the founding of Alamogordo as well as Otero County.  Lee came to New Mexico as a teenager in 1884 with his brother from their native Texas.  They worked on local ranches and saved up their money.  In 1893Oliver Lee bought the land near Frenchy to start his Dog Canyon Ranch. He would soon find himself in conflict with a major local rancher named John Good.  Oliver Lee had sent one of his ranch hands George McDonald into Dog Canyon to round up some stray cattle.  Poor George would never make it back out as he was later found shot to death in the canyon.  Lee believed that Good killed his ranch hand and thus retaliated against Good by killing his son.  Lee continued this retaliation by shooting at the Good family at their son’s funeral. This started a range war where gunfights would break out at various ranch houses in the area.  The Sheriff ultimately ended up arresting Lee, but he was released when prosecutors could not find anyone to testify against him.  Within a year Good had taken steep loses from Lee and decided to leave the Tularosa Basin for good while he still could.

Picture of Oliver Lee from the True West Magazine Blog.

This left Lee with only one other problem, he was reliant on the goodness of Frenchy to provide him water since he owned the land where the spring was located in Dog Canyon.  Lee tried at first to buy Dog Canyon from Frenchy, but he refused to sell.  Oliver Lee than turned to intimidation of Frenchy, but even this could not convince the Frenchman to sell his land.  Eventually Frenchy was found shot to death in his small cabin near the Dog Canyon spring in 1894. It is still a mystery of who killed Frenchy, but Oliver Lee has long been suspected of the killing.  With both Frenchy and Good gone Lee now controlled a large amount of land in the Tularosa Basin that he could irrigate with the reliable water source from Dog Canyon.  This led to him to become a wealthy and powerful rancher.  So powerful in fact that he ended up taking on top government and law enforcement officials to include the man who killed Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett.  Even Pat Garrett would prove not to be tough enough to stop Oliver Lee.

Colonel Albert Fountain

In 1895 Oliver Lee was accused by government officials for livestock theft.  Though the  accusations were likely true there was also political reasons for the prosecution since Lee was friends with a powerful Democrat Albert Fall who had defeated Republican, Colonel Albert Fountain in 1890 for the New Mexico state legislature.  Fountain worked as a lawyer in Mesilla after his defeat and was appointed to investigate Lee and his allies for livestock theft. Fountain and his 8 year old son disappeared in 1896 as they returned from Lincoln to Mesilla after conducting an investigation into Lee’s activities.  Their bodies were never found and all that was left at the likely murder scene was Fountain’s buckboard wagon, several empty cartridge cases, his cravat and papers, and two pools of blood.  The Dona Ana County Sheriff at the time Pat Garrett pursued Oliver Lee and his men for the murder and finally cornered them in 1898 in Alamagordo.   This led to a shoot out where Lee successfully forced Garrett and his deputies to flee after pinning them down and killing Garrett’s deputy Kurt Kearney. The man who had both captured and eventually gun downed Billy the Kid had been run out of town by the infamous Oliver Lee who would add further insult to injury by getting away with the murder of Garrett’s deputy.

Pat Garrett

To avoid conviction for killing the deputy Lee used his powerful political connections to form Otero County and thus make Dona Ana County’s Sheriff Pat Garrett irrelevant. Once Otero County was formed Lee’s friend George Curry was made Sheriff.  Lee than surrendered to the Sheriff to face trial in the new Otero County where he was quickly acquitted of all crimes.

Lee would continue to live at his Dog Canyon Ranch until 1907 when he took over operations for the Circle Cross Ranch located deep in the high country of the Sacramento Mountains.  He eventually became one of the most powerful ranchers in all of New Mexico with him controlling an estimated 1 million acres of land.  Lee’s power and wealth led to him becoming a prominent legislator serving in both houses of the New Mexico Legislature. He died in Alamogordo in 1941.

A picture of Oliver Lee in his elderly days. Click picture to learn more about this image.

I think a strong case could be made that Oliver Lee was probably a much worse outlaw than Billy the Kid ever was, but few people have ever heard of Oliver Lee outside of southern New Mexico.  With such an intriguing history it is surprising that a movie of some kind hasn’t been made of the outlaw who killed his way to power & wealth and then successfully took on the government of New Mexico and the infamous Pat Garrett culminating in him creating his own county that became his own unofficial fiefdom.

Anyway enough of the history lesson and back to the hike.  As I continued up the trial the views too the south of the Sacramento escarpment were quite beautiful:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Even for people who don’t want to hike the entire trail, just hiking up this first section is worth it just to take in the views.  In under a mile the trail exits Oliver Lee State Park and enters into the Lincoln National Forest:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Eventually the ascent up the mountain stopped at a level plain known as the “First Bench”:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The bench was covered in native Chihuahuan Desert shrubs and offered view  of the surrounding canyon walls:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

As I walked along the trail I could also make out the sound of water running down in the creek below:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

After the First Bench the trail begins another ascent as it climbs higher into the escarpment providing increasingly incredible views of the canyon’s walls:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

You would think this place would be extremely popular with rock climbers, but I have never heard of the Sacramento Escarpment being a place frequented by rock climbers.  Anyway I continued to hike up the trail I not only appreciated the dramatic cliff faces that surrounded me, but the desert scenery as well:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is a picture looking down on the First Bench:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

After about an hour and a half of hiking I found myself walking across the Second Bench of the Dog Canyon Trail:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The First Bench as I walked across it was littered with large boulders that had eroded and fallen off the surrounding cliff sides:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Looking down the canyon I could follow the Dog Canyon creek as it flowed out and into the Tularosa Basin far below:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Just ahead of me I could see the head waters of this creek which lied at the very end of the Second Bench:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Peering down from the Second Bench I could make out the cabin that Frenchy had constructed to serve as his quarters when he was busy grazing cattle here in the upper reaches of Dog Canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The trail descends down to cabin and crosses over the small spring that serves as the head waters for the Dog Canyon Creek:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

The water was actually quite clean, but there was plenty of bugs flying around it considering it is the only water source in the area.  The water in this springs comes from ice and snow melt from high up in the Sacramento Mountains that drips its way through the surrounding rock walls and accumulates here at this spring.  It really was quite a pleasant place and definitely a nice place to build a cabin:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Here is a closer look at Frenchy’s cabin that he built by constructing three rock walls that used one of the large rocks that fell off the canyon’s walls as the fourth wall:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Inside the cabin there is an old bed frame which I have no idea if this is the original bed frame that belong to Frenchy, but it is in here that Frenchy was ambushed and murdered likely be Oliver Lee or his henchmen in order to secure the water rights to this canyon:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

When you think about if Frenchy was in fact the builder of the Lorretto Chapel staircase, than Oliver Lee was responsible for murdering someone that many had considered to be a holy figure.  It is a bit ironic that someone so evil would be responsible for killing someone so good.

In the front of Frenchy’s cabin was a flat area that had a camp fire ring that I could tell had been recently used by campers:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

I don’t know if camping is legal here or not, but it is definitely an exceptional place for a campsite if so.

Frenchy’s cabin serves as the halfway point for this hike and is often used as the turn around point for many hikers since the trail becomes much more steeper and difficult passed the cabin.  However, I had plans to hike the entire trail and felt great by the time I reached the cabin at just under 2 hours.  After taking a short water break I proceeded to continue up the trail that continues to ascend up the canyon behind Frenchy’s cabin:

Picture from Dog Canyon, New Mexico

Next Posting: Dog Canyon, New Mexico – Part 2

 

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On Walkabout On: The Road to Sierra Blanca Peak

Earlier this winter I took a trip to see the snows of New Mexico’s Sierra Blanca Peak.  During that trip my wife and I took County Road 532 up to the lookout near the Ski Apache resort.  To go along with that posting I figured I would go ahead and post some pictures of what the mountain looks like when driving up it during the summer time.  The most obvious difference between the winter and the summer on the mountain is how green everything is:

Since my wife and I live down in the deserts of El Paso seeing green like this is always a welcome experience:

Not everything is green though, there is plenty of wildflowers to see as well:

Here are some more examples of the wildflowers that can be seen covering the mountain:

As we continued up the mountain the views got better and better.  The drive up CR 532 has to be one of the prettiest drives in all of New Mexico:

Here is a view of Sierra Blanca while driving up the road:

We soon pulled into the lookout on the mountain with my wife’s little Hyundai that was backdropped by the massive Sierra Blanca Peak:

The views from the lookout of the surrounding Sacramento Mountains is just incredible:

In this picture you can see the winding CR 532 working its way up the side of the mountain:

The village of Ruidoso that lies at the base on the mountain could be seen as well:

A view of the Capitan Mountains could also be seen out in the distance:

It is in the Capitan Mountains that the legend of Smoky Bear began.  Anyway here is the view once again looking back towards the 11,973 foot summit of Sierra Blanca:

Here is a closer look at the summit of the mountain:

Finally at the end of County Road 532 is the Ski Apache resort:

The resort isn’t very big, but it has many ski trails for skiers to choose from during the winter months:

Here are some views from along the highway of the various ski trails that litter the side of Sierra Blanca Peak:

All in all no trip to the Ruidoso area is complete without a drive up CR 532.  Like I said earlier in this posting, this has to be one of the best drives in New Mexico and the lookout towards the end of the road may very well have the best view from a lookout in all of New Mexico.

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On Walkabout On: New Mexico’s Snowy Sierra Blanca Peak

About two hours north of El Paso is the nearly 12,000 foot peak of Sierra Blanca located near the charming village of Ruidoso:

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This scenic mountain is part of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and is considered holy ground by the Native Americans.  From Ruidoso there is a twisting road that takes visitors to the Ski Apache Ski Resort that is owned by the Indian Reservation:

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However, my wife and I didn’t drive up here to go skiing.  We just drove up here to the overlook that provides some stunning views of the surrounding mountains, to include the impressive Sierra Blanca Peak:

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In Spanish Sierra Blanca means the white mountain and in the winter time Sierra Blanca definitely lives up to its name.  From elevated area all the way in El Paso which is over a 100 miles away this great white mountain can be seen on clear days.  From the lookout looking towards the east the the Capitan Mountains are easily visible:

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Here is a closer look at the Capitan Mountains, which are famous as the mountain range where the legend of Smoky Bear began:

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Looking towards the southeast the various peaks of the Sacramento Mountains opened up in front of us:

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Down below in all those pine trees and snow is the village of Ruidoso:

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My wife and I had a great day out and really enjoyed all the snow up in the Sacramento Mountains.

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Picture of the Day: Winter On the Rio Ruidoso

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I took this picture of the Rio Ruidoso creek recently while visiting the charming city of Ruidoso in New Mexico's Sacramento Mountains.

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