The Chupadera Wilderness Trail on the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge is a 9.5-mile hike ideally suited for a sunny, warm January day in New Mexico. Although today it felt like it was, winter is not over yet. This 70-degree weather is only supposed to last until tomorrow and then we are in for another stretch of cold weather. We had a free weekend and took advantage of it with this enjoyable hike.
We had hiked on this trail once before, but it is the type of hike you don’t mind doing over again. The only part that gets tiresome is on the way back after you cross the interstate and then you know there’s a 3-mile trudge across the desert to get back to the trailhead. Certainly doable today, but I kept thinking how awful it would be on a 100-degree summer day. Winter hiking has a lot of advantages.
Lee had taken some pictures on our trip to Las Cruces that I didn’t see until after I posted mine to the blog. This one was too beautiful not to share. It was taken Friday evening after we were leaving the parking lot where we did the Soledad Canyon hike. The sun was setting and the clouds cleared just enough for the sun’s rays to reach part way up the slope towards the Organ Mountains. Thank you, Lee, for sharing the photo.
And I will take this opportunity to tell you an interesting episode that ended our Tonuco Mountain adventure Saturday.
After the harrowing experience of driving through the muddy tunnel on the trip back from the trailhead, we still had to drive the 10-mile dirt road to return to the interstate. About halfway there, I was startled to see this odd looking animal flopping around at the side of the road. Lee hadn’t seen it and I wasn’t sure what I was seeing so I didn’t say anything until we had already passed it.
But I couldn’t get the image out of my mind so I made Lee back up to see if I could find where it was. He stopped at a sandy place in the road because he didn’t want to back up any further and risk getting stuck. I jumped out of the car to run back and see what it was.
OMG, it was a large orange cat that had its head stuck inside of a glass jar! It was terrified and ran for a mesquite bush when I tried to grab it. I was screaming for Lee and grabbing for the cat and trying to avoid getting scratched by the mesquite thorns and the flailing claws of the panicked cat.
I finally managed to get ahold of the jar and the cat pulled and I pulled until I thought I would break its neck. But, out it popped, and away the cat ran across the desert just as Lee came running up to see what was going on. I was so relieved to have rescued that doomed critter. How awful it must have been for the poor thing. It looked like its head had been in there for quite awhile. We were in the middle of nowhere and it never would have freed its head from the jar by itself. My good deed for the day.
Oh no, it’s snowing again! Friday morning, looking at two days ahead of us with nothing on our schedule, but there it was, more lousy weather again preventing us from planning a hike. It’s been happening all too often this winter. But we came up with a plan that made good use of our two days.
A three-hour drive took us down to Las Cruces, in the southern part of the state. That area hasn’t escaped the winter storms, but it is warmer than Albuquerque and there are mountains there that don’t have snow on them.
Our first stop was at the Southwest Environmental Center where we had been told about a book ‘Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area’. Since there isn’t much information on the Internet about hikes in that area, we purchased the book and used it as our guide.
It was mid-afternoon by that time so we knew we would only be able to do a short hike before it got dark. The director at the center recommended Soledad Canyon. It was a beautiful 3-mile loop in the foothills on the western side of the Organ Mountains.
Fortunately, we were still acclimated to chilly weather. The clouds were covering the peaks, a cold wind was blowing up the canyon and a dusting of snow covered the ground. The clouds and snow provided interesting lighting effects, compensating for the lack of sun and what is probably an awesome view of the peaks in clear weather.
We woke up Saturday to cold morning temperatures but our bright New Mexico sunshine was back and the day warmed up quickly. Our first hike was to climb Picacho Peak on the northwest side of Las Cruces. It doesn’t look like much from the highway but once you get closer to it and start the climb it becomes much more interesting.
The book recommended a 6-mile loop at Picacho Peak, but we just did the mile-and-a-half trail to the top and then back down. We still had another hike that we wanted to do. And that second hike was the one we will most remember, not necessarily with fond memories. First, some photos from Picacho Peak.
For our second hike on Saturday we used our new book to guide us up Tonuco Mountain, a flat-top, isolated mound that sits just west of I-25 about 25 miles north of Las Cruces. It seemed like a logical choice since after the hike we would be driving north on I-25 to get back to Albuquerque.
The book was a bit short of details and we weren’t prepared for the difficulty of the hike or for the 10 miles of dirt road required to get to the trailhead. Unlike Picacho Peak it is not a place that is well known and there are no established trails. There are jeep trails and old mine ruins but that made it even more confusing to figure out what and where the book’s description was directing us.
Part of the drive to the trailhead on the dirt road required passing under I-25 and that was one of the most harrowing parts of the excursion. The wet weather had caused a big puddle to fill the underpass and we weren’t sure how deep it was and if we should risk driving through it. We plowed through on the way there, but then had a worry in the back of our minds the whole time we were hiking that we wouldn’t be able to get through it again on the way out.
But, all’s well that ends well. We did make it to the top of Tonuco Mountain and, although the car came out looking like a mud truck, we did make it back through the underpass.