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Alamogordo Lake?

Really!?  Alamogordo Lake?

We had gone into the small visitor center at Sumner Lake State Park to see if they had any maps of hiking trails.  I browsed the one display that explained the history of the area and then went to the counter to check out the maps and brochures.  I glanced down and was surprised to see a map of Alamogordo Lake.  I lived in Alamogordo for 15 years but had never heard of Alamogordo Lake.

I should have looked closer at the information on the history display.  In answer to my question, the ranger came out from behind the counter and pointed me to the paragraph on the display outlining how the park came into being.

In the 1930’s the US Bureau of Reclamation built a dam where the Pecos River and Alamogordo Creek converged. The lake and surrounding area was established as Alamogordo Lake State Park in 1965. But the town of Alamogordo in south-central New Mexico was becoming more well-known and, since it was nowhere near Alamogordo Lake, to avoid confusion, the name was changed to Sumner Lake after nearby Fort Sumner. An interesting bit of history to add to this day’s exploration of Sumner Lake State Park.

On one of our trips to Texas several years ago we had taken the 7-mile detour off of Highway 84 to see the lake, but we hadn’t spent any time there. This week, after a long hiatus from tent camping we decided it was time to dig out the camping gear and see if we remembered all the details required to set up camp in one of New Mexico’s isolated locations. Although it’s only 2 1/2 hours from Albuquerque, Lake Sumner certainly qualifies in the isolation department.

The wind had started to pick up in the afternoon when we were ready to look for a campsite. The larger campgrounds were by the lake but we knew it would be less windy down by the river. Two small campgrounds, one on each side of the river are nestled in amongst the cottonwoods, just below the outlet from the dam. We could hear the rush of water from the spillway throughout the night; not exactly a natural waterfall but soothing, nevertheless. And, best of all, we were the only campers on either side of the river, making for a peaceful and quiet night.

In the morning it was a short walk up the road to get to the top of the dam, where we could look down at our campsite. We had chosen the west side of the river so that we would be first to get the morning sun.

Our campsite is to the right, just where the sun is reaching the riverbank.
After packing up camp we drove to the campground on the other side of the river, looking across to where we had camped.
We knew hiking options would be limited but there was one trail and it made a good morning stroll before heading back to Albuquerque.

Hiking Dog Canyon Trail

When my kids were young and we lived in Alamogordo, a visit to Dog Canyon would mean a walk out to the end of the Boardwalk Trail with maybe some exploration along the creek bed before enjoying a picnic lunch.  If we were really ambitious we might “hike” partway up the steep canyon sides to get better views or to find cactus in bloom.  That was at least 40 years ago. Today, accompanied by Lee, I did a hike at Dog Canyon that would have been unthinkable 40 years ago.

A lot of changes happen in the course of 40 years.  The rugged Sacramento Mountains don’t change much, but we humans and the things that we build are constantly changing.  The first surprise awaiting me at Dog Canyon today was the discovery that the boardwalk no longer exists. A flood in 2006 washed it away and it was never rebuilt.  It is still possible to walk the 1/4 mile on what is now called the Riparian Trail to the picnic table where the boardwalk used to be.  If you want to see the riparian cliffside with the dripping greenery that I remember looking forward to at the end of the boardwalk, then it requires scrambling over rocks and boulders, being careful not to slip in the muddy spots.

I was anxious to get started on our planned hike up the Dog Canyon Trail but there was no way Lee was going to miss the chance to see the Riparian Trail.  We guessed correctly that it would be best to do it first because we would probably be too tired if we did it after the longer hike.  I grumbled and complained but once we got there and saw the beautiful yellow columbine flowers in bloom amongst the greenery I had no regrets.

The riparian cliffside that used to be accessed via a boardwalk.
Yellow columbine
Walking back to the Visitor Center to start up the Dog Canyon Trail.

The Riparian Trail side trip had added 3/4 mile to the planned 6-mile hike on the Dog Canyon Trail.  The ruins of a line cabin are 3 miles up and we decided we would make that our turnaround point.  40 years ago I may have gone on some part of the trail high enough to overlook the campground but I had no idea what the rest of the trail was like.  There were some steep and rugged sections when I wasn’t sure I wanted to go all the way to the cabin.  But just like the Riparian Trail the end result was well worth the effort it took to get there.

View of campground below
I doubt if 40 years ago we had ever made it past this point.
One of the highlights was the abundance of rainbow cacti in bloom.
Ocotillo was also beginning to bloom.
After some steep climbing a section of the trail was level, surrounded by steep cliffs and hillsides with bright green bushes–a refreshing break.

Nearing the line cabin, the trail descended back down into the canyon.

The trail descent into the canyon was lined with patches of scarlet penstemon.
Ruins of the line cabin.

I haven’t done the research to learn the history behind the line cabin. That’s left for the interested reader to determine. Anyone who lived there when it was still inhabitable is probably no longer alive. I just hope that they enjoyed the time there as much as I enjoyed the short time I spent there today. I certainly wouldn’t have imagined 40 years ago all that life would bring my way and that here I would be 40 years later once again in Dog Canyon.