Year End Holiday trip – SoCal to New Mexico

For our holiday trip to Albuquerque, NM, we decided to drive from the southwestern corner of California to Albuquerque without using any freeways. According to Google Maps that added about 100 miles and 3.5 hours driving time.

Besides making the drive more interesting it gave us the opportunity to explore some peaks.

Harquahala Mountain, AZ
On day 1 we drove to the Harquahala Mountain Basecamp Trailhead and camped there. On the next day we did the 10 miles / 3,350 ft elevation gain hike to the peak. Conditions were perfect for a desert peak like this: a good trail, not too warm or cold, great views. After the hike we drove east a bit more and camped on some BLM land east of the Hieroglyphic Mountains.

Mount Ord, AZ
This was a drive-up. From camp we headed east, bypassing Phoenix, and then into the mountains on Hwy 87. Along the way we took a 13-mile detour to drive up to Mount Ord. There are lots of antenna tours up there, so the road was in excellent shape. We did encounter some sections with an inch of snow/ice, but it was warming up and the snow/ice softened.
Afterward we continued with the intention to look for a camp spot along the Mogollon Rim. Once up there, though, we found that recent rain and snow had left muddy roads. Not the conditions we had in mind, especially since it was also quite cold. We stopped in Show Low for gas and studied some maps for options. The Apache National Forest south of Quemado, NM, looked within reach during the remaining day light. We continued on Hwy 60, the took NM 32 south and 103 east to Quemado Lake. Just east of the lake we found the deserted El Caso campground. We set up and immediately crawled into our down sleeping bags.

Escondido Mountain, NM
The night got cold! Our 5-gallon water container was about half full and fully frozen in the morning. Since we were in a forest and valley we couldn’t wait for the warming sun to come out. We just made some coffee while we packed up quickly. Then we drove on FR 13 to Baca Road, took that north, and then to road 4018 until it became an ATV track. From here it was just a mile and 1,000 ft to the top. There were trees on the peak that obstructed the 360 views, but the view to the south was open and we were able to sit in the sun while warming up and snacking.
After the hike we drove via Grants to Albuquerque. The last leg was a bit of a detour. Since we did not want to take I-40 into town we headed south on NM 6 from around Laguna to Las Lunas and then north into Albuquerque. This gave us the opportunity to see the huge commercial and residential development south of Albuquerque.

South Sandia Peak, NM
Nobody wanted to join me on this sunny, but very windy and rather cold day. I headed up Embudito canyon. The trail quickly became narrow and climbed up some small dry falls. I was surprised, expecting a “real” trail. As I discovered later this was not the trail, the trail climbs out of the wash almost at the very beginning, but some vandals had destroyed the signs there and I had gone up an alternate route. Once my route joined the trail again it was smooth sailing. When I got close to the crest and out of the forest I was exposed to the wind. It was very strong. There was not much snow on top, but enough for me to miss the use trail to the top and I ended up with a light scramble over some rocks.

La Luz Trail, Sandia Mountains, NM
We wanted to hike all the way to the Crest (highest point of the Sandia Mountains) and then over to the tram and take it down. The bottom 4 miles of the trail are very smooth and have a gentle slope. It then gets a bit steeper and rockier. Above 9,000 ft we encountered some snow and ice, but nothing that required special gear. Srisuda’s nephew and I wanted to try for the Crest while Srisuda was going to go ahead towards the tram. We soon decided to turn around and join her since the snow and ice slowed us down quite a bit after “the stairs”. There were also small pieces of ice falling from the cliffs above us. Nothing big while we were there, but it seemed like a good idea to minimize the time in that area. On the way over to the tram we met someone who encourage us to hurry since he had been told that they might close the tram due to wind when he came up with it. We were prepared for a down hike, but wanted to avoid it if possible. Once at the tram it didn’t look like closure was imminent and we took a little time to take some pictures. Talking to the tram attendant on the ride down we learned that the tram can handle 45 mph winds head-on and 35 mph crosswinds. A couple of days later a tram got stuck at night due to icing with a load of employees on the way down after their shift. Those poor people got to hang out in the gondola for some 14 hours until they were rescued via helicopter the next morning.

McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe National Park, TX
For the return trip we headed south first and then worked our way back to California.
We wanted to hike Texas’s highest point that day, but the forecast had 40 mph winds up there with gusts to 55 mph. So we decided to postpone the hike and explore McKittrick Canyon instead. The canyon is quite beautiful, we even encountered some running water in a couple of places. The steep, rugged canyon walls were a great sight. We went a bit past Pratt’s Lodge (very cool stone cabin from the 1930’s) to where the trail starts to climb out of the canyon.

Guadalupe Peak, TX
Can’t go higher in Texas! Due to its popularity and since it’s in a National Park there is a very nice, well-maintained trail up to the peak. As is to be expected with a peak like this, there was a bit of traffic on the peak. Camp for our two nights in the area was the Sunset camp area 27 miles north of the park. Camping in this park is an issue, it’s extremely limited and reservation only.

Table Top Mountain, AZ
After a rest day with friends in the Tucson area we continued towards home with one more stop along the I-8. We broke the trip up with an overnight stop at the Table Top Mountain Wilderness. There is a nice campground with 3 sites at the trailhead for Table Top Mountain. Srisuda decided to hike only to where the trail started climbing steeply. We had a nice sunset and morning sky with nobody around for miles. It was very quiet.

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