Hiking in the High New Mexico Desert

Thursday and it's hiking day and another trip with the Portal Rodeo Hiking Club.

This trip was scheduled to depart from the Paint Pony Resort, with hiking over to large outcrops at the base of the Peloncillo Mountains on the east side of the San Simon Valley just north of Rodeo.  Upon going outside around sunrise though the scene was one of snow.  The previous night the valley received snow and the mountains and landscape were blanketed with about 1-2 inches of water in its solid form, but with clear blue skies and rising temperatures it looked to be a nice day for winter desert hiking.  Twenty one hikers arrived at the Painted Pony Resort and the group then drove over to the edge of the riverbed to start their weekly cure for nature deficit disorder.  The group made its first stop at a small Mimbres hamlet discovered on the Painted Pony Resort property and after a short description it was onward onto BLM land.  Crossing the old El Paso and Southwestern railroad bed the group continued toward the goal of the outcrops.  These large outcrops show bedding planes of tuff, conglomerates, and some debris from earlier volcanic activity and differential weathering created wide ledges used by former inhabitants of the area for grinding seeds.  Pictographs and 30-40 grinding holes were found along one ledge and additional grinding holes were discovered on top of the outcrop by those daring enough to make the climb.  After a relaxing lunch in the winter sun the group headed back to the vehicles covering between 7 to 8 miles of easy high desert hiking out and back.  The map for this hike may be found here or in the side bar.

It is difficult to adequately demonstrate the scale of features in the high desert and things that look close frequently turn out to be miles away.  Below is a 360 degree photosynth created from below the outcrops in the small valley created by the surrounding rocks.  Hikers may be found in the image which give a sense of scale of this feature everyone locally sees while driving along highway 80.  Click on the image to interact and navigate around the panorama (it requires installation of Microsofts Silverlight and the photosynth should prompt you if you do not have it installed).  Below the photosynth is an additional panoramic view of the outcrop also with hikers for scale.

southern new mexico landscape
Outcrop at the base of the Peloncillo Mountains with tiny hikers

prehistoric black and white photography
Ledge of grinding holes


  1. It was a lovely and unusual hike. Thanks for sharing that one with us.

    Dodie and Bill found almost identical arrowheads on top and the search began for more. I think that spot had not been visited by humanoids in centuries from their finds.

    I hope to return there for a longer hike one day.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the hike. I agree with your assessment that few people ever climb the outcrop, but the presence of arrowheads and grinding holes does suggest former inhabitants spent a lot of time on top.

    I’m amazed at the scale of the place, a location I see everyday the distance which does not look far away and not very big turns out to be further away and much much bigger. It is an easy landmark to see from around the valley and I suspect there must have been springs in one of the canyons behind the outcrop to make it such a usable location for habitation. Perhaps another trip to explore the canyons behind the outcrop and look for old springs sometime next winter would interest the hiking club.

    The observation of Big Horn Sheep droppings on top was also interesting. I have seen half a dozen Big Horn Sheep on the small outcrop about 0.4 miles west of the big outcrop and even caught them on video.

    I also agree with the notion that either the old railroad bed or gas line road would make an excellent bike trail from Rodeo.

  3. Thank you for taking the hikers on such a interesting hike, hope to do it again some day. My guests that went hiking also really enjoyed the day. It is always interesting waking up to snow and all melted by noon except for the higher elevations.

    The outcrop wa much bigger than I expected it to be!

  4. It is hard to describe or show the scale of the mountains and valley to online visitors. I think the panorama and photosynth with people for scale help viewers appreciate the scale of the landscape here.

    I think a return trip is a good idea, there are other canyons behind the outcrop I would like to visit.