January 28, 1999
Highlights: An easy, interesting hike featuring spectacular views and weathered landforms Location: In the Rio Puerco Valley, northwest of San Ysidro Round-trip distance: 4 miles Difficulty: Easy Elevation: About 6,500 feet throughout Maps: San Luis and Arroyo Empedrado 7.5-minute USGS quadrangle Side trips: The Rio Puerco Valley, with its mesas and stark volcanic plugs, is scenic and well worth exploring. By taking the left fork off the Y, you go past Cabezón Peak along the Rio Puerco, eventually to locked gates. By continuing on the right fork past the Piedra Lumbre Road, you go around Cerro Cuate and cross Chico Arroyo. Please respect locked gates and private property throughout this area.
Rio Puerco Valley
Following cairns is fun, almost like a game.
For a few years at least, cairns are all that exist in the Rio Puerco Valley to indicate the new Continental Divide Trail route. The cairns were erected last fall by the Bureau of Land Management, the New Mexico Mountain Club (Charlie McDonald laid out the route) and the Backcountry Horsemen of New Mexico, in cooperation with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance.
And following these cairns along the rims of scenic mesas, with spectacular views of Cabezón and beyond, makes an outstanding warm-winter hike.
To reach the trail, drive N.M. 44 northwest from San Ysidro approximately 18 miles to a green sign pointing to San Luiz (should be San Luis). Here a paved road heads west until the pavement ends at 10.4 miles, where paved Torreon Road heads north.
After four miles, at the top of a hill, the pavement ends at a cattle guard. Follow the main dirt road six-tenths of a mile northwest to a junction where a sign points toward N.M. 197. Park near here, walk the dirt road downhill southeast 0.15 mile to a large cairn on your right. Across the small valley is a gravel operation.
From here, the cairns head west, up to a bench along the mesa's south rim. And from there, hike as far as your time and energy allow.