Thanksgiving Trip to the Sierra Blancas

With a long weekend off for Thanksgiving Tom and I drove up to Ruidoso in the Sierra Blanca Mountains for our tree fix. Unlike the rugged and dry Organ Mountains that border Las Cruces to the east, the Sierra Blancas contain thriving ponderosa pine forest, beautiful open meadows, and fir trees in the drainages and at the higher elevations, all at less than 2 hours drive from the desert.

The afternoon of our arrival we opted for a short trip out to the Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area to the northeast of town to hike the short Petroglyph Trail. The 3 mile trail brought us to the petroglyphs etched in a boulder by the river within minutes, but after that the route paralleled the Rio Bonito River, crossing over the water and then looping back along cliffs and through meadows. Though the trees had already lost their leaves we both found the trail to be quite beautiful, and I relished walking under open skies through a variety of vegetation not seen in Las Cruces. It was an added bonus too to be able to walk along the river. The only (slight) dissapointment was not having enough information about the carvings on the rock: I would have personally liked to dive in a bit to the history of the Jornada Mogollon people who lived in this area from 900 – 1400 AD. (Incidentally, the relatively-close Three Rivers Petroglyph site is a good place to go if you’re looking for more carvings and some information).

Since this area is known to have a healthy elk population I kept a sharp watch while we were out walking but we didn’t see any until our drive back to town where there were a few grazing by the side of the road. This was probably for the best anyway since I didn’t have to worry about Abby bothering them.

The next day we travelled north into White Mountain Wilderness area to hike the Nogal Canyon Trail. The 6-ish mile trail gains less than a thousand feet in elevation unlike many of the other, steeper canyon trails in the Sierra Blancas but it certainly isn’t any less beautiful than other routes we’ve hiked. The trail ascends mostly through expansive meadows rather than forested drainage, and we had lovely views of the surrounding peaks as we made our way up to the ridge. Surprisingly the clusters of trees we did encounter turned out to be gambrel oak rather than ponderosa, something I hadn’t seen too much of in these mountains before.

Upon reaching the top of the canyon we gained some incredible vistas east over the rugged canyons trailing into the White Sands Basin – vistas than evolved as we turned onto the Tortolita Trail which follows the ridge on a southerly course. After passing through more dense gambrel oak we finally turned west down the Crest Trail along the south side of Nogal Peak and descended back to our starting point. If we’d had more motivation we would have taken a side trip up to the peak, but after Tom promised me a beer at the Sierra Blanca Brewing Taproom in town we decided to wait to hike the peak a different day.