Hidden Gem would be an understatement for this best of Canyon class for Alamogordo drainage hikes. With the mouth of the canyon hidden away among the surrounding housing development (...yes, you will be entering and crossing private property to begin this hike!) there is little indication that this drainage will offer up anything nice.
I was! While not as broad and dramatic as some of the adjacent Marble Canyon drainages, this one compensates with rock... lots of rock. For the most part, you will be hiking on slanted bedrock for all three sections of the canyon, if you take it that far. And, the rock textures are varied and intriquing.
The first section snakes you around and into a narrow defile, terminating in a terraced fall formation. For many this would be the end of the hike, and well worth it if that is all there was. Better option: turn around and return to the first side drainage coming down and in from the north. This is an easily scalable climb that will carry you up to the ridge dividing North and South Ortega Canyons. Follow it along, enjoying the views down into the canyon. The downview of the waterfall is impressive.
Moving above and beyond the waterfall, You will notice a large cavatation off the sidewall on the other side of the canyon. There are some fairly easy downclimbs at this point. Make your way back down and into the floor of the canyon and hike downstream towards the fall. You will encounter yet another smaller waterfall that can be downclimbed on the southern edge. It would not be a bad idea to add a rope into that manuever, just for safeties sake. From there, you can hike further down to the lip of the big waterfall.
Again... this could be the end of your hike for the day... or...
Hike up drainage, enjoying the rock. The canyon soon begins to lose some of the grotto like narrow defile, and opens up, with more and more shrubbery obscuring the route, finally terminating in yet another ledged waterfall. You may exit the canyon on the north side in a variety of places, moving on up into the upper canyon section. I chose to instead enjoy the hike down Ortega Ridge, reviewing the canyon and noting a variety of side drainages worthy of checking out on another day. The upper basin which terminates at the foot of Ortega Peak appears to be overgrown.
An easy alternative for a return loop, if you go all the way up to the top of the canyon, would be to hop onto T119, The "A" trail, following it back down into town.
The place to park for this hike is at the first set of City Water Tanks at the edge of the lower housing development. The canyon really begins next to the upper tanks, but the narrow road is not conducive to good parking and since you will be crossing private property to begin the hike, best to walk the short distance up the road from the lower tanks.
To canyon trip From Alamogordo's main drag, White Sands Blvd, proceed East up 10th Street to Scenic Drive. Turn North on Scenic and go to the next main intersection (Note the Funeral Home and large church on your right). Turn East (Thunder Road) and drive through and immediately past the housing development, parking just past and next to the City Water tank on your left. Walk up the road to the mouth of the canyon.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.