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LINCOLN NATIONAL FOREST
The Sacramento Mountains district of the Lincoln National Forest is located in the Southeast section of New Mexico between the Tularosa Basin to the west and the Pecos River Basin to the East. Cloudcroft is the largest town along Highway 82 at the crest of the mountains. Up between 8 and 9000 feet, this is a perfect summer getaway or an excellent area for winter sports. The forests are composed of Douglas Fir, Ponderosa pine, Aspen, and Oak. There is a wide range of wildlife, including Deer, Elk, and Bear. Cloudcroft is a popular recreational site for many kinds of activities, including camping and hiking. There are over 100 miles of hiking trails within 30 miles of Cloudcroft, many of which are along old logging roads, railroad grades, and existing old trails. Views from the ridges of the Sacramento Mountains over the Tularosa Basin are superb, assuming the weather conditions permit.
BENSON CANYON TRAIL #T5005
Benson Canyon is one of the Rio Penasco tributaries that drains the eastern slopes of the Sacramento Crest from Cloudcroft to the Sunspot Observatory. The trail's upper end, which is an old jeep road, originates at FR223 on Benson Ridge; this is also the origins of Benson Creek. The Benson Canyon Trail follows this canyon down 4.9 miles, where it empties into the Rio Penasco. The canyon is a Beautiful long slender meadow with Douglas Fir trees on either side. Cattle still make these meadows their home, at least in the summer, and share it with the elk. Evidence of earlier ranching times can still be seen in this canyon with remnants of an old corral, water troughs, and a log cabin. There are enough trails in this area to use this as one leg of a loop hike.
At 3.6 miles in on FR223 is the signed trailhead for the Benson Canyon Trail #T5005. This is the origin of Benson Creek. The trail heads down an old jeep trail and pretty much follows the creek as it descends steeply for the first 0.8 miles. There are a couple of small meadows on this initial descent, but mainly it is in a fir-aspen forest. At 0.9 miles in is the signed junction with the Benson Canyon Spur Trail #T5005A. This is a 0.8-mile trail (jeep trail) that heads up to the Benson Ridge/Bluff Spring Trail #T5006. The Benson Canyon trail continues down the canyon first on the north side in the trees alongside the meadow, then switches over to the south side in the trees a bit above the meadow. At 2.4 miles in is the signed junction with the Benson Canyon Spur Trail 2 #T5005B, also known as the Benson Canyon South Trail, which heads over toward Bluff Springs. At this junction, the Benson Canyon Trail does one switchback to drop down into the meadow along Benson Creek.
Alternate route: Once back down in the meadow, there is an alternate route that I took on my return trip, and that was to take a visible trail that stays in the meadow and follows the creek instead of taking the switchback. This is a well-defined trail that passes by an old corral and log cabin. Benson spring is also along this trail. This trail will end at the signed junction of the Benson Canyon Spur Trail #T5005A. Now, back at the point where the trail drops down into the meadow before I digressed on the alternate Route. From this point on, it is pretty much a steady 2.2 mile downhill along a meadow-lined creek. At 4.9 miles, the trail ends at a signed junction with the Rio Pinasco Road and Creek.
The scenery is magnificent all along this Trail; how magnificent depends on the time of day and the weather conditions. With the right conditions, I think it pegs the beautiful scenery meter. There were a few cows in the meadows when I was there, and I couldn’t help but wonder if these were like the cattle antithesis of snowbirds, come here in the summer and leave in the winter. I did not see any elk in this canyon, but their sign was everywhere. I didn’t see any bear sign but did see a cinnamon-colored bear along a trail on the ridge to the south of this trail.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.