This one starts at the top, and has the complement of the Sacramento Peak, Sunspot Solar Observatory complex as an added bonus to the hike. They have a small shop, open most year round, providing a restroom, drinks and snacks (machine), and a museum and gift shop. There is also a walking tour around the facility. The hike begins at the parking lot for this visitor center.
There is no clearly marked trailhead, but it is easy to connect with the trail routes. Walk directly away from the front of the visitor center over to the barb wire fence, and either cross through the fence or follow it to your right up to the corner turn where there is a pedestrian gate access (old style fence break... please re-close it if you go through the gate). Continue to move away from the visitor center down the hill for about 100 yards and you'll intersect the Old Sunspot Road... follow it to your left. At about .2 miles from the Visitor center you will intersect the marked trail, T234... turn onto it to your right, proceeding downhill. The next .9 miles drops around 800 feet, but it is pretty evenly graded and the footing is good. At that point, the trail splits, and the nicer (?) route is to go to your left down T234A, dropping an additional 700 feet over the next 1.4 miles. This section is steepest towards the top, leveling out into a nice riparian area towards the bottom. The entire trail is heavily forested, so views of the distant White Sands valley below are blocked.
T234A terminates at Forest Road 90. Here, turn to your right and follow the road for 1.7 miles, slightly uphill, to the intersection with T234. There is a road junction on the left at this point: F90B... the trail is just opposite this road intersection. Turn to your right, proceeding steeply up for the next 1.6 miles (gaining around 1400 feet!.) This is the trail, T234, that you enjoyed coming down from near the Visitor Center.
This loop offers a great training hit, and if augmented with a bit of pack weight (I went out with an 83# once) it is a superior training route.
T234 also offers a connection to the trails coming from the mountain base out of Oliver Lee State Park, allowing for a top to bottom, or bottom to top (much better) out and back day...
I have encountered Elk, deer, and bear in this area, but usually the pack weight has me bent over staring at the ground, not taking in much of my surroundings. This trail could provide a very interesting mountain bike connection for an extended loop around on F90, but do not expect to be able to ride back up any of the trail sections... just too damn steep.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
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.