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This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Sunspot Loop, NM

no permit
11 1 0
Guide 1 Triplog  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
3 of 5 by 1
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 5.6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 9,179 feet
Elevation Gain 1,680 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,700 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 14.1
Backpack Yes & Connecting
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
11  2012-11-05 Jim_H
Author imike
author avatar Guides 253
Routes 0
Photos 6,930
Trips 2,467 map ( 21,513 miles )
Age 69 Male Gender
Location Cloudcroft, NM
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep → 10 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  5:48am - 6:07pm
0 Alternative
Down...Around..Up.. Up..Up
by imike

Likely In-Season!
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.

Check out the Triplog.

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.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2008-12-02 imike
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Sunspot Loop
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Though the plan is still to summit Blanca on Friday, I wanted to hike a "high elevation" hike on the Sacramento Mountain Plateau before it either gets too cold, too snow covered, or I lost interest. This is a cute hike, but not spectacular and the drive makes it something to do infrequently. It reminded me a lot of Mormon MT, but with a Bill Williams feel, and a hint of the Lowell Observatory. Curious thing, the forest of the area once had a lot more pine in it, but with cutting and the appearance of the stumps and fallen trees, today they are almost completely replaced by Douglas Fir or lower elevation oak and juniper. Just a little to the east on the highway, white fir mingles in, and as you lose elevation you pick up more pine, but it isn't common on the Sacramento's western high ridge. Barely any are reproducing, too.

    The appearance of the profile was as I remember Mike's image from his Gobbler Knob hike, and so I can say that you can see Guadalupe Peak (Texas High Point) on this hike, and I got an image of it. Mike has big plans for that hike, but I have no plans to head over and do something I have done a few times before when there are so many thing to explore in south central New Mexico.
    Sunspot Loop
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
    60#+ pack today...

    decided to try and make up for the aborted hike of a couple days ago, and get in my exploratory of Gobbler Knob. Started on trail 234/234A, then used FR90 to connect with trail 236 Gobbler Knob. trail unexceptional, but the Knob has views... great views! Guadalupe Peak down in Texas to the south, Sierra Blanca, the highest peak in this range to the north... Tularosa Basin and White Sands below to the west... and, some really nice canyon walls in the drainage directly below the Knob... looks like a drainage worthy of exploration.

    Now, it was stupid to add this mileage and elevation on to what was supposed to be a short, weighted pack training day. That heavy pack beat me up by the end of this day, especially on the off trail portion I added climbing back up the mountain to the Observatory.

    I be tired!
    Sunspot Loop
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
    25# pack, off trail for much of the hike... cool to cold temps... muddy trail.

    I had planned to explore this canyon ever since I'd hiked the canyon to the south of it last year, Dog Canyon. Whereas Dog Canyon has a full state park and is known nationally both for it's setting and historic sites, San Andreas just sits next door, a silent relative. From the desert floor it is obvious, and looking at the topo maps, there is a trail indicated that begins at the bottom but terminates a few miles up canyon... and, there appeared to be a good reason: towering cliffs, suggesting a very tall waterfall shutting off the egress. But, those things are always hard to call... a map is just a map. To find out what is really there you have to get out the door and over on the trail....

    ... I decided this year to make the trek, but instead of approaching from the established trail shown on the map from the desert floor, I decided to approach from the top, bushwacking cross country. The obvious access appeared to be off one of the Forest Roads around the 7500' level, but to make the day stretch out a bit, I opted to drive to Sunspot, over 9,000'... parking at the Observatory Museum and hiking down the mountain to connect with the Forest roads. I did not go for a particulary early start, but even heading out a bit before 6am it was still dark out. It was getting light around 6:30am when I exited my truck and began the cold hike down the mountain trail.

    I began the day in nylon shorts and shirt with a storm parka and gloves and mitten cap... I knew I'd need full, heavy pants for the bushwack section but after a full 30 seconds of searching I decided, ah, what the heck... it's only skin. So, no pants this morning...

    I had studied the map for a general feel of the drainage patterns, but I had not looked closely. I figured they would likely not really give me all that much information that I could apply. I did note that the better access appeared to be about a couple miles in, a mile before the end of the Forest Road. Since I'd never been on that road before, once hiking along I decided why not simply walk all the way to the end, then simply hike back the mile to that nice egress point... of course, once all the way in that is not what I did. Instead I continued on further west and up and around a ridge, dropping over into the canyon's upper cliffs. I did not realize it at that point in time, but I was well past not only the good access areas, but I was into totally inaccessible areas. My first attempt to drop into the canyon bottom (which at this point was over 2,000' below me) resulted in "cliffing" out... getting to the top of a shear drop off. I had to retrace my route and climb back up to a bench, then move laterally back up the canyon to try to find another point to descend through. Complicating these manuevers were dense shrubbery... very dense shrubbery. Even though I was dropping down a 60 degree slope, there was no real fear of falling... at least three if not more body parts were constantly entangled in undergrowth! I would have to push two to four limbs apart just to begin to take a step... then repeat that process over and over again to move further and further down the hill. At one point I did finally take some comfort in the theoretical fact that the plant growth could not get any thicker. somehow, knowing that it would be impossible for the obstacles to get worse gave me some positive reassurance. Always the optimist!

    This bushwacking took hours, but finally I could see the bottom of the canyon and noted that I was getting ever nearer. I hit a bench about 80-100' above the drainage bottom, and realized that it was a sheer cliff down to the creek... but, I was rewarded with my first bit of real good luck... I came across a drainage defile that allowed me to scramble down that final distance, arriving at a wonderland of rock and water. I had some how managed to hit the bottom just above the massive waterfall that split the canyon access....those lower canyon trails could only make it up to the base of this towering obstacle, sheer cliffs surrounding the waterfall drop of 80 to 100 feet. Now, it was going to be interesting to see if hiking up this drainage would give me a nicer trip than the horrendous trip down did.

    It did.

    Not only was it easier, way easier... it was delightful. The combination of rock cliffs, boulders, waterfalls and ledges, combined with the beginnings of fall colors and the vast vista of the lower canyon was exceptional. Initially, the trek back had a closed in intimacy... the walls immediately surrounding the creek blocked off the broader, towering cliff sides from view. The creek was a virtual highway, lushly landscaped and easy to hike. I enjoyed every aspect of this part of the day. The character of the waterway changed as I worked my way up and out, turning itself into a very babbling brook kind of walkway. It grew narrower and narrower, but never became too obscured to really block passage.

    I did finally decide to leave the drainage and work my way back up the side hills, getting my last milder bit of bushwacking for the day... and hit the forest road about where I'd originally thought it might be nice to access the canyon.... from there I hiked the steep trail back to the Observatory and my truck.

    I got on the computer, added the hike into the registry for HikeArizona (I'm now listed as one of their top 10 authors!).... threw a chicken and yam into roast, and began to edit the pictures I'd taken. Now, I'm settling into the evening, eating my chicken and potato... and thinking about the next adventure.

    a good day.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    Sunspot is reached by departing from the intersection of Hiway 82 and NM 130 in Cloudcroft, NM... following 130 1.8 miles, turning right on NM 6563 (Sunspot Highway Scenic Drive). Follow this road to MP14... and turn right .2 miles further on ... into the entry road for the Sunspot Observatory Complex... drive into the complex and follow the signs to the Visitor Center. Park in the ample parking lot.
    page created by imike on Dec 02 2008 3:26 pm
    $17 3L Hydration Bladder
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