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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.

Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory, NM

176 4 1
Guide 4 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
3 of 5 by 1
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 19.9 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,406 feet
Elevation Gain 4,839 feet
Accumulated Gain 5,700 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 8 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 48.4
Interest Historic, Seasonal Waterfall, Perennial Waterfall, Perennial Creek & Peak
Backpack Yes & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
10  2013-10-20 Jim_H
19  2013-10-15 Jim_H
67  2013-10-06 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   May, Sep, Aug, Oct → 6 AM
Seasons   ALL
Sun  5:46am - 6:13pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Culture Nearby
Bottom to Top...
by imike

Likely In-Season!
This is a great challenge hike... especially if undertaken as an up down, 20.2 mile day. Even in the winter months the days are long enough to complete the up/down during daylight hours if you are feeling energetic (and are really fit)... but, there are a wide variety of options for making a great day out of this route.

For a very simple and super scenic experience, simply enjoy hiking up as far as you desire and turn around to enjoy the downhill trek back to the car. The views in reverse are exceptional, and that is what the lower half of this hike is all about: fantastic views, ever changing with the elevation and more over, the weather.

The official trail departing from Oliver Lee State Park is T106... and it leaves from the visitor center, climbing steadily up the right side of Dog Canyon. A nice way to experience this hike is to arrive a day early and camp in the park, checking out the museum displays at the visitor center and the lower riparian area trails. There is a very interesting history to the canyon... including early settlors, indians, armies and the like.

T106 gains altitude steadily as it winds up through what most consider the most scenic canyon in the Sacramento Mountains... with gradients up to 25%. 2.9 miles up the trail, the route drops down and crosses the canyon drainage, and you will encounter the ruins of an historic stone cabin. If the seasonal rains are in force, you will gifted with some spectacular waterfalls above the cabin site...

From this point on, the trail climbs more steeply up to and along the towering cliff edges of the canyon. Gradients may average 20% to 50%, with uncertain footing along some of the areas, but the climb is well worth the effort. As you move below the prominent cliff known as the Eyebrow, the views of the surrounding canyon and the valley far below reward you with a well earned vista.

The trail moves along and past then up and over and out of the canyon proper, taking you to a meadowed shelf above the cliffs... and climbing into scrub forests. At mile 5.5 you reach the end of T106, and turn right on to Forest Road 90B. Following F90B for 2.9 miles takes you to the intersection of F90 and the trail connection to T234 immediately across the road. This trail will climb you up through the Pines and mixed hardwoods to the very top of the mountain range. After 1.6 miles this very steep trail will terminate at the Old Sunspot Road (T105B) where you will turn left and follow the old roadbed around to a gated fence. At the fence, turn to the right, following the fence over to a pedestrian gate. At the gate you are in site of and 100 yds from the visitor center on top of Sacramento Peak.. and in the Sunspot Solar Observatory complex.

Enjoy the museum displays at the visitor center... restock on water and fluids or snacks from their machines... buy a souvenir from their gift shop. Use the nice flush toilets! Rest up and head back down the trail to round out the day. Or, hop into your car that someone shuttled up for you!

The area guidebook lists this route as too difficult to do bottom to top, and suggests that it is better to be dropped off on top and hike the route down to the bottom. It is a steep trail. To attempt the bottom to top route requires a conditioned and motivated hiker, but still, the full up/down is very doable and rewarding. At age 60 I do this circuit with an additional 9 mile loop added on top to stretch the day out to a round 30 miles... and manage that within ten hours total. It is probably best to first test hike sections of this route before attempting the entire route.

It does have the advantage of being served by intersecting roads: F90 midway... Sunspot Hiway on top.

Winter months could find the upper reaches snow bound. Summer months will find days into the 100's at the lower end.

Also... for those putting in the nice long day, Oliver Lee State Park has hot showers! That feature really rounds out the day. There is a day use fee for parking in the park. Camping is also available with trailer and tent sites. Reservations may be made for desired spaces.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

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
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Joined Terri, Brenda and Summer for a brisk paced ascent... and brisker descent, over this great route. I wish it was a great trail... alas, maybe someday? We plan to plug this into the monthly calendar starting in April... long weekend events.

    Cool weather... 40's, upper 30's on top... windchill in the 20's!

    5 hour 20 minutes to the Visitor Center. Passed one other hiker: training to start the Arizona Trail next month. He'd already found the HAZ site; downloaded GPS routes.

    Great day!
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Woof! This was pretty hard after 23 miles yesterday. The cold in the shade made it a bit harder, with my muscles stiffening up after 10 minutes of being in temps probably in the 40s. On the way down, it was cool and breezy, so even if we made the forecast high, it didn't quite feel like it. I am tired from over 40 miles and 8800' of hiking, so I wonder if I will get out tomorrow. Maybe a relaxing, rather than challenging hike?

    Another lovely descent, with the birds at the cliffs being the highlight. Good thing I can still summit Joplin Ridge, even if I don't go to Sunspot. Sun is setting earlier, and earlier, and this hike will be a little longer than I want on cold mornings with short days. Still want to do it once more this year, so we'll see.
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    After moving yesterday's planned hike to Saturday to hope for better weather, I opted to hike this again today. It wasn't a disappointment, that is for sure. No, the weather and skies were not as good as last time, but it is still a very enjoyable hike and I really surprised myself with how fast I went. I parked outside the park gate and was at the scenic view by the Tower Observatory in 4 hours and 40 minutes, including 10 minutes of lunch on the West Side Road. I was down in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

    I was concerned about clouds and wind today, as yesterday was rather nasty up high. It was a little cloudy, and overcast when up at Sun Spot, but it was pretty good overall, and the wind was not an issue at all. Chilly on the summit, but pleasant for most of the hike.

    The hummingbird from last time was in the same pinyon. I think that his is territory.

    I bumped up my miles and AEG as I parked outside of the park and walked around at Sunspot.
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot, that is what this hike is. Initially, I thought the miles may be off, but I suppose the road (FR 90B) was 2.9 miles as is stated in the description. If it was, I hiked at nearly 3 miles per hour for some time. I parked outside the State Park, at 4301', and Sacramento Peak comes in at 9255' per our mapdex, and adding in an additional 100' to account for rolling terrain and the drainage crossing, and it is at least 100 feet, I come up with 5055'. Not a bad day.

    So far, of the 3 long hikes i have done in the last week, this is my favorite. Best hike overall, and best local hike in a long while. Great trail going up, smooth road on top, views, views, views, and a pleasant forest stroll terminating at a white monolith. It was all I could do to prevent myself from throwing partially broken cow leg bones into the air screaming! The views from the top are not cheapened by realizing you could easily drive here. I earned them, so they were sweeter.

    Going down seemed to go really fast until it got dark, but I made very good time. I was back on the Dog Canyon Trail in 1:40 minutes. I guess I was going fast? I had to stop for a while to watch a humming bird, and again to observe the swallows under the west facing cliff that you hike under neath of, above the drainage crossing. The rock was warm in the sun, the air calm, and yet it sounded like a breeze was up from all of the little cigar shaped fighter pilot birds whooshing by me head. Also, they chirp a lot, and that is nice, too.

    Caught the sunset from the second bench, and enjoyed Common Poorwhils calling in the canyon. I went very slow the last half mile, as I never wanted to turn on my lamp and alert campers of my presence. The moon went down behind the San Andreas Range like a thin red flame.

    Good hike.

    Edited 10/10: After using 2 existing routes, as well as satellite images and the GPS Route Manager, I produced a GPS route for up and down. I Synced it a few times, and got 5720' of AEG for the round trip hike! Way more than I thought. A few sections are crude, but they probably cause a loss in accuracy on the lower end. So, A solidly hard hike, overall. My miles will stay the same, as I parked outside the SP.
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    The plan... check out the waterfall formations that cut off access in both forks of San Andreas Canyon. I'd done the North Fork years ago, but never made it back to check out the South Fork. I was not expecting much from that canyon... but you never know.

    Yubao wanted to search for antlers.

    After pulling into the access road, we took off for the canyon off trail... the better to locate antlers? Found the first while still ranging high on the ridge, so set them aside and marked the spot on the GPS... and proceeded to drop over the cliffs. I was very surprised to find we were into an exceptional canyon cut. Once in the bottom, we trekked along, often enjoying bedrock sidewalks and rough surrounding cliffs. It went on and on... We finally reached the waterfall formation. Instead of being in the 40-60' range as expected, it was more like 150'... with an interesting arch at the top.

    We stopped for lunch... enjoyed the vista views.

    Climbing back out of the waterfall I noticed a nice ledge... perfect lunch spot that we'd overlooked climbing down. I thought we should spend some time there, so... and, sitting there I noticed a very distinctive trail on a bench down in the canyon bottom. Studying it further I recognized it as the Dog Canyon Trail (#106)... We were in the wrong Canyon!

    I did have this canyon on my list to explore, but it was to be a year or more away... I had very low expectations for it. Now, here we were, and it was exceptional, possibly the best of all the mid elevation drainages. We had turned into the wrong Forest road, then since we immediately had gone off trail searching for antlers, I'd never noticed the mistake. The GPS unit had the contour lines turned off... a series of pleasant errors had brought us to the cut.

    Yubao scored three elk sets and one complete deer set, with skull. Other than a nasty spill he took walking back (over flat ground!) it was a great outing.

    Have to go back in the Fall for the color...
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Heavy rains forced a change in plans... the planned training trail would be way too muddy; even the approach drive would have been a mess, so with the cooler temps (69 degree high yesterday!) in tow we headed over to the never muddy, Dog Canyon trail. Yubao had never hiked that world class canyon trail; a double benefit.

    Great start to the day with the clouds drifting around low in the canyon... camera out of commission right now, but the old pics of this hike would show the same kind of great day. We kept to a slower pace in keeping with my heart rate monitored hiking/training and enjoyed the great vistas. exiting the canyon and climbing above the cliffs and on to Joplin Ridge, I thought this might be a good day to check out a bushwhacking drop across and over into San Andreas Canyon. Yubao is a strong hiker, and though I usually only do exploratories solo, I figured he might enjoy the attempt... if nothing else it would give him an idea of what it is like to scrounge around in these southern cliff canyons.

    He got a good idea... a bit too good. The route I picked worked down through some minor cliffs, then angled a bit too steeply down through scrub... and terminated at a 200-300' cliff. He had had enough (too much) before he got to the real cliff... he already felt as if we were dangling over the edges when we were 50-70 feet from the real drop over. I could not find any clefs to descend; I had not brought along any rope. We climbed back out. I did not realize the full extent of his bad moments until we were back on top of the ridge and I mentioned checking out another potential 1/2 mile further up canyon... then realized from the look on his face just what a bad idea that was. My idea of fun exploration was not the same as his. I do think I could take him back up there with a rope and find a safe route down... 300-400 feet of rope!

    Instead of exploring more of San Andreas canyon, we hit the ridge and climbed to Dog Point, the highest lookout in that area... caught the old forest road from there around to the upper Dog Canyon trailhead, then did a slow and easy descent down the entire length of that trail.

    8:30am departure... back to the truck at 5:30pm to a flat tire! I pumped it up...home before 6:30pm... days are getting shorter!

    Now, got to hike up San Andreas canyon to spot a "real" access point through the cliffs for the cut over to Dog Canyon... if one even exists. It is stupid to attempt blind descents; I know that... not sure why I continue to do it. Usually, I am alone with no one to point out just how stupid it is to be doing. I think it is finally time for a SPOT device. When it was just me, no big deal... with these other hikers tagging along I need some way to get their bodies out.

    Great day on the trail. First week of cutting: 221.6 pounds down to 216 today. Made the day a fasting day hike... no breakfast, no lunch, no dinner, no snacks... mixed 350 calories of OJ into my gallon of water bottles and drank it over the 9 hour hike. I had planned a protein shake recovery drink but do not feel as if I need it, so I'll let the fast stretch till tomorrow noon, after the morning hike. Did drink four no calorie Monster Drinks!
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Interesting to be hiking with a group again. This hike went off better than my normal group effort. I skipped taking a pack and carried instead an old shoulder satchel. Since the pace was going to be well below my norm, I carried some fluids, but refrained from drinking for the entire 5 hour hike, just to give a bit of stress to this midday effort. I drifted up and down the scattered out group taking pics... moving from the back to the front along the .75 miles of the varied paced hikers. They were a nice bunch, drove all the way from El Paso or Las Cruces with one guy showing up on a motorcycle from Albuquerque! Dog Canyon does justify the drive; it is an impressive canyon and a great hike. I talked up the potentials for off trail hiking in the Alamo area, but not sure if I really generated any interest. Time will tell. I guess I'll head out tomorrow for a longer hit and some more serious elevation.

    18 other hikers in this group and lots of folks on the trail, including early morning trail runners enjoy this great setting. No one making the full trek to the top and back... oh, well.
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    This sounded so nice on paper, and looked pretty good on the map... oh, well.

    I've waited for the snow to clear around the 7,000' level, but running out of time on my schedule, I finally decided to head out and finish this exploratory hike. The first section is the basic Dog Canyon hike, beautiful and steadily up. The next section is dull, trudging forest service roads for six or seven miles, and this is where the hike took a down turn... the snow was only partially gone, and where it was missing it had been replaced by either mud or ice! It took over 3 hours to get past all of that... not easy hours.

    Once over and on the new trail and heading down into one of the side drainages of Escondido Canyon it got better once again... it even got nice... until the trail died out... just like the map said it would. It had seemed odd to have a nice trail headed down, and then another terminating that had risen from the bottom... and not very far apart (...on the map). But then as I began down climbing ever larger dry falls it occurred to me that there might be a really simple reason why they'd never been connected... and, sure enough... 20'...40'... rocky, tumbling falls with no easy accesses. I think I may have chosen the worse possible path to try to connect, and I have to think that there is a better way, and there may be, but given that I was nine hours into this hike and had yet to enter the main canyon section, of which I then had to hike down and out of, I did not feel like retracing my steps to try to discover the better path.

    I made it to the upper meadow in Escondido, and because I had downloaded the potential trail to my GPS unit I was able to make good time finding the old track leading around and out and down... and I thought my day was moving in a good direction. I had done a number of things right: conservative, slow pace to allow me to make it through all the snow/ice/mud/ debris/falls... with a ready reserve. I'd brought an adequate amount of food and water, though for some reason I'd only drunk 20 oz over the first 6 hours (went on to drink nearly the entire 1.5 gallons). And, I had my GPS route.

    I did not know then, but learned soon, that the worst part of the day was yet to come, and it was all about staying on that old trail. Overgrown!! Cacti, Daggers, Sotol... and a variety of spiny shrubs, sort of like cat claw, but over head high... I was sliced and diced... finally, put on some gloves just to be able to control some of the nicking... and, it did not end until I was nearly all the way back down and in the desert. Sort of rounded out the day.

    Fortunately, caught a great sunset as I made my way back across to Oliver Lee State Park... I now know a trail that no one else need bother with until it has received some major trail maintenance!!
    Dog Canyon to Sunspot Observatory
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Maiden Hike...big surprise to discover this great canyon hike here just out of Alamogordo. caught a perfect day, clouds floating below us in the canyon, and temps just nice. Great to know I can drive down the hill, get out of the snow, and have this trek to enjoy. Susan visiting... keeping the pace brisk. One hour to the cabin at just under 3 miles. We hiked on up to the 3.5 mile point, then headed back down. Great picnic rock ledges below that, shortly after you leave the cabin and complete the steep climb onto the bench. Trail gets big time steep at mp 3.5... and beyond.

    Had the canyon to ourselves! I like this.

    Permit $$
    information is in description

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Alamogordo, NM take hiway US 54 from US 70, south 9 miles to the signed turn for Oliver Lee State Park. Turn left and follow the paved county road (016) east for 4 miles to the park entrance. Pay the entry fee then park at the Visitor center.
    page created by imike on Dec 02 2008 4:20 pm
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