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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Can't Get There From Here...
Really, the Mesa Loop Portion of the hike is just 5.5 miles of easy walking around the edge of The Mesa, but because of the very limited access, and difficulty of the approaches for this hike, the hike has to include the eight miles of approach and retreat, all roughly off trail...
Mesa Loop Trail
The start to this hike is obvious... the jeep rutted track heading straight up the hill is the simple and straightforward beginning. Hike up to it's end below the prominent outcropping on the right, then continue on up to the next cliffed out prominence. At this point you will have reached the extent of all the local's efforts; for the rest of the hike you will be on your own, moving steeply up and around to gain access to The Mesa. The easier route lie around to the south, but it is all off trail; none of it is easy. Fortunately, RockaChucky Wash provides an interesting and relatively simple route up and through the cliffs. You may drop into this wash after reaching the top of that second prominence, then move down and to the south, dropping into the drainage bottom.
Once up and onto the Mesa, enjoy the broad expanse as you move ever higher, either wandering around the edges or heading for the high ridge peak ( Little Peak: 6548') that divides the lower and upper Mesa sections. The Mesa Loop rambles around the perimeter of the Mesa. The Mesa is really a peninsula with cliff surrounds on all three sides, tilted at an angle such that the lower point is in the 5800' elevation and sloping such that the upper eastern portion lies closer to 6400'. The peninsula is divided by a prominent ridge system running down the middle, separating the eastern and western plateaus, and providing some nice vantage points to oversee the lower bowls and basins.
This area is a popular grazing and bedding grounds for elk and deer, characterized by desert grasslands with numerous "cedar break" clusters of juniper, and some interesting sotol forests, along with the usual prickly pear, creosote, and assorted high desert flora.
Lots of very sharp volcanic rock stratas... nice to have gloves along on this hike.
The best way to experience the Loop Route is to first hike to Little Peak. Once oriented from that higher vantage point, drop down and do the loop around the smaller meadow to the southeast, just skirting the edges of the cliffs all the way around that end of the mesa, ending back on the north side of Little Peak. That loop takes about a mile and offers some great views of Alamo Canyon.
Next, from the eastern end of the ridge, at the Pass, cross over to the north side and follow the Mesa cliff edges around to the western end, overlooking Marble Canyon with some distant hints of Sierra Blanca. This portion of the Mesa is really a narrow band, with the Little Peak ridge cutting much closer to the cliffs. At a bit over a mile from the Pass you will intersect the cliff cut for Goat Springs trail, an obvious and cairned cleft, and the only traditional route to The Mesa. Private property closures down below now prohibit access along this route.
At a bit over 1.5 miles you will reach the northwest point of The Mesa, and turning back to the south, begin to cliff wind around the frontal portion. This section moves along the edge of the very prominent cliff faces that are seen from down in Alamogordo.
In just over another mile you will be back to the RockaChucky Wash cut, and begin your traverse of that drainage basin, eventually angling around and to your right out onto a portion of the Mesa that is really another ridge peninsula running out to the southwest. The Mesa portion is that area lying above the 6,000' level. If you follow the ridge further it will drop elevation sharply and carry you out onto Half Dome Ridge.
Continuing around the edge of the cliffs winds you back to the Pass, at mile 4.6. If you have done the southeast loop first, you will now have logged about 5.5 miles of Mesa, plus the 3.5-4 miles of approach hiking. Mileage and elevation will be sharply impacted by the exact routes you choose. There are few real trails. All of the Mesa is easily walkable. For those odd folk who love the feel of cliff edges, enjoy! You can be cliffed out for nearly all of those 5+ miles. Personally, I enjoy the path that sets in from the edge by at least a few feet. Both are available.
Once back at the Pass, a pleasant route is to hike the .3 miles back up to Little Peak, then following the ridge back above the RockaChucky Basin, descending at the end of the ridge to return via RuckaChucky Wash. That ridge walk is just under a mile. It will be a bit over 3 miles back to your car. You will likely hike around 13-14 miles before your Mesa day is done. AEG will also vary, depending on your route selections, but there are numerous up/down options. Doing the loop will likely log in 800-1000' to add to your 2,000' gain from the car... and then there are some up/downs traversing RockaChucky. It will likely feel like 3500'... and might be, or more.
You may want to print out the specifics of the RockaChucky Wash trail to compliment this hike description.
Most of The Mesa is surrounded by cliffs that do not allow egress. Do not make the mistake of trying to go over the edge at just any spot. If you do want to work your way down, use the two or three safer points. You can come down the cut for Goat Springs then work your way around the base of the cliffs to the south, returning directly to your car, but take care. Plan your route before attempting to descend.
Because of the slower progress accessing the Mesa, if you are doing the entire Loop, you may want to plan to start your day early and head down with plenty of time to spare to make it back to your car. This is off trail hiking... you won't get lost, but you do not want to be stranded up there after dark.
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