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Mesa Loop Trail, NM

no permit
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Guide 0 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
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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.
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Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Multi-Loop 13.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 4,538 feet
Elevation Gain 2,000 feet
Accumulated Gain 3,500 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 10 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 31
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall, Seasonal Creek & Peak
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
Dogs not allowed
Post the 1st photoset!
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   Feb, Mar, Oct, Nov → Early
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  5:48am - 6:07pm
0 Alternative
Can't Get There From Here...
by imike

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.

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

2010-02-16 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 of 15 deeper Triplog Reviews
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    what was to be a short, 3 hour exploratory... over six hours later had scored an ascent to the Mesa up Alamo Side Canyon... and confirmed the Dark Cliffs Cut as a likely route for accessing the top of those cliffs. The hike was stretched when I mentioned we could top out and look for the Tobias plane wreck site (learned about when researching the wreck site found last week over in Mule Canyon). So... that is what happened. Site did not yield much to see...

    Then, since Ross nor Will had ever been through the Mesa Gap... we used that to descend... then, we did a bit of routing for a better trail site to get across upper Quiet Canyon. Final: Prominent Point Trail. Nice day out.

    Note: Ross confirmed the metal can from our last hike was indeed a Mine Site Location marker. The document sealed in the Baking Powder can 74 years ago was in great shape. He ran the 1940 census and located the guy who'd signed the document! Now, he wants to go back and check out the cave higher up the cliffs!
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    This Exploratory was interesting... we diverted our of Alamo Canyon up into the Roundup Cliffs to check out an obvious cave. Once there, we set out along the base of the cliffs to try to find an easy access up to the top. After a few false starts, we located a great cleft; it should be ideal for developing a spur from the Arch Canyon trail on top. Now, if we can find another cleft west of the cave we might have a great add-on loop instead of an in/out Spur. Either will be good.

    ...back in the canyon we next were looking for an interesting north side cut I used to take groups up into... but, the first paired cut was not that one. We went ahead and followed them both up to and through the Dark Cliffs... moving us along to the real goal of the day: Upper Blind Canyon. Blind because the cliffs allow no sight nor access through the upper Mesa Cliffs. To confirm we hiked up canyon to the base of the Cliffs then Ross headed east checking for possible access... I headed west looking for same and checking out the cave up in those upper cliffs.

    Cave did include an ascending crack... ??? I don't think so.

    We worked our way around to Washington where there was a climbable cut... but it was not a safe route. We passed it by... and looped all the way around to the Gap for the final ascent.

    Exit was mid Mesa to Goat Springs trail and down and out...

    Long day!! Much harder than the mileage or elevation suggests...
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    finally... made it above the lower dryfalls!

    Ross and I headed up the west cut, and ascended the nice climbing section to below the dark cliffs... or at least he did. Just below the upper lip I failed to make the lateral move across and up... odd in that I've used this section to teach and practice climbing for years. On this day. a no go. Not sure if it relates to the fall I took a few days ago that messed up my balance, or just a bad acro day for me? After some additional dumb moves I finally made it up and we proceeded to the top of the lower cliffs.

    The walk around their edge was beyond nice... we could gaze over the lips of the three primary falls and look out and across the high vistas above the Alamo Canyon drainage. All good.

    We could not spot any access up and through the next layer of cliffs. The west dryfall was our target. I'd looked at that upper canyon from the Roundup Grounds and thought I'd spotted nice bedrock. We like bedrock... but with no direct and safe climb it looked as if we'd check out the cuts to the east then decide how to make our way up to the next level.

    Same situation on the second Picnic Falls... cliffs blocking the next level pourover. Again, great rim lip views.

    The hike around the top of the cliffs to the third big Falls proved really short; never realized they were clustered so closely together. We walked the top of the dark cliffs and found no good up/down spot...

    ...but, we got lucky in the canyon cut above the East Fall...the cliffs turned and became the west side towering sides to the canyon. We were not immediately blocked. We headed up the cut.

    I did not have high expectations for this canyon. I expected the good stuff to be over in the west cuts. Upper Picnic is composed of the three main branches, each with a dramatic lower Dryfall... and each then splitting and re-splitting as it makes its way up the south side of the Mesa-Hershberger Ridge. The plan for this day was to get up and around the top of most of the cuts to figure out what was really up there and if any of them were good. The initial hike to the top of the lower falls was good... even with my problems climbing.

    Not too far up the East canyon we got a very pleasant surprise... bedrock walkway with a dramatic rock ledge hangover tenting the walk for quite some distance. We could nearly touch this roof and the 15' width was impressively wide for our area. It made the day.

    Above this section the sidewalls turned to dirt and we came to our first upper split. Neither branch looked all that inviting, but since our goal was to loop around to the better canyon to the west, we chose the left fork. Working our way over a substantial side cavitation, complete with large tree, we were pleased to reach bedrock on the far side. Steeply tilted bedrock...

    ... and enjoying that... at each and every turn we were gifted with more of the same. It did not end! Bedrock StairMaster just kept climbing... steepest and possibly our longest section of bedrock canyon in the area. And, this was complimented with great side canyon cliff formations and ever expanding distant vistas. Ross felt it was/is the best canyon he's hiked in the area.

    Topping out that cut... we moved West to discover the smaller and less dramatic middle canyon. It splits off with it's western branch climbing well beyond and above our entry canyon... and it's eastern branch running up to saddle into the great bedrocked cut we had enjoyed coming up. We crossed the middle and descended the ridge to access the far west cut down at the top of the blocking cliffs. We had spotted a cleft from below that gave some promise of up/down access... and sure enough it did cut all the way to the top. We left close inspection for another day... and moved over to the top of the dryfall in the west cut...

    ...only to discover no bedrock!

    This canyon was a rock pile jumble... maybe interesting scrambling if our expectations had not been so high... and then raised with the entry canyon... but in the moment, not good. At this point, it was time to cut and exit. We opted for a nasty rough bushwhack up to the Mesa... then a loop around and down Alamo Ridge.

    The consideration now is to get back up in there and find a good exit route... one that will not distract from the great hike up that Bedrock Monster... or better: one that will add to it. The prospects: one of the 3-4 remaining upper spurs... or, the ridge to the East (Split Ridge).

    The hike wasted me... massive leg cramps in the evening, totally expected. Tired today... but, sort of thinking about heading back up and in this weekend. It was really nice!

    I need to process the pics... doubt if they'll do the areas justice. ... 5973151345
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    Enjoyed a slower pace amble up to the Mesa with Terri's Friday group... then headed over and up for some training laps... slightly pushed pace (3 mph climbing 900' per mile) brought back a tinge of the burning sensation in the upper respiratory, but I could do the pace... and I'm still 30# above event body weight... so... progress?

    Time will tell...

    Beautiful day out... hard to not stay out and log more miles, but I guess I'll stick to the training schedule... I am already ahead for the month!
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    Hard not to put this little gem on the Fall calendar. John drove over from El Paso for his first hike with our group. Terri expanded her canyoneering experience with this challenging, shorter canyon outing.

    We added in the upper reaches of the canyon today. In all of the prior trips we'd been exiting the canyon onto the adjacent ridge that splits the two upper branches of the canyon. this time, we remained in the main cut... and it was good! More bedrock falls... lots of additional mini-climbs... overall just a better augment to the day.

    We hit the Mesa and looped around and down Rockachucky and Prominent Point...

    For some reason, I was beat up by days end... tired! (out of shape!??)

    Very good day out!
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    Really nice day to enjoy this canyon/ridge loop hike... timed it to end as the sun set... making it a bit too cool for some of the others; perfect for me. There were a couple of newbies along (from the Las Cruces Meetup group)... everyone did great! This remains my favorite fun day hike!

    Jim, Yubao and Timmie got to score a new peak... not one of my favorites...

    I got to surf a fractured rock slab that broke away under me... unfortunately right into Tim's leg! I'm home now extracting all the cacti that went along with that fall. Better me than any of the others; I bounce well... and, am nerve dead.

    Good day on the mountain!
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    The Day was diverse...
    40%...70% chance of rain, with high temps in the 50's above 9,000'. We decided to stay below the major storms, and hit Goat Springs Trail (the old access point) to climb up onto the Mesa. From there, looped clockwise, climbing with nice overviews of the Marble Canyon drainage... peaks were obscured by the low hanging clouds. Umbrellas sufficed for the light rain during the first hours of the day.

    After looping to the south Mesa, and siting the various canyon and ridge potential hikes from there, we did a detour descent down Pock Rock canyon... neither Yuboa nor Karen had ever hiked the area, so I was trying to show them bits of a lot of different stuff. Karen had been avoiding coming over for any of my hikes (she'd heard odd rumors of crazy hard routes and too fast paces...?) and was apprehensive as the day began, but she fit right in. She was much impressed with the Pock Rock Gorge, even though it was full on rain by then and Parkas had replaced the umbrellas.

    We looped back around and up onto the Mesa after the canyon hit, then traversed over and down Rockachucky Canyon, exiting the ridge around on the trail from Prominent Point. Lots of hours. Lots of weather. Some spills, scrapes and blood... fun had by all!
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    First time up this drainage... very nice! I am still conflicted about the issue of solo hiking mixed with unsupported climbing. I had a ledge break away under foot over in Marble Canyon last month, and a couple of the climbs in this drainage would easily generate fatal falls, yet... a simple fall of six feet can as easily be fatal, and I'm not sure what difference it really makes to have someone along to share the pain. I'd hate to miss out on the hundreds of hikes I do each year off and away, solo.
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    Well, The Meetup folks were mostly no-shows for this hike... guess I'll keep these canyons to myself. Clayton and his son did show up... kept the pace moving along up the numerous waterfalls. Nice day out, but hard not to be thinking about GPSJoe... hope that draws to a close soon.
    Mesa Loop Trail
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    Started the hike from the house, walked over to Marble Canyon and hiked in, turning up the Middle Fork, south branch. I'd forgotten how nice this one is. Energy was not great but I plodded on up to the top of the canyon, and found some nice little falls to climb, then exited onto the Ridge... checking out more options for a potential new peak trail. Found some nice areas to wind a trail around and through. Was not paying attention heading down and followed the wrong meadow... my intent was to loop to the Mesa, and instead I was heading down into Marble Canyon south... had to reverse back up and move on around the mountain.

    Energy never did come up, but it was an nice outing. Looking over and down into Marble Canyon South got me anxious to get to that canyon hike... just a couple weeks away!

    Found a large elk rack... carried it down off the mountain...not sure why.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    Follow Scenic drive to it's far southern end (at the water tank) and loop back north 1/8 mile, parking at the dirt road neading off to the east. Look up to the mountains noting the jeep track cutting sharply uphill... that is your route. Follow the dirt track to that jeep trail, or simply walk a beeline across the scrub desert to the base of the jeep road.
    page created by imike on Feb 16 2010 6:39 pm
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