Twig Adventures

GET Day 33: Magical Magdalena Mountains

Monday Apr 19th, 2021, 0830-1900
Magdalena to South Canyon end, alt to Socorro via Magdalena mountains.
25 miles

The skies cleared and the weather was supposed to be great the rest of the week. Time to hike! But first we had to finish the big plate of leftovers that Osiris and Michael had given us the night before. They were going to be closed for several days and hate wasting food, so they often give it away to customers. The plate was a sampling of mostly fresh stuff like salad and slaw that’s perishable. All stuff I’m in bad need of. So Pro tip for starving hikers: time your visit to Sunday night!

Having gotten only a 2 day resupply from the Family Dollar and Steer Stop (only ‘grocery-like’ places in town), we set off on our adjusted course for the Magdalena mountains. We were backtracking on the main route about 8 miles and would then take an alternate to Socorro. We chose this in lieu of the main route because we had missed the portion of the Magdalena Mountains when we bypassed Potato canyon in the San Mateos. We felt it’s important to the spirit of the hike to do as many of the mountain ranges as possible. We would be missing a section through San Lorenzo canyon but there were several canyons along the alternate route as well.

As we left the motel, we immediately ran into Donnie Chavez, who was working a construction project at the corner. He waved hi and we waved back…though I had to remind Stellar who he was. He wasn’t wearing his PBR jersey. It doesn’t take long to become quite well aquatinted in this small town. We walked down a long street, barely gaining the interest of the local dogs. As many rural places as we’ve walked through, I’m surprised we haven’t had any problems with dogs. They just seem really friendly everywhere, or not even caring about us. The street turned into the road to Kelley, an old mining town. These days, well, read the sign…population 2 says it all.

You can buy the old church that’s for sale to become basically the owner of the town.

From there, we started a rough, rocky jeep trail that had one purpose: going up. This elevator road had me scrambling just to keep my balance. Like an ATV, I felt as though I might start sliding backwards if I didn’t keep my momentum going. The good news is that we were very quickly on the ridge with fantastic views of the desert and plains below. And snow! There was a beautiful fresh dusting on the ground and ice crystals lining the ponderosa pine needles. It felt like we were in a fairytale land, so opposed to the arid land below.

Another striking contrast was the green trees. We walked for miles through live forest today. In fact, not one area that we went through in this range was burned! The beauty of the intact forest made this my favorite mountain range in New Mexico so far. And to think that most of it isn’t even a part of the official route, it’s kind of ironic. I was so glad that we didn’t miss these mountains!

Also, the trails were some of the best we’ve experienced since the Gila… definitely maintained recently. Some parts were even better than the CDT through the Black Range. I took a picture of just one of about 10 blow downs that we crossed but mostly I was just capturing a memory of the nice trail and pretty snow cover. I actually love walking in snow, hearing the crunch, smelling the scent, seeing all the little animal prints, feeling the drips of it melting from the trees, experiencing the otherwise silence it seems to evoke… it’s all so refreshing. The new snow was just enough to be pleasant and not difficult. I slipped in a few places, mostly where there was old snow underneath, no big deal. What an overall treat this day was.

The first part of the trail involved a little clambering over rocks and along a narrow ridge. This was a highlight, though I was glad not to be doing it in bad weather (like we would have if we hadn’t altered course). The later parts had us going through pretty meadows and traversing the steep hills. I highly recommend the whole North Baldy Trail to anyone living in the area…it was so much fun.

The trail ended right at the base of South Baldy and the road to the observatory. There are actually a collection of about 5 buildings up there, most seemingly associated with the nearby university. The gate was closed but being on foot, we walked right on by… it’s quite liberating to be free of a vehicle. We can pretty much walk anywhere we want. There was a stile to walk through, so it seemed legit that they were allowing foot traffic anyway. We were in search of a reported water spigot (which we found and got nice water from) but also some peak-bagging. At 10,783′, South Baldy was the highest we’ve been, but only by 13′ over Mogollon Baldy. It also not on the official route or even the alternate but well worth the short side trip for the fantastic views.

So picture this. From South Baldy, I could see ahead to the final ranges left to cover on our route: the Manzanos/Manzanitas and the Sandia Crest near Albuquerque. I could also see 2 weeks ago back to the Mogollons… Whiteface Baldy and Mogollon Baldy were just barely peaking above a saddle between Grassy Lookout and Mount Withington in the San Mateos (thanks for that clue Peakfinder). Recall that from Mogollon Baldy, I could see the Pinaleños in Arizona. From the Pinaleños, I could see all the way back towards the start of the GET in the Superstitions. So from these 3 vantage points (Magdalenas, Mogollons, & Pinaleños), one can connect the dots of the whole route, some 800 miles! Isn’t that incredible? I sure think it’s neat.

We also had a fantastic view of snow-capped Mt Taylor to the north, which you may also recall was my self-imposed finish point of the CDT. At 11,305′, she’s a fine mountain to celebrate the conclusion of a grand thru-hike. Someday I may be able to connect the dots in every western state… I’m getting close. Peak-bagging is so much fun.

It was time to go down, which we did on another fun trail…the South Baldy no 11. Weeee I exclaimed all the way down. The trail rolled along with good banking and some switchbacks. We saw fresh footprints in the snow, which means someone had just hiked the trail this day or the day before. It’s nice to see these trails getting used. With road access and a nearby sizeable town, I guess it makes sense. We walked the road for a brief spell before the route wizard had us on another trail going up and over into a different canyon. The route wizard does his best to keep us off major dirt roads and highways and we generally dutifully follow along. We were on this trail all the way to the mouth of the canyon, where it dumped us out onto the desert plains.

We should have stopped short to take advantage of the inner protections of the canyon and nice ponderosa but we hiked until late to see if we could make it to a water tank. I didn’t really need water since I carried a lot from the observatory but it’s nice to have a little extra to wash up with…just a few splashes on the face goes a long ways. But the tank was dry, no big surprise. We had to make due with some scraggly pinions and junipers for camping. Cows were once again our unwilling companions for the night. I don’t care for such neighbors anymore, what with them always pooping in prime tent real estate. But what you gonna do? They don’t appreciate us taking their tree refuges probably either. It’s a more true meaning of the saying “fences make good neighbors.”

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