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On Walkabout Across: New Mexico’s Otero Mesa

Prior Posting: Across the Hueco Mountains


At the end of west Texas’ Hueco Ranch Road is the New Mexico state line:


Other than this sign there is no way to tell whether I was traveling in Texas or New Mexico.  The Otero Mesa is just a vast and remote desert wilderness where things like a state boundary means little to life here.  The mesa is composed mostly of flat grasslands covered with the occasional cactus or yucca tree:



In both of these pictures you can see some of the smaller hills of the Hueco Mountains on the New Mexico side of the border providing some relief from the flatness of this vast mesa.  Far to the north the high mountains of the beautiful Sacramento Mountains are easily seen from the mesa as well:


According to the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development website, this vast 2,400- square-mile area contains 1.2 million acres of public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Roughly half of the area is covered by grassland, including the largest remaining tract of black grama grass in North America’s Chihuahuan Desert. In addition to breathtaking landscapes, Otero Mesa features New Mexico’s only remaining native pronghorn antelope herds, a healthy mule deer population, a complex ecosystem full of native plants and more than 1,000 species of wildlife, including the rare Aplomado falcon.  Hidden below Otero Mesa’s grassland is a large reserve of groundwater known as the Salt Basin.

With such a vast grassland it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the mesa is used for cattle grazing by the few ranches that dot the mesa:


However, cattle has a much lower impact on this unique environment than the controversial plan to allow oil exploration on the mesa, which for now has been suspended.  As I continued to drive down the country road I took a moment to stop and take a picture of the Cerro Alto Mountain, the highest point in the Hueco Mountains to the west:


If you look closely in the above picture you can see a large airplane beacon tower that rises above the horizon.  As I continued down Country Road F001 the large volcanic peaks of the Cornudas Mountains came into view:


Half of the Cornudas Mountains lies in Texas while the other half lies in New Mexico.  The highest point of these remote mountains is Wind Mountain which rises to the lofty height of 7,280 feet.  However, Wind Mountain will be a peak that I will have to attempt some other time because on this day my reason for coming to Otero Mesa was to climb Alamo Mountain:


To reach Alamo Mountain I had to make a turn south on to County Road F018, which fortunately was well sign posted:


However, my next turn was a little bit more difficult to locate because the sign for F015 had been blown over:


I had to turn around and backtrack to find this road due to the sign falling down, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.  Soon I was on the right road heading for the mountain:


A four wheel drive vehicle is not necessary to traverse this road, but a sturdy vehicle is recommended.  There is also a fence you have to open to reach the base of the volcano.  Make sure you close any gates you pass through when driving on the various roads that traverse the mesa.  Along the road to Alamo Mountain I was fortunate enough to see a large herd of Pronghorn antelopes race across the road right in front of my truck and cluster off the road to the south:


As I stood outside to open a gate I noticed out in the distance the snow capped peaks of the Organ Mountains just outside of Las Cruces:


I also had a great view looking directly to the west of Cerro Alto Mountain once again:


Before I knew it I was in the heart of the Cornudas Mountains and the cattle stables that marks the start point for hikers heading up Alamo Mountain:


Next Posting: Hiking Up Alamo Mountain

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