San Lorenzo Canyon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI stopped at San Lorenzo Canyon (a BLM Recreation Area) on the same day that I scouted out the road to the Sierra Ladrones  Mountains. This was just sort of an add-on side trip and I had no idea what I was going to find. This seems to be a well-kept secret unless you live around Socorro, New Mexico.  But, hey, I’ll drive fifteen miles just to eye-ball a natural feature any day.

Getting there is a little tricky. Coming south on I-25 out of Albuquerque, take Exit 163 and cross over the interstate. This is San Acacia. Look for the frontage road heading south and turn right (south) and continue driving a couple miles. You will see two small underpasses that cross to the west side of the highway. Take the second underpass and follow the dirt/gravel road west several miles. There are several dirt roads…stay on the one that looks most travelled. You will eventually come to a sign  pointing the way to the canyon. These back country roads might require high clearance and four-wheel drive if weather and road conditions have deteriorated. It’s  about 5 miles on the dirt road. I’ve included a map at the end of this post that might help. There’s an alternative published route from a few miles to the south if you are in Socorro.  The area can be reached by taking the western frontage road north from Lemitar (along I-25) and driving about 5 miles. At that point, visitors follow a maintained dirt road west which will go to the main canyon. Google maps do not seem to be current in this area. Sevillita National Wildlife Refuge is just to the north of San Lorenzo Canyon (Strangely, the refuge office/museum is not open on weekends).

At any rate, it takes some effort to get there but it is well worth the trip. You might see other visitors as the place is locally known. There will be some evidence of horseback riders along the canyon road.

I only scratched the surface during my visit and I didn’t venture very far off the road. There are trails going this way and that so it seems like people just ramble up the canyon as they please.  Rather than having me babble on, I’ll just post some pictures and add a few comments.


If you see this, you are on the right track. This is a pretty classic example of a geologic unconformity with horizontal layers of sedimentary rocks laid over a bed of eroded tilted layers. This is exposed as part of the Rio Grande Rift zone.

The first view of the canyon doesn’t give much of a hint as to what follows..

Things start to get interesting…

Hoodoo you think you’re foolin’?


There are a few brave survivors showing their blooms — and the invasive Tamarisk.



I mostly had the place to myself on the day I visited.

Alcoves, arches, a slot canyon and rock shelters line the route up the canyon. There are some springs, I’m told, up near the head of the canyon where you might see some wildlife.

Watch the sky — don’t get caught by a flash flood.

I only spent about an hour at San Lorenzo Canyon but this could easily be an all day trip in the right weather. There are no facilities so bring plenty of drinking water.



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Wandering Toward the Outlaw Mountains

cropped-p61200291.jpgIf you take a look at the header image on this blog you will see a huge expanse of New Mexico desert, green from a rare period of frequent rains, and in the distance a shadowy hulk of a mountain. The mountain is a cluster of mountains called the Sierra Ladrones, the Outlaw Mountains, and they are about forty miles off in the distance from the camera.

These mountains are isolated from any other mountain range and are considered a “massif” in geologic terms. They sit like an island, complete unto themselves. Unlike many of the other local mountains, the Sierra Ladrones are not volcanic but are an up-thrust of Precambrian rock that somehow, through ancient tectonic movements, managed to rise above the surrounding surface and withstood erosional forces over the eons of time. Ladron Peak reaches 9,176 feet in elevation, some 4,000 feet higher than the Rio Grande valley to the east. Monte Negro, a secondary peak, rises to 7,572 feet. Most of this is BLM land but Sevillita National Wildlife Refuge includes part of the southeastern slope.


I have been fascinated by the Sierra Ladrones and always look for them when I venture south from Albuquerque. They play hide and seek. Now you see them — now you don’t. That’s because of the terrain and the Interstate 25 highway route that follows the Rio Grande south to Socorro and Truth or Consequences…that’s where the people live, after all. Not many people live up near the Sierra Ladrones; only a few isolated ranches and a few ranchers running cattle on open range. It would be a hard place to raise a family, albeit a beautiful place.

On a whim, I decided to see if I could get close to the mountains and maybe find a way to get up into them. I’m no mountain climber or even an endurance hiker so it would depend on finding a road. After a little searching on Google and my highway map I found that Socorro County Road 12 would be the way to get close. There are a few webpage accounts of hikers and climbers venturing up into the mountains and there is a wilderness study area described on one webpage — CR 12 seemed to be the preferred route. This is an unpaved road running from Bernardo, past the “ghost” town of Riley to Magdalena, on US 60. The sign says it all.


The route out of Bernardo follows a portion of “old” Highway 60, or maybe “old” Highway 84 depending on the map. There’s not much there — a KOA campground and a rickety bridge over the Rio Puerco.  This is the paved part…okay, mostly paved…but the pavement runs out just past the bridge where you take a hard right onto CR 12. You are pretty much on your own from here. I think I saw three ranch trucks all day until I got back close to the interstate.

The road is certainly unpaved and for much of the early portion it has a jarring wash-board surface that almost makes you want to turn around. Maybe that’s intentional to keep the faint-hearted folks out. After that it gets better and turns into a bumpy but reasonably well maintained dirt and gravel road.


This is mostly BLM land. Some of it it fenced and some is just open range. I didn’t keep track of my mileage but after about five miles or so you encounter power lines.   I lost track of the number of cattle guards I crossed but there were plenty. If you do see an approaching rancher’s truck you will see the dust long before you see the vehicle.  There was always a wave.


I’ve said often enough that I have the curiosity of a fourth grader even though I’m almost sixty-seven. I can’t remember the last time I took a walk and didn’t find something that caught my interest. A lot of times my pockets are full of rocks or seeds or something that warrants closer attention. When I’m out walking I’m looking at plants and the geology, mostly. There are animal tracks and burrows and places where some unseen drama took place. Luckily, I’ve not yet encountered a rattlesnake…yet.  Mostly there were lizards, a few birds and a desert cottontail. The ground was desert sand and dust. It made me think of decomposed tuff or volcanic ash, probably blown in over the centuries from the ample number of ancient eruptions. There is an active magma body under Socorro and TorC that fuels the local hot springs.

I paused at a dry arroyo but there was no exposed bedrock. About a third of the rocks I saw strewn around on the surface was milky quartz — sometimes an indicator of a nearby vein of some type of ore. Where I’m from I’ve seen that with a little silver and tungsten ore. There were also some nice examples of reddish feldspar-rich granite. I always wonder how these fist-sized rocks appear out of nowhere.

Some of the plants I know, like the Apache Plume growing wild through the area. They sell that as a popular ornamental and out here it looks healthier than in my yard. There was a woody, yellow-flowered bush that I didn’t recognize. It seemed to be full-grown at about three feet tall.  Most prominent is the cholla forest stretching all the way to the mountain. Some were in bloom and being visited by bees…who manage to survive out here somehow.

There doesn’t seem to be much available for cattle to eat or enough water to keep them alive. They seem to do quite well, anyway. I saw several young calves running through the cholla and a small “herd” staring at me on one of the tracks leading off of the county road.


As I said, I was out here wandering with no particular agenda or goal. I had no expectation of actually getting up into the mountains but was just looking for a possible route. I got a late start and it was well into the afternoon and I was twenty-some miles out on an unpaved road. It was a gorgeous day and it lifted my spirits…I’ve been a little glum lately.


From the higher elevation you can look back towards the Rio Grande valley and see the dark colors of the river bosque and the wetlands and across to Black Butte and the mountains beyond the valley.


Clouds were building by the late afternoon and it was time to head back home. The danger is more from lightning than from rain but there are some arroyos that would be subject to flash flooding. I’m satisfied that I’ll be able to continue this trip at a future date. There will probably be a part two at some point.


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