Mesa Leon • Highpoint: Guadalupe County

Date Climbed
October 21, 2001

Elevation
6,339 feet

Distance
5 miles round trip

Time
2.25 hours

Gain
600 feet

Conditions
Clear and dry

Prominence
359 feet

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Mesa Leon

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Guadalupe County is about a two hour drive east of Albuquerque along Interstate-40, situated on high-elevation plateau with the occasional mesa sticking up out of the flats toward the west end of the county. The highpoint is Mesa Leon, located near the county's western county line about 10 miles north of the town of Vaughn, 25 miles south of the interstate. The previous day I spent 8 hours hiking 15 miles to snag the Torrance and Valencia county highpoints in the Manzano Range about 50 miles west. After finishing that hike, I drove to the town of Vaughn, arriving about 5 p.m. I decided to scout Mesa Leon but realistically didn't consider hiking it as the sun was starting to set. I stayed at the Bel-Air Hotel on the town's east side.

This was my second attempt at Mesa Leon. In March 2000, I made an attempt after an overnight storm had moved in and started dropping snow. While it wasn't a heavy storm, the snow was big and wet and not collecting very fast so I went for it. I drove the dirt road 4F (it isn't easy to find!) to a ranch on Mesa Leon's west side. I entered through the west gate and drove some bumpy ranch roads up into the mesa to a sharp turn in the road at elevation 6,125 feet, about one mile east of the highpoint. Along the way in, I passed a herd of cattle just standing around in the snow.

I could not find the road, shrouded in the snow, so I started to hike, but the low clouds, snow on the ground and falling snow around me effectively whited everything out. I couldn't see the mesa top, and after about a half-mile of hiking, I decided to return to my truck. This turned out to be wise because I could hear "mooing" and cowbells: the stupid beasts had followed my truck up the road and were coming up to meet me! I got back to my truck just as the herd (about 30 strong) was about 100 feet away. I was most relieved that I did not have to hike amid them. Driving out was challenging as they stayed on the road and only patience and revving my engine would get them to slowly move aside. I left the area and headed south to Carlsbad and a visit to the Caverns.

This time, I had fabulous late-October weather. No winds, mild temperatures and complete dryness. I woke early and drove Road 4F (Access is from the west end of town on W. Main street to Cedar Avenue, then around and down to a train crossing). There are two options to access this mesa: the gated west entrance and a gated south entrance. The west entrance gate is usually unlocked and can get your vehicle to within one mile of the highpoint, as I did a year ago. But it is not clear whether this is entirely legal, as there is a ranch house near the area, so I was concerned about attracting attention to myself. So I opted for the gated and locked south entrance.

Where Road 4F makes a sharp bend west, a two-track road continues north a half-mile to the south gate. It did offer good cover for my vehicle and hence would not attract attention to myself. There is a small, beaten, weathered sign that at first glance has nothing on it. I had to hold it at an angle to see that at one time it said "No hunting nor trespassing". I ruminated on this one for a moment then gave myself permission to enter. From this gate there is a sandy road that goes north (and meets up with the road from the west gate). I could see fresh cattle prints, horseshoe prints, vehicle tracks but no human prints. This is a working ranch, no doubt, but I'm not entirely sure where the headquarters are. "Lobo Ranch" signs are everywhere, but not on lands that I walked. The land-use map shows some public lands in the area, surrounded by private lands.

The road goes north about a mile and gains about 150 feet until it reaches the base of the mesa. The road continues and eventually curls into a natural amphitheater on the mesa's west side but I opted to leave the road and climb directly up the mesa's side. Here, the cliffs weren't too imposing. Mostly big rocks and heavy brush, but in about 15 minutes I was on top of the mesa. I hiked due east down into this amphitheater. Mostly it was open with shin-high grasses, cheat-grass, some low cactus and the usual scrub. Pinon pine and juniper trees fringed this area.

According to the map I should have re-met with the road but other than what looked like a ditch, I saw no road, so I continued due east and climbed another rocky slope to achieve the main body of the mesa plateau. Up on top, I was in a pinon and juniper forest, just sparse enough to allow me to see about a 300-foot radius around me. I walked east and crossed a slight rise, a region that includes one of the two 6,330-foot contours that define the highpoint. Finally, I came upon the road at a point where it dips slightly between the two highpoint areas.

The second 6,330-foot contour was about another 10-minute's walk east. After about 15 minutes of wandering within this highpoint contour, I finally found the knee-high cairn, benchmark, and the remains of an old lean-to. The benchmark is at 6,339 feet and is highly likely to be the highpoint, higher than the first contour area I crossed. The whole hike in, including wandering around on top, took 1 hour and 20 minutes.

On the hike out I followed the road most of the way until it became rockier and faded into nothingness. I suspect that ditch I crossed first might have been the road. Either way, it's virtually undrivable for about a 200-foot section. At this point I went cross-country again, down-climbed the mesa and walked out the lower ranch road back to my truck. No one had bothered me the whole time but I was concerned I'd get caught or hassled so I walked fast, but as it turned out I was totally safe. The walk out took just under an hour. Overall the hike was 5 miles round trip and about 600 feet of gross gain. I enjoyed it.

I drove back to my hotel, showered up, then drove into Albuquerque to kill time before flying out that night. I wanted a place to nap in air-conditioned comfort, so I found one of those dollar theaters and watched the remake of "Planet of the Apes", or more accurately, slept through it, as was my plan.

(c) 2001, 2011 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.