Mescalero Ridge • Highpoint: Lea County
• Llano Estacado Plateau

Date Climbed
January 2, 2000

4,476 feet


5 minutes


Cool and windy

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version

The highpoint cairn in the
setting sun, with my truck
in the background

N.M. PageMain Page


Lea County is in the southeast corner New Mexico. This is oil and ranch country, and culturally, Lea County seems to be a part of Texas that snuck inside the New Mexico border. The land is flat and featureless, and the air has a faint whiff of sulphur.

I was celebrated the great odometer rollover from 1999 to 2000 by driving to Big Bend National Park. I had hiked Franklin Mountain in El Paso on the last day of 1999, then celebrated the New Year at a blues bar in Alpine, Texas. On January 1, 2000, I hiked Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park. That had been the primary focus of this trip. Anything afterwards was unplanned, which brings me to Lea County.

After my Emory Peak hike, I had crashed again in Alpine, then early today I made a meandering drive north through the mountains in Jeff Davis County, Texas, doing a little scouting for a future Mount Livermore hike. I also scouted the highpoints of some of the flatter counties along the Pecos River, zig-zagging north through places like Orla, Mentone, Kermit and Andrews. Talk about desolate. I was slowly working my way back into New Mexico, and the weather was windy and getting windier: I had some little dust storms coming out of Andrews and even some tumbleweeds tumble by, just like in the movies.

Lea County lies on the Llano Estacado (the Staked Plain), a raised plateau straddling Texas and New Mexico and covering many thousands of square miles. Surrounding the Llano Estacado are some interesting cliffs and badlands (e.g. along Interstate-40 between Tucumcari NM and Adrian TX). Atop the plateau, however, it is utterly flat. The land up here slopes ever so slightly downward to the southeast, so that the highpoint would be in the northwest corner of the county.

Getting to the highpoint just meant a lot of driving. Eventually I worked myself onto US-380, then west into neighboring Chaves County, then south on state route NM-172 for about a mile. Reading the map carefully, NM-172 comes within feet of the Lea County boundary, and the presumed highpoint. I parked my truck nearby and walked to the highpoint, which was marked by a small rock pile. This seemed to be in the right place, and fence lines helped me gauge relative locations as well. To be sure, I walked the grassy scrub a little bit south and east. Not too exciting, but at least it's a county highpoint, and that amused me. I spent five minutes here before getting back into my truck and driving west some more.

Not far west of the highpoint is the Mescalero Ridge escarpment, a faint band of cliffs extending north and south for many miles and with about 200 feet of elevation differential. I am not sure if this is considered a boundary of the Llano Estacado, but an interpretive sign nearby seems to think so.

From here it was a 45-mile drive to Roswell, where I stayed the night and checked out the alien museums and murals. The next day, I made the long drive home to Phoenix. With Lea County now done, I was now two counties into what would be the full set of 33 New Mexico County Highpoints project, which I would complete in 2004. What a way to start!

(c) 2000, 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.