Mescalero Ridge • Highpoint: Lea County
• Llano Estacado Plateau

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

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Date: January 2, 2000 • Elevation: 4,476 feet • Prominence: none • Distance: 0.1 mile • Time: 5 minutes • Gain: 1 foot • Conditions: Clear and windy

I was visiting Texas celebrating the New Year of 2000, and spending a couple enjoyable days in the Big Bend National Park, ringing in the 2000s with a New Year's day hike up Emory Peak. I had achieved the main objectives of my trip: drinking in the New Year at a West Texas bar, and hiking Emory Peak. Now I was on an aimless drive generally west back towards Arizona, with no particular plan in mind.

I started the day in Alpine, Texas, and spent most of the day touring the fascinating and desolate Pecos River Valley in and around the communities of Orla, Kermit, Mentone and Andrews. By the time I drove into Andrews, the winds had picked up and were blowing dust and tumbleweeds across the road, just like in the movies.

I entered into New Mexico from Andrews, now in Lea County, the southeasternmost county in New Mexico. Physically and culturally, Lea County is indistinguishable from Texas. It's a flat desert county devoted to ranching and petroleum extraction. The scent of sulphur is omnipresent.

I had prepared maps of the various county highpoints in New Mexico and as luck has it, Lea County's highpoint is very simple. The county lies atop the Llano Estacado, and as a result, is as flat as a patch of land can be. The land here tilts ever so slightly to the southeast. Thus, the highpoint of Lea County is along its northwestern boundary.

I drove until I was on westbound US-380, passing into Chaves County. Immediately, I turned onto southbound NM-172 for about a mile. The highpoint is where two fencelines meet a little ways east of the highway. I parked and walked into the scrub, and quickly found the cairn. Because the land is so flat, I also walked south and east a little to ensure I had not missed any stray bumps. In moments, I was "done". By now, it was close to sunset, so I piled back into my truck and continued west on US-380, staying the night in Roswell.

Not far west of the highpoint is the Mescalero Ridge escarpment, a faint band of hills 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.

Back in 1994, I had climbed Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico (and ergo, the highest point in Taos County). Lea County's highpoint has the lowest elevation of all of new Mexico's 33 county highpoints. I was intrigued enough to visit the other 31 county highpoints, which I did, completing the task in October 2004.

(c) 2000, 2016 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.