Cerros de Alejandro • Highpoint: McKinley County
• Mesa Chivato

"Alejan Hill"

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Date: September 2, 2000 • Elevation: 9,166 feet • Prominence: 616 feet • Distance: 4 miles • Time: 90 minutes • Gain: 900 feet • Conditions: Sunny and pleasant

The Cerros de Alejandre are a series of volcanic mounds sitting atop Mesa Chivato in western New Mexico, north of Mount Taylor. The highest of these plugs, called Alejan, is the highest point in McKinley County. I drove all the way here specifically to visit this highpoint, plus nearby Mount Taylor and a few other peaks for this Labor Day weekend.

I left home early and drove to the towns of Grants and Milan along Insterstate-40, arriving about 1 p.m. The day was warm and sunny with puffy clouds that could form into thunderstorms later on. I took my chances and headed in toward the Cerros de Alejandro. I followed State Route NM-605 for 24 miles north to San Mateo. Actually, I bypassed San Mateo and took side roads past Lee Ranch and slowly up a steep road (Cibola National Forest Road 456) that led up onto the plateau. So far, the roads were excellent.

After 4 miles on FR-456, it turns into FR-239 at a junction. I stayed on FR-239 at all subsequent junctions. The forest cover was thick, but opened up the more north I drove. After seven more miles, the road comes to a gate and a mailbox. After the gate, however, the road deteriorates, with lots of rocks and ruts for the next six miles. I never got out of first gear the whole way past the gate.

I finally came to a junction with a dry pond and a corral, and a road that went east. This road is supposedly open to the public, but on this day it was closed. I somehow timed my arrival for the second day of elk hunting season. This may have been why they shut the road, to protect against overuse by vehicles. I was close to "Alejan Hill" anyway.

From the parking area, I walked east on the closed road (open to hikers) for a mile, going up and over a soft rise to get past the lower foreground hills. I walked southeast cross-country through the scrub toward a prominent and obvious northwest ridge to the summit. The hill is a mix of open grass, rock outcrops and thick brush. I was able to zig and zag up the hill, avoiding the brush, and quickly arrived on top, a rounded hump marked by a small collection of cairns and old wooden planks.

I stayed for about 20 minutes and relaxed. Mount Taylor dominates the view to the south, while other distant ranges dot the horizon. In the immediate vicinity were numerous hills similar to Alejan, and a couple of old volcanic plugs sticking up out of the plateau like big splinters. Soon, I headed down and ended up walking out with a group of four hunters who had walked in earlier but had no luck. The group consisted of two men, a woman and a child of about 7, all in fatigues and carrying archery equipment. They were very nice and we chatted as we walked out. My round trip hike took about 90 minutes and covered four miles.

Mighty Mount Taylor to the immediate south was next on my agenda, but by the time I drove the road back out to the interstate it was nearly 5 p.m. so I decided to wait until the next morning, which was a good idea since the weather acted up that evening. It turns out that I could have taken one of the side roads to Mosca Peak and a quick short hike to Mount Taylor from there, but I didn't know that at the time. It was just as well as the hike the next day went very well and was lots of fun, too. I stayed in Grants at an old-timey hotel for $20.

Since my ascent, the access issue for the Cerros seems to have become a little less clear. The Forest Roads to the stock pond (where I drove to) are still forest roads and open to the public when the Cibola Forest people decide it's safe (the gate with mailbox I mentioned is sometimes closed seasonally). However, some people have reported new fencing in the area. Naturally, who owns it, or what is really going on, is never very clear. The land in and around Alejandro is a checkerboard of public and private or state trust lands.

(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.