The Mountains of New Mexico

Black Mountain

Black Mountain as seen from the highway

Now about halfway there

On the lower slope

On the higher slope

Top, looking north

Southeast. I think that's the Sierra Rica in the distance, which lies mostly in Mexico. The town of Hachita is where the highway aims for, but not much can be seen

South: Big Hatchet Peak and Hachita Peak, both climbed by me in 2007

Walking back to my shiny thing I drive

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill as seen along NM-9

Hiking up slope

The humble top

View east, Animas the town is back there about 5 miles

View southwest down San Bernardino Valley, where New Mexico and Arizona connect

Two For The Road

Black Mountain (Hachita) • Beacon Hill (Animas)

I was on a quick overnighter to Deming, New Mexico. My plan had been to drive the Geronimo Trail through Arizona into far-southern New Mexico, then spend the night in Deming, and hike Little Florida Mountain, which I did this morning.

Now I was headed back to Arizona, and had identified a few easy peaks to climb on the way back. I was not picky, and I wanted them to be close to the highway, easy logistics and with public access. I chose Black Mountain, which lies slightly west of state route NM-146 a few miles north of the remote town of Hachita, and Beacon Hill, which lies south of route NM-9 a few miles west of the town of Animas.

In Deming, I topped the gas and got onto Interstate-10, heading west. I was in a line of cars in the right lane, and everyone started to go into the left lane because there was a broken-down truck on the right side, with its lights flashing and the orange cones on the road. Suddenly, a guy zooms up behind me in the left lane. He is unaware of why everyone is shifting over. He starts to change lanes to pass us on the right, right where the truck would be. So the guy in front of me (pulling a horse trailer), and me, we both eased over and straddled the lane stripe, essentially cutting him off from both lanes and forcing him to slow, at least until we were past the truck. Then we shifted back properly and let this guy zoom past us.

When driving on the lesser highways such as NM-9 and NM-11 (the one from Columbus to Deming), there does not seem to be this kind of horse's ass behavior. Granted, the volume of traffic is much lighter, but I only see this kind of stupid behavior on the interstates.

I was only on the interstate just long enough to get me to the exit for highway NM-146, signed for Hachita and Antelope Wells. On older maps, it is identified as NM-81.

Black Mountain
• Bureau of Land Management
• Cedar Mountains (Outlier)
• Grant County

Date: March 10, 2024 • Elevation: 4,904 feet • Prominence: 384 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 75 minutes • Gain: 364 feet • Conditions: Sunny and mild, sometimes strong breeze

New MexicoMainPBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

Now off the interstate and its cast of ne'er-do-wells, I motored south on NM-146. Black Mountain was first on the agenda. It lies about a dozen miles south, a volcanic mound jutting above the broad sandy desert plain, the only such feature of its kind. Its black rocks contrasted sharply with the tans and browns of the desert. It is ostensibly a part of the Cedar Mountains which lie a few miles east, but in truth, it's just a singular feature set apart from any larger range.

I enjoyed the much more leisurely drive and felt no need to rush things. I kept the speed at about 60. No one passed me, I passed no one, and maybe one or two vehicles came up the other way. I could see Black Mountain the whole way. It lies on a section of public land, just north of a ranch. I eased off the highway onto South Wells Road. I could see the ranch buildings about a mile or two in the distance. My map showed the public-private land boundary to cut through the road about a half mile in, so I played it safe and parked just inside the fence from the highway, on public land.

The peak rose about a mile and a half on a straight line from me. I left a note in my windshield in case someone was wondering why I was here. I packed light, just wearing my jacket with my drinks stuffed into the pockets. It was sunny but chilly, temperatures in the high 50s, with a gentle breeze. I started walking on a direct line toward the peak, the time about 10:50 a.m..

The walk was extremely easy. The desert here was very flat with hard-pack sand and light gravel. There were patches of low grass and also patches of literally nothing — just sand. It was solid sand, too, not the soft kind. Cow paths helped when passing through the grassy segments. It was probably too cold for snakes, but I kept an eye out for them anyway. I also came upon a full cow skull... and no other bones nearby.

I walked to the south base of the mound, a walk of about a mile. Slowly, the grade increased and the ground featured small scattered blackened boulders. Then progressivly more boulders and steeper grades until I was now actually on the mound, all boulders by now.

I angled right and started uphill. The grade was consistent but there were two points where things jumbled up and I had to carefully step up through these heaped piles of rocks, not quite cliffs, but steep enough to require hands for balance in a couple spots.

The second such jumble happened right below the top, and once above it, was essentially on the summit, just a few more yards away. The top is open and rocky, with a couple small antenna propped up in the rocks, with a solar panel nearby supplying power.

Views were expansive. This mound lies by itself in a huge plain, so there were no nearby peaks to view, just a lot of desert, and distant mountain ranges. It was breezier up here and chilly. I walked around and shot a few photos, looked for a register (no luck), and made a half-hearted attempt to locate the "Negro" benchmark.

A previous visitor said that the benchmark has been removed. The datasheet does not list any recoveries of the benchmark and its witness markers past 1958. The mark was stamped "Negro", which I strongly suspect was used simply as the Spanish word for "Black", given the mound is so much darker than the surrounding terrain, and not some pejorative use of the word. But all such place names were scrubbed about 60 years ago and replaced invariably by "Black". The datasheet just uses the PID number as its station name. All of this is moot, since the markers are gone.

I hiked down the same way, being careful not to slip or bust an ankle on the jumble of rocks. Back on the desert flats, I made excellent time aiming back for my car, with not a single pointy plant or crumbly arroyo to contend with. This is some nice desert they have here. I was gone for a little over an hour.

I drove into Hachita the town, which is always interesting. It was an old mining town, then a railroad town, that was at its height in the first half of the 20th Century, but since the mines closed and the railroad shut down, the town has withered into about as small a town that can still exist to be functional. Apparently, it's popular with people hiking the Continental Divide Trail as a key stop, being so close to the southern terminus.

In Hachita, I got onto NM-9 and aimed west. The town of Animas is another 30 miles distant. My next peak, Beacon Hill, lies five miles west of Animas.

Beacon Hill
• Bureau of Land Management
• Peloncillo Mountains
• Hidalgo County

Elevation: 4,742 feet • Prominence: 342 feet • Distance: 0.4 mile • Time: 40 minutes • Gain: 420 feet • Conditions: Sunny, slightly warmer

PBLoJUSGS BM Datasheet

I passed through Animas quickly, which isn't hard to do. Animas is a little more functional than Hachita. This area is used for farming (including cotton) and ranching. Whereas Hachita has virtually no open businesses, Animas at least has a pizza place, a tiny grocery, and some feed stores.

I stayed on NM-9 until driving abeam of Beacon Hill. It stands out for its conical profile, and the fact it is so close to the highway, less than a quarter-mile away. The land here is BLM also, but fenced and no easy access to any of the roads behind the fencing. I parked off the highway about thirty feet. I don't like parking alongside highways, but so few cars pass here I figured it would be okay.

I stepped over the barbed-wire fence, then down into the old railroad bed, this being the old El Paso & Southwestern Railroad route that ran from the late 1800s through about the mid 1900s. The railroad itself was torn up in the 1960s. There's nothing left except for some black rock ballast that lied beneath the ties and rails. Up the opposite side, I saw a small concrete foundation that may have been related to the railroad, but I had no way to kow that for sure.

The climb is just a steep grunt uphill to the top. The lower slopes were moderate, some brush but mostly open. The rocks were mainly granitic and sometimes loose, sliding atop one another. The grade got steeper closer to the top and some of the rocks required hands for balance, but there was no mystery to this bump and I was on top after about twenty minutes, a 420-foot gain.

The top is bare rock with a tiny antenna. In the old days, it was home to the "Phoenix El Paso Awy Bcn 26 B" airway beacon, but no hint of any such beacon or structure remains. Views were excellent. I especially liked the view to the southwest, down the broad San Bernardino Valley that cuts through New Mexico and Arizona. The Chiricahua Mountains to the west were still covered in snow on its highest crests.

As usual, I didn't spend much time up top. There was no register, so I just turned and started down, taking about the same amount of time to descend down the slopes. It was warmer, into the mid-60s, and these kind of flat rocks are what snakes like to hide under. I was careful to keep an eye out for them. I was back to my car after another twenty minutes.

This hike went fast and was easy, which was all I asked. It was something to do to break up the drive. Once back in my vehicle, I continued west to highway NM-80, then south to the town of Rodeo, then into Arizona and back home via Douglas. I had a little scare on the stretch between Dougles and Bisbee when a cop SUV came running up fast behind me, but he passed me and the guy in front of me for some situation up ahead as we saw a couple minutes later.

This was a good little get-away and I am happy I did it. I enjoy this remote outback of New Mexico and Arizona and only am now barely scratching the surface of what and where I can explore out this way.

(c) 2024 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. .