The Mountains of New Mexico
South Baldy Peak • Highpoint: Socorro County
• Highpoint: Magdalena Mountains
• Cibola National Forest

Ringo the kitty

A friendly dog in Magdalena

South Baldy from a distance

The shack where we parked

Mountain cattle

Me also

The road up (or down
as we followed it)

Date: (1) September 3, 2000; (2) September 4, 2005 • Elevation: 10,783 feet • Prominence: 3,803 feet • Distance: 1 mile hike • Time: 2 hours drive, 20 minutes hike • Gain: 200 feet • Conditions: Sunny in 2000, cloudy and cool in 2005

New MexicoPB

South Baldy Peak is the highest point of the Magdalena Mountains in central New Mexico, west of the town of Socorro. The peak is topped by observatories, including the Langmuir Lightning Laboratory and the new Magdalena Ridge Observatory, which at 10,600 feet above sea level, is the fourth highest observatory in the world, according to their website.

The summit region of South Baldy Peak is a big place, with broad open ridges and room to build big buildings. It's not a mountaineering or hiking challenge, but it is worth a visit, if only for the drive, the amusement factor, and the high-elevation cows.

First Visit, September 2000: Today, I had climbed Mount Taylor, finishing that hike by 10 a.m., with most of a day still to burn. From Grants, I drove south toward Socorro, bypassing Albuquerque by taking a lesser state route to Los Lunas on Interstate-25, then to Socorro. I then merged into US-60 and drove west up to the Water Canyon entrance, in the north foothills of the Magdalena Range. It was 3 p.m. when I arrived and the thunderstorms seemed to be taking the day off, so I decided to drive up today and not wait until tomorrow.

The road from US-60 leads up into Water Canyon for a few miles, coming to the Water Canyon Campground. Here, the pavement ends, but a decent dirt road continues up to the Langmuir Laboratory (as it was signed in 2000). I followed this road for a dozen miles to its end, at an old gate spanning the road short of the summit, which itself is a bare hump visible past the gate. The drive took an hour and was moderately rough, but not too bad (it needed a good grading). I parked in a wide area near the gate.

I barged up the steep hillside to gain the main ridge. From here it was an easy walk to the top, the hike taking all of 10 minutes. Lots of metal-work is spread out everywhere, including mesh screens, which I am guessing "enhance" the likelihood of lightning strikes. I could see the actual lab buildings a distance away, probably another half-mile past the gate on the road. I descended back to my truck and made the rumbly, bumpy drive to US-60 in another hour. I drove to Socorro and south some more to Truth or Consequences.

Second Visit, September 2005: βð and I were planning a Labor Day getaway to New Mexico. We planned to hike Mount Taylor and South Baldy Peak, but decided to skip Mount Taylor and concentrate on the areas around South Baldy, including the Very Large Array, the San Mateo Range, the communities of Datil and Reserve, and the Plain of San Augustin.

We left Friday afternoon and drove north and east through Payson and Springerville to Datil (NM) along US-60, arriving at 9 p.m.. In a slight drizzle, we pulled into an open campsite at the Datil Well National Recreation Area, and pitched the tent. With cloudy skies and no moon, and no city lights nearby, everything was black. My lantern gave me enough light to get the tent erected. We ate dinner in the cab of the truck as the rain picked up, and had a decent night's sleep in the tent. The rain gave away during the night and we awoke the next morning to cool weather and dense fog.

We explored the Datil Well campground. This was one of a few dozen wells strung out along a 200-mile corridor called the Magdalena Cattle Highway, in which stockmen drove their herds eastward to the trains in Magdalena for market. It was one of the largest of its kind and was active up until about 1970. We stopped in the town of Datil (pronounced "daddle"), read the amusing poems on the ceiling of the gas station, and got moving. We went east along US-60 about 35 miles through the town of Magdalena and another 10 miles to the Water Canyon entrance toward South Baldy Peak, arriving to the turn off about 9:30 a.m.

From here to the top was smooth sailing, the road having been improved. We parked at a turnout near a guard shack, a few hundred feet short of the gate, and below a trailhead for the North Baldy trail. A small herd of cattle sat in the open meadow grass and watched us, but after a few minutes they got up and moved on ... about twenty feet higher up the hill.

We hiked the trail up to the ridge, turned left, and followed a path to the top. We snapped photos, then walked the road down the other side, coming back to the main road on the grounds of the Langmuir Labs, then walked the main road back to our truck. It was cool and breezy, with moderate cloudiness. The drive down went well and the entire round trip took 2 hours.

We stopped in Magdalena for lunch and a visit to the local shops. We were told a new optical observatory is being built on a peak east of South Baldy (we had seen the construction). The telescope is a joint venture between New Mexico Tech University and Cambridge University in England. We were told that Prince Andrew himself had cut the ribbon. We stayed the night in Magdalena when the rains picked up. Here, we met Ringo the kitty. He let us pet him and he entertained us with his jumping ability, plus his overall friendliness.

The next day we visited the Very Large Array as well as a hasty drive and visit to the lookout atop Mount Withington.

(c) 2005, 2019 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.