Not Everyone's Idea of a "Florida Vacation"

Kilbourne Hole, West Potrillo WSA and Florida Mountains WSA

November 29-December 4, 2019

Those long winter holiday weekends present a special challenge because most of the places we'd like to hike and camp are sleeping under a blanket of snow. We're always looking for new places to explore close to the southern US border. Still, for years we overlooked the Florida Mountains of southern New Mexico. The Floridas are a small range — only about 12 miles long — but with jagged peaks soaring to nearly 7300', and opportunities aplenty for wilderness exploration.

rainstorm on I-10

We had to push this trip forward two days to escape unseasonal cold and huge storm that swept through the Southwest on Thanksgiving Day, dumping 22" on snow on Mount Lemmon and more than an inch of rain on Tucson. Cold, dreary days like this are why we moved to the Southwest!

Thanksgiving dinner in the camper

Fortunately we had booked two campsites at Faywood Hot Springs for the first and last nights of the trip. It was still bitterly cold — below freezing at night with wind gusts up to 45 mph.

Thanksgiving Dinner

Belated Thanksgiving dinner in the camper. Turkey, candied sweet potatoes, stovetop stuffing, instant gravy and homemade cranberry-orange sauce. Don't try this at home, but with wind howling and temperatures in the 30s, it tastes great!

Edge of Kilbourne Hole

The sun popped out on Saturday, but it was still cold and very windy. We headed for the relative calm of Kilbourne Hole, via a circuitous route that took us back and forth across the railroad tracks to avoid some sketchy-looking stretches of muddy water.

Looking across Kilbourne Hole

Kilbourne Hole is a "maar" crater that formed as a result of the explosive interaction of hot basaltic magma with groundwater during a volcanic eruption. We visited this area briefly two years ago, on our way to the Guadalupes.

Cattle Trail into Kilbourne Hole

We located a cattle path that took us down into the crater, where we were very happy to finally find some relief from the wind.

Old foundation

Near the crater bottom are remnants of a substantial ranching operation, including a large corral, a drilled well and many foundations. Photo by David.

Dry lake in Kilbourne Crater

The "dry lake" section at the very bottom of the crater.

group of hikers

David, Rogil and Dennis offering me a replacement hip bone for the one I cracked when I caught air off the camper steps two years ago.

chunks of olivine

I found a couple of nice chunks of olivine/peridot.

campsite in the West Potrillos

We had planned to camp where we did last time, in the nearby West Potrillo WSA. But since our last visit, signs have been posted barring motorized travel. A bit farther south, however, we found a great boondocking site on a sandy knoll.

sunset in the Potrillos

I swear, the West Potrillos have the most spectacular sunsets anywhere in the Southwest!

sunset in the Potrillos

Case in point. This is the view out the back of David and Rogil's "RV". Photo by David.

so much nothing

I don't know why I love this area so much. There's just something about it. Well, actually, there's NOTHING about it. Just so much nothing!

construction of border wall along NM 9

In the morning we continued south toward NM 9, a particularly desolate and lovely road that wanders just north of the Mexican border. I was very much taken aback to see the new border wall under construction in this unpopulated area.

border wall sections

The wall sections are stacked up for miles and miles in both directions, as far as the eye can see.

stone building, Mahoney Park

After a quick stop in the surprisingly cute little hamlet of Columbus, NM, we crept north on two-rut sand roads to Mahoney Park.

Mahoney Park hiker

From Mahoney Park, it is possible to hike along a very, very bad road about 2½ miles to the top of the ridge.

view from the west side of the Floridas

Great views to the west partway up the trail.

stopping for a photo

Stopping for a photo (and to catch my breath). Photo by David.

view from the west side of the Floridas

The "trail" is crazy steep and rocky, with some sections washed out to a depth of four feet or more. Photo by David.

stone cabin above Mahoney Park

There is a remarkably intact stone cabin in a saddle at 6400 feet.

view from the saddle

View from the cabin. The wooden box appears to be part of an old wagon.

Rogil and me

Rogil and me. Photo by David.

ice on the trail

Ice on the trail.

adit in Mahoney Park

One of many, many adits in the area.

icy vegetation in the sunset

Setting sun lighting up the frozen vegetation at the top of the ridge.

hikers heading downhill

David and Rogil heading back to camp.

sunset in Mahoney park

Shower night!!! The shower tent is a beast to set up, but the hot water sure felt good!

Spring Canyon

Monday morning we continued around the north end of the range to Spring Canyon State Park.

Lovers Leap Trail

"Lovers Leap" turned out to be a short and steep trail with splendid views.

relaxing with a beer

That afternoon we made our way farther south along a two-rut track to Tres Lomitas on the east side of the range. We found an adit, the remains of an unnamed mining camp and one very lethargic rattlesnake just north of Victorio Canyon. Time to put out the chairs and enjoy a beer.

campsite near Victorio Canyon

Our campsite was near the mine and very, very far from anywhere else.

mano metates

Tuesday's target was the Atir Mine in Lobo Canyon. Rogil and Dennis found what looked like mano metates in the rock just above a steep-sided wash.

collapsed bridge

David checks out a collapsed bridge across the canyon.

mill at Atir Mine

There's lots of evidence here of an old mining operation. The date on the foundation was 1942.

water tank, Atir Mine

David describing how an aerial tramway was used to transport the ore from the mountain to the mill.

mill at Atir Mine

A bit of research revealed a history that is not at all what I expected. From Luna Explorer, March 11, 2006:

Waddel Prospect/Atir mine, located right in the midst of Ibex country on the eastern side of the range. The Atir mine was first prospected in 1910, this resulted in a 90' adit that produced minimal results. The prospect of a big pay off, kept luring miners back to Atir over the years, however no production or tonnage extracted from the mine was ever recorded. In 1980, The Barite Corporation of America bought the holdings and using modern equipment drove a 775' long adit to intersect the elusive vein, but did not find enough ore to produce. This project known as The Waddell Prospect did discover a vein that consists primarily of barite and fluorite, the ore proved to be low grade and did not warrant further prospecting. Over the years the mine became known as a white elephant, which only added to its legend, making it the best known prospect mine in the Florida Mining District.
view from windmill looking east

From English Well, looking east toward the Organ Mountains.

Elisa's Restaurant

We made it to Elisa's House of Pies in time for lunch! The family that runs the place is so friendly and they serve simple, home-cooked Southern-style food.

Pie for four

But Elisa's pies, oh my!

peacoks on the roof

One last night at Faywood to relax and clean up. Peacocks in the sunset. A perfect winter trip!