This last Sunday, my wife and I, along with our dog Chester, explored an unexpected geological treasure near Las Cruces. It’s appropriately called “Slot Canyon,” and as my wife noted, it looked like it could have been on the set of an Indiana Jones movie.
It’s a very narrow canyon gouged by rushing water though the sedimentary rock in the Robledo Mountains, northwest of Las Cruces about halfway up the road to Hatch. The trail through the bottom of the canyon is as narrow as a foot wide in some places, and the walls reach 50 or 60 feet high, obscuring the sky and sun along much of its quarter-mile route. The canyon zigs and zags through distinct layers of sedimentary rock, some with compressed fine sand and others with larger aggregate.
The trail is off of New Mexico highway 185 and the trailhead is not marked, but relatively easy to find. You have to climb over a locked green gate (or if you’re Chester’s size, scramble under a barbed wire fence) to start on the easy to follow trail. It’s on land that is part of the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Park. If you go to https://www.alltrails.com/ and enter “slot canyon” you will see several slot canyons listed around the country, including one near Las Cruces. Click on that and it will give you the information you need about the trail.
We greeted several other hikers and dogs on Sunday morning, so the trail may get crowded at times . The canyon is so narrow that you should probably take a mask to wear during these COVID-19 times in case you come face to face with someone and have no room to socially distance. I think winter is a great time to go — just bundle up because it’s chilly in the always shaded heart of the canyon. Later in the spring or summer might not be so good because of the chance of encountering rattlesnakes. And if there is any thunderstorm activity in the area, you’d definitely want to avoid the canyon.
The hike up to and through the main part of the canyon is very easy, about a mile round trip. There is a longer loop trail above the canyon that gives you nice views of the Robledo Mountains, the Uvas Mountains and the Rio Grande Valley. All worth a short drive up the valley from Las Cruces.
The main takeaway is that you can always find interesting places to explore right outside your door if you just take the time. And in these months with lots of sitting around the house, isn’t that a good option to have?