Member Trip Report



Cruces Basin Wilderness Backpack, Northern New Mexico

September 4-7, 2009

Leader and Author: Jan Studebaker.

Participants: Kathleen Gruetzmacher with daughter Elena, Bill Priedhorsky, Jackie Little, Ron Morgan, Jan Watson, and Jan Studebaker.

Jan's Annotated Slideshow: click here.

Satellite View: click here.   Google Earth: click here.

Map with points of interest: click here (play with the options).

Paper Maps: Toltec Mesa 7.5 Quadrant USGS Map, and Cruces Basin Wilderness USFS Map.

I had been planning to do a backpack trip to Cruces Basin Wilderness for several years, but the right time never seemed to arrive.  In the meantime I talked to friends about the area, but few had even heard of it, and no one had done more than a day hike or a look into the basin from the dirt access road at 10,000' that overlooks it.  It was finally time to explore this beautiful and unique area on the New Mexico/Colorado boarder near San Antonio Mountain.

Ron, Jan (girl), Bill, Jackie, Elena, and Kathleen.  Jan (boy) is the photographer.

Cruces Basin is much like a huge funnel bordered by high rocky ridges. The canyons of Diablo, Beaver, and Cruces creeks drop down from the west to join near the center of the basin. Two miles below, and east, of the confluence of the three primary creeks, Beaver Creek plunges 800 feet through a truly spectacular gorge in Osha Canyon to join the Rio de Los Pinos in the bottom of the Toltec Gorge.  The Basins surrounding ridgeline roughly define the wilderness boundaries.

The Basin has no maintained trails or signage; however, the canyons which generally have crystal clear creeks (filled with wild brook trout) can be used to lead the way, as can the surrounding ridgeline.  Bill was happy with the fishing, but generally hiked with the group instead.  He plans to go back and make up for lost time.  We slept at around 9000' in September, so a tent and three season sleeping bag were in order.  This is generally considered the best time of year to visit the Cruces Basin.

One of many beautiful meadows in the Cruces Basin.

On the first day we drove to the trailhead, backpacked in about 2 miles (~500' vertical) and setup camp on Beaver Creek just east of the confluence of the three primary streams.  Our first day hike took us west to a high spot near camp for a grand view, our second day hike took us to the top of Toltec Mesa and an aborted attempt at reaching the Rio de Los Pinos through Osha Canyon.  The final day hike was a fairly thorough hike along and above Cruces Creek.  Our fourth day was an easy backpack out and drive home, with a well anticipated stop in Ojo Caliente for Spanish food.

Bill examines a deep frigid pool before taking a quick dip.

Getting to Cruces Basin via 25 miles of dirt and gravel roads is one reason that the wilderness is not frequently visited, but it is definitely worth the extra effort!  From Tres Piedras go north about 11 miles on US 285 to FR 87. Turn west and follow FR 87 through several junctions, passing FR 87A in about 21 miles.  A mile beyond FR 87A, turn right onto FR 572 (a rough road dropping downhill from the basins rim). Park within the next two miles (at the top if you are driving a passenger car), and hike the old road/trail to the canyon bottom (from 1 to 3+ miles depending on where you park).  This route roughly follows Osha Creek.  Low clearance vehicles require special care when driving here, but passenger cars with reasonable clearance can make it.  Roads might be nearly impassible in some places if mud or snow were present.

Notes: Be sure to view Jan's annotated slideshow to gain a better appreciation of our wonderful New Mexico 'backyard', and it's potential for an easy going and beautiful adventure.

Also, Jan repeated a variation of this trip on July 15-19, 2010, resulting in the following new slideshows: Dennis's annotated slideshow and Jin's annotated gallery  Again on May 27-30, 2011, Jan went to the Basin on Devin Close and Bill Priedhorsky's trip which produced Dave Gemeinhart's slideshow.

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Jan Studebaker

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