Cloudcroft and Hiking the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

A village in the clouds – sounds romantic, no? Cloudcroft, an old English word meaning covered or shrouded in clouds, is a sleepy little town nestled in the high alpine region of the Sacramento Mountains. It played an important role during the expansion of the rail line in the early 1900s, and remains a popular summer and winter getaway to this day.

In this post, I take a short look into Cloudcroft’s history and how the nearby Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail came to be.

Cloudcroft, New Mexico, USA

To visitors not familiar with this part of the southwestern United States, it might seem a bit jarring when the scenery changes drastically as you drive up US 82 from Alamogordo. It might feel like one moment, you’re in the dry desert of the Tularosa Basin, and in a blink of an eye, you’re surrounded by the dense, lush trees of the Lincoln National Forest!

9,000 feet (2743 meters) above sea level lies the resort village of Cloudcroft. The most famous of the buildings here, The Lodge, was a retreat managed in the 1930s by hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and has hosted numerous famous guests including Judy Garland, Gilbert Roland, Clark Gable, and Poncho Villa. It’s even said that scientists working on the secret Manhattan Project would come up for a getaway from the sweltering heat!

A quaint mountain village

It’s an ideal place for vacationers as there’s loads to do for Indoor and outdoor enthusiasts alike!

For those wanting to do a bit of shopping, the stores along Burro Street Boardwalk offers various handmade souvenirs, gourmet candies, and an art gallery. You can even dress up in old time-y gear for a photo op!

For a more authentic taste of settler life, one may visit the Sacramento Mountains Museum and Pioneer Village. Exhibits there detail the early hardships of constructing the railroad and subsequent difficulties in establishing the area’s early farming and ranching industry.

Up here in the mountains, the average temperature in the summer reaches about 74°F (23°C) with lows of around 44°F (7°C). On the opposite end, the highs in winter often range from about 50°F(10°C) to 20°F(-7°C).

Nature lovers wanting to escape the rigors of city life will find a haven in the 48,000 acres of open forest surrounding Cloudcroft. Popular activities include hiking, camping, mountain biking, bird watching, and horseback riding. In the winter, skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating take over. For those with an RV, some spots even offer wifi!  Visitors wanting more amenities may find affordable accommodation and restaurants in town.

Cloudcroft owes its existence to the early railroad and timber industry. One remnant of which is still visible today: The Mexican Canyon Trestle

The Cloud Climbing Railroad

On a past post about Alamogordo (see it here!), I mentioned how the Eddy brothers organized the construction of the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad in 1898. It was imperative to find a steady supply of timber to continue their railroad’s construction, and this abundant forest in the Sacramento Mountains provided the answer! As an added bonus, the Eddy brothers’ land surveyor found the area highly agreeable, inspiring the brothers to take on an additional financial venture in tourism. Thus, Cloudcroft was created as a luxury mountain resort to bring in passengers on the rail line.

For the locomotives to traverse across valleys and chasms en route, trestles were constructed. The Mexican Canyon Trestle featured in this post was one of the 58 timber trestles built for the Eddy brothers’ 30-mile Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway (A&SM) section that connected to their larger El Paso line. This particular track was nicknamed the “Cloud Climbing Railroad” and ran as both a freight and passenger line from 1899 to 1947, when it was forced to close due to the establishment of U.S. Hwy 82 and the rising popularity of cars.

The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail

Overview of nearby trails PC: USDA

At 323 feet long and 52 feet high (98m by 16m), the Mexican Canyon Trestle is one of only seven surviving trestles from the era. The best way to see it up close is to hike up the Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail. This trail was established through a public partnership between the New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Association (NMRTA) and the U.S. Forest Service. NMRTA was established in 1994 as a private, nonprofit organization composed of volunteers who maintain “a network of multiuse trails occupying the sites of former railroad lines.”

My husband’s family were some of the volunteers who took part in the years-long project to convert this abandoned rail line into a hiking trail! My husband, Mark, still fondly remembers helping to carry wood and finding old railroad nails as an eleven-year-old.

Directions:

Way to the Trestle Recreation Area PC: Google Maps

On U.S. Hwy 82, turn onto E Little Mexican Rd and continue driving until you see the Trestle Recreation Area (the building with the “Cloudcroft” sign). There’s free parking here, trash and recycling receptacles, and well-maintained bathrooms! The park is open between 6am to sunset.

To get to the trestle, start walking from the trestle recreation building and turn right at the fork. Turning left at the fork will bring you to a scenic overlook.

The Hike

Starting out, the hike is relatively easy, but becomes moderately difficult further down. It starts off downhill at first with a few uphill spots. Returning from where you started is where the challenge lies – be careful as it can be a little steep at points when you go back uphill. Take frequent breaks on the benches along the trail if you aren’t used to the altitude. Additionally, half of the trail is paved with the rest being dirt. This means that during or after it rains, the ground can be quite muddy and slippery. In the winter there may be snow and some icy patches. Take care about where you step!

Dogs are welcome, but they must be leashed.  Young children or elderly persons might have a tougher time and should take it slow.

Remember to check the weather! On this hike, we barely escaped a large rainstorm, but it was a beautiful clear day before then.

Recommended items to bring:

  • Good hiking shoes
  • A camelback or water bottle
  • A hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • A cane or walking stick (for those with bad knees)
  • Umbrella or raincoat if there’s a chance of rain

Sights Along the Trail

Not only is it beautiful with a large variety of flora and fauna, there’s so much fascinating history to be found here! Markers along the trail guide you down the path with maps and tidbits of history relating to the old railroad.

Animals

Wildlife thrive here in the Lincoln National Forest. On this last trip, my family and I spotted a few woodpeckers, squirrels, and Swainson’s Hawks. We have seen deer and a huge Elk on the road during previous trips, so drive carefully and be on the look out.

My super talented mother-in-law, Penny Thomas Simpson, designed some of the artwork featured on along the trail!

The Devil’s Elbow

Can you spot White Sands National Park in the distance?

This beautiful overlook, called “The Devil’s Elbow,” is dedicated to the lives lost during the hazardous construction of the railroad. Below the scenic overlook lies some of the stone the workers had to blast through to lay the rails.

The “S” Trestle

According to the information sign, this collapsed trestle was one of the original 58. Its curved “S” shape was special for its two 30-degree turns. It was also the longest of the trestles at 338 feet long and 60 feet high (103 meters by 18 meters).

This trestle was specifically designed to withstand heavy loads. It’s recorded that at one point a train pulled 334 tons (303,000 kg) over it with 41 empty log cars and one caboose!
The remains of the “S” Trestle still look pretty impressive!

The Mexican Canyon Trestle

At the time it was built, this section of the rail line was the highest standard-gauge track in the world! The Mexican Canyon Trestle was restored beautifully by volunteers in 2010.
This recent trip was actually my first time hiking to the trestle after years of seeing it from the highway. I’m so glad I did!

Making it to the trestle is a satisfying achievement. It’s really a sight to behold! The only downside is the large amount of graffiti carved into the viewing platform, and the information sign is a bit worse for wear.

Thankfully, vandals cannot actually climb directly onto the bridge – which I assume has kept it in its gorgeous state. The trestle is a work of art! One can only imagine how exciting it must have been for the early vacationers riding over it!

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend a stop on by! The Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail is only about ten minutes past Cloudcroft, or one can make a pit stop at the viewing platform by the highway. I feel that this hike is worth it though to see not only the trestle up close, but to experience stunning views and glimpse some of Cloudcroft’s early history.

Until next time!

Steph ❤

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Sources:

Cloudcroft Online (2014). Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from http://cloudcroft.com/

The Lodge Resort (2019, February 23). The Lodge Resort and Spa. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.thelodgeresort.com/about/

Maxwell, Nicole (2021, July 19). Mexican Canyon Trestle Trail to open year-round later this summer. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.alamogordonews.com/story/news/local/community/2021/07/19/mexican-canyon-trestle-trail-open-year-round-later-summer/7949456002/

National Park Service (1979, May 7). Mexican Canyon Trestle. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=c0c087e4-c6ad-42b7-bdb3-4adf0afc9400

U.S. Climate Data (2019). Weather Averages Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Retrieved September 24, 2021, from https://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/cloudcroft/new-mexico/united-states/usnm0069

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (n.d.). Lincoln National Forest: Trestle Recreation Area. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/lincoln/recarea/?recid=34242

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. shafinah.jaafar says:

    i LOVE the railroad!! how beautifully treacherous it is to run so precariously through these forests! 😍

    Like

  2. Krista says:

    It’s great that you can learn so much about the area while hiking – I love trails that incorporate history with them. I hadn’t heard of this area before so thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! I love when hikes have signs that tell a bit about the area or even what kind of trees and animals are to be found there.

      Like

  3. Vanessa Shields says:

    What a neat and unique place for a hike! I actually drove right by here this summer from Alamogordo to Carlsbad. I wish I had known about it then! The trestle bridge is beautiful and not something you get to see often. That is really cool that your husband and his family are part of that history!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s amazing you’ve driven through – I love the views from the drive to Carlsbad. If you’re ever back in the area, it makes for a fun pit stop!

      Like

  4. Get Lost says:

    I’ve read so many blog posts about trestle bridges but I’ve never seen one! I’d love to take this picturesque hike and admire it, it looks so impressive! Thanks for the great guide!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is such a beautiful hike! This is actually the first trestle I’ve seen up close. Thank you!

      Like

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