Railroad Canyon Loop

Distance: 13 miles

Season: Spring, Summer, Fall (potentially Winter)

Water: plentiful, except along the Black Range Crest Trail

Trail Condition: Good to Poor

Miscellaneous: Kingston is a funky little half-ghost town on the east side of the Black Range that makes a good jumping off point for the hike. There’s a Forest Service campground on the east side of town, or check out the Black Range Lodge.


With New Mexico’s particularly light winter, I was excited to trade my skis for some hiking boots for President’s Day weekend and headed down to the Black Range on the eastern edge of the Gila National Forest.

Based on some trails I had first seen when driving to the Gila Wilderness the previous year, I picked out some moderately long day hikes that I could do over the two days. The first was a loop around Railroad Canyon that would take me a couple miles along the Black Range Crest Trail (#79) to connect Railroad Canyon Trail (#128) with the Gallinas Canyon Trail (#129).

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Trailhead for Railroad Canyon off NM 152

With some recent rains, Railroad Creek was raging and the many (MANY!) stream crossings proved to be a bit of a hassle. Even with the creek running high, all the stream crossings were doable although I had to search harder for crossing points or consign myself to getting my feet wet.

Much of this area was burned in the 2013 Silver Fire, closing many trails, but this first part of the trail escaped the flames and was in good condition.

After 1.5 miles #128 and #129 split. I stayed left on #129 and climbed up and away from the creek. After a little bit, once the trail begins to plateau, it enters a burn area and became more difficult to follow.

A hiker with a keen eye will still be able to follow the trail in this section, but when the trail crests another rise and steers back toward Gallinas creek, it disappeared completely in the burn area. With good back country skills, there’s no need to panic. I stuck to the east side of the creek, and after 1/4 mile, the trail reappeared.

For the next couple miles, the trail remained in good condition, especially where the forest did not burn. It faded upon entering burn areas, but sticking close to the creek as the trail slowly climbs to the low pass, I didn’t have much problem navigating.

The last half mile before reaching the ridge and Trail #79 was the worst section. In places, dead fall covered the trail and in others regrowth has grown over the trail. Still, it was followable even though I had to fight my way up.

The trail junction was completely obscured and the sign was likely burned in the fire. Looking northwest, Trail #79 looked completely grown over, and I could not distinguish Trail #121, which continued north over the other side of the pass.

While not in good condition, I was able to follow #79 south back toward #128. Sitting on the western boundary of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, the trail offered nice views into the Wilderness as well as south and west, deeper into the Gila Forest.

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Southern view from the Black Range Crest Trail (#79)

Despite the pleasant views, the trail was difficult to follow in places and overgrown with scrubby oaks in many others. Pants are highly recommended.

The trail traces the side canyons that feed Gallinas and Railroad Canyons below and featured good views into where I was hiking that morning.

The junction with Trail #128 was well-marked at at deep saddle, and would be difficult to miss, and unlike #129, the entire length of Trail #128 was in good condition, and the hike back to the junction was uneventful.

Mostly because I was tired and no longer cared, I got my feet wet on a bunch of the stream crossings, but considering the questionable conditions, I was more than happy to have completed the loop.

 

For nearby hikes, check out Hillsboro Peak.

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