|One of our favorite hikes in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, this hike is notable for great canyon scenery, a variety of cacti and other desert plants, and some history.|
|Hike data||Waypoints||Maps||Getting to the trailhead||About the hike||Plants along the trail||Comments|
When we hiked it:
|Time it took us:||4:30.|
|Usage (people/hour):||0.50. Many people know of this trail. However, only a miniscule fraction of the park visitors ever hike this trail.|
|RS3||Trail point||Bottom of Canyon on Rattlesnake Canyon hike|
|RS4||Trail junction||Guadalupe Ridge and Rattlesnake Canyon trail junction|
|RSTH||Trailhead||Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead|
Maps:Geohack online map list Paper maps:
|Map name||Cartographer||Year||Scale||Topo map?||Online access||Notes|
|Carlsbad Caverns National Park||National Geographic Trails Illustrated||2001||1:34500||Y||From Amazon.com (purchase)||Includes a map of Carlsbad Cavern on the back.|
|Lincoln National Forest, Guadalupe Ranger District||US Forest Service||2003||1:126720||N||From the National Forest Store (purchase)|
|Wildernesses of New Mexico||US Forest Service||1981||1:1000000||N||No online copies.||Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.|
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Getting to the trailhead:
From the Visitor's Center, head out of the parking lot and take the 9 mile scenic loop road. The trailhead is at marker 9 on this loop, just after you begin to descend from the mesa top.
About the hike:
The trailhead has only a little parking area. However, I have never seen it full. While a visit to the famous cavern nearby is important, this hike is a chance to see the beauty that exists above-ground.
The trailhead is near the mesa top, so the hike begins heading down immediately. This area burned a few years ago, and the plants (such as this Mexican Buckeye) near the trailhead are still recovering. Look at the larger version, as this small version does not show it well.
The plants are one of the high points of this hike. Here, you can see two common desert plants, a yucca and a sotol (the upper plant).
Some of the cacti are small, and to see them you have to have a sharp eye.
Another famous plant is the Lechuguilla. Translated from Spanish, that would be "little lettuce". However, those spines are un-lettuce-like. I have heard of people flattening their tires by driving over a Lechuguilla plant.
As you hike down, you get nice views of the canyon. This view is especially nice since it includes Diana!
After an hour or two of walking, you arrive at RS3, which is the canyon bottom. You have lost most of the elevation that you will for this hike. Watch for cairns, as sometimes the trail is across rocky areas where otherwise no trail would show up.
A few minutes later, you arrive at a junction (RS4). A friend who knows the area well calls this junction, "murder junction", since two people have been either found dead or murdered not far from this sign. One of these murders has received a lot of press: Outdoorplaces.com, ABC News, and the Amarillo Globe News are just a few of the news outlets to cover the strange tale of a man who killed his best friend. He claims that they became lost and dehydrated, and the killing was a mercy killing. They were found not far from this sign.
Even though the sign points left for Rattlesnake Canyon, the trail actually heads straight, behind the sign. Follow the cairns.
The trail now crosses or is in the streambed at times. Other times, it is up on a bench on the side. The cairns are large, and the trail is easy to follow.
The bit of history that you run across is the old foundation for a ranch building. You see bits of life here, such as part of an old sewing machine.
An interesting clastic dike crosses the trail (I am not a geologist, so this could be incorrect).
When you hike in the winter, the opuntia (prickly pear) are a nice magenta. When it warms up, the pads will turn green again.
In the spring, after good winter precipitation, these cacti are probably covered with blooms. The ocotillo will bloom anytime in spring or summer after they have had sufficient moisture.
You pass another canyon coming in from the right. This is a sign you are reaching the end. When the trail gets close to coming out of the mountains onto the plains, it turns into a two-track and the cairns stop (RS5). This is your sign to turn around. I went much further, just to see if it was worth plowing through the aptly-named cat's claw acacia. It is not.
Here is yet another kind of cactus we saw.
As you return, the canyon looks different than it did as you hiked down.
Keep your eyes open on the return trip for different cacti.
This banded rock looks like a cave formation; a cave may have been here before the canyon was formed.
Plants we saw along the trail:
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