The Cornudas Mountains Just Across the Border from Texas in New Mexico
1. Some Geology and Sociology Lessons
In 2013 I wrote a page about the origin of the Cornudas mountains declaring some volcanos that, I find later, were actually laccoliths. Laccoliths differ from volcanos in that no magma is released onto the surface. There are volcanos among the Cornudas, but the larger dome-like mountains are where rising magma did not break through the upper layers of limestone and instead built up a dome between limestone layers causing the higher layers to bulge upwards. The magma lower in the intrusive body cooled slowly, allowing large crystals to form (creating a granite-like rock). Some of the still liquid coarse grain material was pushed up further and began to cool more rapidly, giving the upper part of the laccolith a different, very fine-grained texture nearer the top encapsulating some of the coarser grains in the rising rock-melt. This is all explained in some detail in the 2013 page linked here (updated in 2016).
This geologic history publication explains why there is potential commercial interest in some of the minerals that make up some portions of these laccoliths (a scholarly tome, not fun reading), and there has been some exploration for valuable and rare minerals (some spectacular photos of rare minerals from Wind Mountain in this link, great fun to look at!).
SOCIOLOGY (and other) LESSONS
Vast areas of the Texas and New Mexico Chihuahuan Desert are private land: ranches! I am not used to mountains being privately owned, but that is certainly the case for the Glass Range in Texas, and on this trip found out the same is true for some of the Cornudas Mountains, but not all. But even the ones that are public land may be surrounded by private land, and trespassing in these parts could be dangerous to your health.
Lesson 1: Satellite photos do not tell the whole story
Looking at satellite photos on the Internet showed me that the most direct route from the main highway to the Cornudas Mountains was by way of Mayfield Ranch Road. As you can see in the first photo below, it is a straight shot. But as you can see in the second photo, there is a slight problem not disclosed by satellite photos: private property!
As we turned to go back to the main highway, I stopped and flagged down a car coming up the road. It was the property owner. He said in response to my question that there were two ways to get to these mountains, one was through Dell City, the other through El Paso, but even so one had to be sure and respect private land boundaries. In response to my expressing a wish to visit these mountains he said "not these first two, they are on my land, they are my mountains, and to visit them you have to clear it with my office in writing and state your business, and we have to approve of your business (prospecting, geologic studies, etc). No tourism allowed. Ever. OK got it, off through Dell City we go (as shown on the Orientation page).
Lesson 2: Even next to public lands there are sections of private land.
Our desire was to visit Wind Mountain, the highest peak in the range. As we made our way there the road turned into a path and we parked and walked. I knew I was on public lands from this sign saying no parking or camping within 300 yards of a man made water supply. OK, I won't. But the fence did make me wonder if that was private land on the other side, and just as I was about to step over to the other side of the fence rancher Jones comes riding up on his 4-wheeler and asked what we are doing on his land. I stepped back to the public side of the fence and said I wanted to get closer to Wind Mountain. He said "not that way, that is my land, there are no trails, it is rugged, and I don't allow tourism." Told him about my geologic interest and he friendlied up at that point and said he recently had University of Texas/El Paso professors and students, who had requested permission in advance and in writing to come and pass through his fences to study the south side of the mountain where there is a mine shaft. They were looking at rare minerals and such. Says he allows that sort of visitor to trespass but not a touristic visitor. Sounded familiar. He had a big gun within easy reach on his desert scooter. I was not going to argue.
We chatted some more, I told him I would turn back at this point. He boasted that there had been commercial interested in the porphyry deposits on Wind Mountain. I asked if he had ever climbed Wind Mountain. He said growing up here he had climbed every one of the Cornudas mountains, and none have trails or are easy. I asked him how he had spotted us. He said we made a U-turn in front of his house, and he was out feeding calves. When he saw where we were heading, and knew our road dead ended on his property, he decided he ought to see what we were up to.
He offered me a ride back to my car but since I do value my bones I decided to walk. So there goes rancher Jones, of the Jones Ranch in Otero County, New Mexico, back to feeding his calves. His adult cattle could live off the very dry and sparse vegetation, but the young ones need a supplement to grow up healthy. That is what is in the bags strapped to his scooter. Cool.
I asked him if there was another way back to the main highway. He said his wife likes the way through El Paso better than the way through Dell City, but that is largely because it is a direct route to her destination, which is El Paso. Going through Dell City is much longer, but most of the difference is on a higher speed road, so the difference in time isn't all that great. We said we would go back the El Paso way, just to see the whole range from all angles.
Lesson 3: Danger lurks here especially after dark.
As we drove westward away from the Cornudas Mountains, we were stopped by the Border Patrol in the middle of nowhere, several miles from Wind Mountain and Flat Top Mountain.
They approached us with an abundance of caution and immediately started asking what we were doing, where we were from, where we were going, and why, all the while one closer and peering inside our messy vehicle the other standing a bit farther and in a ready-to-react posture with hand near gun. They were wearing body armor and quite well outfitted with weapons of immediate personal destruction.
So we smiled, told them the truth about what we were doing there which seemed to be amusing to one of them, and engaged them in further conversation. Audrey said later that as we talked about 'stuff' they visible relaxed and started to look like they were almost enjoying this visit. They said in response to our expressing surprise that the locals we met were suspicious and armed, that they must be. This is still close enough to the international border that both drug and people traffickers come through here where almost no one lives and there is almost no traffic, hoping to stay undetected. The only vehicle we saw for ~40 miles (~65 km) was that Border Patrol vehicle!
They hinted we should move on, the sun would set soon and after dark there have been violent incidents in this area, so this is not a good place for us to be after dark. I asked about their wearing body armor on a hot day and they said the whole time they are out here they must wear it, for good reason. Had we been in the process of smuggling we would not have been likely to allow them to peek inside and chat with us, guns are very easily drawn and used by people engaged in serious crime.
One poined again at the sun, saying it would not be long until susnet. OK, we can take a hint, especially a repeated one, so off we rumbled back to civilization. (?)
Shall we stop learning lessons and just enjoy the scenery on the next page? OK let's go--this shows just an example of the excellently groomed Otero Country roads we used to roam this area (Wind Mountain to the left and Flat Top to the right:
Go to the Cornudas Mountains of Texas and New Mexico
2. Cornudas Mountains Highlights
3. Leaving the Cornudas Mountains
Go Back to the Orientation Page
Go BACK to the Gypsum Sand Dunes of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
1. Orientation and Start
2. Walking the Dunes
3. Peak Experience
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