16-May-2006 -- This confluence is easily reached by a series of state highways and local county roads from Truth or Consequences in south-central New Mexico. We were in the region to indulge ourselves with some rustic natural hot springs (T or C's original name was Hot Springs), and we also set aside a day to explore the elevated desert plain known as the Jornada del Muerto, located east of the city, and the future home to New Mexico's (and the USA's?) first commercial spaceport. Also on our list was a drive up Timber Mountain for some unparalleled views, and, of course, a walk to the confluence.
Leaving T or C, we followed state highway NM-51 up and out of the Rio Grande basin, past the Elephant Butte Dam, and up onto the desert plain toward the community of Engle, 16 miles from T or C. Along the way we came upon a historical marker explaining the history and name 'Jornada del Muerto'. Shortly, we came to Engle, which is just a handful of buildings, an old railroad siding and the headquarters of the large Armendaris Ranch to the north. A simple sign for the spaceport hung on the stopsign post. We turned right onto Sierra County Road A-013 and traveled south a number of miles along the good gravel road to a road split to the Bar Cross Ranch - and another sign for the spaceport. We went left, drove about 1/2 mile and parked when the GPS told us we were on the 33rd parallel.
The hike out to the confluence went well, weaving through the mostly open desert scrub. The weather was warm - rattlesnake season in rattlesnake country. We took each step carefully; those critters can be hard to spot even from just a few feet away! At the confluence we took our four cardinal photos: West toward the Caballo Mountains and its summit, Timber Mountain, North with Scott, East with Beth, and South toward the Cain Ranch headquarters. A curious mound stood just a few feet from the confluence. Lastly, the GPS told us we'd done well.
We still wanted to visit the spaceport, but the road we were on led to the home and headquarters of Ben Cain's Ranch ... and no other obvious road to follow, so we turned back onto the main highway and found another solid road about a mile south which led right back to Ben Cain's place. We also drove the main County Road south another 10 miles or so to the Upham Siding - supposedly the locale of the spaceport when it's actually built. But we saw not a hint of any construction. Just lonely, vacant desert.
We decided to give the Cains one more chance, so we drove to their stead, entered onto their property and checked to see if any one was home. No one was, except for a super-friendly collie-mix who jumped, panted and leapt at us over and over again. His enthusiasm was welcomed but we did scratch us on the arms. At this point we admitted defeat on the spaceport and decided to explore the roads up Timber Mountain.
A series of unnamed but well-graded gravel roads lead to the base of the peak (topo maps are essential to navigate the maze of roads). The final couple of miles to the top is steep and requires 4wd. My truck did fine and we got as far up as 6,600 feet at a turn in the road where the views were tremendous. We'll come back another day for the summit, but today, we just wanted the views! Timber Mountain is used by telecommunications companies to place their various towers.
After the long day of driving and exploring the Jornada del Muerto, we drove back into T or C and enjoyed the natural baths. We'll be sure to come back - and see if there's more to this spaceport in the future.