Saturday, April 13, 2013

Purgatory...Not a Bad Place to Be

Lake Roberts makes for a beautiful little day trip from Silver City, NM. Situated along the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic Byway, it can be reached in a lovely loop that takes you through twisty mountain roads, mountain meadows bordered by hoodoo-forming rock walls and open desert-like terrain.

Like any body of water in an arid climate it is a magnate for life, both human and animal. There are two campgrounds at the lake and fishing is allowed, no swimming. We chose to park at the Upper End campground and hike around the lake, adding in a couple of side hikes to our loop.

The lake is set among small hills covered with Ponderosa Pine and oak and is the home or stopover for many birds. During our few hours in the area we saw Osprey, Ruddy Ducks (in summer colors!), Northern Pintails, and our first Painted Redstart, among others.

Lake Roberts looking North East

Lake Roberts looking North West

Once we reached the boat ramp we headed off trail and crossed Hwy 35 heading for the Purgatory Chasm trail. Here, we immediately ran in to this little group munching away on the hillside:

But the best was yet to come. Hidden away in the hills, invisible from the road, is a sandstone slot canyon. The trail unceremoniously dumped us right into a convergence of carved sandstone gashes:

Here, two separate slots start from seemingly nowhere and meet in dramatic fashion
out of the grass and tree covered hillside,

We headed downstream among towering sandstone walls. There were hairpin turns and side canyons joining the main streambed for about half a mile.

Abruptly the slot canyon ended, opening right back into the forest and becoming a "normal" streambed once again.

The slot canyon ends and becomes forest once again.
Looking back up canyon.

We made our way back across the highway to Lake Roberts and continued the lake loop. Once we arrived back at Upper End campground, we headed up a canyon at the East end of the campground. On our morning stop at the Mimbres ranger station we had learned of some pictographs at this site. Had the ranger not told us about them, we never would have known. Only a small sign at the head of the canyon gave us any indication that there was anything of significance here.

In a location known as Spirit Canyon, these pictographs are thought to depict Apache Mountain Spirits. They are found less than half a mile up the canyon.

On our way back to the truck we spotted several turkeys running through the campground.

On the way out we stopped to talk to the camphost and learned that in the year he has been hosting here, he's seen a group of about one hundred turkeys in camp! They'd be scarce next week though, when hunting season would begin.

The Lake Roberts and upper Mimbres Valley area is truly lovely and it's easy to see why a few people have settled here. We saw signs for several other National Forest trails nearby and were awed by the beautiful rock cliffs surrounding the valley. This area is on the list for further exploration in the future when we'll stay in this neck of the woods.


  1. I'm so glad you guys are covering NM pretty good, now we know what and where to hike when we come back. Beautiful photos too.

  2. Wow! Super hike! What a beautiful lake! I just love the mule deer because of their huge cute. Slots are always a great find. Makes the hike so much more exciting. Very colorful and unusual pictographs. Drawings I've never seen before. Glad you shared. Looks like a super location you are in!

  3. Thanks for the great information on hiking in NM. When we came through there last year it was cold and snowy but we have always wanted to explore this state at length.

  4. Thanks for showing us some great out of the way places in NM. It's a state we hope to explore a lot more. Love those mule deer :-)