Escapito #3: Wildlife and Geology of Catron County

“The Felix” was back in action for another camping adventure into the wilds of New Mexico.  For a few days we enjoyed spending time at one of our favorite dry campgrounds, Datil Well. Then on one day we unhooked truck from trailer and headed further afield to explore a seldom visited area of the Cibola National Forest ….. the Sawtooth Mountains.

Come along and see what we discovered!

July 4, 5, and 6, 2022

Datil Well Campground and trails.  A small, well maintained 12-site campground with about 3.5 miles of trails all managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This quiet out-of-the-way area is situated along the old Magdalena Stock Driveway, and was just as important as the Old Chisum Trail was “in the day.”  The 125-mile long driveway had wells spaced every 10 miles along its length and was used by ranchers during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries to drive cattle and sheep from Springerville, AZ to the railroad at Magdalena. The 10-mile spacing of wells was considered one day’s travel for cattle; two days for sheep. One of the former wells is located at the campground.

From 1885 until 1970, as many as 150,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle per year were driven along the driveway, where they were boarded on trains for dinner tables back east. How’s that for a bit of old west history!

We always enjoy hiking the trails at the campground for the views of the surrounding mountains and the Plains of San Agustin [Augustin]  … a very flat 55 mile long area created by a Pleistocene lake, and today best known as the home of the Very Large Array (VLA), a radio astronomy observatory. The plains are an ideal location for the VLA because of their isolation from large population centers and the partial shielding effect of surrounding mountain ranges. 

Field sketching a few flowers along the trail

The visitor center has been closed since Covid, but it’s always fun to see just where astronomers have “driven” the 27 gigantic, 82-foot diameter radio antennas along the three 13-mile long Y-shaped railroad tracks. 

Geology of the Sawtooth Mountains.  Heading further afield one day, we wanted to explore a geologically interesting area about 15 miles northwest of Datil. Engaging our 4-wheel drive to navigate muddy two track roads, we ooohed and aaaaahed at the scenery unfolding before us.  New Mexico’s version of the Sawtooth Mountains did not disappoint. The entire area lies in the Mogollon-Datil Volcanic Field and the jagged peaks and pillars were formed from volcaniclastic conglomerate sandstones and siltstones in the neighborhood of 37 million years ago! The Sawtooths were magnificent, but as we rounded a corner there, standing all by itself, was Monument Rock, an “undeformed” pillar of sandstone laid down in horizontal beds (apparently this is rare!).  We hiked out to see for ourselves, and when we came around the backside we found the area known as the Cliffs which were formed from water-saturated sediments before they hardened into sandstone, siltstone and conglomerates. The Cliffs’ peak is named 8919, which happens to be its elevation, the highest point in the area (Monument Rock tops out at 8,271 feet). 

It was a fun area to explore, but eventually the roads became too impassable to go deeper into the Sawtooths.  We promised ourselves to return some day when we can safely tow “The Felix” into the area for some serious camping and hiking.  

Monument Rock

After a few awesome days, during our last night “The Felix” went black! We lost all of our power.  Well, they say camping often requires a sense of humor!  With that riddle to work out (why did all systems shut down?) and with New Mexico’s always sunny skies, we eventually managed to recharge enough to fold up the trailer and headed home.  Perhaps a story for another blog post?

Found a skull (mule deer) to sketch in the field

Thanks for coming along! Hope y’all are having a great summer.


  1. MY XM GLOBAL says:

    wonderfull article…interesting


    1. Thank you so much for the comment!


  2. An interesting adventure! We wanted to see the Very Large Array when we were there, but ran out of time! Lovely description of the Sawtooth mtns. and I really love the way you incorporated maps into your pages! I want to do that, too! Ah, the trailer troubles! We had a trailer for 5 years with slides, but never lost power (we worried about it, though and had a solar panel on top to help), hope you are able to puzzle it out! Thanks for taking us along on your trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks Karen for the comments! We did have fun, despite trailer issues. For some reason the battery still doesn’t hold a charge even with our solar panels., and we’re currently working with the company to troubleshoot. You were only 50 miles away from the VLA if you passed through Socorro. It’s fascinating to see. Check out their YouTube videos. Even more fascinating. Thanks for coming along on the adventure. Always something!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jim Journeyman says:

    Great write up! I’m actually camped off of FR 6A with an incredible view of Monument Rock & the area is nothing short of spectacular. Since we’re in the heart of monsoon season, I made it 7 miles in before my gut told me to come back when things dry out. Ooh, I hate not knowing where a dirt road ends & will often get out & hike for miles to find out. The vehicles of the more adventurous campers were covered in so much mud they looked like adobe-mobiles. New Mexico, truly The Land of Enchantment – Happy & Safe Travels!


    1. How exciting you discovered this little nugget of New Mexico! We were so impressed by our visit that we’ll return and spend time hiking in and around Monument Rock, The Cliffs and other equally beautiful areas in that neighborhood. The roads also turned us back too, especially on lesser traveled roads heading west. They sure do get sheet runoff there! Enjoy, and thanks so much for the comments!


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