Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day (Ft) Bliss

Franklin Mountain State Park

Labor Day 2014

South and North Franklin Mountains
When I found out the my unit would be doing some training at Ft. Bliss I was a little disappointed because I did not have high hopes of the outdoor potential near Ft. Bliss. I was once again pleasantly surprised when my research found a nearby state park with mountains and trails – entirely within El Paso city limit.

My unit had a little time off over Labor Day and our commander let us go out and explore. My initial research on the park’s website was a little disappointing. Their map shows the general parking areas, but does not really give much information concerning the trails. On the other hand, the park does seem to be working towards a much grander vision. The website says they are working on a network which will eventually have over 100 miles of trails. This would be a pretty awesome Texas-sized Central Park.

One of the major things that struck me about hiking here was how underused the park was. Had this been Chataqua Park in Boulder on Labor Day Weekend I suspect we would have been hard pressed to find a site at 8 am (when we pulled in), but here there was still plenty of parking. On the hike up and at the summit, we had the mountain to ourselves. On the way down we saw about 15 people (which for a beautiful and sunny Labor Day seemed pretty light).

For our hike we chose North Franklin Mountain – the highest point in the park at around 7,180 ft (according to Google Earth). We started from what I will call the Agave Trailhead (this is what Google Maps lists it as if you plug in the GPS coordinates).

North Franklin Mountain Hike Stats

Agave Trailhead: 31.916750°, -106.509600°
One-way length: 3.8 miles
Vertical gain: 2,359 ft
North Franklin Mountain: 31.902800°, -106.493627°
Ascent time (with breaks): 2 hours

West Cottonwood Spring Trail

West Cottonwoods Springs Trail (left), Agave Trail (right)
Elevation profile starting at trailhead
West Cottonwood Springs Trail
Length: 0.5 miles
Gain: ~480 ft

The ankle-eating rocks of the West Cottonwood Springs Trail
For the first half-mile we took the West Cottonwood Spring Trail. This trail was all double-fist sized rocks that were less than pleasant. If I do this hike again I might try the Agave Trail. It’s about 0.25-0.3 miles longer, but it gets you to the same place and (from the ends at least) the footing looks easier.

Agave Trail to the top and West Cottonwood Springs Trail to the bottom
The branch up to the spring could be interesting as it appears to have one of the half-dozen trees in the entire park, but we opted to go for the summit.

Agave Trail
Length: 0.8 miles
Gain: ~535 ft
Intersection with West Cottonwood Springs Trail: 31.914777°, -106.501168°

Agave Trail Elevation profile (starting from trailhead)

Mundy’s Gap Trail

Looking over Mundy's Gap from the north

Length: 1.5 miles
Gain: 825 ft
Start: 31.914764°, -106.500702°

Start of Mundy Gap Trail

From here the footing got easier. From the start of this section you can see the summit and a good scrambler / climber could cut off a mile or two, although probably not that much time. We opted for the official route which follows a more gradual climb. From the information boards at the trailhead, North Franklin Mountain was apparently originally intended as the site of some towers and even had some initial grading done at the summit. But the El Pasans revolted and the land became a park instead. However, the initial work on the summit meant that this trail and the North Franklin Trail are old roads. As such, the hike is not overly technical beyond some loose footing.

Mundy's Gap Trail - just past the gap
The first section has some shade in the early morning sun as it is on the west side. Once you make the saddle (or Mundy’s Gap, I presume), you have great views of west and east El Paso. Once over the saddle there is a nice bit of down before you get to the split where you can chose the Tin Mine or the summit.

Enjoying some morning shade on the western slope

North Franklin Mountain Trail

Length: 1.8 miles
Gain: 1,440
Mundy Gap Intersection: 31.914548°, -106.492919°

Start of the North Franklin Mountain Trail
From here the trails gets steep. As compensation there are some amazing wildflowers – yellows, oranges, whites and blues.

There are a lot of switchbacks with great views of the rest of the mountain chain, El Paso and Ft.Bliss.

The summit is flat with great views of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.

Looking north from the summit
Overall this is a great hike and an amazing resource to have in the middle of a city and right next to an Army base. While though footing is a little rough in spots, there are some great running  and hiking trails here.

Looking south from the summit

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