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Date of visit:
October 26, 2000

For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
 Location of Dog Canyon in Sacramento Mountains ...
 

We rate this hike a:

Hike Highlights:
 Virtually deserted
 Modest entry fee
 Rugged & strenuous
 View Tularosa Basin
 View White Sands NM
 High desert plants
 Wear sturdy shoes
 Bring lots of water
 A knee killer

 Kachina

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Dog Canyon - The Early Years
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

Into the canyon

Into the canyon
Prehistoric Indians walked these trails more than 6,000 thousand years ago, hunting animals, gathering plants and chipping stones into knives, scrapers, drills, and hammers.

Prehistoric people left cylindrical holes created by the repeated grinding of seeds, such as those of the mesquite bush. These holes are known as mortars or "Indian wells" because they collect rainwater and a number of them can be found in the park.

Archeologists believe the Apaches arrived in the area in the fifteenth century and took advantage of the reliable water source and lush vegetation found in the box canyon. Several Apache campsites were within Dog Canyon

European settlers began moving into Apache territory in the mid 1800s. Apache raiding of wagon trains and homesteads prompted the U.S. Cavalry to take action. The Apache used the steep terrain of Dog Canyon as a stronghold in several skirmishes with the U.S. Cavalry. The first documented mention of the name Dog Canyon was in 1849 by Brevet Major Steen regarding a skirmish near the canyon. By the 1880s, many of the Apache in the area were living within the Mescalero Reservation near modern-day Ruidoso.

'Frenchy' RochasIn the mid-1880s, a Frenchman named Francois-Jean "Frenchy" Rochas started homesteading at the mouth of Dog Canyon. He built a rock cabin, raised cattle and grew grapes, apples, cherries, plums, peaches, figs, and even olives. He also worked with a newcomer, Texas rancher Oliver Lee, to channel water from Dog Canyon to Lee's ranch, about a mile to the soutb. Frenchy mysteriously met his end just after Christmas in 1894, when he was found dead in his cabin, a bullet in his chest. Although the local authorities determined it was suicide, historians believe it was more likely that someone murdered him in a dispute.

Oliver LeeThe namesake for this park is Oliver Milton Lee, a famous local rancher, who raised both cattle and horses, and was instrumental in the founding of Alamogordo and Otero County. Lee established his ranch south of Dog Canyon in 1893 and lived there until 1907. His skill in tapping nearby water sources, including Dog Canyon, allowed him to create a small oasis in the desert, raising crops and fruit trees. During this period, Lee was involved in a controversy involving the disappearance of prominent New Mexico Lawyer, Albert Fountain, and his eight-year old son, Henry. The bodies were never found, the case against Lee and others was circumstantial, Lee was acquitted, although the mystery remains.

Lee left Dog Canyon in 1907 to run the famous Circle Cross Ranch, in the Sacramento Mountains. He invested in a cattle company that became the largest in New Mexico, controlling 1 million acres. Lee was a prominent legislator serving in both houses of the New Mexico Legislature. He died in Alamogordo in 1941.

Frenchys cabinThe cabinWest of the visitor center is Frenchy's two--room cabin, which has been partially reconstructed. The site of Oliver Lee's ranch headquarters is also open for guided tours. The ranch house has been rebuilt and authentically furnished, as it would have been when Lee and his family lived there from 1893 to 1907.

Site Gallery - The Visitor Center Murals
 
Center Murals Center Murals Center Murals
Center Murals Center Murals Center Murals
Center Murals Center Murals Center Murals
 
Dog Canyon - The Interpretive Trail
At the Interpretive Trail
At the Interpretive Trail
Southwest of the mouth of Dog Canyon, is typical Chihuahuan Desert terrain: dry and rocky, with desert grasses, mesquite, ocotillo, saltbush, yucca, and various species of cacti.

There is little shade but the views across the desert into the Tularosa Basin, with Dog Canyon and the Sacramento Mountains in the back, offer a respite from a hard journey.

A reliable water source in the desert always attracts wildlife. In Dog Canyon you are likely to see mule deer in winter, plus black-tailed jackrabbits, raccoons and skunks. Also present but not as frequently seen are coyotes, ringtails, gray foxes, and kangaroo rats. Bats also live at the park, including the California myotis, hoary bat, and big brown bat.

Site Gallery - The Interpretive Trail
 
Interpretive Trail Interpretive Trail Interpretive Trail
Interpretive Trail Interpretive Trail Interpretive Trail
 
Dog Canyon Recreation Trail
Lincoln National Forest
Lincoln National Forest

Dog Canyon Trail
Dog Canyon Trail

The Dog Canyon National Recreation Trail is for serious hikers. Fairly strenuous, it climbs about 3,100 feet from behind the visitor center at the mouth of Dog Canyon to an elevation of 7,500 feet at Joplin Ridge, leaving the park for the rugged terrain of the Lincoln National Forest.

The trail is 5.5 miles (one way) through mostly desert environment, rocky and steep in some sections.

Sturdy hiking boots and drinking water are strongly recommended, and spring and fall are the best times to avoid the extreme summer heat and unpredictable winter weather.

Allow a full day round-trip, or plan to camp on one of the rock benches along the way.

Starting the climbJust starting ...This trail is essentially the same one used for over 4000 years first by prehistoric people seeking a route into the mountains, later by Apaches, and then by historic ranchers.

The trail climbs the canyon's south slope for the first 3 miles, gaining about 1,400 feet, before arriving at a grassy oasis of cottonwoods, willows and the stream.

Not even mid-way ...Taking a breather ...Nearby are the remains of a small rock cabin built by ranchers in about 1930. Along the way, the views of the Tularosa Basin and the glistening white gypsum of White Sands National Monument get progressively better.

 
Still going ...How much more?For those who want a shortened hike, this is a good spot to turn around. Hikers continuing will soon reach the Eyebrow, a steep, winding section of the trail across a 2,000-foot bluff, that in 1878 was the scene of an Apache/U.S. Cavalry skirmish.

Near the half-way point ...A detachment of the Ninth U.S. No more ...Cavalry had tracked an Apache raiding party to Dog Canyon, intending to capture them and send them back to the reservation. The Indians led the way up the trail, and when the soldiers were halfway up the steep slope the Apaches bombarded them with rocks, boulders, and gunfire from above, ending the chase (murals ). Next stop is Joplin Ridge, the end of the trail, with spectacular panoramic views.

Hike Gallery - Trail Highlights
 
On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail
On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail
On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail
On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail On the Dog Canyon Trail
On the Dog Canyon Trail Dog Canyon Flora Dog Canyon Flora
Dog Canyon Flora Dog Canyon Flora Dog Canyon Flora
 
For More Information
New Mexico State Parks
Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

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