Topo map of Dog Canyon
The State Park
Oliver Lee State Park is reached by the 4 mile Dog Canyon Road
, forking eastwards off US 54, ten miles south of Alamogordo and 75 miles north of El Paso; a quiet, country road across flat land passing a typical collection of ramshackle residences, and ending with a short climb into the Sacramento Mountains foothills, to the visitor center and campsite, situated right at the edge of the steep slopes surrounding Dog Canyon. One other attraction of the park is a small but densely populated desert garden containing many types of cactus, yucca, agave, wildflowers and blossoming shrubs, all of which attract butterflies and humming birds during spring and summer. Besides the long trail to Dog Canyon there is also a nature path and another short loop around the remains of a cabin and walled enclosure, built in the 1880s by an early resident (Francois-Jean Rochas, known as Frenchy). Oliver Lee's ranch house is 1.6 miles south but this is not generally open, being viewable only on weekend, ranger-led tours; at other times the access road is closed to vehicles though still reachable by hikers. The campsite, just south of the visitor center, has 44 well separated sites, some with electric hookups, all with shelters and/or picnic tables.
Dog Canyon Trail
The Dog Canyon hike begins behind the state park visitor center and is steep from the start, leading up a stony hillside where the surface underfoot is rather slippery because of loose pebbles and slickrock. The trail switchbacks up beneath a promontory then bears right, along a small gully to a plateau (the 'First Bench
'), after 0.6 miles and 500 feet of elevation gain. The views are already good but better if walking off trail a short distance, to the edge of the promontory, where all of the lower end of Dog Canyon can be seen, as well as a 180 degree panorama across Tularosa Valley and White Sands. The exposed limestone terraces hereabouts have especially varied collections of cacti and other plants including different species of echinocereus
and agave. The path continues along the ravine further into the mountains, always staying quite high above the streambed, the lower end of which contains cottonwood trees, ferns and other greenery, nourished by a spring, in contrast to the dry, desert nature of most of the canyon. The ground stays fairly flat for a while before a long, steady ascent, round a few side drainages and up to the Second Bench
after 2.5 miles - distances are recorded by marker posts at quarter mile intervals. The terrain is now grassy and flat once more, sprinkled with large limestone boulders and home to a forest of aged cholla cacti, up to ten feet tall. The basin is surrounded on three sides by tall cliffs since this is near the upper end of the ravine; the enclosing rocks are quite impressive, formed of weathered, thin-layered strata reminiscent of some parts of the Grand Canyon
, although not as colorful (see panorama
). The path crosses to the north side, climbs a little then cuts back northwest, angling up the side of the cliffs while gaining another 1,000 feet before turning east and traversing less steep, partly wooded ground to the end point, at the junction with Forest Road 90B. This location is 2.5 miles along a rough track from a junction with the better quality FR 90 (West Side Road), an 18 mile drive from US 82.