A very recognizable landmark, Cerro Pedernál means ‘flaking stone mountain.’ Various types of rock from flint to obsidian to chert, individually distinguished in American English, are known collectively as Pedernál in the New Mexico dialect of Spanish (pronounced SEH-rroh peh-dehr-NAHL). White chert and some obsidian are found on the lower slopes of the mountain. The summit itself is crowned by layers of andesite and basalt volcanic rock.
Cerro Pedernál is approached by driving 27 miles northwest from Española on U.S. Highway 84 (the Chama Highway), then west on New Mexico Highway 96 for about eleven and a half miles. Immediately before the village of El Rito Encino (Youngsville Post Office) one turns southbound on a gravel road called Forest Road 100 for five and a half miles. This place is a large brush filled clearing in the canyon called Llanito Chamisaloso. The visitor must turn left, heading eastbound into a canyon or large gulch called the Cañada de Don Luis (many published maps incorrectly label it s “Temoline Canyon”). Although one can park a car here and walk 3 miles up this road and climb the Cerro, a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle and skillful driving will diminish the walk significantly. The unimproved roads are Forest Road 160 & 160B. The desired route passes through a pine tree forested bench called Banco de la VIga. A portion of the road is horrendously steep with loose volcanic rock on soil that may better describe it as a jeep trail. It climbs to a bench with meadow below the summit of Cerro Pedernal. There are no clearly designated hiking trails at the end of this road but as one attempts the climb on foot, trails begin to appear. The best is up the center of the south facing slope. The talus slope is steep and loose so a careful zig zag climb is best. Another is to approach from the west over boulders, but the slope is gentler. The final ascent is accomplished at the south-center of the base of the cliffs for the final 200 feet of the climb. Careful skill will allow a person to find a well worn path up the ledges. The climber is then rewarded by a tremendous view of the Valle de la Piedra Lumbre (valley of the alum rock) to the north, the Sierra Valdez to the southwest, and the canyons and village of Los Cañones to the east.
Any healthy adult with reasonably normal coordination can ascend the summit, including physically fit elders. It should be noted that many try and fail. And it is easy to slip, loose footing, or become exhausted. One notable death was an older woman who slipped and fell to a gruesome death sometime in the 1990s.
Cerro Pedernál is used for pilgrimage, hiking, and traditional resource use. At the upper elevations there is a type of grass called Popote (Pine Dropseed Grass) that was cut and bundled for household brooms in former days.
This mountain in whole or in part was used by Hispano agro-pastoralists for their livestock and other necessities of local resource procurement. Timber was harvested here as well. This was also wild horse country up until about the 1920s or sometime after, when Hispano’s engaged in occasional roundups and harvest of horses to break. The wild horse population disappeared by action of the US Forest Service to improve the range. Below and to the north and west of the summit is a smaller summit, somewhat like a shoulder of the mountain. It is called Cerro de la Pinta and a basin called Rincón de la Pinta, likely named after a paint mare that may have been sighted there frequently at an unknown time in the past.
The nearest grocery store and gasoline is at El Coyote.
It is very important for any visitor to Cerro Pedernál to acknowledge and appreciate that this country is an anthropogenic or a “human-environment landscape” associated with the Hispano mountain culture. Hispano mountain culture developed and evolved over four centuries in New Mexico's mountain environment and by contact with American Indians that modified the patterns of lifestyles of Hispano agri-pastoralist. Locals are wary and suspicious of outsiders but mostly friendly and respectful if the visitor reaches out. A good icebreaker is to use Spanish place names with some attempt at good pronunciation. There has been some long standing conflicts between the natives that have deep ties to the land and outsiders who have begun to gentrify the region and against the US Forest Service itself. The recent economic downturn has slowed gentrification considerably and the USFS has curtailed its dominance somewhat. A visitor is asked to approach their enjoyment of this country with the understanding that cattle and the occasional rattle of pickup trucks or ATVs are part of the activity of locals attempting to hold on to fragments of traditional human-environment interaction. Many are about their business of checking on cattle or other similar activities and a good policy is to support their way of life even if it conflicts with a visitor’s presupposed concept of what untouched nature is supposed to be.
It is recommended that you avoid late November to late March. The area is frequented by cold storms, snow, and mud.
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