By Cecilia Kayano
You will need one of three things to navigate the trails on BLM land east of Caballo Lake State Park: A GPS, a good BLM map showing mining roads, and/or a sense of adventure and plenty of daylight. None of the roads are marked.
I used a GPS to follow old mining roads to two saddles east of the park. I camped at Riverside Campground right next to the Rio Grande River. We crossed the river, then headed south on the graded road. In about a mile, we followed a sandy wash to the left, then went cross-country to link up with a mining road to the southeast that heads toward a low mountain range.
Once you get out of the wash, you can see the mountains to the east. There is a peak that can only be described as a nipple. To the right (south of it) is a very distinct saddle. As we rode up the mining road, we kept taking right (southern) branches of the road, until we definitely were headed to the southern saddle.
One of the first landmarks you come to is a big, dark brown water tank with a black pipe heading up the mountain. If you find this water tank, you are on your way! Just follow the road with the pipe, and it will lead you up to the saddle. There are two big green water tanks and a trough at the saddle. Go past the saddle, then through a wire gate, and start heading down. You will find another water trough in a wash just below the saddle. There is also a muddy tank to the south of the road as you drop down into the valley. From here, there is no water until you reach Caballo Lake.
After you drop into the valley, you will quickly come to a wide, graded road. Turn left here, and follow it back to the lake. You can ride down a wash to get to the lake to take a break and give your horses a drink. Get back on the graded road, follow it south, and it will take you back to the Rio Grande River crossing where you started your ride. This loop is 12 miles.
There is another saddle to the north. It is harder to see than the southern saddle, but if you look closely, you can see a road going up to, but not quite reaching, a saddle. (The actual saddle crossing is out of view.) To get there, approach the mountains in the same way, but stay on left (northern) forks of the road. Keep looking northeast, and you will see a grayish water tank. Head for that. You will find old corrals and a water trough there.
Follow the road past a miner’s shack, then three mine entrances. As you follow the road up, there will be foundations of buildings, and old mining landings. At the saddle is a wire gate. Go through the gate, and despite your instincts, stay to your left, and follow the steep and very rocky road down.
There is a section of about 10 yards that has some exposure on the left. If you and your horse are not comfortable with trails that are steep, rocky and exposed, you might want to dismount here and lead your horse down.
When you reach the valley floor, there are corrals but no water. Join up with the graded road, and go left to the lake. Like the first loop, this will take you back to the campground. This loop is 10 miles.
Another option is to ride both saddles in a loop. I suggest riding in a counter-clockwise direction, so you are descending the less rocky trail, and going up the rocky, steep and exposed trail. Riding both saddles is very interesting because of the diversity of the terrain and the mining ruins, but does not take you to the lake, which is a fun spot to relax and let your horses have drink.