You want to tell people about hiking on White Mesa. You want to describe what it looks like. You use words like "views," "panoramas," "vistas" and "pretty." You mention the natural springs bubbling out of mounds, the crackling layers of minerals and how the ground around the trails is actually alive. None of it does the landscape justice. You end up saying,"You'll have to go see it for yourself."
I have photos from my family's Christmas Day hike at White Mesa southwest of San Ysidro. I look at them and wish they were grander, more like what I remember from seeing it in person. Starting at the trail head, we took a good long loop that carried us across the mesa, down into a valley and back up another rise to a network of natural springs. The first part of the hike was littered with chunks of sparkling white gypsum. That's how the mesa got its name. The trails cross through BLM and Zia Pueblo land. Bikes are welcome and certain areas are open to equestrians.
There are delightful views of Cabezon, the sweeping valley, nearby river and undulating hills and mesas. The spring mounds (sorry - they're cold) bubble with CO2 from below. We saw three different mounds and they each had their own personality. One is surrounded by grass. Another is encircled by layers of yellow, red and white mineral deposits that make it look like the ground of an alien planet. Another is collapsed, leaving a massive hole with water deep down below.
We spent at least four or five hours on our loop. We scrambled down dipping ridges, climbed up mesa tops and stood in a valley that swept out down to the far river. I still feel like I'm not doing a good job of describing it. You'll have to go see it for yourself.
Getting there: Go west on 550 through Bernalillo. Keep going about 20 miles. Turn left onto Cabezon Rd. If you hit San Ysidro, you went too far. Keep left and look for the gravel parking lot. There will be a lot on your left and another one on your right a few minutes later. We landed at the one on the right. The roads were good when we went through, most vehicles won't have a problem. There are no fees.
What to take: Sturdy shoes or boots. Plenty of liquids. Your bike, if you like. Hiking snacks to get you through the longer loops. A camera to attempt to capture the views. Sun protection is a good idea any time of the year. Layers are especially helpful this time of year when you will heat up on the climbs and cool off as the sun starts going down.