OverviewCaballo Cone is a little-known gem that towers nearly 2000 feet above the town of Truth or Consequences in south-central New Mexico. Known as Turtleback Mountain to locals, it is a surprisingly strenuous and scenic hike for a mountain so close to an urban area. As Truth or Consequences’ mountain, Turtleback deserves its nickname when the rocks and shadows near the summit display a prominent turtle shape, especially during sunsets.
Turtleback Mountain is in the northern section of the Caballo Mountains, a rugged and uplifted batch of granite basement rock and limestone on the east side of the Rio Grande Rift Valley. Peter Greene (in Mountains of New Mexico) mentions that geologists recognize the Caballo Mountains “as a place where almost the entire geologic history of New Mexico is exposed at the land surface.” The Caballo Mountains themselves are divided into two prominent ridges: North Ridge and South Ridge. The division is a pass called Palomas Gap, named for the doves (palomas) found near the river. Turtleback Mountain is the prominent point on North Ridge; the entire ridge including Caballo Cone is labeled on USGS maps as Turtle Mountain. Timber Mountain is the highest point in the Caballo Mountains, and of South Ridge.
The area surrounding Caballo Cone is filled with history and interesting landmarks. Truth or Consequences (originally called Hot Springs) changed its name to Truth or Consequences in response to a radio game show challenge in the 1950s. But the town continues to live up to its original name; many hot springs are found here. One of the most popular and scenic is Riverbend Hot Springs located on the banks of the Rio Grande. T or C (as New Mexicans refer to it) also boasts some small but tasty restaurants. Recommended are BBQ on Broadway, and the Brazen Fox. Other attractions nearby include the Geronimo Springs Museum (with history about the area), and a Veterans Memorial Park.
A short distance to the northeast is the famous Elephant Butte Lake State Park – the largest lake in New Mexico. This man-made reservoir is a popular destination for water sports and fishing. If birding is also on the agenda, then check out Caballo Lake and Percha Dam State Parks just a few miles south of T or C. All three parks (Elephant Butte, Caballo Lake, and Percha Dam) provide opportunities for camping, boating, kayaking, tubing, fishing, picnicking, and even waterskiing.
To the east of Caballo Cone is the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of the Dead Man), a desert basin infamous for its 100-mile stretch without water. It is part of what was known as El Camino Real (The Royal Road or King's Road) - a traveler's route from 'New Spain' (Mexico) to 'Nuevo Mexico' (New Mexico) as early as the 16th century. To the west across the Rio Grande is the famous Gila Wilderness, which became the world's first wilderness area through the efforts of Aldo Leopold (called by some the father of modern Wildlife Biology).