“A steep, technical trail summiting Tortugas Mountain, with some scrambling on the eastern face.”
— Brendan Ross
Desert mountain trails are rugged and rocky. Trail shoes with rock plates are strongly recommended. Cacti, ocotillos, and Spanish daggers can all pose a hazard to trail users as well, so stay on the trail to avoid getting scratched up.
Southern New Mexico weather can be hot, windy, dusty, or all three at once. Summer heat is usually in the high 90's, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. Make sure to check the forecast and bring more water than you think you'll need. There is very little shade, so morning runs are preferable in the summer months.
One of the many short trails leading to the top of Tortugas Mountain, Turtleback Trail is the only one connecting to the mountain's eastern side. The trail begins at the Sunset Parking Lot. After crossing the Tortugas Trail
loop a few hundred feet in, it begins a steep, challenging climb straight up the hillside. Rocks, generally small but some as large as basketballs, add some technicality to the mix. The primary challenge is in the grade, though, and many runners will need to power hike the last half mile to the top. Exercise caution if descending this portion, as moving too fast can make it easy to lose control.
Two interesting features are found at the top: an observatory run by the nearby New Mexico State University (whose "A" adorns the hill to commemorate their mascot, the Aggies), and a small Catholic shrine. Pilgrimages to the shrine occur on a semi-regular basis, though most people visiting for this purpose take the easier Geothermal Road to the top.
The trail continues south for a few hundred feet before turning east. Descending down the eastern side is marginally less steep than the western slope, but it tends to be more technical. Larger rocks and boulders require some scrambling.
Turtleback crosses Tortugas Trail
again a little after the mile point. The remaining portion of the trail is an easy descent to the flat Arroyo Loop