Beta - 20,000 Steps (3A III)

by Brett Kettering


To the north of River Beach Canyon there are a couple canyons that are best accessed from where you park to access River Beach Canyon. See and you’ll see a short canyon that runs SW towards the end of River Beach Canyon. We are calling this River Beach North Canyon for now, as we have not gone down it and named it yet. A bit further north you can see a prominent dark area that is a very tall canyon wall. That wall runs WNW and to the right you can see the drainage that feeds it. This is 20,000 Steps Canyon.

This canyon gets its name because on our first trip through it some of us were wearing pedometers. They counted just over 20,000 steps to complete the loop.


While this canyon is normally dry, with a handful of water holes, it is obvious that at times a large volume of water flows through this canyon. The Chino Mesa area is a large watershed. If you can see thunderstorm activity, it would be wise to stay out of this canyon.


For a good indication of the water content in the canyon, take note of the amount of water in the pools at the top where you drop in to the drainage. When we went through on 18-Jan-2014 these pools were all frozen. Two of them looked to be unavoidable and appeared like they would probably be no more than waist deep. One was about 20’ long and the other maybe 10’. The other pools were all avoidable, or you can walk through them if you don’t care about having wet feet and legs. Further down the canyon where it was more slot-like there were several places that could be swimmers, but there were places on the sides of the pools where you could walk around the water. So, this is one where you can swim if you want, but probably won’t ever have to swim.

20,000 Steps Canyon is a 3AIII. There is 1 rappel of ~90’ that must be done. Just after the must-do rappel is one of about 35’ that could be avoided by down climbing a steep embankment on RDC. It’s a nice rappel with a solid anchor on LDC, so rappelling it is fun. Before arriving at the must-do rappel there is an overhang that is about 12’ high. You can scoot down onto the lip and a tall person can hang his legs over the lip and jump down about 3’ or so, then assist others. Alternatively, you could setup a meet anchor lying against the backside of a substantial rock in the water line and extend a line over the rock and down to the bottom for people to either use as a hand line or to do a body friction rappel.

Getting There

Getting to 20,000 Steps Canyon isn't difficult, but it takes a while. You park at the same place you do for River Beach Canyon. The dirt road has deep ruts in places, spots where you will need to drive carefully to avoid brushing some bushes and trees, and you have to cross a couple of rocky washes. We have cut back some of the bushes and trees off the road that had the greatest potential to scratch vehicles. Before the September 2013 Monsoons, I made it in my Honda Element, but had to pick my path carefully at times. The first rocky wash crossing and some eroded spots in the road will now require more clearance. My Tacoma 4x4 had no problems.

I'll assume that everyone knows about NM 599 (the Santa Fe Bypass between I-25 and NM 285/84). All GPS coordinates are given in WGS 84 decimal format. Follow these directions to get out to River Beach, Breaker Box, Arroyo Montoso, Frijoles Opposite and Rock canyons. After step 6, your path will be different depending on your destination.

1) Take Exit 6 off NM 599 and get to the Frontage Rd. on the NW side (this is the exit for Co Rd 62). See this Google Map view. Go through the roundabout so that you are heading SW on the Frontage Rd. Reset your trip odometer just as you exit the roundabout. The GPS coordinate is N35.65974 W106.03824.

2) Proceed SW down the Frontage Rd. to Caja Del Rio Rd. (you can see it on the link above). Your trip odometer reading should be 1.3 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.64750 W106.05567.

3) Turn right onto Caja Del Rio Rd. and go north past the Marty Sanchez Golf Course (on the west, your left) until you come to Co Rd 62 on the west (left). You will also pass Co Rd 62 on the east (right) before getting to the part that goes west. See this Google Map view. Make the left onto Co Rd 62 West. Your trip odometer reading should be 4.2 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.68512 W106.07169. This is the first good place to leave some cars.

4) Go west past the dump. Here there will be a "Y" in the road. The left branch goes to a picnic area. The right branch is Nf-24. Take the right branch onto Nf-24. See this Google Map view. Your trip odometer reading should be 5.4 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.68956 W106.09132.

5) Continue NW on Nf-24. It will start to bend and turn to head mostly west. You will cross over cattle guards with some branch roads off of Nf-24 at 6.4 and 6.6 miles.

6) When your trip odometer reading is 11.1 miles, you’ll be at GPS coordinate is N35.74151 W106.17324. To the right is a road that goes over a cattle guard and heads out to the northeastern part of the Caja del Rio. This is Nf-24N. See this Google Map view.

7) Turn to the right and cross the cattle guard. This is where the road really narrows, the deep ruts start to appear, the bush/tree rubbing begins, and you encounter the rocky washes. Just before this turn-off is another good place leave some cars.

8) Continue west to the "Y". Take the right branch (NNW) of the "Y". See Your trip odometer reading should be 11.6 miles.

9) At 13.2 and 13.7 miles you will have to pass through some rocky washes. Pick your lines carefully, go slowly, but keep moving. Continue NNW past a branch west (left, Nf-24N-B). Your trip odometer reading should be 13.8 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.75529 W106.19781.

10) Stay on the right fork (Nf-24N) and it will turn north and then NNE. Continue until you come to a “Y”. The right branch, Nf-24-N-G, goes to the River Beach Canyon entry point. The left branch goes to the trailhead where you will exit the canyon. The two end-points are not far apart. Your trip odometer reading should be 14.6 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.76636 W106.19769.

11) Drive to near the end of Nf-24N-G and there’s a clear space on the left to park several vehicles. Your trip odometer should read 15.3 miles. The GPS coordinate is N35.771591 W106.190580.

The Canyon

Follow the road in a northeasterly direction to its end and down into the River Beach Canyon drainage. Go across the drainage up on the other side until you come to the mesa’s cliff bank on the RDC side of River Beach Canyon. You’ll follow that cliff bank in a northwesterly direction until it curves around and you’re heading northeast again.

Find your way through the shrubs and rocks in a northeasterly direction, heading for N35.788407 W106.176569. This is where you will enter the 20,000 Steps Canyon drainage.

Follow the water flow down stream in a mostly westerly direction. You won’t be confused about whether or not you’re in the drainage. A ways down canyon on RDC you’ll see a cave. I’m sure plenty of ancient and modern people have passed some time here. You’ll encounter a couple down climbs of about 10’ that can be relatively easily overcome using hands and feet. There are several other small down climbs and quite a few water holes that can be avoided or entered. As mentioned, a couple of the potholes can’t be avoided, but I don’t think they’re deep enough to be swimmers. Some of the rock is pretty slippery. Use caution, and your hands and feet.

Soon you’ll encounter the previously mentioned overhang that can be a difficult down climb or overcome using teamwork. After this the canyon gets more visually and geographically interesting. There is brown, sandy Bandelier Tuff and some white colored Tuff too. All along the way there are Basalt boulders strewn about.

At N35.790681 W106.185775 you’ll encounter the must-do rappel of about 90’. We slung a boulder on LDC and piled rocks over it in places to prevent the webbing from slipping over the boulder. As long as you keep low and the tension on the webbing in a mostly downward direction, it’s not going to slip. The LDC wall is Tuff and the RDC wall is Basalt. We may consider installing a bolted anchor on the RDC wall at some point to make for an easier rope pull. Currently, I’d recommend that the last person double strand rappel so that there are no knot or biner blocks to try to pull over the lip. This is because there a few V’s over the lip that could catch such a block and stick the rope.

You land on a large Basalt U-shaped shelf that slopes gently down canyon. Over on LDC, about 10’ back from the edge is a large boulder. This is your anchor for rappel 2. It is about 35’ down a Basalt column face. On the LDC side of that face the columns spiral from vertical to horizontal. Our resident Geologist, Steve Reneau, tells us:

The standard and classic form is comprised of vertical columns, like found at Devil's Postpile (CA), Devil's Tower (WY), Giant's Causeway (Ireland), and many other places. The fractures generally form perpendicular to the cooling surface. So, when you have a basaltic lava flow over a relatively flat surface, with a flat top, or the center of a lava lake, the columns are vertical. However, when you have a flow filling a valley or a volcanic crater, which it looks like you have here, the cooling surface can be sloping or vertical, and produce columns that are sloping or even horizontal.

After this rappel you just work your way down canyon to its exit at N35.792893 W106.195579. Stay on the LDC side, as you will work your way in a mostly southerly direction along the Rio Grande back to the exit of River Beach Canyon. Avoid the Salt Cedar right along the Rio Grande. It is very dense and will scratch you up. The River Beach Canyon drainage is very wide and very obvious. You’ll have to head back up the drainage to find the exit trail that is at N35.78344 W106.19851 on River Beach Canyon’s LDC (or RUC as you are heading up canyon at this point). An upright pole marks where the trail exits the drainage and heads up the canyon side back to the mesa top. It is 0.9 miles and 900’ of elevation gain to reach the top trail marker at N35.77427 W106.19455. The trail is easy to follow and there are cairns along the way.

Once at the trailhead, hike SE back to where you parked at N35.771591 W106.190580.