Cloudcroft is a village which is located in the Sacramento Mountains of Otero County, New Mexico at an elevation of 8,676 feet above sea level. Cloudcroft was served by the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway (better known as the Cloud-Climbing Railroad) which operated from 1899-1947. Since the construction of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway the community of Cloudcroft has also been served by the Cloudcroft Highway. The Cloudcroft Highway was part of the original alignment of New Mexico State Route 24 and was reassigned to New Mexico State Route 83 by 1928. Following the shuttering of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway in 1947 the Cloudcroft Highway would be upgraded facilitate modern traffic. The only highway tunnel in New Mexico was constructed along the new alignment of the Cloudcroft Highway during 1949 and the corridor would become part of US Route 82 during 1963. The Cloudcroft Highway includes a 4,315 elevation gain over the course of the sixteen miles from near Alamogordo east to Cloudcroft. This blog explores the history of the Cloudcroft Highway corridor from inception to modern times.
Part 1; the history of the Cloudcroft Highway
During 1898 the El Paso & Northeast Railroad (EP&NE) founding the town and siding of Alamogordo in Tularosa Basin. EP&NE organizers Charles Bishop Eddy and John Arthur Eddy intended to continue the line north towards White Oaks and points beyond. Construction of the EP&NE north of Alamogordo would require a lumber supply which could be readily sourced in the Sacramento Mountains east of Tularosa Basin.
EP&NE surveyors determined that a line east of Alamogordo into the Sacramento Mountains via La Luz, Fresnal Creek, High Rolls, Mountain Park, Toboggan Canyon and Mexican Canyon was feasible. The valley above Mexican Canyon was selected as the site of an EP&NE station and was named "Cloudcroft." Construction of the EP&NE spur known as the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway would commence during 1898. By the end of 1898 the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway reached Toboggan Canyon. The Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway would come in time to be known as the "Cloud-Climbing Railroad."
Construction of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway required a frontage highway be constructed alongside it to haul materials. This haul road would come to be known as the "Cloudcroft Highway" during the 20th century. The Cloudcroft Pavillon would be formally opened by John Eddy during June 1899. The first visitors to the Cloudcroft Pavillon departed the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway in Toboggan Canyon and took stagecoaches up the Cloudcroft Highway the remainder of the way.
The Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway can be seen complete between La Luz and Toboggan Canyon on the 1899 George Franklin Cram Railroad Map of New Mexico. The map displays the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway west of Toboggan Canyon as part of Dona Ana County. The lands east of Toboggan Canyon are shown as part of Lincoln County. Otero County was formally created on January 30, 1899, out of portions of Dona Ana County and Lincoln County.
The Mexican Canyon Trestle would be completed during 1899 and the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway would reach Cloudcroft in early 1900. The Cloudcroft Depot would be completed west of the Pavillon during June 1900. By 1903 the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway would be extended through Cox Canyon towards the lumber town site of Russia. During 1905 the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway would be folded into the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad. The completed Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway can be seen on the 1903 Rand McNally Map of New Mexico.
The Cloudcroft Highway would be assigned as part of the original iteration of New Mexico State Route 24. New Mexico State Route 24 as originally configured began at New Mexico State Route 3 in La Luz and extended east to New Mexico State Route 2 in Carlsbad. The 1920 National Highway Association Map of New Mexico shows the complete scope of the original iteration of New Mexico State Route 24.
The Cloudcroft Highway and New Mexico State Route 24 were not known to be part of any major Auto Trails as none are displayed on the 1924 Rand McNally Auto Trails Map of New Mexico. The western terminus of the Cloudcroft Highway is shown to intersect with Bankhead Highway, Southern National Highway, Ozark Trail and Dixie Overland Highway at the western terminus in La Luz. The Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway would be leased the Southern Pacific Railroad beginning during 1924.
During 1928 the Cloudcroft Highway designation would be swapped to the new designation of New Mexico State Route 83. New Mexico State Route 83 as originally configured in 1928 would begin at US Route 366 at La Luz and terminate to the east at New Mexico State Route 34 near Maljamar. New Mexico State Route 83 can be seen on the 1931 Clauson's Road Map of New Mexico.
The Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway can be seen crossing the Cloudcroft Highway near the Cloudcroft Depot in an undated photo.
During the mid-1930s the Cloudcroft Highway would be extended west of La Laz via Alamo Street to the new bypass alignment of US Route 70 and US Route 54. This extension appears as part of New Mexico State Route 83 on the 1937 Gousha Map of New Mexico.
Passenger service on the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railroad would cease during 1938 due to the emerging popularity of the Cloudcroft Highway. Freight trains would continue to operate on the line until 1947 when operations were shuttered. The tracks along the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railroad would be dismantled during the summer of 1948 leaving only the impressive trestle structures.
Beginning during 1949 the Cloudcroft Highway would begin to be rebuilt to modern standards. During said year the only highway tunnel (sometimes referred to the "Highway 82 Tunnel," "Cloudcroft Tunnel," and "High Rolls-Mountain Park Tunnel") in New Mexico opened to traffic west of High Rolls and Mountain Park. The new highway tunnel rerouted New Mexico State Route 83 south of Fresnal Creek and ended at US Route 54/US Route 70 near Alamogordo. The new alignment of New Mexico State Route 83 bypassed Fresnal Canyon Road, Laborcita Canyon Road, Section Road and La Luz. Alamo Road west of La Luz would be eventually reassigned as New Mexico State Route 545 (which was deleted in 2005).
The nearly complete highway tunnel west of High Rolls and Mountain Park can be seen below in a photo by Ray C. Emens.
The new alignment of New Mexico State Route 83 south of Fresnal Creek west of High Rolls and Mountain Park can be seen on the 1950 United States Geological Survey Map of the Alamogordo area.
The same map also shows the original Cloudcroft Highway below the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway grade in Toboggan Canyon. Much of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway grade in Mexican Canyon would be repurposed for a realignment of New Mexico State Route 83 during the 1950s.
The new alignment of New Mexico State Route 83 and the Cloudcroft Highway can be seen bypassing La Laz on the 1951 Shell Highway Map of New Mexico.
New Mexico State Route 83 and the Cloudcroft Highway are shown to be realigned onto a new ascending curve through Mexican Canyon on the 1956 Shell Highway Map of New Mexico.
On April 5, 1960, the state highway departments of New Mexico and Texas submitted an application to the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) to extended US Route 82 from Lubbock, Texas west to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The submitted extension of US Route 82 would cross the Sacramento Mountains via New Mexico State Route 83. The initial application to extend US Route 82 was rejected by AASHO on November 26, 1960.
A letter from the Texas Highway Department dated December 21, 1961, reveals the initial application to extend US Route 82 to Las Cruces was rejected due to two substandard sections of New Mexico State Route 83. The letter notes the offending segments of New Mexico State Route 83 had recently been improved.
On April 8, 1963, the state highway departments of New Mexico and Texas submitted another application to AASHO to extend US Route 82 from Lubbock to Las Cruces. AASHO approved the application on June 19, 1963, which officially made the Cloudcroft Highway a component of US Route 82.
During 1990 the New Mexico Department of Transportation opted to no longer sign numerous multiplexed highways. US Route 82 signage from Las Cruces to the beginning of the Cloudcroft Highway along US Route 70 and US Route 54 was pulled from field service. This action effectively made the eastbound signed origin of US Route 82 begin at the start of the Cloudcroft Highway near Alamogordo. Despite the signage of US Route 82 being withdrawn no formal truncation application was submitted to AASHTO by the New Mexico Department of Transportation.
Part 2; exploring the Cloudcroft Highway
The signage of US Route 82 and Cloudcroft Highway begins near the northern outskirts of Alamogordo at the intersection of the Alamogordo Relief Route (US Route 70 and US Route 54) and White Sands Boulevard. A graphical illustration depicts the 17 mile the sustained 6% grade climb from Alamogordo at an elevation of 4,335 feet above sea level to Cloudcroft at 8,650 feet above sea level.
As the Cloudcroft Highway begins eastbound US Route 82 is signed as 17 miles from Cloudcroft.
Trucks on are warned of the steep 4,315-foot elevation climb over the next 16 miles.
The eastbound Cloudcroft Highway passes through a portion of Alamogordo and intersects La Luz Road. La Luz Road was part of early US Route 366, US Route 70 and US Route 54 before the mid-1930s. The community of La Luz lies approximately a mile north of the modern Cloudcroft Highway. What is now La Luz was founded in 1719 by Spanish Franciscan missionaries who constructed a chapel known as Nuestra Senora de la Luz. The town site of La Luz wasn't formally plotted until 1860 when it was established by settlers feeling floods along the Rio Grande.
Eastbound Cloudcroft Highway climbs into Dry Canyon and enters Lincoln National Forest. The 14 miles of Cloudcroft Highway east of La Luz Road is signed as a Safety Corridor.
Eastbound Cloudcroft Highway begins to run alongside the south bank of Fresnal Creek and intersects the Tunnel Vista Observation Site.
The Cloudcroft Highway passes through the US Route 82 Tunnel. As noted in Part 1 the US Route 82 Tunnel is the only such highway structure in New Mexico. Most New Mexico Department of Transportation sources simply refer to the structure as the "Highway 82 Tunnel."
East of the US Route 82 Tunnel the Cloudcroft Highway passes through High Rolls and Mountain Park. Both communities are located just over 6,700 feet above sea level and have similar origins having been homesteaded by farmers in the 1880s prior to the construction of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway. The Cloudcroft Highway intersects Lincoln National Forest Route 58 before departing the High Rolls-Mountain Park area.
Eastbound Cloudcroft Highway continues to climb and enters Toboggan Canyon at approximately Mile Marker 13. The Harkey Pedestrian Bridge can be used to access the Old Cloudcroft Highway which now exists as Lincoln National Forest Trail 5002.
Cloudcroft Highway ascends into Mexican Canyon and intersects Bailey Canyon Road. Bailey Canyon can be used to access the Switchback Trail (Lincoln National Forest Trail 5004) which is part of the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway grade.
As Cloudcroft Highway nears Cloudcroft traffic can access a vista of Mexican Canyon Trestle.
Cloudcroft Highway above the Mexican Canyon Trestle enters the village of Cloudcroft. Traffic can access the Trestle Depot Recreation Area at Little Mexican Road.
Cloudcroft Depot can be found as a display piece in the Trestle Depot Recreation Area.
From the Cloudcroft Depot the Overlook Trail (Lincoln National Forest Trail 5001B) connects the Cloud-Climbing Trestle Trail (Lincoln National Forest Trail 5001). The Overlook Trail features a westward vista of Tularosa Basin and White Sands National Park.
Trail 5001B, Trail 5001 and the Crossover Trail (Lincoln National Forest Trail 5001C) can be used to access Old Cloudcroft Highway. The wreckage of an abandoned Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway trestle can be found approaching the Old Cloudcroft Highway.
The Old Cloudcroft Highway flanks the edge of Toboggan Canyon and offers a vista of Tularosa Basin. Evidence of gravel surfacing and the grade of the Old Cloudcroft Highway are apparent amid plant overgrowth.
Cloudcroft Highway intersects New Mexico State Route 130 (Cox Canyon Highway) within Cloudcroft. As noted in Part 1 Cox Canyon Highway was where New Mexico State Route 24 would have once transitioned from the Cloudcroft Highway towards Carlsbad.
Burro Avenue serves as the main street of the Village of Cloudcroft. Cloudcroft lies at an elevation of 8,676 feet above sea level and is considered the highest community in New Mexico. Burro Avenue is lined with numerous historic buildings which date to the early era of Cloudcroft. Numerous historic plaques feature what Burro Avenue once looked like when the community was served by the Alamogordo & Sacramento Railway.