Hiking the Old Tin Mine Trail

Hiking the Old Tin Mine Trail in the Franklin Mountains.

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Monday was warm, sunny, and best of all, not breezy. We have had many warm days in El Paso that were too breezy to consider hiking in the Franklin Mountains.

Andy was off work and in need of ‘outdoor therapy’. He has been slowly recovering from an upper respiratory infection and felt that a day outside, breathing in fresh mountain air, would make him feel better. It was also our last chance for a hike before we leave El Paso at the end of the week.

We pulled up the AllTrails app on our phones and searched for a trail fairly close to the RV park that was rated easy to moderate. When we saw El Paso Tin Mines Trail, rated easy with great reviews, we found the trail for our Monday walk.

This trail is the former access road to what was America’s only operating tin mine. The El Paso Tin Mining and Smelting Company, founded in 1909, proved unsuccessful and closed in 1915 after the project yielded only 160 100-pound pigs of tin. Two portions of the mine can be explored using access points off Mundy’s Gap and Scenic Road trails. We explored the mines off Scenic Road because they were visible from the trail. However, we didn’t exactly follow the Scenic Road trail.

Our map indicated that the access point for the trail was at the end of Jon Cunningham Boulevard, which is the parking lot at Chuck Heinrich Memorial Park. The parking lot was full when we arrived. Luckily, we were able to find nearby street parking directly across from the park and close to the parking lot. As we walked towards the trail head, we saw hikers coming out, as well as others going in. There were families, groups of teens and couples with dogs. It was nice to see so many others out enjoying the warm Monday afternoon.20180115_133203

The gradually inclining trail started as a combination of sand, dirt and small bits of gravel. As we ascended higher, the trail became more like that of a creek bed. The rocks were larger and varying sizes. We kept the dogs on their leashes the majority of the way up because of the other hikers and mountain bikers on the trail. Having the dogs leashed made it a bit more challenging to walk up these rocky portions of the trail. When we had the trail to ourselves, we unhooked their leashes, making it easier for all of us to walk.

The views were spectacular and we stopped often to take pictures, look around and let others pass. We watched as the city became more distant and listened as the traffic and other sounds became fainter. It was definitely worth the hike and the work to get up to the mines.

The Tin Mine we explored is the dark rectangular shape in the middle of the picture, about 1/4 up the mountain.
Exploring a small cave before we took the trail up to the Tin Mine.

When we reached the junction in the trail with Scenic Road off to our right and Mundy Gap to our left, we turned right on the Scenic Road trail. After only a few feet, we saw the dark metal top of a tin mine up the mountain on our left. The trail we were on would take us up and around the backside of the mine. We didn’t want to walk that far so we decided to follow a narrower trail that appeared to be more direct. It went right up to the mine.

Some rock art left by other hikers.

We were no longer on the easy trail. I admit I was nervous climbing up. The higher we went, the harder it got. As I struggled to get to the next level on the trail, I called out to Andy “This is NOT what I thought we would be doing!”

Off leash at this point, little Sadie had trouble getting up a few of the inclines to the next level area, and at one point, refused to climb. After I was safely on level ground, Andy went back to carry Sadie up.

When we reached the top, there were five teenage girls resting on the edge of the mine’s metal grate roof. They were very helpful and friendly. They told us this entrance went back in to the mine and they told us about another entrance in the area. We declined their offer for snacks, however, the dogs were happy to munch on a few of their Cheez-Its.

Andy and I passed through the mine entrance, followed by Max. Sadie was not at all interested in walking into a dark place that had all kinds of strange smells. She ran back out and sat with the girls.

Looking back at the mine entrance

Max and I followed behind Andy. Looking up I could see the metal grate roof and around me bars lining the pathway. It reminded me of a cage for wild animals in a zoo. Could there be animals living in here? Soon, the metal grate roof was replaced by rock and it was too dark to see.20180115_150109

20180115_150045Andy had continued walking while I had been looking around and the light from his flashlight didn’t help Max and me to see. I started after him, but we got further and further behind since we were walking very slowly. At this point, I called out that I was going back, found the flashlight on my phone (not really the best flashlight for dark mine exploring) and lit a path for us back to the entrance. Max quickly ran ahead and out of the mine.

When I stepped out, Max and Sadie were happily resting next to the girls. I walked around the outside of the mine, looking down through the grate for Andy. A few minutes later he came out, saying he had walked as far as he could into the mine.

The girls got ready to leave. They were going to take the stairs in front of the mine towards another entrance. Stairs? We could have walked up stairs? They pointed them out to us and we looked to see if the trail intersected with the stairs.20180115_151043

However, we wanted to see the other mine on the same level and didn’t take the stairs down. The girls told us there was another trail on the other side of that mine that would wind around and back down to the main trail.

We decided to go that way. We thanked them as they headed to the stairs and we headed  towards the other mine. Max and Sadie decided they wanted to try the stairs and headed after the girls. We called them, yelled their names, and eventually, Andy went back to get them.

We walked the short distance to the next mine. It was not open, but we could see into it through the grated roof. The trail we took around the mine was also rough, but not nearly as rough as the trail we had climbed to reach the first mine. It wound under an overhanging, narrowed to single file and finally opened up to a smaller version of the creek bed trail we had followed up. After about 20 minutes walking, we were back to the main trail and headed down the mountain.

Mountain bikers heading down the trail.

20180115_141452Walking down was faster than going up. However, we still walked slower through the parts of the trail that I called the creek bed. A little more than half way down, Sadie started leaving the trail and walking alongside it instead. Maybe her paws were tired of all the rocks and she was looking for a smoother path. Eventually she started walking farther up into the brush. She would come down when we called her, but it was getting annoying. At one point, when the trail was mostly dirt, she did it again. I turned to find her and immediately fell to the ground, yelling out in pain. I had stepped on a rock with the lateral aspect (outside) of my left foot. I had hurt that same part of my foot when we walked the Rio Bosque Wetland trail and it still hurt if I put weight on it.

We continued down the trail, much more slowly this time as I was in a lot of pain and being extremely cautious with my steps. Andy put the leashes on the dogs and led them down.

We had started up the trail at 12:30pm and got back down to the parking about 5:30pm. We had walked around 9 miles, based on my phone tracker. It felt like more to me and my injured foot.20180115_173127

This week I am resting my foot, elevating and icing it. It needs to heal and be ready for our next adventure.


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