Bishop Cap/Pena Blanca

Attention: Please be aware that a debate is raging over the quality of the rock at Bishop Cap. Rather than rely on the possibly biased opinion of, why not go to BC and see for yourself? We don't know what you will conclude about the quality of the rock, but one thing is guaranteed- you will have a GREAT time and go home pumped and happy!

Getting there :

BC is obvious from I-10. About halfway from El Paso to Las Cruces, take the Mesquite exit and head east. After a half a mile or so the road turns to dirt; a half mile later it skirts a landfill on the north side. At this point the rocks will be about 3 miles distant. The road steadily deteriorates into a jeep trail, but any vehicle with good clearance can make it most of the way to the parking lot(s). We were recently amazed to see a group of six boulderers from Juarez at the Smith Boulders parking lot, who had made it there in a small Nissan sedan! Somehow, they had compressed themselves and their gear, including two full-size pads into the car. Nonetheless, I highly recommend a pickup truck or similar auto for the trip. Here is a map.

For many, many years, long before climbers started going there, BC has been used (abused, really) by many people. 4x4 partiers who litter, drive off of roads and build fires near the rocks instead of out on the flats at the parking lot, kids with rifles shooting anything that moves, Mexican gardeners looking for cactus to dig up - it has all been happening out there. Of course, there are also other responsible users such as adult target-shooting enthusiasts, mountain bikers and hikers. Even with the recent increase in climber traffic, on any given day climbers are outnumbered 5:1 at BC.

Therefore, we have a question for all anti-climber land managers everywhere who are itching to restrict climbing - why do you hate us so much? And why the sudden interest in BC? Just let us climb in peace. For example, why do you ignore all the other gun users out there, and then freak out when you hear that climbers might like to squeeze off a few rounds occasionally? Why do you lease BLM land to ranchers who denude it with cattle grazing, then panic when a 3' wide strip of land at the base of a boulder erodes a few centimeters? The USDA Forest Service/Nazional Pork Service lets concessionaires clear land, build roads and lodges, but won't me ride a mountain bike on most trails. Why does the government think it is OK to destroy thousands of square miles of canyons with dams, yet try to arrest us for putting in a few tiny bolts high up on the face of a cliff where they are practically invisible? How about Mount Rushmore?

The answer seems obvious to us. The State wants to keep keep people at home in the city. They will let us out occasionally to look at "wilderness", but we can't touch, we have to go where we are told, when we are told (by appointment), pay the fees we are told to pay, engage in a few activities that are on the approved list, and go back home to our jobs in the cities when we are told to.

Quick Picks for first trip to BC:
We suggest visiting the Smith Boulders group as a warm-up; don't miss Grandpa Smith and the Spore. You can then head east to Jewell Boulder, Big Boulder and the east side area, or head west to Spanky's, The Rave and around to the Garden or the North End.

February 2001
BC is wonderful. We were blind to its charms for years. Every time we go we meet more and more climbers, all nice people. We witnessed amazing feats of courage and skill this Sunday. Did not miss Hueco a bit! You can be, and feel, free at BC. Freedom is worth putting up with rock that is less-than-perfect.

January 2001
Another GREAT day at BC! It was simply too nice to waste it at Hueco. Just 55 minutes from NE El Paso, this place is the true alternative to the oppression at Hueco. No stupid forms, no rangers, no disorientation video, for forced exit before sunset, no silly prohibitions about smoking (can't have open flame in the middle of a vast expanse of rock...)- just happy climbers and a great wilderness setting, all on BLM land where you are relatively free (for now...)

At the end of the day, everyone was pumped and satisfied. We watched a perfect desert sunset from the parking lot.

October 2000
Located at the Southern tip of the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces, these lovely, multicolored formations are about 5 miles north of the little peak named Bishop Cap. The rocks are clearly visible from I-10, and we had driven by them hundreds of times on our way to the Organs before I first decided to check them out in late 1996. I went there a few times in 1996 and 1997, but rejected them at that time as worthless choss. I, like most El Paso and Las Cruces climbers, went to the Organs or Hueco.

With the growth in the popularity of bouldering and the troubles at Hueco, area climbers gave Bishop Cap a second look. A group of masochistic hardmen from El Paso and Las Cruces have discovered many, many excellent problems at BC. Yes, much of the area is still IMHO a hopeless dirtbank, but that did not deter the persistent locals, and should not deter you! There are many steep, juggy, overhanging problems, along with lots of Vb- stuff for beginners.

The climbing chossy by Hueco standards. Holds break frequently - but it is FUN! Bishop Cap is worth visiting. The established problems are fairly clean and safe. The rock has some really wild shapes, with stalactites and arches and odd frozen lava-looking stuff. There are clusters of tubes that look very much like a giant wasps nest when you stand below them. The rock is arranged in huge, uplifted multicolored bands. Much of it seems to be volcanic, with some welded tuft and conglomerate. No limestone seems to be present. We need a geologist - (Mark Pearson where are you?)

Problems are often found by looking for patches and bands of solid stone that are mixed in with horrible choss. Some of the strata are surprisingly good - the contrast with the crumbly rock nearby is striking. Where blocks of good rock have broken off and tumbled down, you can find excellent problems.

One promising area at BC is the zone that extends from the Volcano east along the southern mud-banks. The geology in that region is quite varied, and the idea is to find the bands of relatively hard rock extrusions. There is a fantastic looking structure called the Smile, which is a giant 30m-wide half circle of darker rock that looks just like the smile in a big smiley face. The Smile is halfway up a 70m face-thing that is wildly overhung, and though it is mostly dirt, there is a tantalizing series of those decent rock-blobs that looks like it might go. The left lips of the smile look best.

Another area just being "discovered" is the Garden zone. This rock is characterized by its grayish color and better patina than the light tan rocks.

I was out there the last two weekends and I had a great time! I found an unclimbed boulder of my own and named it Jewell Boulder after my kid. I spent a few hours cleaning the loose, tottering flakes and removing the largest jagged blocks from the base of the climbs. It is now a safe, great boulder for children and old men!

BC remains fairly pristine, since the climbers have been keeping things tidy. We need to organize a trash pickup to get rid of hunter/partier trash. The view is great, it is quiet (except when we are exercising our Second Amendment Rights!), and you are safe from land managers and culture-lovers. That is the best part of Pena Blanca; the relative freedom compared to Hueco. No silly forms to fill out, no having to make small talk with people you don't want to talk to, no stupid rules about where it is "safe" to go without a guard/guide, no having to leave before sunset (I watched it from the top of the Volcano this Sunday, very nice), you are allowed to pick up trash instead of leaving it in place as an "artifact" and no fees!


USGS Aerial photo - click for labeled version
Click for a labeled version showing the names