A relatively new trail to the Franklin Mountains State Park system, Down Under is a much-needed alternative to Pipeline Road
, connecting the far northeast and central sections of the area.
The northern end of the trail starts between a park-maintained bathroom and the southeast corner of Hitt Canyon Loop
, across from the beginning of Hitt Itt
. No markers or signs are present, but the pathway through the numerous creosote bushes in the area is fairly easy to find. The initial section of the trail is a flat, gritty singletrack, with scattered areas of rocks no larger than golf balls. As such, it makes for an easier hike than the more technical trails towards the foothills. A number of shorter desert plants line the trail, with several varieties of cactus blooming in the wetter months.
Eventually Down Under narrows to a short ridgeline trail, marking the final transition from mountains to desert. It doubles back and descends to a valley between hills, crossing a five-foot deep washout as it heads south. The surface changes to hardpacked sand here. As the trail nears the mile point, it begins to alternate between flat valleys and winding short hill climbs, crossing a few small arroyos as it proceeds. This continues for the remainder of the trail. The variety keeps what might've otherwise been a drab flatland path interesting, though the low grades won't provide much challenge to experienced hikers.
Down Under finishes back at Pipeline Road
, directly across from Tu Madre
. Two small rock cairns mark the intersection of the trail on this side.
Flora & Fauna
Desert plants tend to bloom in waves in spring and summer after the short periods of rain that El Paso experiences. Ocotillo
tend to turn green and blossom first, followed by barrel and claret cup cacti, and finally flowers and prickly pears. The northeast area of the Franklins features a greater number of lechugilla than other regions.
Animals are mostly limited to jackrabbits, lizards, and small birds. Roadrunners will dart across the trail at times, and hawks circle overhead, looking for prey. Coyotes are hard to spot and tend to only come out after dusk, though they leave visitors alone.
Keep an eye out for snakes. They avoid the hot desert sun and are more common during the winter months. Most are harmless, but rattlers are a part of the local wildlife.
Shared By: Brendan Ross