The Tom Mays Unit is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. Off-hours access is permitted and is via a small parking area at the gate off of Transmountain. Overnight camping is available.
A ranger station, usually only staffed on weekends in the warmer months, is located a mile inside the entrance. Adult entrance fees are $5 per person, or $2 in groups; children 12 and under are free. When the station is not staffed, use the pay box next to the station.
For hikers interested in connecting to Mundy's Gap
, Agave Loop is a better option than the talus fields of West Cottonwood Spring
. The path splits off immediately after the latter's trailhead and starts in a similar manner - wide and rocky.
After passing a sheltered picnic area, the trail turns off to the left as a narrower dirt singletrack. A shortcut straight ahead makes a steep climb, while the nicer main trail hairpins up the side of a foothill, passing by agave, lechugillas and sotols as it goes. After the two rejoin, another shortcut is available to the left; again, the longer path is the nicer hike.
The trail soon crests the foothill at a large clearing. This is a launching area for a local paragliding club, and a nice view of west El Paso spreads out to the west. A small rock cairn marks the beginning point of Upper Agave
to the southeast; this trail completes the climb to the top of West Cottonwood Spring
and connects to the difficult but scenic North Franklin Peak
Continue past the launching area to the northeast. The remainder of the trail is still somewhat rocky, but flattens out as it overlooks a canyon. Two scree crossings are ahead, both about twenty feet long. Footing through these areas is difficult and hikers should slow down in the interest of safety.
After the second crossing, Agave Loop merges into West Cottonwood Spring
a hundred feet before the beginning of Mundy's Gap
. A sign marks where the trails split. For hikers starting on Agave Loop from this end, look to the left for where the trail follows the mountain contour instead of continuing down into the canyon.
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.
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. Give them a wide berth, and if they're blocking the trail, tossing a few rocks in their direction tends to be enough incentive for them to leave.