The Whitethorn Wilderness is named for the prevalent white-thorn acacia, a key year-round food source for quail and a summer food source for desert mule deer. The volcanic landscape is characterized by cinder cones and craters. Weathered lava houses small and large wildlife, and views stretch hundreds of miles.
Raptors are common, especially during the winter. Golden eagles, great-horned owls, and Swainson’s hawks nest here, and peregrine falcons have also been reported. Other species that forage and live in the area include pronghorn, mule deer, quail, jackrabbits, and occasional migrating ducks on ephemeral ponds.
Chihuahuan Desert grassland and yucca, in association with a mosaic of other desert shrubs such as creosote, acacia, and mesquite, make up the majority of the plant cover in the area. Isolated clumps of netleaf hackberry and other desert trees are found in the lava flow where depressions or deeper pockets of soil hold extra water after rainfall. Summer monsoon rains bring extensive stands of wildflowers in this area including white and yellow desert zinnias, desert marigolds, blackfoot daisies, globe mallow, pepperweed, desert sunflowers, Chihuahuan flax, and summer poppy.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Whitethorn Wilderness.
The south part of the Greater Potrillo Mountains complex is easily reached by Highway 9 that goes from Santa Teresa to Columbus along the border with Mexico. From I-10 exit #8 in Texas, head west toward the border crossing on Highway 136. Just north of the border, about 9½ miles southwest of the interstate exit, turn west on Highway 9. In 16½ miles, CR A008 comes in on the north. This road forms the eastern boundary of the East Potrillo Mountains unit.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.