Reaching Upwards

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I love hiking the deserts and mountains of New Mexico, but one thing our beloved state does not have is the giant Saguaro cacti that are emblematic of the deserts in Arizona. Like the arms of the Saguaro that reach upwards towards the sun, I felt myself stretching and reaching upwards at Thanksgiving, thankful for an opportunity to hike in the warmer temperatures of the mountains around Tucson.

Both of our hikes were in the Santa Catalina Mountains that sit to the northeast of Tucson, similar to our Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque. The Catalinas are not quite as high as the Sandias but, like the Sandias, there are numerous trails to choose from that provide a wilderness getaway with awe-inspiring views of the city below and the mountains and desert in the distance.
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On Thanksgiving day we hiked 8 miles, an in-and-out route on the Bug Spring Trail. We were at the trailhead by 8:00am so we could finish before the hottest part of the day. 80 degrees was predicted for Tucson and it definitely was that warm by the time we got back to the car. Along the way we encountered several other parties of hikers and exchanged holiday greetings, agreeing that there was no better way to spend Thanksgiving.

Interesting rock formations on Bug Spring Trail.
Interesting rock formations on Bug Spring Trail.

Enjoying Bug Spring Trail hike.
Enjoying Bug Spring Trail hike.

Looking west from halfway up Bug Spring Trail.
Looking west from halfway up Bug Spring Trail.

View towards Tucson from Bug Spring Trail.  Santa Rita Mountains in the distance.
View towards Tucson from Bug Spring Trail. Santa Rita Mountains in the distance.

The day after Thanksgiving we climbed up the Ventana Canyon Trail. This was a shorter, steeper hike providing views of the city from a different angle. We got started later in the morning and it was even hotter by the time we finished the hike. Wonderful day.
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Lots of Saguaro cacti on the Ventana Canyon hike.
Lots of Saguaro cacti on the Ventana Canyon hike.

Being in the shade of the canyon walls was a nice break as the day got hotter.
Being in the shade of the canyon walls was a nice break as the day got hotter.

Starting steeper ascent on Ventana Canyon Trail.
Starting steeper ascent on Ventana Canyon Trail.

Warm enough to wear shorts the end of November!
Warm enough to wear shorts the end of November!

Looking west from halfway up the trail.
Looking west from halfway up the trail.

Getting closer to the top.
Getting closer to the top.

The day we left there wasn’t time to hike, but we had time for an enjoyable morning stroll through the Tucson Botanical Gardens. We headed for Phoenix to spend one more day in Arizona.
A tourist stop at the Tucson Botanical Gardens the day we left.
A tourist stop at the Tucson Botanical Gardens the day we left.

Back to the colder climate of Albuquerque, having soaked up some of southern Arizona’s warmth, maybe the winter months won’t seem quite as long.

San Lorenzo Canyon

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, about 50 miles south of Albuquerque, encompasses a large area but very little of the land there is open to the public. However, at the southern end of the refuge there is an area of BLM land called San Lorenzo Canyon that is an excellent spot for hiking and photography. There are no marked trails and without our friend, Sue, and her trusty GPS device we probably never would have hiked there.

After weeks of exceptionally warm weather, today started off quite chilly with overcast skies. But we bundled up and weren’t on the trail too long before we found ourselves warming up enough to take off some extra layers. We were also glad that Sue was driving her 4-wheel drive vehicle because of the last stretch over rough, dirt road that leads through the lower part of the canyon. Most of the interesting rock formations and hoodoos were along the road leading into the canyon. When the canyon road ends there is a rock face that you climb up and over to access the upper part of the canyon to start the hike.

Rock formations along road into the canyon.
Rock formations along road into the canyon.
Along the road.
Along the road.
End of dirt road into San Lorenzo Canyon.  Hike starts just around the corner.
End of dirt road into San Lorenzo Canyon. Hike starts just around the corner.
A tiny stream is sometimes visible in the canyon; other times it goes underground.
A tiny stream is sometimes visible in the canyon; other times it goes underground.
Stream makes a waterfall.  Size is deceptive.  It was less than a foot high.
Stream makes a waterfall. Size is deceptive. It was less than a foot high.

After walking about a half mile in the canyon we hiked out of the canyon onto a ridge that we followed for another mile or so. Stopping for some views along the way, we then went up and down through an arroyo where we found a sheltered spot for lunch. We came back through a side canyon that rejoined San Lorenzo Canyon close to our starting point.

View after climbing out of canyon.
View after climbing out of canyon.
Sue and Lee stopping to look at some birds.
Sue and Lee stopping to look at some birds.
A viewpoint looking north at Ladrone Peak.
A viewpoint looking north at Ladrone Peak.

Before leaving the area, on the road back out, we stopped at an interesting slot canyon and walked a short distance to explore that canyon. Another enjoyable day hiking in the New Mexico desert.

Heading into the slot canyon.
Heading into the slot canyon.
We saw several of these interesting caterpillars along the walls of the slot canyon.
We saw several of these interesting caterpillars along the walls of the slot canyon.

Connecting the Dots

Notice blue dot trail marker in photo on the left and red dot in photo on the right.
Notice blue dot trail marker in photo on the left and red dot in photo on the right.

About an hour-and-a-half drive north of Albuquerque, the small town of White Rock, NM, perches on the edge of a gorge overlooking the Rio Grande River at White Rock Canyon. A public access viewpoint at the edge of town is a spot that Lee and I visited a couple of months ago. As we gazed down at the river far below us, I knew that this was a place I wanted to come back to when we had more time and could hike the trail that leads down into the canyon. Actually, there are 2 trails, one marked with painted blue dots on the rocks along the trail and one painted with red dots. Combining these two trails with a connecting trail at the bottom and another trail at the top along the canyon rim makes a nice 7.5-mile loop trail. Today was the day that we got to connect the red and blue dots and check this trail off our bucket list.

Map of Blue Dot Red Dot hike.
Map of Blue Dot Red Dot hike.

Our starting point was the Blue Dot trailhead, which drops steeply down for about a mile to meet the River Trail, about 1000 feet of elevation drop. Following that trail for about two miles led us to our lunch spot at the refreshing outflow of Pajarito Springs, also the point where the Red Dot trail starts back up to the canyon rim. We definitely needed the fuel provided from lunch to make that 1-mile ascent back up to regain the 1000 feet of elevation.

The only part of this hike that is somewhat undesirable is the 1/2-mile stretch at the top where you have to walk along a trail in a subdivision to get back to the public land along the rim for the 2 miles back to the Blue Dot trailhead. The top of the loop on our map that shows us going through the Overlook Sports Complex was a mistake on our part. We took a wrong turn when we were almost back to the car and instead of completing our hike along the rim we ended up having to go through a couple of fences and then through the middle of a dog park. The dogs were friendly, though, so all’s well that ends well with a great day for a dotty hike by us dotty old folks.

Starting descent down Blue Dot trail.
Starting descent down Blue Dot trail.

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Trail never got very close to the river.
Trail never got very close to the river.
Some fall color on a cottonwood tree along the River Trail.
Some fall color on a cottonwood tree along the River Trail.

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Outflow from Pajarito Springs.
Outflow from Pajarito Springs.
Close to our lunch spot.
Close to our lunch spot.
Back up the Red Dot Trail.
Back up the Red Dot Trail.
Interesting rocks on cliff walls near top of Red Rock Trail.
Interesting rocks on cliff walls near top of Red Rock Trail.
Looking towards Santa Fe across the canyon to the first snowfall of the season on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Looking towards Santa Fe across the canyon to the first snowfall of the season on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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