Caverns and Canyons

Since Carlsbad, NM, usually has the warmest temperatures in the state, we planned a two-day getaway to escape the cold in Albuquerque and check out the hiking in the section of the Guadalupe Mountains that are part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The day we arrived we had time for a short hike east from the Visitor Center along a ridgetop with views below where the plains of the Chihuahuan Desert meet the Guadalupe Mountains. The best part of the hike was that it was sunny and 70 degree weather.

Our enjoyment of the warm weather was short-lived. A storm blew in overnight and it was cold and rainy when we woke up the next morning. We had planned to explore the Slaughter Canyon Trail in the Guadalupe Mountains west of the caverns. By the time that we arrived in Whites’ City the rain had turned to snow. It didn’t look to be a promising day for a hike in the mountains so we decided to turn our hike into an underground exploration and join the hordes of tourists who come to Carlsbad just to see the caverns. The park brochure said that the temperatures in the cave stay at a constant 57 degrees. That sounded a whole lot better than freezing rain and snow.

Although there is an elevator that takes you from inside the Visitor Center down into the main area of the caverns, it’s more fun to walk in through the natural entrance and follow the long, spiraling aspalt path as it winds its way to the bottom. We made a quick dash outside the visitor center on the trail to the natural entrance and were soon in the quiet, dry confines of the cave. The huge calcium-carbonate cave formations are awesome, but I think it was the experience of the stillness and quiet as you walk through the caverns that impressed me the most.

Didn't expect to see snow in Carlsbad.
Didn’t expect to see snow in Carlsbad.

Heading for the natural entrance to the caverns to escape the snow.
Heading for the natural entrance to the caverns to escape the snow.
Looks like ice or snow, but it's one of the limestone formations.
Looks like ice or snow, but it’s one of the limestone formations.
Hall of Giants
Hall of Giants
Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages
Chandelier Formation
Chandelier Formation
Weird stuff.
Weird stuff.

Stalactites and Stalagmites
Stalactites and Stalagmites

After a couple of hours gawking our way around the Big Room cave chamber we took the elevator back to the top. We were happy to see that the storm clouds were breaking up, which meant we could now drive up to the mountains and do our planned hike in Slaughter Canyon. There wasn’t enough time to go as far as originally planned, but it was still a good hike and gave us a sense of what the Guadalupe Mountains are like. We will definitely be taking another trip to that area for camping and hiking at a warmer time of year.
Trailhead.
Time to explore back on the earth’s surface.

Nice to see the return of blue skies.
Nice to see the return of blue skies.
Interesting rock formations on sides of canyon.
Interesting rock formations on sides of canyon.
A lot of the trail into the canyon was a rocky dry streambed.
A lot of the trail into the canyon was a rocky dry streambed.
Snow visible on higher slopes.
Snow visible on higher slopes.

Winter Walk in the Bosque

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Even a short Sunday afternoon stroll in the Bosque can be uplifting enough to overcome the winter blahs.  I bundled up, expecting more of the chilly temperatures we’ve experienced recently, but it was a surprisingly mild afternoon.  I’m even more encouraged by today’s milestone date on the calendar.  Since this is the Winter Solstice, I console myself with the knowledge that the loss of daylight hours has reached its peak.  From here on out, each day will bring a few more minutes of sunlight and a few less minutes of darkness.  Sort of like hiking to the top of a mountain and now it’s downhill the rest of the way.

No Hike Today

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We try to get out at least once a week to enjoy a day hike somewhere in the area. It’s so reviving to the soul, especially in these winter days with short daylight hours and overcast skies. Yesterday we looked at our busy schedule, realized that we hadn’t yet fit in a hike this week and decided that today we would hike, even with a less than promising weather forecast. Well, those plans changed this morning when I looked out the kitchen window at the wintery landscape across the road. This storm that has settled in isn’t going anywhere soon so we won’t get in our hike this week.

I know you are all disappointed that you won’t get to see another series of my hiking excursion photos. If you want to look at some photos, I recommend checking out this site.

A local Albuquerque couple had more luck at the Apache del Bosque Wildlife Refuge in Socorro than we did on our trip there last week. The photos that they shared are what we would have seen if we were in the right place at the right time. Better luck next time, both for a future visit to the refuge and for a day hike around Albuquerque.

Hiking in the Socorro Area

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Thursday we joined a group of ASCHG hikers who were making the trek up Chupadera Peak, a 9-1/2 mile round trip hike on the Chupadera National Recreation Trail in Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Rather than ride with the group in the city van, we arranged to meet them at the trailhead. With our own transportation, we then had the option of spending more time in the Socorro area.

First half of Chupadera Trail is a long trek across the desert from the wildlife refuge to the Chupadera Mountains.
First half of Chupadera Trail is a long trek across the desert from the wildlife refuge to the Chupadera Mountains.
The blue strip in the distance behind us is the wetlands of the wildlife refuge.
The blue strip in the distance behind us is the wetlands of the wildlife refuge.
Starting approach to Chupadera Mountains.
Starting approach to Chupadera Mountains.
Trail goes through a small canyon.
Trail goes through a small canyon.
Looking southeast, I-25 highway is the line visible in the distance.
Looking southeast, I-25 highway is the line visible in the distance.
Less than a mile around this hill and up another ridge to get to the top.
Less than a mile around this hill and up another ridge to get to the top.
At the top of Chupadera Peak.
At the top of Chupadera Peak.
View northeast from Chupadera Peak.
View north from Chupadera Peak.
View east towards Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge.
View east towards Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge.

We finished the Chupadera hike with just enough time to get to the Apache del Bosque visitor center before it closed. Our plan was to drive into the refuge at sunset and find a place to view the evening fly-in when the¬†snow geese and sandhill crane flocks come in from feeding in the surrounding fields to nest overnight in the wetlands of the refuge. The volunteer at the desk answered our questions about timing but I guess we should have also asked about the best viewing area. We assumed we would see the fly-in from any of the many locations along the roads in the refuge. We had a nice view of the sunset from where we parked but didn’t see any of the flocks. It was only on our way out, when it was almost dark, that we came upon a big crowd of people near a pond that was filled with cranes settling in for the night.

Sunset at Apache del Bosque Wildlife Refuge.
Sunset at Apache del Bosque Wildlife Refuge. Where are all the birds?

Yesterday we ventured east of Socorro on the Quebradas Backcounty Byway. Various pullovers along this 24-mile unpaved road provide parking areas for getting out on foot and exploring the rugged, eroded desert landscape. There aren’t any marked trails, but Lee had been on a hike here before with the ASCHG group and knew where to park for a hike in the Arroyo del Tajo.
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Not a manmade trail, but natural forces of erosion provide many paths like this wash that we could follow to explore the Quebradas backcountry.
Not a manmade trail, but natural forces of erosion provide many paths like this wash that we could follow to explore the Quebradas backcountry.

You have to like geology to enjoy views on this hike.
You have to like geology to enjoy views on this hike.

Erosion exposes rock layers.
Erosion exposes rock layers.

Looks like someone spilled a paint can on these rocks.
Looks like someone spilled a paint can on these rocks.

Looks like a road in the distance but it's the wash that we were hiking up on the way to the slot canyon.
Looks like a road in the distance but it’s the wash that we were hiking up.

Through a small slot canyon.
Through a small slot canyon.

Looking west from a view at the top of the canyon.  Socorro visible in the distance.
Looking west from a view at the top of the canyon. Socorro visible in the distance.

The Socorro area doesn’t have the spectacular mountains that we see around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but for us two desert rats who like geology and the flora and fauna of Chihuahuan desert scrub habitat it’s a great place to spend a couple of days in mid-December. Especially when you consider that much of the country is now shivering in the winter cold.

Red Rock Park, NM

Rather than driving straight back home after our Arizona trip, we spent last night in Gallup, NM, about 2 hours west of Albuquerque. We had been wanting to hike at Red Rock Park in Gallup but it seemed like a bit too far to drive for a day hike. Staying in Gallup overnight was a perfect opportunity to get up early, spend the day hiking at Red Rock and still make it back home at a decent hour.

There are 2 outstanding eroded sandstone outcroppings at Red Rock with 2 separate out-and-back trails to access each one. The first trail we did was about 2 miles out to the Church Rock formation, a loop around the formation and then 2 miles back. We didn’t realize until later that there is a trail from the Church Rock that connects to the Pyramid Trail so that we wouldn’t have had to backtrack.

The trailheads for the hikes were not what we would have expected and it wasn’t easy to locate them. Red Rock Park is managed by the city of Gallup and is used for rodeos, sports events, entertainment and cultural events. There is a convention center, a large arena, campgrounds, a camp store and other buildings. Hiking is not the main reason that people go there so the signs for the trail accesses were somewhat obscure.

Parking lots and rodeo grounds at Red Rock make for some strange-looking trailheads.
Parking lots and rodeo grounds at Red Rock make for some strange-looking trailheads.

We started shortly after sunrise when the shadows were still long.
We started shortly after sunrise when the shadows were still long.

Many cairns to show the way.  Funny how their shapes reflected the shape of Church Rock.
Many cairns to show the way. Funny how their shapes reflected the shape of Church Rock.

Heading up Church Rock Trail.
Heading up Church Rock Trail.

Church Rock ahead.
Church Rock ahead.

Church Rock from front approach.
Church Rock from front approach.

Side view of Church Rock with interesting light effects.
Side view of Church Rock with interesting light effects.

Church Rock viewed from behind.
Church Rock viewed from behind.

Reminded us of some of the formations at Tent Rocks.
Reminded us of some of the formations at Tent Rocks.

After completing the hike out to Church Rock and returning to our car we were still not sure how to find the trailhead for the Pyramid Rock Trail. However, it was now late enough in the morning that the park office was open and we were able to look at a map and figure out where we needed to go to start the hike to Pyramid Rock. Again, this was an out-and-back, not quite as long as the trail to Church Rock.
Approaching Pyramid Rock.  Unlike at Church Rock, the trail for Pyramid Rock leads to the summit of the formation.
Approaching Pyramid Rock. Unlike at Church Rock, the trail for Pyramid Rock leads to the summit of the formation.

A cairn on the Pyramid Rock Trail with Church Rock to the right.
A cairn on the Pyramid Rock Trail with Church Rock to the right.

Example of steps carved into the rock. Trail work done by Youth Conservation Corps.
Example of steps carved into the rock. Trail work done by Youth Conservation Corps.

A ghost rock?
A ghost rock?

Interesting hoodoo.
Interesting hoodoo.

Reached the summit of Pyramid Rock, about 8000 feet elevation.
Reached the summit of Pyramid Rock, about 8000 feet elevation.

Gallup, NM, birthplace of my daughter, is in the distance.
Gallup, NM, birthplace of my daughter, is in the distance.