Since we don’t own an SUV, a trip to the landmark of Cabezon Peak had to wait until we could join up with others who had the type of vehicle for driving over the rough road into the Cabezon Wilderness Study Area. So many places that we hike around Albuquerque have views that include this prominent volcanic neck sticking up in the middle of the vast Rio Puerco Valley. For Lee, (and certain other of our family members), continually seeing that peak created a bucket list challenge: “one of these days we have to get to the top of that.” I was more than satisfied with the 3-mile hike we did around the base of it today. I’ll leave the final rock-scramble ascent to the more adventurous among us.
We enjoyed our first time hiking up Buckman Mesa and Otowi Peak today. The mesa is a small plateau beside the Rio Grande west of Santa Fe. Otowi Peak is on top of the mesa and provides panoramic views of the surrounding area. This is BLM land so there is no trail signage, but the trail is well-marked with rock cairns making it very easy to follow.
A 10-mile, washboard-rutted, dirt road leads to the banks of the Rio Grande and the trailhead up the mesa. The hike starts with about a half-mile of walking up a dry wash, where a rock cairn marks the place to climb out of the wash and begin the ascent of the mesa.
After several days of overcast skies, the return of clear, sunny weather today was a welcome sight. There was no better way to celebrate our anniversary than to get out and enjoy a hike. We decided to explore an area of the Ojito Wilderness we hadn’t yet seen, using a hike description from Stephen Ausherman’s book, “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque.”
The drive into the Ojito requires a stretch on a dirt road that can get messy and muddy if there has been any rain. We don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle and didn’t know how far down the road we could get. After carefully going through a couple of bad spots, we were less than a mile from the parking area when it became obvious that the puddle covering the road in front of us was going to be too soft and muddy for us to get through. We knew the proposed hike was not on regular trails and we could see the mesa in front of us that we would be hiking around and over. That made it a simple decision to park the car where we were and walk in from there.
We weren’t too far along before a 4-wheel drive vehicle came roaring down the road past where we were parked and with great fanfare splashed through the mud puddle, spraying mud everywhere. Each to his own. Shortly after that a pickup went by and the folks in that crowd turned out to be target shooters, planning to spend their morning at one of the several target shooting ranges in that part of the Ojito. We got to listen to their gunshots for most of our time hiking. But, other than that, it was a great place to wander the desert badlands, making our own trails, using the familiar mountain ranges surrounding us in the distance as our directional guides.
I suppose that most people would not think of an afternoon in the Ojito Wilderness as a romantic outing to celebrate a wedding anniversary. But for two people who met on a hike with the Northern Virginia Hiking Club and are fortunate enough to still be healthy and strong, it doesn’t get much better than this.
A short distance from the main part of Bandelier National Monument, an area on the top of a mesa that was once inhabited by the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo people, has an interpretative trail that lets visitors view petroglyphs, cave dwellings and other ruins that have been excavated here. One of the most interesting features is the part of the trail that has been worn into the rock by generations of pueblo people as they passed back and forth from their mesa-top homes to the fields and springs in the canyon below. You are literally walking in the footsteps of the people who lived here hundreds of years ago.