Today we escaped the desert heat with an enjoyable 8-mile hike in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness area, north of Albuquerque in the Santa Fe National Forest. The “parks” in this area are the many grassy meadows that are interspersed throughout the forests. This part of New Mexico gets more moisture than most other areas of the state and a lot of the parks are wet and boggy even in the heat of summer. During the hottest part of the day up there today it was only 70 degrees, while here in Albuquerque it was over 90 degrees.
We had tentatively planned an overnight camping trip this week that would put us in the area of Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico. The hike to the top of Wheeler Peak is one we haven’t yet done because it’s a bit too far from Albuquerque for a one-day outing. On Tuesday, however, the weather forecast for the Wheeler Peak area was calling for rain. So we decided instead that we would head to the Zuni Mountains for our overnight camping and hiking trip. And today, instead of hiking to the top of New Mexico’s highest peak, we hiked to the top of Mt. Sedgwick, at 9256 feet, the highest peak in the Zuni Mountains.
The Zuni Mountains are not as well known as other mountains in New Mexico, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed our time there. Driving in on the series of dirt roads today that took us to Mt. Sedgwick we saw one log truck coming down, but, other than that, we did not see another person the whole day until we finished our hike and were on the road back towards Grant.
It appears that most of the people who spend time in the Zuni Mountains are not hikers, but are loggers or hunters. There is no actual trail up Mt. Sedgwick but, instead, you follow an old fire road that would be drivable with an ATV. Since there was no one else up there today it was not at all unpleasant to be hiking on a road rather than a trail.
Ok, so Mt. Sedgwick is not exactly an impressive peak to climb. But even without dramatic peaks the Zuni Mountains have much to offer in the way of forested plateaus, cliffs, and canyons. The history here is interesting, as well, some of it a sad story of how the Ponderosa Pine forests were devastated by logging in the early 1900’s. The Forest Service has done a lot in recent years to make the area more attractive. A fun activity for those not inclined to hike is the Zuni Mountain Historic Auto Tour, a piece of which we stumbled upon today on one of the roads we were on.
The story of our hike in the Zuni Mountains wouldn’t be complete without a couple of pictures from the place that we camped the night before. Originally, we had intended to camp in one of the National Forest campgrounds, but only one of them had water, and it was a much longer drive from there back to Mt. Sedgwick. Instead, we camped at Bluewater Lake State Park. This brought back memories of the one other time, 3 years ago, when we camped at Bluewater in March and spent a miserable night in freezing temperatures. It was a much milder night there last night. We enjoyed a walk along the edge of Bluewater Canyon before dinnertime and then a walk to the other side of the lake later that evening.
It was truly an enjoyable outing and exploration of the Zuni Mountains, with much more to see at a future time. And, of course, climbing the highest peak in the Zunis, doesn’t let us off the hook for climbing the highest peak in New Mexico, another activity for the future.
We’ve had so many back-to-back trips lately that there hasn’t been any time in over a month for us to plan a local hike in our favorite spots around Albuquerque. Today we finally had the time to get back out on familiar trails.
With all we’ve had going on, it felt good to have a day with nothing scheduled. We weren’t in a rush in the morning to make up our minds where to go or to get ourselves ready. Since it’s a short drive to get to the hiking trails on the east side of the Sandias, we decided to hike on the 10K Trail, maybe making a loop or just an out-and-back depending on how we felt.
What we failed to account for is that it is still the monsoon season around here, which means an afternoon thunderstorm can quickly build up in the mountains, while it’s still hot and sunny in town. And that’s exactly what happened. Our loop took us up to the North Crest for a nice overlook lunch spot, but as we turned around to head back we could see the dark clouds beginning to form.
We walked back on the Ellis Trail, which is not as forested as the 10K Trail. I was getting nervous on the exposed slopes when I began to see lightning and hear thunder. Fortunately, before the storm hit we had looped back to the 10K and were under cover of the trees. What surprised us the most was starting to see hailstones bouncing on the trail and then suddenly we were getting pounded by hail before it began to rain in earnest. Typical of storms around here, though, it didn’t last very long. In less than 20 minutes we were back to the car and the storm had stopped.
Driving back down the mountain the road was slick and white, covered with hail, looking like a winter storm had hit. The temperature had dropped to 52 degrees. Back in Albuquerque, which is only a 30-mile drive, the temperature was 94 degrees. It was hard to believe that just a short time before we had been wet and cold. It’s like a different world when you go from the desert up into the mountains. One of the best things about living here is how quickly you can go from one to the other. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a hike in the mountains on a hot summer day, hailstorm and all. I’m thankful we finally had the time to get back on the trail.