San Pedro Parks Wilderness

One of the most remarkable things about the two days of hiking we did this week is that on neither of the two hikes did we see another human being. We were camped at a National Forest Campground and we did see people in the campground and on the roads, but no one seemed interested in getting out to enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. They didn’t realize what they were missing.

We were hiking in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, located in the western Jemez Mountains, northeast of Cuba, New Mexico. From Albuquerque, it takes only about an hour and a half to drive to Cuba, and then about 45 minutes to drive up into the mountains to the campground. To get to the trailheads requires driving on unpaved Forest Service Roads, but for both of the two hikes we did, the roads were navigable with our Toyota Corolla. It was obvious that during wetter times of the year that wouldn’t be true, but since the summer monsoon rains haven’t yet appeared we were OK. Considering that this wilderness area is so easy to get to from Albuquerque, it’s even more surprising that so few people hike there.

The first day’s hike had a steep uphill climb at the beginning, but after that it was a fairly level trek along a ridge, through green meadows and lush marshlands. The word “parks” in the name of this area refers to open grasslands in a setting of mountains and forests. That is an accurate description of what you see in most of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness. The average elevation is 10,000 feet, but there aren’t dramatic mountain peaks or panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. After spending time in the summer heat of the desert, though, our eyes were thrilled at the views of tiny streams flowing through acres of green grass, surrounded by forests of aspen and spruce-fir.

On the second day we did a hike that was a much steeper climb. It was 4 miles of continual uphill, starting at about 8,000 feet of elevation and ending at 10,200. For most of the way, the trail followed a small stream, crossing and recrossing it several times. The climb was well worth it once we got to the top, where we then walked for about another mile through the grassy meadows that surround the Rio Puerco before we decided it was time to turn around. It would have been nice to keep on that part of the trail but we decided it was time to turn around after we had our lunch and then heard the rumble of thunder in the distance. We didn’t want to have to drive our car back down the dirt road that would have been quite messy with any amount of rain. As it turned out, the rain didn’t develop.

Interactive map with tracks for the two hikes. First day is the red line; second day is the blue line.

The peak on the far horizon is Redondo Peak in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The peak on the far horizon is Redondo Peak in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
Golden Pea in foreground.
Golden Pea in foreground.
Wild iris were past their prime.
Wild iris fill the marshy areas. Most were faded by this time of year.
We saw an elk running across one of the meadows.
We saw an elk running across one of the meadows.
Several parts of the trail have striking rock outcrops of blue granite.
Several parts of the trail have striking rock outcrops of blue granite.
The start of the second day's hike was this peaceful setting, crossing the little stream, not realizing how steep the climb was going to be as we followed the stream up the mountain.
The start of the second day’s hike was this peaceful setting, crossing the little stream, not realizing how steep the climb was going to be as we followed the stream up the mountain.
Wood's Rose were some of the largest blossoms I've ever seen.
Wood’s Rose were some of the largest blossoms I’ve ever seen.
Not a lush waterfall like you might see in the Pacific Northwest, but in New Mexico we take what we can get.
Not a lush waterfall like you might see in the Pacific Northwest, but in New Mexico we take what we can get.
Thimbleberry blossoms.  If we come back later in the summer we could feast on thimbleberries.  They were everywhere on this trail.
Thimbleberry blossoms. If we come back later in the summer we could feast on thimbleberries. They were everywhere on this trail.

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My favorite flowers are the blue columbine.
My favorite flowers are the blue columbine.

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Lupine in the foreground.
Lupine in the foreground.

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Taking it easy back at camp.
Taking it easy back at camp.

Head for the Hills

We are having a heat wave here in the Southwest, but one of the benefits of living in northern New Mexico is that you can grab your day pack, drive a couple of hours, and find yourself at the start of a trail leading up into the cool, mountain forests. Today we hiked with some friends on a trail that starts at the Santa Fe ski area (about 10,200 foot elevation) and in just over 3 miles leads to a gorgeous, little alpine lake at 11,400 foot elevation. Unbelievable that after so many hot days in Albuquerque there were still some spots of unmelted snow in the woods around the lake and on the slopes above the lake.

The mountains are calling.
The mountains are calling.
Rio Nambe is the stream that drains from the lake and much of the trail follows the stream.
Rio Nambe is the stream that drains from the lake and much of the trail follows the stream.
View looking back at Santa Fe Baldy.
View looking back at Santa Fe Baldy.
Mountain meadow on the way to the lake.
Mountain meadow on the way to the lake.
Nambe Lake
Nambe Lake
Snowbank in the woods near the lake.
Snowbank in the woods near the lake.
Golden Pea.
Golden Pea.

About a mile from the end of our hike we met a young woman who was just completing a month-long wilderness hike of 600 miles in northern New Mexico. She is what is known as an “ultra-lite long distance hiker”. The pack she was carrying didn’t look much bigger than a day pack, yet she said it contained all of the food and gear she needed, including tent and sleeping bag. The number of miles she has hiked by herself in the wild on numerous routes is incredible. Check out her blog to learn more.

Hats off to an amazing woman.
Hats off to an amazing woman.

Sacramento Mountains

I lived at the foot of New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains for many years, but didn’t realize until this week the outstanding hiking opportunities in that part of the state. We’ve lived in Albuquerque almost 4 years and certainly haven’t exhausted all of the local hikes in this area. But sometimes it’s fun to get away for a couple of days and see some new territory.

It takes about 2-1/2 hours to drive from Albuquerque to Carrizozo, NM, which is a good launching point for accessing the hiking trails in the northeastern part of the Sacramento Mountains. 50,000 acres of the northern Sacramento Mountains has been designated as the White Mountain Wilderness, so named because of the highest peak, 11,973-foot Sierra Blanca (means “white mountain” in Spanish). Sierra Blanca isn’t part of the wilderness; it’s part of the Mescalero Apache Reservation and off limits for hiking. But that doesn’t mean there is any lack of hiking trails; 110 miles of hiking trails, according to one source I read.

With 2 days to hike we didn’t make a dent in the 110 miles, which leaves us open for future explorations. The first hike we did was from the western side of the ridge, which isn’t as easy to access and generally has steeper, more rugged terrain. It was an exhausting hike, almost 6 miles straight up, starting at an elevation of 6300 feet and ending at 9300 feet. We started too late in the day and had to head back down before we reached the top. But we could see the ridge line within striking distance and that motivated us for the next day’s hike.

On the second day we drove around to the eastern side of the mountain. A rutted dirt road leading to the trailhead wasn’t very pleasant to drive on, but it did lead us upwards into the mountains so that the starting elevation of the hike was 7800 feet, instead of 6300. For that hike we did a loop that was a total of 10.5 miles, with a high point of 9900 feet. A lot of the trail was back and forth across a small stream. It was much more shaded, too, and not nearly as tough of a climb as the previous day.

If you look at the map, you will see the first day’s hike as a one-way red line, since I didn’t record the track on the way down. The blue line is the second day’s loop hike. Notice how close we were to reaching the junction at the ridge line. It doesn’t look far on the map, but we knew there would still be a lot of switchbacks, almost a mile left to hike before that red line would meet the blue one. Maybe next time.

Mesquite bushes in blossom along the road on the drive into 3 Rivers.
Mesquite bushes in blossom along the road on the drive into 3 Rivers.
First day's hike was on the 3 Rivers Trail--almost 6 miles straight up.
First day’s hike was on the 3 Rivers Trail–almost 6 miles straight up.
One of the many blowdowns on this trail.  When we were here in the spring the trail hadn't been cleared and hiking was almost impossible.
One of the many blowdowns on this trail. When we were here in the spring the trail hadn’t been cleared and hiking was almost impossible.
Someone did a lot of trail clearing.  Since it's a wilderness area all work has to be done with hand tools; crosscut saw, in this case.
Someone did a lot of trail clearing. Since it’s a wilderness area all work has to be done with hand tools; crosscut saw, in this case.
Scarlet penstemon were prolific.
Scarlet penstemon were prolific.
Don't think I've ever seen a cairn quite like this.
Don’t think I’ve ever seen a cairn quite like this.
It doesn't look far to that ridge, but would have been another hour of hiking to get there.
It doesn’t look far to that ridge, but would have been another hour of hiking to get there.
View looking back the way that we came up from 3 Rivers.
View looking back the way that we came up from 3 Rivers.
2nd day's hike started on the Big Bonito Trail, much more inviting than the start of the 3 Rivers Trail.
2nd day’s hike started on the Big Bonito Trail, much more inviting than the start of the 3 Rivers Trail.
Nothing like walking through cool, shady woods on a hot June day in New Mexico.
Nothing like walking through cool, shady woods on a hot June day in New Mexico.
From this point there was still about an hour of hiking to get to the top.
From this point there was still about an hour of hiking to get to the top.
Looking north at Nogal Peak.
Looking north at Nogal Peak.
I remember the Green Gentian plant from our trip to Colorado last summer.  I never expected to see them in southern New Mexico.
I remember the Green Gentian plant from our trip to Colorado last summer. I never expected to see them in southern New Mexico.
From the ridge, looking south east you can see the White Sands National Monument in the distance.
From the ridge, looking southeast you can see the White Sands National Monument in the distance.
Carrizozo is out there in the desert somewhere.  The black ribbon on the desert floor is the lava beds at Valley of Fires.
Carrizozo is out there in the desert somewhere. The black ribbon on the desert floor is the lava beds at Valley of Fires.
View to the west.
View to the west.
On top of the world.
On top of the world.

Magdalena Mountains Hike

We aren’t sure what to call the trail that we hiked recently in the Magdalena Mountains, but we both agreed that we never would have made it to our desired destination at the top of the ridge if we hadn’t had each other to provide encouragement. ¬†There isn’t a lot of documentation for hikes in the Magdalena’s but we had stopped at the ranger station and had a vague idea that it would be all uphill from the Hop Canyon trailhead to the point that our map showed Trail 25, aka Hop Canyon Trail, intersecting Trail 8. ¬†What we weren’t expecting was 5 miles of climbing from a start of 7700 feet to a high point of 9800 feet.

Here is an interactive map, showing the track of our hike.

To get to the trailhead it’s a one-hour drive south of Albuquerque to Socorro, NM, then 25 miles west on Highway 60 to the town of Magdalena, which is at the base of the northern end of the Magdalena Mountains. Then you drive about 10 miles up into the mountains on Hop Canyon Road to reach the trailhead.

We like the Magdalena Mountains because not many people hike there and they are surprisingly beautiful considering they are surrounded by so much flat, uninhabited desert. We had made a trip there in March and hiked up a canyon on the eastern side, approaching the ridge between South Baldy and North Baldy. But we gave up before we actually reached the ridge. That was part of the challenge for completing Trail 25 because it would take us to the ridge that we hadn’t conquered in March.

Starting point.
Starting point.
We were fooled at this point. We thought our destination was the ridge ahead but turns out there was much more hiking to another ridge behind that one.
We were fooled at this point. We thought our destination was the ridge ahead but turns out there was much more hiking to another ridge behind that one.
Looking north. The town of Magdalena is down at the base of the mountains.
Looking north. The town of Magdalena is down at the base of the mountains.
Resting in the shade of a nice, big alligator juniper tress.
Resting in the shade of a nice, big alligator juniper tree.
The halfway point. A brochure from the ranger station showed the Hop Canyon trail was 2.5 one-way, but somebody was confused because there was still 2.5 miles to go before getting to the ridge.
The halfway point. A brochure from the ranger station showed the Hop Canyon trail was 2.5 one-way, but somebody was confused because there was still 2.5 miles to go before getting to the ridge.
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Lee just kept on trudging along.
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There were a few aspens at the higher elevations.
View of South Baldy, highest point in the Magdalena's at 10,700 feet.
View of South Baldy, highest point in the Magdalena’s at 10,700 feet.
Lots of Ponderosa Pine.
Lots of Ponderosa Pine.
Looking east from the ridge towards Socorro, which is behind the small mountain.
Looking east from the ridge towards Socorro, which is behind the small mountain.
The flowers look like phlox, but not the leaves. They were abundant on the top of the ridge.
The flowers look like phlox, but not the leaves. They were abundant on the top of the ridge.
Forest fires in the San Mateo Mountains to the southwest of the Magdalena's.
Forest fires in the San Mateo Mountains to the southwest of the Magdalena’s.
Cute little cactus flower.
Cute little cactus flower.
Thunderclouds and a few rumbles on the way down but didn't develop into any rain.
Thunderclouds and a few rumbles on the way down but didn’t develop into any rain.
Are you coming?
Are you coming?