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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.