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.