Our last camping trip to Villanueva State Park was over four years ago. I had forgotten what a quiet, peaceful little spot it is. Nestled between sandstone bluffs along the Pecos River it’s a nice compromise between camping in higher elevations of the Pecos Wilderness (headwaters of the river–too cold) and being along the lower stretches of the river (too hot) as it crosses the deserts of New Mexico and Texas on its way to join the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas. I like this time of year for camping because, unlike earlier in the summer, it doesn’t get very cold at night. Late afternoon thunderstorms can be a problem in August and, although there were some threatening clouds when we arrived to set up camp, nothing more than a few sprinkles developed. On our evening walk along the river a rainbow arched behind a hill across the river.
There are two sections to the campground, one along the river and the other on a couple of hilltops above the river. The first time we were by the river, but this time we selected a site on one of the hilltops. It was a good choice. The river side campsites were practically full by dark but we were the only ones up on the hilltop. We could hear the river down below and in the morning our site got the first rays of sunrise.
At Villanueva there are a couple of short hikes on the cliffs above the river and one short hike along the river, but to do a longer hike it’s necessary to drive back to the highway and find something in the mountains. The next day we decided to hike a Santa Fe National Forest trail close to Glorieta, New Mexico. It was another trail that ended up being longer than I had planned for, but since it didn’t have as much elevation gain as the Pino Trail, it didn’t wear me out quite as much. We didn’t have accurate information on how to access the trailhead and much of our walking was wasted miles before we got to the forest boundary. There might have been better views if we had gotten to higher elevations, but when the GPS showed we had gone over 4 miles I figured it was time to turn around. Between 9 and 10 miles is about my limit for a day’s hike. Maybe another time we can start at the right place and get further up the trail.
When I suggested to Lee that we hike the Pino Trail, I was remembering it as a moderately strenuous 3 1/2 mile climb to the South Crest Trail. I knew that we had done it more than once before, but didn’t bother to look up the details from previous hikes.
The first time that we did it was 6 years ago at the end of October just before we moved into our apartment. Then in January of 2014 I hiked it with 2 friends during one of the times when Lee was housesitting for his brother in Ohio. That hike adventure is documented in a blog posting. . In September of 2016 Lee and I did the hike again, which meant yesterday was the fourth time for me and the third time for Lee.
If I had looked up the hike details in advance I might not have been so hasty to suggest the hike yesterday. It’s actually 4 1/2 miles to the Crest, making a 9-mile hike with 2000 feet of elevation gain. The last few months have been busy with travel and the hiking we have done has been mostly short hikes. We probably weren’t in as good of shape as the other times we hiked the Pino Trail.
Hiking in summer, instead of fall or winter, makes an additional challenge. The first mile of hiking is in the foothills with no tree cover. We had gotten a start early enough in the morning that lack of shade was not a problem in the beginning. It was that last mile coming back down in the heat of the afternoon that had us panting for water. I had forgotten how much of the trail crosses open areas even after you get to the higher elevations. We both had taken our usual amount of water, but we really should have taken some extra because our bottles were empty before we got back.
An unexpected benefit of an August Pino Trail hike was to see many different wildflowers in bloom. It has been such a dry year that we had given up on seeing the array of Sandia Mountain flowers we usually look for on our spring and summer hikes. But even though the rain here in the valley has been scarce, apparently those afternoon thunderclouds we observe over the mountains have provided some moisture. As we got to the higher elevations, there were our old friends. Purple Geranium, Harebells, Red Columbine, and Birdsbill Dayflower were the most plentiful. There were many others that Lee could tell you about. And he could show you flower pictures much more professional than my poor attempts to capture a bit of the beauty.