New Mexico’s share of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) passes through many desolate and deserted landscapes. It’s an ideal place to practice COVID Death Trap (CDT) social distancing.
On the 7.5 mile hike we did today we saw a couple of cows but not a single human being. I don’t think New Mexico cows are COVID carriers but they were more than happy to give us a wide berth, anyway.
We were on the CDT itself only for the last couple of miles. The majority of the hike went through a badlands area called the La Lena Wilderness Study Area. Until we got to the CDT section there was no marked trail. Instead, we were following a GPS track downloaded from the Albuquerque Senior Center Hiking Groups website to a tracking app on my phone. We found ourselves wandering off track a couple of times but quickly got back to where we needed to be.
In this type of terrain a GPS track is pretty much just a suggestion, anyway. There are multiple ways to wander around the mesas and eroded rock formations, gaping up at the endlessly interesting shapes silhouetted against the bright New Mexico sky.
Thank you, New Mexico, for providing such a pleasurable day and location to practice social distancing.
The New Mexico Native Plant Society had a field trip to Deming, NM, planned for March 21. Since it’s a bit too far from Albuquerque for a day trip, we had made arrangements to spend the weekend at a motel in Deming. As the day of our departure approached, it was obvious that this was not going to be an ordinary weekend. In fact, the whole week was definitely out of the ordinary.
Every single group activity that the two of us are usually involved in was sending out notices of cancellation. Hey, let’s take advantage of all the free time, was my first thought. And that’s exactly what we did.
We left Albuquerque early Wednesday morning for a hike near Reserve, NM, hoping that the rainy day weather forecast wouldn’t materialize. By 2pm we had completed a 7-mile out and back hike on the Continental Divide Trail just as the rain clouds started to sweep through the mountain pass towards us. A short drive took us into Reserve where we warmed up with hot tea and dessert at a small cafe.
Thursday and Friday we decided to keep with the CDT theme and investigate some of the sections of trail in the Silver City area. Thursday found us at the Jack’s Peak Trailhead where we endured more of an uphill hike to reach a turnaround point at 3-1/2 miles. Jack’s Peak itself could have been reached by exiting the trail and walking on the maintenance road that leads up to the towers on the peak. But we were content to view the peak through the trees before heading back down the way we had come. The rain from the day before had left some lingering morning snow flurries on the mountaintops around Silver City. As the day warmed the sun made short work of the snow on Jack’s Peak but we did catch a glimpse of whiteness.
The Gomez Peak Trail System, a popular day use area located in the Gila National Forest a few miles outside of Silver City, was the location of our Friday hike. Once again we didn’t tackle the peak itself. Most of the trails were pretty tame winding around through the woods. One of the trails was an access trail to the CDT so we got on it and then did a short section of the CDT just to keep the theme going.
The three days of hiking was an unexpected bonus to the original plan of being in Deming today for the field trip with the flower experts. They may not be hikers but they sure do know their flowers. Conditions were perfect for seeing the springtime bloom of Mexican poppies. We don’t get to see them in the northern part of the state so it is a real treat. In the first picture most of the yellow is bladderpod; the golden color is the poppies.
In New Mexico we are accustomed to hiking in landscapes that can be described as “moonscapes.” Today’s desolate hiking destination took us through an otherworldly landscape around a special type of volcanic crater known as a “maar”, hence a “maars scape.” When hot, molten rock comes into contact with subsurface water it can cause a huge explosion of steam that hurls ash and volcanic material over a large area before collapsing and creating a shallow crater.
Kilbourne Hole, located about 25 miles southwest of Las Cruces, is a large maar designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975 due to its unique geology. We are spending a couple of days exploring hikes in the Las Cruces area and decided that today would be a good day to check out this special volcanic feature.
I thought a feature designated a national landmark would be fairly accessible, but without the detailed driving directions in our guidebook “Day Hikes in the Las Cruces Area”, we never would have found it. There’s no such thing as a direct route through this part of Dona Ana County. Once leaving the interstate, it is a series of 8 different turns back and forth on increasingly rough county roads leading out into the vast Chihuahuan Desert grasslands. The only sign indicating that we were headed towards Kilbourne Hole was a hand written sign placed on one of the dirt roads that branched in two directions. My guess is that the rancher got tired of having lost tourists taking the wrong branch and ending up at his ranch.
The edge of the crater itself is the only indication that you have finally arrived at your destination. The bottom of the crater is private land but a number of jeep trails and dirt roads surround the rim, making it possible to hike the entire 7-mile perimeter. Except for some sandy areas that made for difficult walking, it is not a strenuous hike. It’s not exactly a scenic hike, but it does have the desolate beauty of the desert solitude we enjoy so often in the Land of Enchantment.
Besides being a volcanic maar, Kilbourne Hole is renowned among rockhounds as a place to find “volcanic bombs” or xenoliths. These are blobs of molten lava ejected from the volcano that contain pieces of other rocks, most notably olivine crystals in the hardened lava rocks at this location. We found many broken pieces of black basalt that were encrusted with the bright green olivine crystals.
Bright green anything is a welcome sight this time of year. Lee found a couple of tiny flowers that he could photograph but not much else was growing yet. Thankfully, the spring winds aren’t blowing yet either. After a chilly start in the morning we had plenty of sunshine to warm us up and make a perfect hiking day.
An overcast, chilly winter day and it feels wonderful to relax in an easy chair with a hot cup of tea. Especially after today’s rugged 6-1/2 mile hike in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.
Lee had read about a hike called Boulder Ridge that was posted on the Albuquerque Senior Center Hiking Groups website. Since the Sandia foothills are just east of the city we have become familiar with the area and had a sense of where the hike would go. But one of the problems with the proximity to the city is that the area is heavily used by hikers, dog walkers and bicyclists, many of whom make their own unofficial trails. It’s often difficult to know if you are on the trail you intend to follow. Also, it’s not too far from the trailheads when the boundary of the Sandia Mountains Wilderness area is crossed. As you ascend you continue to see the city below and can’t get truly lost, but, in a wilderness area, trail markers aren’t allowed so any number of the intersecting trails could lead you astray from your destination.
I had the benefit of a GPS app on my phone where I pre-loaded the track from the hike posted by the seniors group. After the first mile Lee chose a different route than what the track showed, thinking we would meet up further down the trail. Big mistake.
Fortunately, we had cell coverage and for the next couple of hours we were calling and texting back and forth trying to figure out where we were in relation to each other and how and when we would meet back up. I was enjoying the views up on the ridge but wasn’t sure if I wanted to complete the entire loop. Parts of the track weren’t easy to follow and some of the terrain was very rugged, including several north slopes with packed snow on the trail making for slippery downhills.
Lee was fairly certain he would be able to intersect me at some point after I started the descent. I wasn’t so sure. From his descriptions of the ridges he was on it seemed like he was several ridges to the south. After two hours of hiking I was approaching the halfway point on the track and the notes I had from the hike description said there would be some bushwhacking at that point. I was having problems following the track when Lee called to get an update. I kept walking and chatting with him on the phone when suddenly he said, “I can see you!” Sure enough I looked up to the top of the ridge in front of me and there he stood waving at me.
It still wasn’t an easy matter to meet up on the trail. The trail I was following descended into a canyon. I could no longer see the ridge where Lee had been standing and my phone lost coverage. The track left the main trail and twice I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack. At the second wrong turn I had stopped and was searching for a visible trail that lead in the direction indicated by the track. Imagine my surprise to hear Lee’s voice and there he was on the trail right behind me.
I never did figure out how he met up with me when he did. We ended up not completing the track I was following, deciding instead to head towards one of the lower elevation trails that were now visible on the down slope. The end result of my hike was a loop of the same distance as the loop on the original track, just on a better trail. Sometimes you just have to step out and be bold, winter day or no winter day and clear trail or no clear trail.
We were big-time winners on our weekend trip to Las Vegas. We hit the jackpot at the Taco Bell Cantina on the Strip where we participated in the fun-filled wedding ceremony for our granddaughter and her fiancee. The happy couple will have many good memories of their special day to share with children and grandchildren.
Before and after the wedding there was lots of time to take advantage of all that Las Vegas has to offer. We gambled on the weather, looked at descriptions of hikes in the area and made a couple of bets on two National Conservation Areas: Red Rock Canyon on the west edge of the Las Vegas Valley and Sloan Canyon on the south edge.
We had been to Red Rock Canyon on other visits and looked forward to revisiting the scenic red rocks. We wanted to do one of the hikes that we hadn’t done before and I threw my money on the square for Turtlehead Peak. Two and a half miles up to the summit and then back down sounded doable in the time that we had. We needed to get back to town with enough time to get dressed and ready for the wedding.
After the first mile or so of hiking the odds of making our goal were not looking good. The trail started to get very steep and rough, wandering through the rocky side of the gulch with no markers in sight and multiple paths winding through the rocks. We weren’t sure we were on the right trail and we weren’t sure how much further it was to the top. At a couple of points we almost threw in our chips and turned around. But we finally hit the mark and saw red dots on the rocks, our sign that we were back on the right trail. We pushed through the next steep mile uphill and were rewarded with lunch and the awesome views at the summit. On the way down we were confident that we could stay on the right trail but once again found ourselves navigating the off-trail slippery slopes, this time with knees aching on the downhill instead of lungs panting on the uphill. It was a tough game but we won the bet and got back to town with time to spare.
The day after the wedding we appointed Lee as the dealer. He dealt us a much better hand. The hike he turned up was three and a half miles up to the summit of Black Mountain and back down. That meant the total hiking miles were 7, instead of 5, like we did the day before. But measuring difficulty on that hike I would say that it won hands down for being a trail that was easy to follow and one where you knew you were going to make the summit. Turtlehead Peak summit is reached by going around the back side of the ridge and you lose sight of the goal for much of the hike. At Black Mountain there is a flag at the summit that is visible for most the hike, letting you see clearly how close you are getting.
Visible goals provide the motivation that I need for pushing through the tough spots. I could never motivate myself to waste money on a card game because I lack the necessary imagination for seeing an invisible goal of piles of money waiting on the next draw. Reaching the top of a mountain after a hard hike is the type of reward I aim for. And Las Vegas delivered in spades.
Last spring I discovered a free phone app that has the capability to not only create GPS tracks but to also pre-load a GPS track that can then be followed while hiking. This feature is helpful when we want to hike one of the many desolate areas of New Mexico that are public lands but don’t have any established hiking trails. A local hiking group maintains a website with information on hundreds of such hikes. Each hike has a description, driving directions and a downloadable GPS file. For today’s hike we chose one on BLM land north of Tohajiilee.
I printed the description and driving directions and loaded the GPS file on my phone. We were sure we’d get to explore this new area. What we didn’t count on was the rough roads we’d have to drive on. We have been on some of those roads before but never as far out on the unmaintained section that we had to traverse today. The road got worse and worse until finally, with only a couple of miles left to the parking spot, we reached a washout that we knew our car couldn’t get past. We might have parked there and walked in, but a few miles back we had passed through a gate warning us that this section of roadway was going through private land. We’d be trespassing if we pulled off the road to park and we couldn’t park in the middle of the road either. We were forced to turn around and go back the way we had come.
Fortunately, while deciding this morning where to hike, Lee had read a description in our 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque book that wasn’t too far back towards Tohajiilee. He remembered enough about the description that we were able to figure out where it was. So no map or description or GPS track to follow, but with wide open spaces and interesting rock formations to head towards, we made it an enjoyable excursion, anyway. I’ve decided, too, that all those cows that wander the open rangelands can be useful. Lots of times when you encounter an arroyo that looks too deep to cross or come to a ledge with no apparent way down you will see a cowpath that you can follow to get around the obstacle.
Our reward today for heading across the open range was an area of those wonderful rock formations we call hoodoos. Heavenly!
Just when I start to wonder if we have run out of new places to explore, we discover another New Mexico treasure in our back yard. Well, not exactly our back yard but close enough for a day hike from Albuquerque.
The Ojito Wilderness is a vast no man’s land northwest of town that we have explored on previous hikes. The challenge is always navigating the rough, dirt roads that can become impassable in wet weather. Late October is a safe bet for finding dry conditions, sunny skies and cool temperatures. A cold front had passed through the state last night and the forecast called for strong winds and a drastic drop in temperatures. As it turned out, we had great hiking weather. The roads were dicey in a couple of areas but not as bad as some that we have been on.
We were following driving directions to a parking area that would be the beginning of a 6-mile out and back hike into Tapia Canyon. The last mile of driving on a 2-track dirt road, though, wasn’t doable in our car. So our hike was 8 miles, by the time that we did the extra walk from the car to the descent into the canyon.
As the crow flies, this hike isn’t that far from Albuquerque, although by the time that you wind over all of the dirt roads it is a long drive. But the drive is more than worth it, not just for the hike, but for the scenery that you pass along the way. And one of the best parts is that the whole day we were out there enjoying this marvelous New Mexico landscape we did not see another person. A truly enchanting day in the Land of Enchantment.