After months, and probably even years, of saying we needed to get a vehicle that could handle the rough roads that we often traverse to our hiking destinations, we finally took the big step. We bought a Toyota RAV4. Our Toyota Corolla has been a rough and ready set of wheels, faithfully taking us to some places that we probably shouldn’t have forced it to go through. But now the Corolla can take a break and let big brother RAV4 do the heavy lifting.
We had two days this week that we could devote to putting the RAV to work. On Monday we took the long dirt road that goes down into the Valles Caldera to reach hiking trails in the northeast corner of the monument. Today we ventured into the rutted terrain of the Rio Puerco Valley to get to the Cabezon Wilderness Study Area.
Besides giving us a chance to enjoy the luxuries of driving an all-terrain vehicle, these two destinations once again illustrate the amazing diversity of New Mexico hikes. The hike at Valles Caldera was 4 miles up through lush meadows surrounded by views of the forested caldera slopes. It took us only 3-1/2 hours to do a total of 8.2 miles with a 1000 feet of elevation gain.
By contrast, our hike today was a lollipop loop of only 2.6 miles but it took us 3 hours to complete. I had forgotten just how difficult it is to get around the base of Cabezon Peak. Most people who venture out there have the intention of getting to the top of the peak, but that is an Aaron M. kind of goal, not one we have ever aimed for. We loop around the peak, which presents its own challenges.
Once you hike past the slot in the rock face that is used to reach the top, the trail is seldom used and in places is quite difficult to follow. There’s no danger of getting lost, since you can always see where you are, but it requires some guess work to decide which way is less difficult. Sometimes there are cairns but other times you lose sight of the cairns and aren’t sure if you’re on an animal trail or just a place where runoff has created a gouged out track. If you aren’t careful you suddenly find yourself facing an impossibly steep slope or a tangle of cactii and prickly bushes. My knees were screaming for relief when we finally managed to get down the last steep section of the trail. It’s all worth it, though, because nothing beats the endless vistas of uninhabited land that stretch in every direction.
“Santa Fe, Carson national forests closing to public–portions of Cibola Forests also closing”–that was the headline on the front page of yesterday’s Albuquerque Journal. All closures would begin at 8am, Thursday, May 19. We had already heard the news and we knew Wednesday was going to be our last chance to get out in the mountains and do a final hike before the indefinite closure. We didn’t waste our opportunity, taking advantage of the warm, sunny weather to enjoy the cool breezes and fresh greenery of San Pedro Parks Wilderness.
San Pedro Parks, located in the Santa Fe National Forest, has an average elevation of 10,000 feet. The term “parks” refers to the grassy meadows that are interspersed throughout the conifer forests at the higher elevations. It is always a refreshing change from the hot desert and yesterday was no exception.
We started our 7-mile hike on the trail that leads to the San Gregorio Reservoir. After walking around the reservoir we continued up one of the trails that took us to the higher elevations, through some of the parks and then down to a pleasant, bubbling stream that was our lunch spot and turnaround point.
The forest closures are due to the statewide drought conditions and high fire danger. With no rain predicted in the foreseeable future it could be quite awhile before the forests reopen. I’m glad we were able to get out when we did. The headline in today’s paper read “Hikers, bikers visit Cibola one last day” and it was accompanied by photos of folks enjoying the forest. Cibola National Forest is close to Albuquerque and the trails there are quite popular. With the exception of a couple of fisherman around the reservoir we didn’t see any other hikers where we were and it is less than 2 hours to drive there from Albuquerque. That’s another benefit of San Pedro Parks.