Cold Feet

When we planned a hike Monday on the east side of the Sandias I expected there might be some snowy spots on the trail. Here in the Rio Grande valley earlier snowfalls are long gone and there isn’t even any snow visible when we look up at the mountain peak. But I’ve learned that on the north facing slopes piles of snow can linger amongst the trees even after a long spell of warm sunny days. It was warm and sunny for our Monday hike and, although there was quite a bit of snow, we were fine with just our usual hiking boots and winter jackets.

Snow on Osha Spring Trail
Looking east from Osha Spring Trail

The hike we did yesterday was the hike that caught me unprepared for snow covered trails. We would be in the desert badlands area of the San Juan Basin, where we have hiked before, and I always think of those hikes as tromping around in the sand and scrub, nowhere near snowy mountain slopes. But what I forget is that when you drive the 60 miles from here to Cuba, New Mexico, you are going from 5000 feet elevation to over 7000 feet. It is further north and on the Colorado Plateau and the weather can be quite different from the Rio Grande Valley.

There hadn’t been any recent snowfalls but it was obvious when we got out of the car to begin the hike that there had been a lot of snow at some point and it hadn’t yet melted. It was a warm day but with just my regular hiking boots by the time we finished the hike my feet were freezing cold and soaking wet. It was a small price to pay, though, for the pleasure of viewing the many interesting rock formations made even more striking by the whiteness of the snow patches.

Los Lunas Volcano

Traveling south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25 the flat desert landscape is briefly interrupted just to the west of Los Lunas by the remnants of an eroded volcanic cone that thrusts up from the surrounding sandy hills. The black-colored rocky slopes and peaks can be explored on a series of trails within the boundaries of El Cerro de Los Lunas, an open space maintained by the village of Los Lunas. Although there are nice panoramic views of the Rio Grande Valley, this isn’t exactly a scenic hike, especially in the brown, dry winter days of December.

The first couple of times that we went out there we didn’t have a map of the trails and we just stayed on the west side of the summit, doing hikes up and back. Last winter we discovered that it’s possible to do a loop hike of 7.4 miles and completely circle the highest parts of the lava remnants. I had forgotten just how long the hike gets as it winds back and forth around and through the lava flows and sandy arroyo bottoms. When we finished the loop yesterday I felt like I had gotten a good winter workout.

We started at the north end on the Bowl Trail, took the outer loop on the Overlook Trail and then back down the Bowl Trail.

Besides providing a place close to Albuquerque for getting some outdoor exercise, the Los Lunas volcano is an interesting study in New Mexico’s plentiful examples of past volcanic activity. In the hike photos I took there weren’t any that give a sense of how prominent the mound of black rock is in the wide expanse of surrounding desert scrubland. I cheated a bit in the next photo by taking a picture captioned Los Lunas Volcano from a page in the book “Albuquerque: A Guide to Its Geology and Culture.

Los Lunas Volcano

The book is a publication by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, which I have found to be an excellent source of books and publications. Another good explanation of the volcanic features in the area south of Albuquerque can be found on one of the pages of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History website. This gives an overview photo of the chain of volcanic eruptions running on a line north and south in the Rio Grande rift. It puts into perspective the Los Lunas volcano along with the five familiar black humps of the Albuquerque volcanoes that form the western skyline of the city.

In addition to leaving behind eroded cinder cones, the Albuquerque volcanoes oozed out massive lava flows that hardened and formed distinctive escarpments of black basalt rock. Prehistoric peoples left behind petroglyphs on many of the rock faces and today they can be viewed from several different walking trails at Petroglyph National Monument. What we like about this area is that it is right at the edge of town and takes us only a few minutes to get there. Many a day when we have just a couple of hours to be outdoors we head over there to walk the trails. Mountains are wonderful for hiking in warmer months but in the cold days of winter I am thankful that there are interesting desert hikes so close to home.

The next four photos are from past excursions in the petroglyphs.