A Bolder Boulder Ridge Hike

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.

View west towards Albuquerque from Boulder Ridge summit.
View to the south from Boulder Ridge. Interstate 40 visible as it passes through Tijeras Canyon.
Some of the snow covered sections on the descent.
Bolder boulder.

Winning Big in Las Vegas

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.

The happy couple.

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.

Contemplating Turtlehead Peak.

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.

After a tough rock scramble on the wrong side of the gulch we were finally on the right trail, looking back the way we had come.

Walking got easier once we found the right trail, but there was still a mile of steep uphill to round the peak and climb up the backside to the summit.

From the backside of the peak, nice view of Las Vegas. Still some climbing left.

Enjoying lunch break at Turtlehead Peak summit.

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.

Our goal is a flag 3 miles in the distance on the top of the peak.

Nice to see some Joshua Trees along the way.

Some tough climbing but at least we were on a decent trail.

Black Mountain Summit reached with our favorite hiking partners.

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.

Heavenly Hoodoos

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!

Enchanted Once Again

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.

One of the roads through the Rio Puerco Valley on the way to the hike.

The road to Tapia Canyon passes through Guadalupe Ghost Town–several abandoned adobe buildings, including this 2-story.

Heading into the canyon.

Looks like a face, sternly guarding the entrance to the canyon.

This one reminded me of a dog.

Fall colors.

Swallow nests in the cliff walls.

Several panels of ancestral Pueblo rock carvings could be seen along the canyon walls.

Walking under this “natural bridge” led into a narrow slot canyon.

Nature’s Rock Art.

Man’s Rock Art.

The trail climbed out of the canyon at one point to view this Pueblo ruin.

View from rim of canyon towards Cabezon Peak.

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.

Valles Caldera Treasure

It’s hard to describe the experience of hiking in the Valles Caldera. You’re not going to see any breathtaking mountaintop views but, for me, being out in that vast, empty space is special enough that it almost takes my breath away. And then I’m always impressed by the stillness and quiet as you gaze out over the huge valley floor of the caldera.

Most of what are labeled as hiking trails in the caldera are actually old roads used in the days when the area was owned by ranchers. You usually have to walk out in the open for quite a ways until you reach the tree-covered slopes. On a day as hot as today that can be less than enjoyable.

There was more elevation than I had expected. After a mile or two the road was overgrown with dried grasses and vegetation that scratched my legs and filled my socks and shoes with prickers. I was berating myself for not bringing gaiters. By the time that we came to the huge, washed out gully that had to be crossed if we wanted to go any further I was quite cross. But we managed to find a way to climb down into it and back up the other side. Shortly after that was our lunch stop so I started to feel better.

The highlight of the day for me was the treasure that I found on the way back. It was laying right by the gully crossing and I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. The caldera is a protected area and I couldn’t have brought it home even if I wanted to. But I was content to marvel at the thought of the huge bull elk that left it behind. Then I left it behind for the next passerby to admire.

Glamping in the Enchanted Forest

My idea for an overnight getaway was to rent an AirBnb for one night in either Angel Fire or Red River and then hike somewhere the next day in the Carson National Forest. We haven’t done much hiking there because it’s a bit far too far from Albuquerque for a day trip. We could have camped, but I didn’t feel like roughing it.

When I searched for Airbnb rentals there were quite a few, since both towns are close to ski areas and are popular tourist destinations. But one result that popped up captured my attention. A business called Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area in Red River was advertising yurt rentals as a “glamping” experience. Think of glamping as camping for city slickers.

We would have the benefit of spending the night in an isolated clearing in the forest without having to set up a tent or sleep on the ground. The yurt would have a camp stove, basic cooking utensils, bunk beds and water in it. We would need to bring sleeping bags and our food. No running water, no electricity, and no indoor plumbing so we’d still be roughing it to a certain extent. But it sounded like a fun outing so we booked it and made our plans.

When we got to Red River yesterday afternoon the temperature was in the high seventies, which, compared to Albuquerque’s 90-plus degrees, felt quite comfortable. It didn’t take long, though, to work up a sweat. Getting to the yurt was not a simple matter of driving up to the front door and unloading our gear. You have to leave your car at the entrance to the ski area and then hike the backwoods trails to get to your yurt. Ours was a mile and a quarter hike, which turned out to be almost 2 miles because we got lost.

The area is a maze of color coded trails supposedly marked with plastic streamers on trees and trial names that match a map printout. But the letters and numbers on the map were barely legible and some of the trail markers were either missing or in need of repair. Lee had his gear on his back but my only backpack is a small one for day hikes. I knew I would need extra clothes and a warm sleeping bag for the chilly night temperatures and was happy to take advantage of a hand wagon that was available at the parking area to haul gear. Even with that help, though, it was a tough pull uphill and over rough terrain until we finally found our yurt.

Yurt
Sure beats having to pitch a tent and sleep on the ground!

Red River view
A trail near our yurt led us on an evening walk to a couple of nice views, including one overlooking the town of Red River.

Our home for the night was cozy, actually a bit too warm until the sun went down. At 10,000 foot elevation it’s amazing how quickly the temperature drops at night. We’d been sweating that afternoon but by dark were ready for the warmth of our sleeping bags. Overnight temperatures were in the 40’s so by breakfast time we had put on all our extra layers of clothing and were hunting for that first spot of sunlight coming through the trees to warm us up.

Wagon
Pulling my wagon back down to the car the next morning was much easier, especially since we knew the way.

Our hike today was a pleasant 6-mike trek without too much elevation gain. It started up a valley along a tributary to the Red River. We had views along the trail of Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain at 13,159 feet. There were even a couple of small snow fields visible on its crest. But we were content to keep on our valley trail and enjoy the lush meadows beside the stream. It was a perfect day and a wonderful way to end our glamping adventure.

Meadow
Meadow with view of Wheeler Peak.

Mushroom

Fireweed

Bells

Meeting the Challenge

According to the Maps app on my phone, the trailhead where I planned to start hiking was about a mile and a half ahead. A ‘Road Closed’ sign was not what I wanted to see. I hadn’t been up here before, but it didn’t appear that there was any access to the trails except by this road. A couple of cars were parked on the side of the road in front of me and as I got out of my car a pickup truck pulled in behind me. Thinking maybe the driver was a local resident who could offer some advice, I asked him if he knew what was going on. He was as clueless as I was. We decided the only option was to start walking up the road.

On a 95 degree day in August it’s not a pleasant experience to walk on a newly surfaced blacktop road that is being baked by the afternoon sun. My goal was to hike to the radio towers at the top of Roxy Ann peak. It’s a landmark we’ve become familiar with on our many trips to Medford but there are so many other hiking opportunities that we never bothered with these few local trails. This visit, though, wasn’t about hiking. I’d been busy with other priorities and made a last minute decision to get out for what I thought would be a short climb up the shady slopes of the peak.

Trees were few and far between as I trudged up the road. I grabbed every little bit of shade there was. Since I hadn’t been here before I didn’t know how many twists and turns the road would take before the trails started. When I finally got to the first trailhead I could see that the trails didn’t have as many trees as I expected.

I was grateful for the many switchbacks on the trail, even though with all the winding back and forth, it seemed the trail would never get to the top. Finally, there was the base of the first tower and by walking over to the rock outcropping I could look out over the city and enjoy the rewards of all that sweaty labor.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend this way of hiking Roxy Ann peak. But now I can look up there every visit to Medford and remember another challenge met and conquered.