Another RAV4 Adventure

After an unusually wet week of weather, the skies finally cleared today. We took the opportunity to head for a hiking spot that we knew would take us over one of those rough roads perfectly suited for letting the RAV4 show off its capabilities. It didn’t disappoint us.

Even in the best of conditions, we never took the Corolla on the road into San Lorenzo Canyon. The first time we went there 8 years ago, we were with our friend, Sue, who had a car capable of handling the road. The only other time we were there was on a field trip sponsored by Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. We carpooled from the refuge and didn’t have to drive our vehicle into the canyon.

The last 2 or 3 miles of the road into the canyon requires driving in the stream bed that is the outflow from the canyon. That outflow can be quite significant, as evidenced by the sand and gravel that has built up over the years. The challenge in the dry season is to not get stuck in the sand, whereas on a day like today, after a week of rain, our challenge was driving over ruts and through a sea of mud. Fortunately, there is a solid base of gravel under the mud, but, nevertheless it isn’t a road suitable for a sedan.

We had decided to do the same hike today that we had done 8 years ago. At that time we relied on Sue and her GPS device to lead the way. The hike is an off trail hike in BLM land that would be very difficult to follow without a GPS track. An app on my phone gives us the capability to download and follow a GPS track. With just a couple of small mistakes we were able to keep on track. We didn’t drive as far into the canyon today as we had the time before and that increased the hiking distance. The hike was close to 6 miles total, just right for enjoying another gorgeous fall day in New Mexico.

After hiking in the canyon for about a mile we climbed up the side of the canyon to find an old dirt road. For several miles we looped through the arroyos and over the ridges to some good views of the surrounding mountains.

Big Step

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.

Monday Hike in Valles Caldera

The trail for most of the way followed upstream along the Rio de los Indios
The land in the caldera was once a large ranch. Sometimes there is evidence left from those who have gone before.
Aspens just beginning to turn color on the slopes of the caldera.
Reaching the turnaround point at the top edge of the caldera, one of the few places where it got a bit steep. Otherwise, the 4 mile climb up was quite gradual.

Thursday Hike at Cabezon

Approaching the trailhead.
From the parking area, the rough section that you cross to get to the base isn’t visible.
Steep and rocky places to get up to the base.
Almost to the base.
A rare section where the trail gets level.
For people like Aaron M. this is where you diverge on a really rocky trail that leads to that slit on the right side where there’s supposedly a “chimney” structure that you scramble up and through.
Skipping the impossible climb up, we skirt around the back side to make a loop.
And when we finally get down there is that rugged RAV waiting to take us home.
We have done this road before in the Corolla but so much better in a car that’s designed to handle it.