As mentioned in my last post, we planned a stop at Bryce Canyon National Park for the wrap-up of our southern Utah adventure. And what a wrap-up it was. Everyone has seen pictures of the natural wonders that are on display in this eroded landscape, but even the best photography can’t duplicate the experience of actually being there.
We knew we’d find crowds of people like we experienced at Zion, but there’s more room at Bryce so it didn’t feel as suffocating. With about 4 hours to spend there, we picked the most popular hike, a 3-mile circuit that descends into the canyon at Sunset Point, winds through some of the formations and then ascends through a narrow slot canyon back up to the rim at Sunrise Point. After the hike, we completed the remainder of the scenic drive, stopping at several of the viewpoints along the way.
As I said, we have all seen pictures of Bryce so it’s understandable if you don’t want to take the time to page through photos that I took. But I couldn’t resist putting some online, anyway.
Rather than upload the pictures here, they are available in a Google photos album that you can access by clicking on the photo below that was taken at one of the overlooks.
We have wrapped up southern Utah for now, but it is such beautiful country and there were many places we didn’t have time to see, so I’m hoping we will make another trip there soon.
Our southern Utah adventure started with a couple of days spent in the southeastern part of the state. Probably the most well known place to visit there is Monument Valley but, given our time constraints, we had to save that for another time. I had seen pictures of the twisting, entrenched river meander visible from an overlook at Goosenecks State Park and that was an easily accessible stop to make after our day of driving from Albuquerque.
We also had enough time to drive down the road to Mexican Hat and then take the side road to a good view of the formation that gives the town its name.
Friday was the day set aside for hiking. With all of the options available it wasn’t easy to select one, knowing what we would have to pass up. The weather helped us make a decision. Deserts and mesas would be too hot so we headed to the mountains.
Not far from Blanding, several access roads lead into the Manti-La Sal National Forest, close to the controversial Bears Ears formation. We thought we had picked an isolated area for our hike, but after driving a winding dirt road up the mountains to the trailhead we were surprised to find a large group of people setting up booths and tents. We had stumbled upon the Annual Summer Gathering of the Native peoples who have ancestral ties to the Bears Ears region. It was interesting to talk to them and get an understanding of the issues involved.
The first hike we attempted was on a trail so overgrown that, even after several times backtracking, we never found what we thought would be a trail into Kigalia Canyon. We drove further up the road and had better luck finding a couple of other trails that lead into Hammond Canyon. But by then we didn’t have enough time to go too far into the canyon.
As we left Blanding on Friday, heading to Cedar City in southwestern Utah, we drove the loop road through Natural Bridges National Monument. At the stop for the last of the three Bridges we walked the trail that led under the impressive stone structure.
By lunchtime we were driving through Capital Reefs National Park. We ate at the picnic area near the Visitors Center and stopped for a couple of scenic viewpoints but then it was time to get back on the road.
The main attraction for our week in Utah awaited us in Cedar City. We had five days to spend enjoying hiking (me and Lee) and biking (Aaron and Ruth) trails. Not to mention just the fun of being together for the week.
We found time to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, and several areas in the Dixie National Forest.
Today as we head back to New Mexico we will make one more stop at another of the southern Utah wonders we have always wanted to visit–Bryce Canyon National Park.
A week ago we were at the tail end of our two-week road trip to Ohio and Michigan. The last day of driving was only a couple of hundred miles from Tucumcari to Albuquerque. We took some time to stop and visit two New Mexico destinations that we hadn’t yet seen-Ute Lake State Park and Conchas Lake State Park.
Both lakes are reservoirs on the Canadian River, in relatively flat terrain, where hiking trails are pretty much non-existent. Ute Lake had a nature trail along the lake that provided an enjoyable short walk, but mostly we were just sightseeing from the car. Today it was time to get out for some real hiking.
Lee wasn’t too thrilled with my suggestion that we hike the La Luz Trail. But, being the good sport that he is, he agreed with the plan. If you start at the trailhead, hike the 7 1/2 miles up to the tram, and then take the tram down, it’s another 2 miles of hiking to get from the tram back to your car. There wasn’t anyone we could impose upon to give us a ride and I wasn’t anxious to hike the extra distance. My solution was to use Uber to get back to our car after the hike.
Some might say that La Luz Trail is an expensive hike by the time that you buy tram tickets and pay Uber. But to me, it’s more than worth it. Couples wouldn’t think anything of paying an amount more than that for a dinner and movie date. And I enjoy that hike much more than any movie or concert or dinner date. There’s such variety on the trail. The views are awesome, especially the towering granite cliffs when you get closer to the top.
When you know it’s going to be high 90’s down in Albuquerque you start hiking early enough so that the first couple of miles before the tree line is done before the heat of the day. Then the trail begins to weave in and out of nice shady spots as it winds up the mountain. The section that goes multiple times across the big rock slide starts to get tiresome, but just when you think you can’t take any more, you come to the intersection with the side trail up to the Crest House and you know the worst is over. After a refreshing lunch break it’s an easy mile or so to the tram. And I enjoy that section because it parallels the tram line and you can hear the humming of the wires and watch the tram cars as they go up and down.
As much as we enjoy our trips to other places, it’s still good to be back in New Mexico.
After viewing hundreds of photos last night from Mike Richie’s “San Juan Basin Badlands” presentation at the Native Plant Society meeting, it was obvious that today’s hike should be an exploration of one of the areas discussed in the presentation. Shortly after moving to Albuquerque, I went on a hike with the hiking club to Ceja Pelon, one of the 5 Nacimiento Badlands west of Cuba. Lee and I have considered exploring out there before on our own but without any established trails we didn’t know if we should attempt it.
Just recently, however, I discovered a phone app that allows me to load a GPX track on to a map and then follow the track–exactly the functionality that a handheld GPS device provides but no need for an extra gadget. The hiking club publishes their GPX tracks on their website so now we can use their tracks to guide us to new destinations.
For today’s hike we selected Mesa Penistaja, a 6.6-mile loop hike that promised interesting rock formations and lots of petrified wood. It certainly delivered on the petrified wood. Pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors were scattered throughout the arroyos and on top of the hillsides. The dominant flower in the grassy areas was the Mariposa Lily. I have never seen them in such abundance. Many were growing together in clusters, whereas usually they are just a single isolated plant.
The GPX track gave us a place to start the hike and a reassurance that we could find our way back through the maze of arroyos. We ended up only doing about half of the published hike before we veered off and created our own track. With so many things to look at we weren’t hiking very fast and, given how hot it was, we felt that 5 miles was enough to call it a day.
We were a party of five, setting off for another excursion into the beautiful backcountry surrounding Salmon, Idaho. My brother, my sister, and my sister’s friend were on horseback while Lee and I preferred walking. On our visit here last year I had attempted to join the horseback riders but that experience taught me that I am not a horseman. I much prefer to have my feet on the ground.
It was still early in the season for wildflowers but there were enough to keep Lee busy photographing and identifying every blossom tucked away in the brush and weeds. I was happy to hike along enjoying the sunshine and gorgeous scenery, periodically catching up to the three horsemen who were sharing horse stories as they sauntered up the trail.
Lee and I had been warned to check our clothing for ticks since we would be brushing up against the grass and sagebrush where the ticks would be waiting for fresh blood to walk by. Sure enough, when we stopped for lunch, I set my knapsack on a nearby log, untied the jacket I had tied around my waist, and there was a tick on the front of my shirt. The three riders were busy tying up their horses while Lee was a few paces away kneeling down to photograph a flower. As I called out to announce my find I thought I heard a faint rattle behind the log next to me. Lee was closest to me so I turned towards him, saying, “Listen! Do you hear a rattling sound?”. Just then I spotted the coiled up snake next to the log. You can guess the word that came out of my mouth then when I realized I was inches away from a rattlesnake!
Lee jumped up, camera at the ready, while the horsemen came running over, but by the time I was able to point them to the hollow log, Mr. Snake had slithered inside the log. All I saw then were his rattles disappearing behind him as he went into his hiding place. I wasn’t sure if I was exaggerating when I told everyone how big I thought the snake was because I hadn’t gotten a real good look at him. But I was pretty sure he was a big one.
I was happy to cautiously look around and find a snake-free place for my lunch spot while the rest of the group poked around at the hollow log hoping to get a glimpse of the snake. They finally gave up and settled down to eat lunch. We were all far enough away from the snake that eventually he must have decided it was safe to come back out and enjoy his sunbathing that I had so rudely interrupted. We were ready to pack up when one of the horses perked up with ears alert and eyes pointed in the direction of the snake log. The group (except for me) tiptoed over and there was Mr. Snake coiled up in plain sight. Lee was able to get a good picture and my snake sighting was confirmed. This was no baby snake.
I had heard about Ball Ranch, a section of BLM land less than an hour’s drive from town, that has areas to hike through, but I didn’t know much about it. Then last month I learned more about it from the latest edition of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque”. At a talk given by co-author, David Ryan, he said that it is one of his favorite places to hike because of a large area there that is covered with petrified wood. That captured my interest.
Getting there involves another one of those dreaded stretches of rough New Mexico dirt roads. In addition, since it is surrounded by Pueblo tribal lands, there is a locked gate at the entrance to the road that crosses tribal land to get to the BLM land. You have to go the BLM office in town and sign out a key for the time you plan to hike. Thanks to the information in the book, that was easily accomplished.
I also carried the book along on the hike, knowing that there wouldn’t be any established trails to follow. Many times on BLM hikes we get off track, even with specific directions and maps, but that didn’t happen this time.
The first part of the hike had us walking in an arroyo that was trampled down with hundreds of fresh hoof prints and obvious signs of the presence of a large horse herd. I thought at any moment we might round a bend and see some wild horses. No such luck.
But Lee did see some wildflowers to photograph and I enjoyed gazing at the many-layered, hardened mud walls of the arroyo.
Some spring wildflowers
When it came time to climb out of the arroyo for the side trip to view the petrified wood, we weren’t sure at first that we were in the right place. But then we started to see chunks of petrified wood scattered on the sandy hillsides around us. The more we looked the more excited I got. It is simply amazing to see so much petrified wood in one place.
A fun hike for viewing geology and flora, even without seeing any horses. Back at the BLM office the person at the desk said that there are more wild horses than the grazing can support. The BLM tries to round them up but they head off into the surrounding tribal lands where the BLM doesn’t have the authority to enter. Maybe next time we will see some horses.
Sierra Ladrones is Spanish for “thieves mountains” and is the name of the isolated, jagged peaks visible on the horizon south of Albuquerque. It is said that Navajo and Apache raiders had hideaways there and that thieves and outlaws could elude their pursuers in the rugged terrain.
Today most of the Sierra Ladrones is part of a BLM Wilderness Study Area. There are no established trails up to the peaks but they are so prominent as they rise up from the surrounding desert that you can easily see where you need to go. The challenge is trying to find a way to get close enough to the base of the mountains where you can start hiking.
The southeast side of the mountain is part of Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and the public is allowed access on those roads only as part of a guided tour. Several years ago I had the opportunity to go on a group hike partway up the southeast side. The terrain was unbelievably rugged. It’s one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done and we only got to a saddle where we could look down the north slope and also see the highest peak looming over us to the west.
Today we followed directions in the 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque book for a hike that starts from the northwest side of the Ladrones. After leaving the interstate it took 45 minutes to drive over the very rough 18-mile dirt road that traverses the scrub desert and barren range lands to reach a long ridge that slopes off the mountain making possible a relatively gradual ascent up towards the peak.
It was an interesting limestone ridge to hike up. There was always a view of the surrounding vast emptiness in all directions if you looked around and if you looked down at your feet there were multitudes of fossils embedded in the limestone. We only went up about 3 miles before turning around. With no shade anywhere on the trail it isn’t a hike to do in the summer, but for a spring day it was perfect. Fall would also be good and after having the summer to get in better shape maybe we would have enough energy to go further next time.