First Hike of 2019

After two winter storms passed through our fair state, it was a challenge today to come up with ideas for doing our first hike of the New Year. Here in town the ground is clear and dry, and even looking East to the Sandias, most of the snow on the visible slopes has melted. But we know there’s a lot more snow on the other side of the mountain and probably the trails on this side would be snow packed and icy. Most of the interesting desert hikes that we do require driving on miles of dirt roads. Those roads would still be too muddy for our car to handle.

The hike that we decided to do is an old favorite and is the one Sandia trail that we were fairly certain would be free of snow. The Three Gun Springs trail is on the south end of the mountain and gets plenty of sunshine so it, also, would be a warm spot, since the day was starting off quite chilly.

As we started up the trail it became quickly evident that we had underestimated the amount of snow and overestimated the amount of clothing we would need for warmth. Even under normal circumstances the steepness of the slope makes this hike a good workout, but today required extra work to keep from sliding off the packed down footsteps of previous hikers that allowed us to hike over the snow. Without those footsteps we wouldn’t have been able to do the hike at all. We were soon shedding layers of clothing and welcoming any small breeze that kept us cool.

I was ready to turn around after 2 miles. A nice ledge at that point provides an ideal sitting spot to have lunch and enjoy the view. I know, that’s pretty wimpy of me to turn around after 2 miles. But I have a good excuse since I’m still in recovery mode from the recent 10-day “stony” episode that sapped my usual strength. A good story for another time.

Someone’s sad, leftover snowman (snow bear?) about a mile up the trail.

Higher up, there is actually less snow because the sun quickly melts it off the exposed rocks.

Quebradas Sediments

A few weeks ago when we did a hike in the Manzano Mountains I got carried away taking pictures of rocks along the trail. The wavy, layered metamorphic rocks that are abundant in the Manzanos look to me like beautiful pieces of artwork. I couldn’t resist posting some of my photos here.

Yesterday we were hiking in another area that compels me to take pictures of rocks. We were in the Quebradas, this time not an area of metamorphic rocks, but, instead, mostly sedimentary rocks. But sedimentary rocks form in layers, also, and with the fractures, folds and faults that occur on the earth’s surface many sedimentary rocks end up with fascinating shapes and patterns.

In addition to folding and faulting that reshapes the sediments, sometimes there are certain chemical processes that change the colors of the rocks in interesting ways. I don’t know all of the details, but in the laboratory of the geology class I recently completed, I remember the instructor explaining the round white dots in some reddish sandstones as places where a chemical impurity in the sandstone as it was being oxidized (changing it to the reddish color) would prevent the oxidation, leaving a white space around the impurity. There were many rocks in the Quebradas that had that feature and I photographed several samples.

Quebradas is a Spanish word meaning “breaks,” a rugged or rocky area. The BLM owns most of the land along the Quebradas Back Country Byway, a 24-mile dirt road east of Socorro that parallels I-25. There are 10 numbered stops, places along the way to park and observe various geologic features. Official hiking trails are nonexistent–you just wander anywhere in the vast emptiness that happens to capture your interest.

We parked at Stop 4, which is in the upper reaches of the Arroyo del Tajo. A nice hike that we have done before is to walk about 2-1/2 miles down the arroyo, observing the rocks (in Lee’s case observing the wildflowers, which are few and far between this time of year) and then rounding a corner to find yourself in this amazing slot canyon.

Walking out the other side leads to a nice ledge to stop and have lunch, which is what we did, before turning around and retracing our steps back to the car. Altogether an enjoyable winter hike.