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.

Nambe Badlands

It wasn’t a long hike and we almost didn’t go, but at the end of the day we both agreed it was a fun outing. The tail end of a winter storm in the north blew into Albuquerque last night and we knew it would be cold and windy today. I had been wanting to check out Nambe Badlands but thought another time might be better.

I really had second thoughts when we got to Santa Fe and saw that there had been some measurable snow there and in the area where we were headed. My hiking boots are not waterproof and don’t go above the ankle so I wasn’t prepared for tromping through snow.

To my relief, once we started up the trail I could see that the snow wouldn’t be a problem. Lee took the lead, making it possible for me to step into his footprints. The sun warmed us up quickly and the wind lessened a bit. We had some nice views of the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance. And now I can check Nambe Badlands off my bucket list.

A New Tradition

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s–we all have special traditions that we celebrate this time of year. When children grow up and leave home and families are scattered far and wide many of our traditions are no longer meaningful. Then it’s time to think about creating new traditions.

I think I’m going to start a new tradition for me and Lee. Today was just one day short of being exactly a year ago that we hiked up Manzano Peak. As we hiked along I found myself pondering events of the past year. We have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is the fact that we are both healthy and strong enough to be doing this hike again. With 9 miles of hiking and a 2000-foot elevation gain on the way up it’s not an easy hike.

Click on map for interactive version.

Observing a tradition once every year can be a milestone that allows us to measure changes over the course of the year. I thought about all that was different in our lives and what things had stayed the same. I remembered concerns I had last year that never materialized. There were obstacles and rough spots, but just like this hike, they were overcome as we moved along one step at a time.

I also looked for landmarks along the trail that I remembered from last year. One was this heart-shaped rock. It had tumbled a bit further down the slope but was still close enough to the trail that I spotted it. Lee moved it back close to the trail, in spite of my concern that someone might come along and remove it. I’ll look forward to seeing if it’s still there next year.

This year the weather was more sunny, but there were also some patches of snow at the higher elevations; whereas last year there hadn’t been any.

The left photo is last year’s hike and the right photo is this year. I’m looking forward to next year!

Lee’s Ridge

If it’s my turn to propose a hike for the day, I most likely will suggest an established trail that’s a good workout. I won’t be too concerned if it’s a hike we’ve done before. Lee, on the other hand, is always looking to explore new territory. And chances are we won’t even be on a trail.

I can work up lots of energy when I know what to expect for elevation and distance. But when I’m tagging along behind Lee as he follows his desire to see what’s around the next corner or over the next hill, I feel totally exhausted after just a short distance. Usually, though, by the time we finally get back to the car I will end up agreeing that it was a fun hike.

Today he wanted to show me a “bushwhack” hike that he had explored on his own last spring. Twice this summer we had tried to do it but were stopped by a road closure sign on the Forest Service road leading up the canyon where we needed to go. On the first attempt we wandered around on some abandoned dirt roads near there as a substitute hike. A month later we assumed the road would be open. When we found it still closed we drove to nearby San Pedro Parks and did a regular (my style) hike.

I wasn’t too happy when Lee proposed trying his bushwhack hike a third time. Especially when he said that if the road was still closed we would explore somewhere else in the area. But the weather was absolutely perfect today and if we were going to be outdoors then that was all I really needed to enjoy the day.

The road was open but we were surprised to find it snow-covered on the first stretch that was on the shady side of the canyon. The snow was long gone everywhere else, though, so it didn’t present a problem. After we parked the car Lee pointed to a ridge up towards the mountains and said that was the goal for the hike. Since there are no signs in the area and some of the roads aren’t even on maps, I’ve decided that this hike will now be called Lee’s Ridge. We made it to the top and back down and still had time to walk up another road that Lee wanted to check out.

The curved reddish-orange formation with the beige line on top is Lee’s Ridge, goal for the hike today.
A short stretch in the beginning that followed a small drainage.
This area reminded us of the red sandstone formations around Sedona, Arizona.


3 mounds


I think I have solved one of my issues when it comes to “bushwhack” hikes. The shoes that I hike in are not high tops and I can’t find hiking pants with legs long enough to cover the tops of my shoes. As we walk through brush and brambles my socks get filled with stickers and it totally annoys me to have things poking and itching in my shoes as I hike. This time of year when everything is dried up is especially bad. So today before we left on the hike I asked Lee if he could find his old pair of gaiters that we had stashed away somewhere. It wasn’t that easy to figure out how to get them attached to my shoes and pant legs, but I think we got it figured out. I didn’t get any stickers in my socks today. The pair of gaiters is now in my backpack ready for our next bushwhack hike.

This Weeks’ Hike

Our hike this week was one that we have done twice before. For some reason, we call it the “Red Dot Blue Dot” hike when the way that we’ve done it all three times is by starting at the Blue Dot trailhead, connecting to the River Trail, then the Red Dot trail, and finishing on the Canyon Rim trail. At least finishing on the Canyon Rim trail is the goal, but we didn’t manage that goal the first two times on the hike.

The hike leads down to the Rio Grande River at White Rock, NM, where the river cuts through a canyon lined by steep lava escarpments. A series of blue dots are painted on the black lava rocks to mark the trail as it descends into the canyon. At the bottom it connects to the River Trail and about 2 miles further along the River Trail it connects to the Red Dot Trail. This one climbs back out of the canyon over the lava escarpments and is marked with red dots painted on the rocks.

At the top of the canyon the trailhead for the Red Dot trail is on a side street in a subdivision of White Rock. It doesn’t directly connect to the Canyon Rim trail. Walking on the street is required and if you aren’t careful you miss the spot along the ditch where you get off the street and follow a path that leads to the Canyon Rim trail. There are many local neighborhood paths between the houses and it’s easy to miss the official trail. The first time we tried we added some extra walking trying to find the beginning, as well as at the end when we left the Canyon Rim trail too soon and went out of our way to get back to the car. The second time was a really long hike because we took a wrong turn almost as soon as we got on the Canyon Rim trail and then ended up walking back to the car through the town itself. The third time is a charm, though, and now we’ve finally figured out that tricky part at the end.

Below is a map that shows our 3 times on this hike. The purple line is the preferred way that we successfully accomplished on our third try. The blue overlaps the purple on the trip down to the river and back up but then shows how we had to walk through the subdivision. And the red line overlaps the purple except for a couple of extra side trips.

Start Blue Dot.
Beginning descent on Blue Dot trail.
From Blue Dot
From Blue Dot trail, view east to mountains above Santa Fe, Rio Grande flowing south (from left to right)
Blue dot
Blue dot trail marker.
Lava tumbled down from the ridge at White Rock; old cinder cone on Buckman Mesa in the background (another hike in the area)
Rio Grande
Rio Grande
Trail-side waterfall on a spring- and snow-fed stream
Animal prints made this patch of snow look like a mask!
View downriver from Red Dot Trail.
Canyon Rim.
View from Canyon Rim trail.

And now for old time’s sake I’m including a link here to the page describing
the first time we did this hike.

Sandstone Bluffs

Sandstone Bluffs is like an out-and-back hike because the trail follows a line of narrow bluffs for several miles before turning around and heading back. But the fun part is that you have a choice of walking on top of the bluffs or walking through the desert at the base of the bluffs. Since the wind was rather chilly when we started we chose to start hiking at the bottom where we would be more protected from the wind.

The trail at the base is unofficial and the challenge of starting the hike that way is figuring out exactly where to climb down from the bluffs. We wandered back and forth along the edge and finally took a guess at what looked like the best way to get down. After we got home I researched a track of this hike from 2 years ago where we had done it the opposite way. I was surprised to see that we had picked the correct spot because it didn’t seem like it when we were slowly threading our way down the steep, rocky slope.

Another interesting aspect of hiking at Sandstone Bluffs is the opportunity at many spots to find pottery shards left from the time when native peoples lived in the area. It’s against the law to take any of them, but we like to gather them together in one spot to make a nice arrangement for someone else who might be walking this way. A couple of examples:

There are some petroglyphs at the far end of the hike that we have seen on previous hikes here. But we weren’t sure exactly where they were and found out later we hadn’t walked quite far enough.

The next couple of photos are from a previous hike here. We did see the rock bridge on this hike but my picture of it wasn’t very good. And we didn’t get as close to the lava rocks as before and that is another thing that we like about hiking Sandstone Bluffs.