Monte Largo Canyon

We still manage to find new hikes within 60 miles of Albuquerque that surprise us with their remote beauty. It wasn’t just that we failed to see another soul on the trail, but after we left the paved road and drove across 10 miles of desolate, flat rangeland to reach the trailhead in the foothills we never even saw another vehicle, either going in or coming back out.

Monte Largo Canyon is on the west side of the Manzano Mountains, which we’ve hiked in before, but usually our hikes start on trails that are on the east side of the mountains. The west side of the mountains are reached by driving south of Albuquerque to Belen and then east. Below is a picture of our track on Google Maps.

We found it quite amusing to see all of the street names on the map. It must be someone’s dream of future development because driving out there you see nothing but flat rangeland, rough dirt roads and, once in awhile, an isolated ranch. There are no street signs anywhere.

For our friends who are familiar with the Manzano Mountains, notice that the hike is climbing up towards the crest, about halfway between Manzano Peak and Gallo Peak. We’ve been up there on the crest before, but always by hiking in from the other side. Forest Service Maps do show a trailhead for Monte Largo Canyon, but not a trail. That seems strange because it was a trail that was fairly easy to follow, basically up the drainage of the canyon.

We got some nice views from an overlook about 2.5 miles in from the trailhead, at which point we turned around and came back down. If we were real ambitious, of course, it would have been possible to get all the way to the crest. But maybe another time.

First spring flowers! Easter Daisy.
Looking west, Ladrone Mountains on horizon. In between is the barren rangeland with the dirt roads we drove on.

View from highest point we reached. Canyon continues.

Lots of huge alligator juniper trees.

Pine Shadow Trail

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The trail sign itself isn’t much to look at, but I shared the photo, anyway, because it captures our beautiful blue New Mexico skies in the background. We can’t complain about winter and colder temperatures when we live in a climate that brings us abundant sunshine almost every day of the year. There is snow in the mountains this time of the year for those who like to ski, but for those of us who like to hike we can find places to go where the trails are open and clear.

On this particular hike, our only weather related issue occurred when we rounded a corner of a switchback on a canyon edge. A howling wind hit us head-on and it felt like we were going to get blown right off the mountain. This point of the trail was where we had turned around the last time that we had been on this hike. Lee had hoped that on today’s hike we could go further up the trail to reach the other side of the canyon where there was a higher viewpoint. But we all agreed that the wind did not make that a pleasant option. Instead, we found a sheltered spot behind some rocks and ate our lunch before coming back down.

At the trailhead.
At the trailhead.
Up the trail
Up the trail
View to the west
View to the southwest. The dirt road visible in the distance is the one that we drove in on.
Goal is around the corner.
Less than a mile from here is the corner we rounded and faced the fearsome canyon winds. But no winds here!
Alligator juniper
This tree is called an alligator juniper. Obvious why it’s called that, isn’t it?

One of the criteria we use in deciding where to hike is to compare the time spent in the car getting to the trailhead with the time spent on the trail. A rule of thumb is that time in the car should be less than time on the trail. In this case, it was just about equal, but, as Lee pointed out, we couldn’t let such a beautiful day pass without spending some time outside and the Manzano Mountains were a great place to be. On a Saturday, closer to Albuquerque or Santa Fe we would have encountered other hikers. But out here you really get the sense of being in the wilderness. We were the only hikers who got to enjoy the Pine Shadow Trail yesterday.

To get a sense of the location and terrain, you can use
the interactive map that has the track of our hike.