Our Hike This Week

Our hike this week was one that we didn’t have much information about, on a trail that hadn’t been hiked by anyone we knew. Lee’s Santa Fe National Forest map of the Pecos Wilderness showed a trail leaving a campground along Hwy 63 at the point where the Rio Mora tributary joins the Pecos River. The campground appears to be used mostly by fisherman, and, as is usually the case in a wilderness area, there aren’t signs or maps in the area to show you where to find the trailhead.

From the map that we had, we knew that the trail would closely follow the Rio Mora for a mile or so, possibly crossing it more than once. At the point where Bear Creek joined the Rio Mora, the trail left the Rio Mora, crossed Bear Creek, and headed up a ridge. From the ridge we knew there would be some nice views and lots more trails, although with just a day hike, for us it would be a turnaround at some point and then coming back down the same way.

Our first challenge was trying to figure out where to cross the Rio Mora. We made a couple of mistakes, crossing at the wrong place and then having to recross when we encountered steep cliff banks. There was a pretty good flow in the river so you took your chances trying to find fallen logs or partially submerged rocks that would help you get across without a dunking in the river. When we finally got to the place that was an obvious crossing, it did have an area of shallow water, but I could see right away that without waterproof boots, the only way I was going to get across was to take off my boots and wade across. It was very painful walking on the rocks in bare feet and the water was numbingly cold but I made it across, as did everyone else. Fortunately, the crossing of Bear Creek was much easier and didn’t require taking off my boots.

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Rio Mora in the Pecos Wilderness

Hugging the rock cliffs along the Rio Mora. Not much of a trail.
Hugging the rock cliffs along the Rio Mora. Not much of a trail.
Wading across Rio Mora.
Wading across Rio Mora.
Not many wildflowers left, but here were a couple of nice coneflowers next to the stream.
Not many wildflowers left, but here were a couple of nice coneflowers next to the stream.

The other challenge on this hike was the climb up the ridge. There were very few switchbacks and it was a steeper ascent than what we had thought. A lot of loose rocks didn’t make it any easier. But, as always, once you get up and begin to see the views you know the climb was worth it. Because of time constraints we had to turn around before we got to the high meadow that we could see ahead of us through the trees. Most of the hiking in the Pecos Wilderness is best for backpackers because the trails are long and it’s a lot of driving to even get to a trailhead. Any time spent in the wilderness, though, is worth it and we certainly couldn’t have asked for a better day to be out hiking.

Starting up the steep ridge.
Starting up the steep ridge.

This wasn't the top--still more climbing ahead.
This wasn’t the top–still more climbing ahead.
Bear Creek is in the canyon below. The light green of the aspen trees on the slopes will be beautiful gold color in a couple of weeks.
Bear Creek is in the canyon below. The light green of the aspen trees on the slopes will be beautiful gold color in a couple of weeks.
View behind us, knowing the climb was worth it.
View behind us, knowing the climb was worth it.
Stands of aspen along the way.
Stands of aspen along the way.
Looking up through Ponderosa Pine canopy.
Looking up through Ponderosa Pine canopy.
Trail levels off on the ridge top.
Trail levels off on the ridge top.

Enhanced Hiking

The hiking experience is greatly enhanced when driving time to the start of a hike is minimized.  We live in a city that is surrounded by opportunities for many great day hikes and we have taken advantage of that in the 2 1/2 years we’ve lived here.  But our hiking experience this week was extra special because we were able to do 2 10-mile hikes in a beautiful wilderness area and didn’t have to spend time driving either morning to start the hikes.

At the suggestion of our friends, Ken and Sue, who had been in the area before, we camped Monday and Tuesday at the Santa Barbara campground in the Carson National Forest, just north of the Pecos Wilderness. We shared a campsite with them both nights and they helped us plan a 10-mile hike Tuesday and another 10-mile hike Wednesday before we headed back to Albuquerque. They are experienced backpackers and their plan Wednesday was to head further into the wilderness for 3 days of backpacking.

Campsite at Santa Barbara campground.
Campsite at Santa Barbara campground.
An extra treat was watching the moonrise--one day short of full moon.
An extra treat was watching the moonrise–one day short of full moon.

Hiking in wilderness areas can be a challenge because it’s often difficult to find accurate and helpful information about the trails. That’s the experience that we had the first day. Our first challenge presented itself as soon as we walked to the trailhead from our campsite and realized that we were on the west side of the Rio Santa Barbara and the trail started on the east side with no bridge across the river. Most of the time this wouldn’t be an issue for hikers because the stream would be small enough to cross on logs or rocks. This happened to be one of those times when the stream was very full and it was not obvious where to cross. It took us about 30 minutes of going up and down along the banks of the stream before we found a way across.

This was not the way across.  Lee ended up having to back his way out again.
This was not the way across. Lee ended up having to back his way out again.
This was the doable crossing we finally found.
This was the doable crossing we finally found.

The second major challenge of Tuesday’s hike was trying to reconcile trail signs with names and numbers and maps we had of the area. Our goal was a ridge called Ripley Point, about 5 miles east of the campground at an elevation of 11,800 feet. The campground was at 8,800 feet, which meant 3000 feet of elevation to climb in the 5 miles. After about 2 miles of hiking, we started up what looked like a connector trail on the maps and GPS but turned out to be a brutal bushwhack straight up for at least a mile through thick woods before we finally connected with a real trail.

A lot of consultation of maps and GPS.
A lot of consultation of maps and GPS.
Trail numbers were confusing but it was a welcome sight to see one when so many times we weren't sure we were on a trail.
Trail numbers were confusing but it was a welcome sight to see one when so many times we weren’t sure we were on a trail.
Rock cairns were also a welcome sight to let us know we were in the right place.
Rock cairns were also a welcome sight to let us know we were in the right place.
Beautiful views.
Beautiful views and lots of wildflowers.
Well deserved lunch break on ridge.
Well deserved lunch break on ridge.
Pecos Wilderness views.
Pecos Wilderness views.
Through the gate.
Through the gate and down into the valley back to the campsite.

The second day’s hike was an out-and-back following a trail along the West Fork of the Rio Santa Barbara. At least for me and Lee it was an out-and-back hike. For Ken and Sue it was the beginning of their 3-day backpacking trip into the Pecos Wilderness. We hiked together for the first 5 miles, enjoying the views of the canyon walls, the rushing stream, the many wildflowers, the shady woods and the green meadows and valleys. Then Lee and I bid adieu to our camping companions and headed back to camp while they continued up the trail.

Canyon walls along first section of West Fork trail.
Canyon walls along first section of West Fork trail.
Walking through stand of aspen.
Walking through stand of aspen.
A couple of stream crossings but easier than the one yesterday.
A couple of stream crossings but easier than the one yesterday.
Walking through meadows on West Fork trail.
Walking through meadows on West Fork trail.
West Fork of the Rio Santa Barbara.
West Fork of the Rio Santa Barbara.
Ken and Sue continue up the trail for the backpacking trip.
Ken and Sue continue up the trail for their backpacking trip.

Both days of hiking provided us with opportunities for viewing and photographing wildflowers, some of which were old favorites, others that we have yet to identify. Columbines are some of my favorite wildflowers. The Red Columbine is what I’m familiar with, but in the Pecos I got my first chance to see the Blue or Colorado Columbine. They were everywhere on the West Fork trail and I took countless photos because they were so beautiful. Of course, with only a phone camera I just couldn’t seem to get a photo that really captured the beauty. And that went for the scenery, as well. I suppose, in the future, another way to enhance the hiking experience might be to get more serious about photography. For now, I’ll use the photos I do have to enhance my memory of this wonderful experience until the next time I’m able to be out there enjoying God’s creation in person.

Lee and Sue hard at work trying to get that perfect flower photo.
Lee and Sue hard at work trying to get that perfect flower photo.
Blue (Colorado) Columbines.
Blue (Colorado) Columbines.
Closer view of columbines.
Closer view of columbines.
One of the yellow flowers I can identify--Golden Pea.
One of the yellow flowers I can identify–Golden Pea.
Jacob's Ladder (we think).
Jacob’s Ladder (we think).