NM – Pecos Wilderness, Winsor Trailhead

WHAT??? Joan got waylaid on her way to Georgia and found herself still in New Mexico so guess what, yep we got to play together again. YES, that’s J&J adventure #3 for 2018! 

Neither of us had hiked in the Pecos Wilderness so we were anxious to explore. I’d gathered information on trail conditions from the Ranger Station in Pecos, at least the areas to avoid; NO is written on several areas of the map. After eliminating those areas we decided to start with a lollipop loop beginning at the Winsor Trailhead and hiking Winsor National Recreation Trail #254, to Lake Katherine on Skyline Trail #251, to Santa Fe Baldy, to Stewart Lake and finally returning on Winsor Ridge Trail #271.

At 11,742 Lake Katherine was still thawing from her long winter’s rest. 

That ice didn’t stop Joan, the ever intrepid swimmer. 

Are your teeth chattering or is your smile frozen? 

Nothing like a climb to find Santa Fe Baldy to ward off any chill from that icy swim. 

Boulder field and cairn route hiking is fun, right? 

It’s also fun finding your way through the snowfields. 

Oh but the rewards! 

12,622′ Santa Fe Baldy success! 

Or not, ha ha false summit. Come on Jan, you’ve got this. 

Joan looking down at Lake Katherine from Santa Fe Baldy summit. 

Stewart Lake (10,232) was a bit disappointing after Lake Katherine. I don’t remember if it was worthy of a swim.

I was happy to find these cheery marsh flowers. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 9-10, 2018
  • Hiking Stats:

Tips:

  • Plan to resupply at Santa Fe or Las Vegas; Pecos had slim pickings.
  • When near large population areas such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, you can expect more regulations and consequences.
  • It’s always good to gather recent trail conditions reports from nearby ranger stations or visitor centers. Postings reinforce information when resource centers are closed. Many times information is not updated or available on their websites.

Resources:

Links:

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NM – Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

After spending a couple days hiking the northern end of the Manzano Mountain Wilderness, I stopped and visited the Salinas Pueblo Missions on my way to hike to Manzano Peak on the southern end of the range. 

The three missions are separated geographically by some distance as is the Visitor Center which is located in Mountainair. The history of these missions is interesting and worth of day of learning, absorbing, and wandering. Interpretative literature and signage is excellent. 

Quarai is 8 miles north of the Visitor Center. 

Abo is 9 miles to the west of the Visitor Center.

Gran Quivira is 25 miles south of the Visitor Center. This was my favorite maybe because of the use of limestone.

I’ll skip rattlesnake encounters. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 5, 2018

Tips:

  • There’s very little if any shade, so plan accordingly.
  • Take time to wander the Visitor Center as well as the Contact Stations/Museums at each site.

Resources:

Links:

NM – Manzano Mountain Wilderness

I found myself in Albuquerque after my recent trek through San Pedro Parks Wilderness with Joan. Oh how I love our J&J adventures! How will I go at least a year without another? The best antidote is more trail miles! YES YES YES! 

I stopped at REI to find new places to explore and decided to give this nearby wilderness a try. I spent a few days hiking from several trailheads. I found trails to be in varied conditions from well-marked smooth sailing, to cairn routes, to overgrown, deadfall and non-existent. This is an area I recommend having a good map and tracking app or GPS. The last printed map was from 1988 and very outdated due to fires, reroutes and no longer maintained trails. I found some decent intel in a hiking book at REI. 

Albuquerque Trail #78 / Fourth of July Trail #173 Loop

Date Hiked: 5/3/18

My Notes: 5.25-mile, 900′ elevation gain/loss loop. Really enjoyed the variety of trees, shrubs and gentle terrain. Nice switchbacks and soft trail. Pretty healthy forest. Saw one gal at campground but no one at trailhead nor on trail. 

The 2008 Trigo fire burned more than 21,000 acres including much of Manzano Mountain Wilderness.

I loved all the alligator bark trees. 

I didn’t see any significant wildlife but obviously bears roam these mountains. 

Cerro Blanco Trail #79 / Manzano Crest Trail #170 Loop

Date Hiked: 5/4/18

My Notes: 13-mile, 2,300′ elevation gain/loss loop. Trail was fairly well marked and reasonably easy to follow; although some areas quite overgrown. 

I loved finding this spring. 

The views from the Crest Trail (also part of the Grand Enchantment Trail) were open and dramatic. Look closely and you’ll see the cairn marking the trail. 

I wasn’t too excited about coming across this abandoned campsite. 

Nor was I excited about seeing smoke. 

Pine Shadow Trail #170A / Kayser Mill Trail #080 Loop

Date Hiked: 5/6/18

My Notes: 12-mile, 3,000′ elevation gain/loss loop. Trail was a mixed bag from decent to overgrown with deadfall to non existent.  Terrain went from nicely-graded switchbacks to loose slippery rock. 

I definitely needed to take a detour to Manzano Peak. 

Nice trail. 

There were lots of colorful rocks. 

Where oh where is the trail? 

Just say NO! Trail doesn’t exist after the fires.

But the road is right down there . . . maybe I’ll just cut down . . . 

Adventure Date(s):

  • May 3-6, 2018

Tips:

  • Carry a paper map. Although it was dated 1988, I found it a helpful supplement to my digital version.
  • Obtain trail conditions and water reports from Mountainaire Ranger Station.
  • Be comfortable with trail finding and navigation. These trails are not well traveled nor signed at least during my visit.
  • It’s a dry area and most seasonal streams were dry. Some springs were dry or inaccessible due to fires.

Resources:

Links:

NM – San Pedro Parks Wilderness

I couldn’t believe my luck. Joan decided to take a slight detour into New Mexico as she began her relocation travels from Moab to Atlanta. I’m all about opportunities and there was no way I was giving up this one. I may have said my goodbyes a month earlier after our week in Capitol Reef and the Henry Mountains, but I was more than ready to say HELLO again, lets play! I’d stopped at the Ranger Station in Cuba looking for ideas and thus learned about San Pedro. When you want to play, how can you say no to a park? San Pedro Parks Wilderness is known for high, moist, rolling mountaintops with numerous meadows and large grassy “parks.” Source: USFS 

My readers and friends know I don’t enjoy planning or rigid itineraries. I love that Joan embraces this philosophy. We prepared by downloading maps to our Gaia phone apps, which would supplement our paper map and trail descriptions. I thought this quote in a book I was recently reading was quite appropriate for this adventure as we had no destination in mind; how much food we carried would determine the maximum length of our journey.

We began our hike from the San Gregorio trailhead located in the southern part of the wilderness. I don’t have a photo at the trailhead so I’m assuming there wasn’t any signage. About a mile from the parking lot is San Gregorio Reservoir. I couldn’t talk Joan into going for a swim. Maybe on our exit? 

Time to find the parks. Will there be swing sets and slides? Maybe we’ll find ziplines and a concession stand with rootbeer floats.

At the first junction we decide to stay on the Las Vacas trail, saving the Damian for our return. 

We stay the course at the next junction also. I love having so many options for loops and variety. 

I loved this trail. Weather and temperatures were perfect. This was Jan’s definition of flat strolling trail; no bushwhacking required. 

We were soon reminded late April is early spring at 10,000 feet. 

We were excited to be on the CDT. “The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail climbs to the beautiful San Pedro Parks Wilderness area from Cuba, NM and then heads northeast to the Chama River and Carson National Forest. The CDT route follows the Los Pinos, Las Vacas, Penas Negras and Rio Capulin trails through the Wilderness.” Source: Continental Divide Trail Coalition

Well since we didn’t find any fun toys in the park, we decided napping in the grass (imagine it’s green with plentiful wildflowers and butterflies) would be an acceptable substitute. 

Of course we needed to summit nearby San Pedro Peak (10,952′).

Hey look, peak #2, Ped Peak at 10,523′.

Signage was inconsistent and confusing within the wilderness. We were glad we had multiple resources. 

Trail 31 is also known as Rio Capulin Trail. 

It’s wise to come prepared for rain. 

Umbrellas make such a difference, especially during hail storms. 

The next few miles on the CDT/Rio Capulin was trail in need of some maintenance with lots of deadfall. This sign represented the junction of trail #31 (Rio Capulin) with trail #30 (Rio Gallina) were we planned to begin the next leg of our loop. It was getting late so we decided to continue a bit further north on the trail and find a place to camp.

We slept on options. I wasn’t thrilled with our choices.

  1. Reverse direction on trail #31 back through known deadfall jungle gym
  2. Continue hiking north until the trail crosses Highway 96 or Road 103 and try hitching back to the trailhead
  3. Attempt unmaintained trail #30

Known or unknown? Joan left the decision up to me.

My ultimate decision was to give trail #30 five minutes. How much worse can it be than what we’d already hiked?

Soon 5 minutes turned into 15, 30, 60, 90 . . . there was no evidence of old trail. But by now it seemed better to continue forward.

Are we having fun yet? Well Joan loves this stuff, Jan not so much. 

See that smile? Yep Joan kind of fun. She’s even more relaxed since I made the decision to take this route. Oh Jan, what were you thinking?

We quickly gave up on trying to stay on course with our digital map and instead decided to visit a couple of interesting points of interest marked on the map like Red Rock Cliff.  Compass navigation was very helpful at keeping us moving in the right direction. This is Joan’s specialty; I have room for improvement.

Look we found ourselves some red rocks. 

Along the way we found some interesting sights. 

1930 graffiti

1937 cursive writing graffiti

At four hours in, I’m happy for breaks and butterfly distractions. 

We can’t believe our eyes. Someone else has been this way in the not so distant past. 

We see a cave on our map so once we locate on the ground, Joan goes in to explore. 

Then it was time to find the path of least resistance. 

The happy smile of finding our way out of the deadfall . . . ONLY eight hours into this day’s obstacle course adventure.

YES, the trail is in sight. Excellent job expert navigator Joan!

Yippee! Lets find a place to camp! 

Jan was plenty tuckered after this 9-hour day of off-trail, log hopping, bushwhacking fun. That was a long 6-mile day!

Why is Jan tuckered? Joan did a fine job capturing my challenges. 

Any regrets? Not when I’m sharing it with my friend. She makes me giggle, laugh and enjoy the crazy situations we find ourselves in. 

It’s a new day. Our plan is to complete a figure eight loop but after our experience with the non-existent Gallina Trail, we had low expectations of trail conditions. We camped near the junction of San Jose, Las Vacas and Los Pinos Trails. 

On the Los Pinos and Anastacio Trails, we found a mix of nice surface, snow covered surface, well-trodden trail, and post/cairn-marked trail. 

We liked the looks of the Palomas Trail. 

How does the Damian Trail look? 

Ha, I guess we might as well end this loop with more obstacles. 

Back at San Gregorio Reservoir I still couldn’t talk Joan into a swim. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 28-30, 2018

Tips:

  • Carry a paper map. Although it was dated 2006, it was a necessary supplement to our digital versions. 
  • Obtain trail conditions reports from both the Cuba and Coyote Ranger Stations.
  • Prepare for weather. Temperatures dropped to high 30’s both nights, plus we had heavy rain and hail.

Resources:

Links:

NM – Bisti Badlands Wilderness . . . it’s a new day

My attempt to spend a few days exploring the Badlands a couple of weeks earlier was somewhat thwarted by wind storms followed by a drop in temperatures and snow storm. However, my abbreviated first visit gave me plenty of motivation for a return (link to related post). With no home for the night after departing Chaco Culture National Historical Park, I headed to Bisti in hopes of catching sunset colors. 

It wasn’t WOW but I was grateful to experience without gusty wind and blowing sand. 

The next morning I headed out early hoping to catch the golden hour of light. A little surprise caught my attention instead. 

YEP a cow. What the heck? This is a protected area with gates and fences. Imagine my disappointment when I saw this cow followed by bike tracks. What a bummer. 

While the lighting ended up being far less than ideal I was thrilled to find large pieces of petrified wood. 

Yes, that once was a tree!

Incredible to see two exposed long logs.

One of the cool things you can find in the area if you keep your eyes peeled are giant bird nests; I found three on this day. There’s a shelf on the tallest formation housing one. Second photo is zoomed. 

Can you see the nest off to the right? It appears to have been abandoned and is slowly returning to nature. 

Lots of cool features and acreage to wander. There aren’t any trails thus best LNT practice is to limit steps to water channels, hardpan and sandy areas. Plan to turn around frequently when channels run out. In general I found the area in surprisingly good shape.

On my Gaia app the dashed line represents a suggested trail. The red is my wanderings. I strongly recommend using a compass and GPS or app if you are navigationally challenged like me. It’s really easy to get turned around as the sandstone features make you feel as though you are in a mini mountain range. You can see the times I turned around when I ran out of LNT options. The thin red line was from my first outing (link to related post).

It’s a magical landscape.

THE balanced rock at Arches National Park has nothing on this one. 

At the trailhead, BLM provided an overview map which shows some named features such as this one called cracked eggs. 

Remember the first photo of the cow? Sadly I found this incredible damage. Who let the cows in? So much for LNT.

This gate was closed each time I visited but with plenty of fence around perimeter I’m sure opportunity exists. I didn’t notice any cows in the area surrounding the wilderness.

Maybe the sign should have included warning about non-aggressive cows. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 24-25, 2018

Tips:

  • You don’t want to be in the area during time of heavy wind. My face was sand scrubbed and my eyes felt like sandpaper after getting caught in the wind.

Resources:

Links:

NM – Chaco Culture National Historical Park

After spending significant time visiting ancient sites in Utah, Colorado and now New Mexico, Joan encouraged a visit to Chaco, considered the epicenter of ancestral Puebloan culture and architecture. 

I wished I’d researched and planned a little better so I could have spent at least a couple days at this very interesting Park. I entered via the north entrance which was a very long slow bumpy 16 miles. I exited on the 20-mile southern road which took me a good hour. The campground was full and there aren’t any nearby dispersed camping options. After spending some time at the Visitor Center I drove the Chaco Canyon Road visiting the sites along the way. For the inquisitive, be sure to buy the very informative interpretive guidebooks.

There are around 500 rooms in this site including both excavated and unexcavated areas. An interesting factoid according to the interpretive guide, “There were an estimated 215,000-225,000 trees used in the construction of all the excavated great houses in Chaco Canyon.” Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating is used to determine age of timber used in construction.

Treasures abound for those willing to search. 

The Park promotes quiet, respectful visitation of this outdoor museum. As I wandered around the word that stayed at the forefront of my mind was reverence, “deep respect for someone or something; a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.”

I talk about regrets frequently, and my goal of doing what I can to minimize that feeling. Oh how I wish I’d visited this site earlier in the day when lighting was optimal. 

Other cool find, petrified wood! 

Life among the artifacts. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 24, 2018

Tips:

  • Prepare for lengthy time consuming drive. I highly recommend camping at the Park.
  • Morning light on the petroglyph panels is best.
  • Buy the interpretive guides.
  • Ask for the Backcountry Hiking Trail handout if interested in further exploration and hiking.
  • Trails and sites typically are open 7am to sunset.
  • I’m always curious about which structures are original as excavated vs rebuilt vs stabilized, thus one of the questions I’ve learned to ask.

Resources:

Links:

 

 

NM – Valles Caldera National Preserve

After learning about volcanic tuff during my visit to Bandelier National Monument and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, how could I skip the place responsible for creating these geologic marvels?

“Valles Caldera began erupting 1.25 million years ago. Once the eruption ended, the massive pyroclastic flow material inside and outside the caldera began to cool and solidify, forming a rock geologists refer to as tuff. Solidified pyroclastic flow materials from the Valles Caldera and Toledo Caldera comprise the Upper and Lower Bandelier Tuffs. Much earlier, 7-6 million years ago, Bearhead Rhyolite erupted in the southern Jemez Mountains sending debris flows over the area now known as Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.” Source: Valles Caldera National Preserve Guide and Map by High Desert Field Guides

At the time of my visit, this park was touted as the “Nation’s Newest National Preserve.” The Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 signed by President Bill Clinton on July 25, 2000, created 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve. By the way, valles is pronounced VIE-yays or va-yes.

Beware of restricted access hours. I found myself at the gates saying OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. 

Little did I know a reward for my timely arrival was a road filled with hundreds of crazed prairie dogs racing back and forth creating a death-wish obstacle course. I wish I would have thought to video this frenzy. The rangers said it was the first time they had witnessed such an event. When I left later in the day all was quiet. 

As I looked around I noticed these porta-potty looking buildings. I learned they are used by grad students studying prairie dogs as part of John Hoogland’s Prairie Dog Project, which he began in 1974.

It was funny to see the prairie dogs labeled like race car drivers. 

Their homes were also labeled. JB will you come home?

Many roads had not been opened for the season so my options for exploration were fairly limited. Experienced anglers brought bikes as a way to reach more distant water features. Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the 1.6 mile trail around Cerro La Jara, one of many hills left behind after the caldera collapse.

Be sure to pick up a free interpretive guide at the Visitor Center. 

Cerro La Jara was not much to look at. I’m guessing it’d be nicer during green grass and wildflower season.

To gain a view of the preserve, the rangers recommended I hike the trail up Rabbit Mountain. 

You know how much I enjoy hiking through burn areas. Sigh! 

Good reminder of LNT. I met some hikers collecting antlers on a nearby road, so this seems to be a thing in this area. I heard collectors are paid well.

The aspen trees are sure to put on a show in the fall. 

I hiked up to Rabbit Ridge, about 5.5 miles round trip with a little over 1,000 feet elevation gain.

For some reason I don’t think I’ll be visiting Bandelier National Monument from this trail. Just say no to bushwhacking.

The views from the ridge were less than stellar but I’m sure better than before the fire. 

Chasing butterflies in honor of Joan was a good distraction. 

The trail was well marked. 

Adventure Date(s):

  • April 23, 2018

Tips:

Resources:

Links: