Overview:

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 012 Jane + Celia heading towards cliff

Turning towards cliff bands on summit ridge line

This is a showpiece trail. In its lower reaches this beautifully engineered tread winds among pines, firs and aspen, ascends further past subalpine meadows, contours below columnar cliffs in open alpine terrain and finally arrives at a the vent-pocked volcano summit. From the summit there are unbroken vistas of northwestern New Mexico. We hiked Mt Taylor on a Friday and encountered just one other party. Put it on the bucket list for hikes in this state.

Driving Directions

This is the way we went, but see below for an alternate suggestion:

  • From I25 go west on I40 in Albuquerque (for fellow Las Cruceans, it is about 226 miles to this intersection)
  • After 73.9 miles take exit 85.
  • After 0.1 miles on exit ramp, stay to right to enter NM 117
  • After 1.1 miles NM 117 bends to the left and merges with Santa Fe Av
  • After 1.6 miles go right onto First Street
  • After 0.9 miles go right onto Roosevelt Ave
  • After 0.4 miles go left onto Lobo Canyon Rd (NM 547)
  • After 12.7 miles, go right onto FR 193
  • After 5.2 miles, turn right into the trailhead parking.

The above route takes you onto First Street in the city of Grants, which is currently undergoing heavy construction. It may be shorter, simpler and easier to take the following (untested) route:

  • From I25 go west on I40 in Albuquerque (for fellow Las Cruceans, it is about 226 miles to this intersection)
  • After 73.9 miles take exit 85.
  • After 0.1 miles on exit ramp, stay to right to enter NM 117
  • After 1.1 miles NM 117 bends to the left and merges with Santa Fe Av:  STAY TO RIGHT
  • After 0.3 miles go right onto George Hanosh Blvd.
  • After 0.9 miles go left onto Sakelares Rd.
  • After 1.9 miles, at a T-intersection, go right on Lobo Canyon Rd (NM 547)
  • After 11.1 miles, go right onto FR 193
  • After 5.2 miles, turn right into the trailhead parking.

On either route, you will encounter FR 193 twice.  We didn’t take the first right onto FR 193 since the second right onto FR 193 is reported to be well graded. In fact, there were several short gullied stretches. The driver of our subcompact sedan got over them by driving slowly. There may be considerable year-to-year variation in roadbed quality.

Trailhead:

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 001 Trailhead

Signed Mt Taylor trailhead.

The trailhead is a gravel parking area.  There are no amenities, but the trailhead is signed.





Data

  • Starting Elevation: 9,280 ft
  • Ending Elevation: 11,300 ft
  • Elevation Gain: 2,020 ft
  • Length: 3.0 miles one way
  • Map: USGS Mt Taylor

Hike

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 003 cow at spring (portrait, better)

Cattle drinking at the spring on the lower trail

Cross the Forest Service Road and find the beginning of the trail directly across from the trailhead. It heads uphill in well shaded splendor, ascending on the right (southeast) wall of a small drainage initially, but eventually crossing over to the northwest side.  In 0.7 miles return to the bottom of the drainage, marked by several large cairns and several potential camping spots. A small board inserted into a cairn points uphill in the drainage, with the word “spring” written on it. Indeed, in a bit more than 100 feet upstream we saw (and heard) cattle taking their fill at the well.  I suspect that it  is a muddy well, since none of the water in that spring made it down to the stream bed where we were standing.

Celia and Jane in subalpine terrain

Celia and Jane in subalpine terrain

Continue across the drainage and resume climbing on the southeast wall, coming to a woods road at 0.8 miles. A sign saying “Mt Taylor” across the road shows you where the tread resumes. Trees continue to shade this part of the route – chiefly Ponderosa pine but with occasional Douglas firs,  blue spruce and aspen. The trail stays low inside the drainage, limiting views to the southwest that rightfully are yours, but at 1 mile the slope eases and the trail rises out of the waterway and enters alpine meadows on a broad rib. There are views to the west and south but these are often missed due to the eye-catching open terrain in a wide drainage that rises above your head to the east.

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 011 water carved grassy gully (good)

Grass covered eastern drainage with sharp gullies traversing the meadows

The trail stays on the broad rib, gently rising towards the east until you come right to the edge of the wide eastern drainage at 1.7 miles.  The new drainage is gentle enough to be covered with grass, but it is also strikingly “veined” with deep-cutting water courses. Rather than enter this drainage, the trail bends left (to the north) and contours around a small rib-top prominence. Views of cliffs decorating the summit ridgeline come into sight at 2.1 miles.

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 017 cliffband and switchbacks II

Switchbacks rising above cliff bands that rim a large bowl on upper trail (double click for larger image).

Traversing a large open bowl, the trail nears the base of these cliffs, passes them, and at 2.4 miles begins the task of rising above them in a short series of switchbacks.  Horned toads are plentiful. The trail makes a final turn to the north paralleling the summit ridge line and reaches the summit at 3.0 miles.

Return the way you came.

Recommendations:

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 031 Jane Celia Me summit sign

Summit pose!

In 2013 the summer solstice reached temperatures of 96°F in Albuquerque and 100°F in Las Cruces. On the wind whipped summit of Mt Taylor the temperatures felt much more brisk.  A good jacket would be useful on cooler days. (We noticed that the lichen on the summit trees rarely came closer to the ground than about eight feet, suggesting that impressive snow levels can accumulate here). Given some winds aloft, a summer summit on Taylor is the best way to deal with desert basin temperatures.

We saw only one water source on the trail, and it was much frequented by cattle. Most guides for this trail suggest that this trip be treated as “dry”. Haul along all the water that you’ll need. Almost all of those same guides point out that there is no place shelter from thunderstorms on Taylor’s ridgelines.

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 Mt Taylor 043 larva co-opted aspen leaves

Aspen tortrix (“leaf roller”) handiwork.

In the aspen stands we saw numerous green leaves that were wound into tight rolls. When opened, there was a whitish, crystalline material in each of the cores. It turns out that this is the work of the aptly named “leaf roller”. Ordinarily these bugs are just forest pests, but they can be damaging during times of drought. We need a monsoon soon. You may have noticed the bright red notice of fire danger on the pictured trailhead sign above. The folks around mid-state will agree – the smoke from the Silver Fire was intense when I stopped for a driving break in Truth Or Consequences, NM.

Mt Taylor is a great place to introduce new hikers to the New Mexican backcountry, to get in a day’s exercise or to just go for a ramble with friends. Our party made the summit with no problems, but at 11,300 feet the air has thinned noticably. It isn’t a good place for folks with a history of altitude sickness.

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