Archives for posts with tag: hiking
01 Truchas, center peak, N Truchas, Chimayosos

(South) Truchas, North Truchas and Chimayosos Peaks

Overview:

Truchas (Spanish for “trout”) may be 60 feet lower than Wheeler Peak, but it is far more isolated and far less visited. The mountain lies directly at the heart of the Santa Fe Mountains, an empress of altitude in spectacular high country. Billions have been spent on stadiums and museums to console the disconsolate who’ve no access to this style of hiking. The lucky will hike through a comprehensive tour of the Canadian, Hudsonian and arctic-alpine life zones: climbing through dense Douglas fir forest, sauntering across gorgeous meadows and arriving where the tough alpine grasses grudgingly give way to rock and lichen. Pick a couple nice days, hoist your pack and allow your expectations to soar. You won’t be disappointed.

Weather can be an issue. I turned back when the surrounding stratocumuli demonstrated cumulonimbus aspirations. As a result this description ends in the grassland below the summit.

Driving Directions:

  • Take Interstate-25 (I-25) to exit 299, northeast of Santa Fe. The exit is signed for Glorietta/Pecos NM-50.
  • After 0.1 miles, at the end of the ramp from the northbound lanes, turn left onto NM-50. This junction is not signed, but it helps to know that NM-50 ends at this junction. If you were to turn the other way, to the right, you would be on Fire Station Road heading into Glorieta, NM.
  • After 0.1 miles, having crossed over I-25, stay on NM-50 where it makes a 90-degree right-hand turn. There is no stop here, even though it looks as if you were arriving at a T-interesection. There are several signs at the junction, the most useful indicating that the Glorieta Conference Center is to your left and the town of Pecos is to your right.
  • After 5.9 more miles, at a four-way stop, turn left onto NM-63 in Pecos, NM.
  • After 19.2 more miles arrive at Cowles, NM and continue straight ahead on Forest Road 555. The most prominent feature at this junction is a bridge crossing the Pecos River on your left and a green road sign saying “Cowles”. There is a tiny wooden “555” sign on your right, but it is hidden behind a small fir tree. On Google Maps this road is labeled “Cabana Trail”.
  • After 2.3 miles turn right onto a drive signed “Wilderness Camping”. A brown Forest Service sign just before this drive points up the drive for “Trailhead” and “Equestrian Camping”.
  • After 0.3 miles park at the trailhead.
02 Transition from NM-63 to FR-555

NM-63 to FR-555 continuation

The roads are paved except the loop where the trailhead is located. The gravel loop is currently in excellent condition.

NM-63 from Tererro to Cowles (about 5.5 miles) is paved but it is rough, very narrow, and twisty. The fall-off from the road edge can be cliff-like. Allow extra time to drive this short distance and be prepared to slow to a crawl if you encounter oncoming vehicles. Fortunately, the road bed of FR-555 is wider and smoother.

Trailhead:

04 packed trailhead parking

The mighty Camry, squeezed into the last-open trailhead parking spot

This is a full service trailhead with potable water, bear-proof trash receptacles, vault toilets and trailhead signage. The fee for parking is currently $2.00 per day, although there are discounts for military service passes and other national passes. The multi-agency recreation.gov site has a detailed description of the camping opportunities and seasons, but it is very much focused on $10-per-night car camping. There does not seem to be any mention of the trailhead fees. Similarly, the USDA site only mentions the $10 fee, but the signs at the trailhead clearly state the $2 fee.

Data:

  • starting elevation: 8830 feet
  • highest elevation: 11960 feet (not at summit!)
  • net elevation: 3130 feet (not to summit!)
  • distance: 9.9 miles (one way)
  • maps: USGS Cowles Quadrangle and Truchas Peak quadrangle

Hike Description:

04 junction with horsetrail on Beatty's TrailFind the start of the trail on the steep embankment uphill of the trailhead parking. It is signed “Beatty’s Tr. No. 25”. The tread begins with a long, ascending contour up the east wall of the canyon containing Jack’s Creek. The forest here is dominated by Douglas fir and some ponderosa pine. At 1.1 miles from the trailhead it begins a series of switchbacks and comes to a junction at an opening in a fence (see above-left photo). This path from the other side of the fence is where the horse-folk enter the trail. You’ll want to watch for “horse apples” on the trail thereafter.

05 Beatty's Trail - Jack's Creek Junction

I have no idea how the base of these aspen dissociated from their upper boles

There is plenty of light filtering through the trees from above, a sign of terrain change. Accordingly, the trail soon reaches a flat rib top and begins nice ramble, bending to the east above the small basin where Allbright Creek parachutes into the Pecos River. (The creek itself may be dry at this elevation). At 2.5 miles from the trailhead the tread pokes its nose out into the broad, green meadows that make this hike famous. Here find the signed junction between the Beatty Trail and the Jack’s Creek Trail No. 257. Turn left onto the Jack’s Creek trail and follow it as it winds its way through a pleasant stand of tall aspen. You may encounter cattle (make certain of your control over Rover), but this herd has much experience with ignoring the intrusion of horse riders and hikers. They will, however, gaze at you with a lofty sense of disregard.

05 upper meadows

Pecos Baldy and East Pecos Baldy from upper meadow

At 2.8 miles emerge from the Aspen for your first traverse in the emerald kingdom that is the mesa between Jack’s Creek and the Pecos River. The views are spectacular – east into the Santa Fe Mountains, west into the headwaters of the Pecos River, and around your knees where lies a profusion of wildflowers. If you did bring pets know that they can get warm in this open country. I was told that there is a spring (drained by a length of PVC pipe) in the woods to your left after you hike over the first prominent rise in the meadows. The ground itself can be surprisingly damp, given an August date in New Mexico high country. Where horse hooves meet the boggiest stretches it can be downright muddy. Still, rock hopping across 20 foot patches of bog is a small price for admittance to such gorgeous terrain. At 3.3 miles pass through a glade of spruce trees and then re-enter another half mile of meadow. Pecos Baldy and East Pecos Baldy frame to view in front of you. The gentle, forested height of land on your right is Round Mountain.

08 cut deadfall to Jacks Creek

A route through the deadfall

At the upper end of the meadows the tread begins to descend, penetrating into dense young forest on the hillside above Jack’s Creek. Just this past July this portion of the trail was an obstacle course of flattened trees. The Forest Service has been hard at work, however, and innumerable fresh cuts now open the way for hikers and horsefolk alike. At 4.4 miles arrive at Jack’ Creek, which had a good flow of water but was easy to cross dry-footed.

09 Burn and flowers

Burn flowers

On the far side of the creek find a junction with the Dockweiler Trail No. 259. The combined Jack’s Creek/Dockwieler trail ascends besides the creek bed. It is muddy in places and those heavy horse seem to be facing a struggle – there are hoof-skids and deep, horseshoe-sized pocks in the trail. Also, there was some deadfall in the trail, so be prepared to keep your eyes focused on the ground before you. At the end of five miles the Dockweiler Trail departs to your right. Continue ascending on the Jack’s Creek trail as it eases alongside and then penetrates into a swatch of burned forest. This is a dense stand of snags and some caution would be needed on a windy day. It is scorched above the 3-foot level, but below that is an understory unbound; spectacularly green and densely appointed with wildflowers.

10 first glimpse of Pecos Baldy

Pecos Baldy from Jack’s Creek trail

Climb past the upper limit of the burn at 6.1 miles from the trailhead. The forest now presents Engelmann Spruce and corkbark fir, typical of forests in the Hudsonian life zone. The snow banks that graced the side of the trail two months ago are gone. The terrain is fairly gentle until you reach a small running stream at 6.8 miles (you may want to filter your water here). The terrain noses up and you ascend the last quarter mile to where the Jack’s Creek trail makes a junction with the Skyline trail, #251. Just past the junction is the entrance to the cirque containing Pecos Baldy Lake.

11 Pecos Baldy Lake Basin

Pecos Baldy Lake basin

Camping is not allowed in the lake basin. There are, however, camp sites along the Skyline Trail just below the basin. It looked as if the best views were found on a couple sites west of the junction (turn left on ascent), but these are quickly claimed at this popular destination. One camper remarked that there is running water close to the camp sites to the east of the junction, which would make them a good choice as well. I did not scout hard enough to find that stream. Instead, I used the stream that descends from the steep face of East Pecos Baldy into the lake. The lake is beautiful, but is frequented by horses, deer, bighorn sheep and elk. Filter, boil or treat the lake water with bleach before drinking it.

12 deer on ascent

Fearless Deer

To continue to Truchas peak, go east (right on ascent) onto the Skyline Trail #251. The tread is a mellow ascent in widely-spaced trees typical of old growth forest. On this date I encountered a deer so acclimated to hikers that it stood and watched as I stood and watched. It even advanced a few steps towards me before regretting its curiosity, something that I’ve never before seen a deer do. The trail breaks out of the trees and reaches a junction where the Jack’s Creek trail departs to your right. Stay to the left on the Skyline Trail as it climbs into montane grasslands and slowly bends to the north.

13 Trail Riders Wall

Truchas, North Truchas and Trailrider’s Wall (below).

Before you lies a grand triumvirate: Truchas Peak (sometimes called South Truchas), North Truchas Peak and Chimayosos Peak lie to the left, center and right respectively. Look closely at the east facing shoulder of Truchas and you will see the summit of another montane magistracy. I think is the 13,040 foot mountain (unnamed on my maps) that lies in the center of a “Y” shape joining South Truchas at the bottom to both Middle Truchas and North Truchas Peaks at the top. This sweep of high terrain contains much of the headwaters for the Pecos River. Closer by, below you on your right, lies the striking cliff band known as the Trailriders Wall.

16 Signpost At The End Of The Trail

Joe Vigil Trail and Skyline Trail junction

This is open country – even in August you may find yourself pulling a jacket out of your pack to cope with the constant winds. Continue north on good trail, occasionally marked by cairns that can reach six or seven feet tall. The cairns may be intended to guide backcountry skiers when the trails are under snow and they are impressive examples of their kind. The tread rises and falls as it meanders across the grasslands. At 9.9 miles from the trailhead come to a sign for a junction even though, on this date, the only tread in sight was the Skyline Trail. The incoming Joe Vigil Trail was nowhere to be seen. The route to Truchas is an off-trail climb directly ahead, you will see the summit from the junction. The Skyline trail uses the saddle to depart to the east, dropping below the ridge top. On this date, however, I turned back due to increasingly dense cloud cover.

Return the way you came. Take your time. Savor the spectacle.

Recommendations:

Trailhead parking was packed and all the camp sites in the lake basin were in use, despite the fact that this trip took place midweek during the monsoon season. Try to get an early start!

It was chilly at night, probably in the low 40s, so you’ll want a decent sleeping bag. That said, the sun at mid-day is a real problem. You may want to wear a wide-brim hat, long-sleeved shirt and full-length pants just for the solar protection. Sunscreen and lip balm are near-musts.

This isolated and high altitude hike would be a dubious choice if you are leading a party fresh from sea level. The folks at Altitude.org have a clear and very useful summary of the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness and it’s severe offshoots, HAPE and HACE. The first section of the post is titled, “Don’t die of altitude sickness”. Good advice.

There are horses, cattle, big horn sheep, deer and (reportedly) elk and bear to be found along the trail. Please make sure that your pets will behave around the megafauna.

Links:

The ChrisGoesHiking site has a well written and nicely photographed description of the trail up to Pecos Baldy Lake. Also, he describes his intentions to simply continue along the Skyline trail to traverse the cliffs known as the Trail Riders Wall, which is exactly what this trip report describes. Chris, however, was hiking on a Memorial Day weekend and there was enough high-country snow to discourage travel beyond Pecos Baldy Lake.

Sam at Landscape Imagery has a 2009 report of a multi-day hike up to both Pecos Baldy and Truchas Peak using the same access route. There are numerous photos, including some very useful images of the summit approach as well as a detailed trip description.

An overview of the various approaches to Truchas Peak can be found at SummitPost. It includes a warning about the sometimes-confusing nomenclature for the various summits in this group and describes the permissions required at various trailheads. Also, there are some thoughtfully expressed concerns regarding vandalism at certain trailheads, although the report is now 12 years old and I don’t know if the concerns are still valid.

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01 Mazanos Mountains from NM-55

Morning Manzano Mountains from NM-55

Overview:

The Manzano Mountains are central New Mexico’s unsung treasure. They offer cool Douglas fir forests, broad stretches of montane grassland, a trove of fossil finds, views west across the Estancia Basin and views east across the Albuquerque Basin; deer and raptors are common, bear and elk are present. Given its close proximity to Albuquerque you might think it would be mobbed. In fact, solitude is a Manzano virtue. The Bosque Trail #174 ascends directly to the crest, shaking off any morning chill with brisk efficiency. Turning south, the Crest Trail #181 winds across open grasslands to a junction with Vigil Trail #59. This new trail crosses the crest leading to an off-trail venture to the high point of flat-topped Bosque Peak. To make a loop return to the Crest Trail and explore north towards the base of sheer-sided Mosca Peak and then return along the mellow Cerro Blanco trail #79.

Driving Directions:

  • From the intersection of Interstate-25 (I-25) and I-40, take the ramp for I-40 going east.
  • At the end of the ramp merge onto I-40 east
  • After 14.0 miles take exit 175 for NM-14/NM-333/NM-337 (also signed for Tijeras/Cedar Crest). The ramp will fork, stay to the right for NM-333/NM-337.
  • After 0.5 miles, at a stoplight at the end of the ramp, go straight ahead onto NM-337
  • After 29.2 miles, at a T-intersection, go right onto NM-55 South
  • After 3.2 miles, as you climb a small hill out of the town of Tajique, turn right onto a gravel road. On this date there was no sign naming the road, but there was a prominent sign for the 4th of July Campground/Inlow Youth Camp, both of which are on this road.
  • After 8.4 miles come to the Cerro Blanco Trailhead on the right.

02 Sign on NM-55 before turn onto gravel FR-55FR-55 (the gravel road) is currently in excellent shape for the first 7.0 miles, at which point you pass the entrance to the 4th Of July Campground. Immediately past the entrance there is a sign saying that the road is not fit for passenger cars. On this date there were dozer-tracks on the roadbed so I went ahead. The road is pretty rough but the Camry was able to make it as far as the Cerro Blanco trailhead. Past the trailhead the road gets very rough. It is possible to drive to the Bosque trailhead, but a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.

Google labels this road as “County Road A013/Torreon Tajique Loop Road”, although I did not see any road signs using this nomenclature. There are, however signs at various points along the way identifying the road as “55”. FR-55 is prone to flooding, check with the Mountainair Ranger District if the weather has been particularly wet.

Trailhead:

03 mighty Camry

The mighty Camry at the  lush Cerro Blanco trailhead

The Cerro Blanco Trailhead has parking for two cars and offers a Forest Service information sign. If you peer up the trail you will discover a second sign saying “Cerro Blanco Trail No. 79”. If the parking spaces are taken you might be able to park at a turn-out on the opposite side of the road about 100 feet further along FR-55. Be cautious, however, since that turn-out looked pretty wet on this date. The first part of this loop is a hike of 0.7 miles along the road to get to the Bosque Trailhead. That trailhead has much more parking, along with picnic tables, fire rings, bear-proof trash receptacles and a vault toilet.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 7800 feet
  • Highest Point: 9585 feet
  • Net Elevation: 1785 feet
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Maps: USGS Bosque quadrangle. The 1995 version shows the trails mentioned in this guide and is recommended. The 2017 version does not show the trails, which makes it much less useful.

Hike Description:

04 huge aligator juniper with pole

Old aligator juniper (with hiking pole for scale).

From the trailhead walk south along FR-55 to the Bosque trailhead, 0.7 miles. The sign for the trailhead is becoming obscured by brush, but that is more of a problem for drivers than hikers. There is a long entrance drive bordered with picnic tables and fire rings. At the end of the drive is trailhead parking. Go past the trailhead sign and proceed along the well-maintained trail. This forest is dense with tall ponderosa pine. Alongside the trail is a big old alligator juniper, the largest that I’ve seen.

06 flat-topped Bosque

Bosque Peak from Bosque Trail

At 1.4 miles from the trailhead the tread bolts upwards. The occasional, half-hearted switchback will ease the burden on your thighs, but this is chiefly a rib-top rocket shot meant to put a hiker on the crest. In theory this trail should immediately convert into a gully, but it seems to have received a strikingly high level of trail maintenance. Water bars have been installed all along the trail. At two places on the ascent there are signs directing you off the “old” track and onto a new segment, presumably to allow the brush to over-run and restore the old track’s deepening tread.

06 obvious tread through the trees

Obvious tread through the trees

The 1995 USGS quadrangle shows the trail departing the rib-top and crossing the waterway that lies south of the rib. This departure occurred at about 2.2 miles from the Cerro Blanco trailhead, almost exactly at the point where the second sign directs you to the north, away from that departure. I spoke with Janet, Erik and Jill just above this point. They were returning because the trail above had become uncomfortably sketchy as it reaches into the high meadows. Either we all missed the route across the southern drainage or the trail has been re-routed.

07 Fire ring before Crest Trail junction

Fire ring at meadow’s edge, just before Crest Trail junction

Indeed, at 2.6 miles the trail enters subalpine terrain where the trees thin, small meadows appear and trail finding becomes a challenge. There are cairns of the small, informal, and contradictory sort. Given a choice it is usually better to favor a southerly route over a northerly route (i.e. stay to your left on ascent). The trail becomes much more evident where it leaves the ledgy meadows and re-enters forest. At 2.8 miles come to a wide and seemingly untracked meadow. Follow its edge in the clockwise direction until you pas a fire ring made of rock. Then, 100 feet past the ring, come to the intersection with the Crest Trail. The junction is unsigned but marked with one of the world’s least impressive cairns. Enjoy the meadows. Here you’ll find views of Guadalupe and Mosca Peaks, the impressive steep-sided mountains that dominate the northern section of the Manzanos. Study, too, the fractured limestone at your feet. In places it is thick with fossilized shells.

08 distant Sandias, Guadalupe, Mosca and distant Ortega Mts

Montane Grasslands, Sandia Mts, Guadalupe Peak, Mosca Peak and distant Ortega Mts

Turn south (left on ascent) to follow the Crest Trail. This is a part of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a network of trails that leads from Albuquerque to Phoenix, Arizona. As with the Bosque Trail, the tread is most obvious where it penetrates the trees. At 3.0 miles however, you will walk out onto the montane grassland that dominates much of the crest. Navigation becomes a matter of steering from cairn to cairn. Fortunately these are serious cairns, raised high enough to be seen above the tall grasses. An incredible amount of stoop labor has gone into making this trail.

09 Vigil trail and Crest Trail junction

Junction with Vigil Trail (note exposed soil, mid-picture)

At 3.8 miles come to the junction with the Vigil Trail. This junction is obscure.  Watch for a point where the Crest trail passes through mixed trees and meadow and then comes to a squared trail-post in open grassland. Curiously, the post is not at the junction but rather 50 feet or so north of the junction. Traverse that distance south, keeping your eyes peeled for a short section of disturbed ground that looks as if water has cut into the soil. That “cut” is the start of the Vigil trail. The Crest trail does continue south from this junction, in the form of grass-thatched wishful thinking. It can make you doubt your junction judgement.

 

10 Albuquerque Basin from Bosque Peak

Albuquerque Basin from Bosque Peak

Follow the Vigil trail as it disappears and reappears in a journey west across the very top of the crest. At 4.1 miles the Vigil trail makes a sharp right-turn and runs through the aspen and thorn-tree forest that adorns the top of Bosque Peak. Go off-trail and continue hiking west on a gradually rising grassland. Coming to the cliff that marks the western edge of the Manzano Crest.  Technically the high point is a few feet above your head and shrouded in thorn bush. My best efforts to penetrate that thicket were unproductive, but if you find a path please leave a comment! You may prefer to pull up next to the lonesome pine that adorns this cliff top, seat yourself comfortably in its shade and have lunch while examining the Ladron and Magdelana ranges.

11 Guadelupe & Mosca Peaks, Ortega Mts

Guadalupe Peak and Mosca Peak

To return, head back along the Vigil trail and then the Crest Trail, following it all the way to the junction with the Bosque Trail. If the weather is looking doubtful then the Bosque Trail is your best option. If you’d prefer a loop hike then stay on the Crest Trail as it continues north. You will soon discover that those treads you considered “faint” on ascent are actually bold examples of the trail maker’s art. In comparison, the trail north of the Bosque junction is a true wallflower – indistinguishable from the competing game trails. Fortunately, you need only stay close to the crest to be approximately on track. Mosca and Guadalupe peaks, the steep sided twins of the northern Manzanos, serve as a beacon before you. The occasional huge cairn is there to confirm your navigation.

12 Small bear guarding cairn

Small bear by meadow’s edge (click to enlarge)

Soar along the crest in the company of eagles – these raptors are hoping that you’ll scare up some game. On this date there were muddy spots with elk track, although the animals themselves were not to be found. The trail is so seldom used that it can disappear in brush thickets, be a bit careful as you push through since some of the brush includes thorny mesquite. The tread generally stays a little below the crest on the east side. At 6.6 miles come to the unsigned intersection with the Yellowstone trail #60. If you get diverted onto this trail you’ll find yourself dropping into the west side canyons. Turn back and rediscover the Crest trail.

13 trail departs downhill to left of center rock

Crest Trail departs the crest top to the right of the large center bolder.

At 7.8 miles contour around the east side of two steep-sided knolls then enter onto a short knife’s-edge section of the crest. It is close to here that you depart from the crest top. You will need to keep a sharp eye out for the departure point since an informal but obvious tread extends past the junction atop the crest. Take the steep switchbacks down to about 8800 feet until, at 7.8 miles from the trailhead, you come to a signed and obvious intersection with the Cerro Blanco trail. Follow the Cerro Blanco as it makes a leisurely and well-shaded northerly descent. Pass a junction with the Albuquerque Trail at 9.2 miles. Eventually the tread returns you to the Cerro Blanco trailhead, having brought you a total of 10.5 miles.

Recommendations:

One of the distinguishing features of this trail is the tenuous nature of its trail bed. If you want to challenge some young hikers with advanced trail finding problems, this is the place to take them.

It may be wise to carry bear bells or to keep up a lively discussion while bush-bashing along the northern part of this loop.

13 Monique and Michael on Albuquerque Trail

Monique and Michael, enjoying the Albuquerque Trail

Although the temperatures only got into the low 80s along the crest I still burned through 2.5 liters of water. I should have carried 4 liters. I did not find any water sources along the route. The sun is a serious piece of business at 9,000 feet. Sunscreen will make your day much easier.

Start at daybreak and finish early during monsoon season. You don’t want to find a thunderstorm barreling towards you as you cross over the Manzanos crest.  This crest does have some forested sections, but it would still be a pretty poor locale for waiting out a storm.

Links:

The Albuquerque Senior Centers’ Hiking Group has a short but remarkably detailed report on this loop. The report makes mention of a deep cave, a log cabin ruin, a mountain-top cemetery and a plane wreck to explore. Additionally, this 2015 report mentions a narrow trail leading between the Cerro Blanco trailhead and the Bosque trailhead, which would eliminate the road walk.

SummitPost has a summary, including driving directions and season suggestions for summiting Bosque Peak.

There is a brief description at the GeoCaching website, but the comments section is particularly interesting. As noted there, this is not t-shirt and shorts terrain. Also, hikes in the Manzanos do require strong situational awareness. Getting lost can happen.

The cabin mentioned in the ASCHG report apparently belonged to the Rea family. A family history of this mountain clan can be found here (pdf).

 

 

Overview:

This is a strenuous hike in some of New Mexico’s most dazzling terrain. Warning: the region’s beauty makes an imperious claim on the hiker – slink away after only one day and you could suffer a harsh sense of lamentable misjudgment! Make this a backpacking trip if you can.

On this date the tread of the Skyline Trail disappeared under deep snow and the hike up the summit block suddenly became a scramble. It was steep and taxing enough to require an ice axe and microspikes. In just a few weeks the snow will be gone and the trip should be a simple hike from end to end.

Driving Directions:

  • From Interstate-25 (I-25) heading north, take exit 299 for Glorieta/Pecos.
  • After 0.1 miles, at the end of the ramp, go left over the overpass bridge.
  • After 0.1 miles, at a T-intersection, go right onto New Mexico route 50 (NM-50).
  • After 5.9 miles, at a stop sign, go left onto NM-63.
  • After 19.1 miles arrive at a junction signed Cowles. Go straight ahead on the road signed “Jack’s Creek Campground”. According to the USGS map this is NM-555, but I don’t recall seeing that signed at the junction.
  • After 2.3 miles go right, through a gate, on a narrow road signed “Trailhead”.
  • After 0.25 miles come to the trailhead.

All roads are paved.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry at Jack’s Creek campground

This is a full service trailhead with vault toilets, water and bear-proof trash receptacles. There is a fee, day use hikers ordinarily pay $2.00 although there are discounts for the various passes. On a Monday there was no difficulty parking, but this seems to be a very popular trailhead and weekend hikers may want to arrive early.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 8840 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 12,258 feet
  • Net Elevation: 3420
  • Distance: 8.4 miles (one way)
  • Maps: USGS Cowles Quadrangle and Truchas Peak quadrangle

Hike Description:

Gate to Pecos Wilderness

Leave the trailhead on the Beatty Trail #25. The tread swings north to begin a long ascending traverse up the eastern wall of Jack Creek. In one mile the trail begins a series of leisurely switchbacks, rising toward top of the north-south running rib that divides Jack Creek from the Pecos River.  At 1.5 miles, very near the rib crest, you will come to a gate through which you could contour into the Pecos Wilderness.

Signed junction of Beatty Trail and Jack’s Creek Trail

Turn your back to the gate, doggedly sticking to those switchbacks. Light pours in from above, making it obvious that large meadows lie over head. Pull onto the rib crest and enter the anticipated meadows. The tread wanders through montane grasslands until, at 2.5 miles from the trailhead, you come to a signed junction with Jack’s Creek Trail #257. Turn west (left on ascent) onto Jack’s Creek Trail. The tread enters a spacious, glowing aspen grove, winds about and (establishing a pattern) returns to meadowlands.

View from meadows to Pecos Baldy and East Pecos Baldy

This is high country rambling at its very finest. To the east are views of Santa Fe Baldy and its neighbors Lake Peak (rather pointed, to the south) and Redondo Peak (broad and rounded, to the north). To the east lies a deep drainage where runs the wild Pecos. To the north lies the snow-patterned ridge connecting Pecos Baldy and East Pecos Baldy. But the big surprise is your immediate surroundings: the snaking, brown tread beneath your boots and the wildflowers that brush against your knees, the aspen-filtered morning sunshine that reaches your eyes. It is green. It is open. It is high. It is cool. You might feel the need to avert your eyes while you run a checklist against possible Pixar-esque delusions. It is not a snare. You are here!

Deadfall across Jack’s Creek Trail

Of course, tired legs, dark cumulus or a wind sharp of tooth can affect the situation. On this date the main issue was with downed trees. A decadal drought and bark beetles conspired with a fierce winter to keep you high-stepping. Looking around you will see the grim lessons learned by firs with shallow root systems. Other hikers have beaten boot paths around most of these obstacles. The first clump of deadfall appears as you hit 10,000 feet of elevation. That is pretty high for our rattle-y friends, but it helps to keep you in practice if you first place your hiking pole before planting a foot beyond a log.

Green understory in burned area

Reach the bed of Jack’s Creek having hiked 4.3 miles. If you are toting a water filter then this is a great place to refill and you’ll have lots of options for either shade or sunshine. The trail braids out here, but if you stay close to the creek you will start out on track. At 4.9 miles pass a signed junction for the Dockweiler Trail. Stay on the Jack’s Creek Trail. A few hundred yards pass this junction the trail starts to parallel a burned region. A vividly green understory is showing, but seedlings are still very scarce – the fire must have been quite recent. The tread begins to cross into the burned forest at about 5.3 miles and re-enters unburned forest at 6.2 miles.

View on the south shore of Pecos Baldy Lake

The tread ascends at a mellow angle. On this date patches of snow starting showing up here, beneath the densest stands of trees. At 7.1 miles come to a signed intersection with the Skyline Trail #251. Continue past and almost immediately enter the Pecos Baldy Lake basin. This is a magnificent place to give tired feet a break, pull a couple plums out of your pack, or take photos of the high summit block you are about to approach. Study those thin lines of snow that decorate the summit. It can be hard to see past the dazzle, but some of them may have tell-tale shadows cast by cornices.

View back to lake from part way up the snow covered rib

To ascend to the summit return to the junction with the Skyline Trail #251 and turn right (west). This will take to you a rib that descends on the west side of Pecos Baldy Lake. The north slope of this rib is heavily forested, which can protect a depth of snow late into the season. After seven miles of wondering “who carries an ice axe in June?” you may get a splendid answer. This snowy challenge won’t last long, but for the moment an ice axe and microspikes are almost essential. It would not be out of line to have full-on crampons instead of microspikes. (Crampons make plunge stepping much more reliable). Although the trail disappears beneath the snow navigation is not difficult. Steer by occasional glimpses of the lake through the trees and, much more often, peeks to the summit.

View (over a cornice) down to Pecos Baldy Lake

There is a prominent knoll atop this ridge and you want to find the saddle uphill of the knoll. This saddle is graced by a meadow (currently snow free) where the Skyline Trail surfaces at a signed intersection with the East Pecos Baldy Summit Trail #275. Cross the meadow and being a long series of switchbacks up the summit trail. This exposed slope is covered with short but extremely sturdy pines, possibly Rocky Mountain Bristlecone growing into krumholz. Near the summit there may be a wall of wind-deposited snow. You’ll have reason anew to be thankful for the ice axe and microspikes. Once past the wall stay away from the snow – there is risk of cornices still. Reach the summit cairn having hiked 8.8 miles from the trailhead. The views are amazing. The wind will probably howl.  Get those summit shots and return the way you came.

Recommendations:

Author atop East Pecos Baldy

I believe that dogs are allowed on these trails (although a Google search failed to come up with clear support). There are cattle, horses and, reportedly, big horn sheep in this area. Pets should be leashed.

Weather is a key consideration for this hike. Winds could become a problem during the traverse of the burned area. Lightning, as always, is a huge threat for anyone stuck on these high and unprotected ridge lines. Pick a clear, cool and calm day for this hike. UV exposure at these altitudes is going to be pretty high – pack along sunscreen and reapply periodically.

I brought just one liter of water and a filter. In June of a relatively wet year there was no issue with getting adequate resupplies.

Links:

Summit Post has a useful and succinct route description that includes the traverse from East Pecos Baldy to Pecos Baldy.

There are some nice photos and an extended description of a camping trip that went to East Pecos Baldy and then beyond (to Truchas Peak) at http://www.landscapeimagery.com/truchas.html

A great description of the hike and numerous photos (including fall aspen) for this hike at the Hike Arizona site (a really terrific resource, and despite its name it covers hikes all over the west).

I’ve been using the weather forecasts found at www.mountain-forecast.com and was impressed with it on this trip. They promised afternoon winds of 30 mile-per-hour at the top. Despite long periods of near-calm on the inward leg of this hike the wind was howling on the summit. Good call!

The USDA site offers up-to-date information on the trailhead including closures and fees. The site currently says that the day-use for picnicking is $10.00 but I think that only applies to the campground area. At the trailhead it is definitely signed for $2.00 per day.

 

 

Overview:

This hike is a very pleasant stroll in the woods but it suffers in comparison to some of New Mexico’s grander summits. Views are limited because the top of Glorieta Baldy is densely forested (in spite of its name). Long sections of the Glorieta Baldy trail lie atop dusty two-tracks. Forest Road 97, the access to the trailhead, is currently in rough shape. That admitted, the hike also has stretches of beautiful high-country trail, an all-too-brief tour along the lush bed of Apache Canyon and opportunity for exercise aplenty. If you land on a bonus hiking day then don those boots and follow this footpath into the sky.

Driving Directions:

  • From Interstate-25 (I-25), going north near Santa Fe, take exit 284 for The Old Pecos Trail.
  • After 0.3 miles, at the end of the ramp, go left onto Old Pecos Trail (no road signs)
  • After 0.3 miles, at a light, go right onto Old Las Vegas Highway
  • After 3.0 miles go left onto County Road (CR) 67C
  • After 0.8 miles, at a T-intersection, go right onto CR-67
  • After 2.1 miles go left onto CR 67A  (there is new pavement – still quite dark – just before the turn). CR-67A is paved for about 0.7 miles then abruptly becomes a gravel road in the town of Cañada de los Alamos. At the end of town the road swings left and begins climbing steeply past a cattle guard and then about 100 feet further to the ridge crest where the road forks.
  • After 2.0 miles, at the crest of a ridge, turn left onto Forest Road (FR) 79.
  • After 2.8 miles (estimated) come to a 4-way intersection and park the vehicle.

The mighty (timid) Camry, cowering below the final hillock.

On this date FR-79 was in poor shape. If you are driving a jeep, truck or high-clearance SUV you will probably not have any problem. Those who drive family sedans, however, will face several pitches of thoughtful driving. I had to back away from the last hillock on FR-79 at 1.2 miles from the trailhead. The road is here is steep, very deeply rutted and fraught with ledges. Coming down on that stuff could ruin your oil pan’s day.

Trailhead:

Normal trailhead at 4-way intersection on FR-79

The nominal trailhead is a four-way intersection on FR-79. There are neither services nor fees. (Ditto for the flat spot underneath a pair of pine trees where I left the Camry). FR-79 does continue past this intersection, but it is a much reduced road. The intersection is the effective end-of-the-line.

Data:

The map shows where I left the car and hiked along FR-79 (the initial north-bound leg). In the description below, however, all distances are from the trailhead at the four-way intersection.

  • lowest elevation: 7760 feet
  • highest elevation: 10,200
  • net elevation: 2440 feet
  • distance: 6.4 miles (one-way, from intersection)
  • maps: USGS “McClure Reservoir” and Glorieta quadrangles

 

Hike Description:

Large sign on ridge top where Glorieta Baldy Trail (two-track) leaves the forest road

From the four-way intersection head east along a deeply rutted forest road (to your right as you are driving into the intersection). In “100 Hikes in New Mexico, third edition” there is mention of signs on this road, but those signs are no longer evident.  Go past a gate at 0.24 miles and, less than 100 feet further, rise to a ridge-top. The forest road swings to your left, but look to your right for an older two-track and a huge sign displaying a topo map (with the Glorieta Baldy trail drawn in) and “You Are Here” in large letters. Follow the two-track until, at 0.6 miles from the trailhead, you find the meagre remnants of a gravel berm – evidently meant to stop vehicle traffic. Look to your left to find a single-track trail that dives east (to your left) off of the rib top.

Small gravel berm (bottom-right of picture) and single-track departing downslope (left side of picture)

At 0.8 miles the descending trail intersects with another two-track. You will want to turn north (to your left), but first commit this junction to memory. The trail coming onto the two-track isn’t very prominent and it would be easy to walk past it on return. There may be cairns, but there are enough cairns all along the road to make that problematic.

Trail junction; gully is at bottom-right of photo and trail departs road at right side.

This two-track is cut into the wall of an Apache Canyon side-cut. Here, find yourself engaged in extreme meandering; every little side-cut has littler sidecuts, each of which demands that the road twist inward, cross a waterway and twist back out only to round a rib and begin the dance again. This is hiking at its most fractal. Your challenge is to find a junction where a trail leaves the road to drop to the bottom of Apache Canyon. Watch for the second of two consecutive rib-roundings where both ribs point due south. Shortly after the second, at about 1.6 miles from the trailhead, the road begins to take a serious interest in heading north. At 1.7 miles from the trailhead watch for a deep rut in the downhill side of the road. The rut makes a sharp turn and leaves the road in the form of a two-to-three foot deep gully. On the far side of the gully is a clear path that angles off between two short, brushy pines. If you push past the brushy pines you will come to a tall Ponderosa adorned with two small plastic signs, each reading “Trail”.

Sign where trail reaches the bed of Apache Canyon.

This footpath heads almost directly east, crossing straight over an unnamed two-track and opening up views to Glorieta Baldy. Eventually it comes to the canyon wall where it falls steeply. Tracks in the tread suggest that this is a site of daring-do on mountain bikes. The steep pitch means that the descent is short, and you will enter the verdant bottomland of Apache Canyon at 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

Trail sign where Glorieta Baldy Trail intersects Apache Canyon Trail

Turn left to head up-canyon amidst huge ponderosa and Douglas fir. The tread follows a stream. The stream was flowing on this date, although there was no problem at the stream crossing about 0.2 miles up the canyon (again, this is slightly different from the description in “100 Hikes”, which mentions two crossings). The trail threads stands of timber and crosses brilliantly green meadows until, at 2.5 miles from the trailhead, you reach the signed junction with Apache Trail 176. Have a bite to eat! The next quarter mile is going to see some real altitude gain.

A peek south into the Galisteo Basin

Hoist your bag and begin the ascent. The trail is obvious and, just a hundred feet above the canyon bed, regains the normal dusty quality. At 2.8 miles from the trailhead the grade eases somewhat and more views open to Glorieta Baldy. The tread reaches a rib top with a terrific view, southeast, to the steep flanks of Shaggy Peak. The trail bumps to the northeast along this mild rib until it reaches a point almost due north of Shaggy Peak, 3.9 miles from the trailhead. Then it turns due east, taking resolute aim at the Glorieta ridgeline and begins a long climb.

Battered sign post that once announced the Glorieta Baldy trail junction

At 4.9 miles from the trailhead pull up onto that ridgeline. You will come to a T-intersection with a prominent trail. At one point this junction was signed, but all that is left of that signage is a badly battered old post with two bolts projecting from its side. Be certain to commit the location to memory as it would be very easy miss the turn on descent. Turn to the north (left on ascent) and begin a long, pleasant ridge ramble up to the top of Glorieta Baldy. The ground along the trail is littered with white, marble-like rock. This is particularly true of the ridge, where there are places where the scattered rock looks like persistent remnants of the winter snowpack.

Summiting on Glorieta Baldy: “G” and Tirzah

Arrive at the summit having hiked 6.4 miles from the nominal trailhead. You will find good views southeast, across an open summit meadow to the wide spaces of the Galisteo Basin. The summit of Glorieta Baldy is not above tree line, however, and a thick thatch of conifers blocks the views in other directions. There is a fire tower, but it has been closed and the tread boards had been removed from the lower staircases. Hiking season appears to be picking up. I met a couple who had run to the summit as part of their training for the upcoming La Luz race. Hikers “G” and Tirzah had come up from working at Glorieta Camp. All the other hikers used the Glorieta Center Trail #272. For the purposes of this trip, however, you should return along the Glorieta Baldy Trail.

Recommendations:

Author and narrow view to the distant Sandias

This is a longish hike with a fair amount of elevation gain on the return leg. You’ll want a good supply of water. I went through almost 2 liters and was glad to have a third liter handy.

The two-track roads tend to be exposed to the sun. Bring high SPF lip balm , slather on the sunscreen and carry a broad rimmed hat.

It is getting close to monsoon season. At 1:00 the skies southeast of the summit were almost pure blue, but cumulous clouds were climbing into the stratosphere to the northwest. By the time I got back to the car the summit was shrouded in clouds. Don’t get caught on the high ridge line in a thunderstorm.

The “100 Hikes in New Mexico” guide book is a great resource and I recommend it. I pointed out a couple places where the signage has changed or the trails have shifted simply to let hikers know how the lapse of seven years can affect a route’s description.

Links:

The cyberhobo site has a postive review of this hike and a GPS track that displays a slightly different return route. This is the return route recommended in the “100 Hikes” guide as well.

If this hike does not meet your off-trail and exercise requirements, check out the 2005 report that describes a scramble up Shaggy Peak as a warmup before hiking the connecting ridge north to Glorieta Baldy. I’m not certain if this is their exact route, but a wonderfully clear topo map (north rotated 90° to the normal convention) can be found at the TravelBug site. You’d burn some calories on that jaunt.

There is a succinct, very useful description of this trail on SummitPost. This description includes a short extension that would have you follow the top ridge a bit further to summit the neighboring mountain, Thompson Peak. That could be a fun extension, particularly if you have a vehicle that can make it all the way to the trailhead.

Junction with Glorieta Center Trail #272

There are two trails that lead to this summit, both similarly  named. The trail described here is the Glorieta Baldy Trail #175. A different trail leads from the town of Glorieta up to the peak and is signed as the “Glorieta Center Trail #272 (see photo to right). This alternative trail is described here and you can find a fun mountain biker perspective on this trail together with a GPS route here. There are some websites that mistakenly refer to the Glorieta Center Trail as the Glorieta Baldy Trail, don’t get confused!

 

 

01-sandia-crest-e1488760050365.jpg

Sandia Crest From Three Guns Spring Trail

Overview:

This is a “lasso-style” loop hike in the Sandias. The stem portion is a half-mile trek amidst the cacti and juniper of Three Guns Spring Canyon. The loop portion begins with a sharp ascent along the Hawk Watch Trail, followed by a mellow sojourn on the Crest Trail to the summit block of South Sandia Peak. Return by descending the Embudito trail to Oso Pass where you rejoin the ever-popular Three Guns Spring Trail. Are you bringing a novice scrambler into the mountains? Be certain to put them out in front and have them pick their way across a short, untracked segment on the crest. It’s beautiful.

Driving Directions:

  • In Albuquerque, at the junction with Interstate-25 (I-25), go east onto I-40.
  • After approximately 9.5 miles, take exit 170 for Carnuel.
  • After 0.1 miles, at the end of the ramp, go left (east) on old Route 66.
  • After 1.7 miles, turn left to cross the meridian of 66 on a paved pad and then onto Monticello Dr.
  • Immediately turn right on Montecello  (it closely parallels old Route 66 for a short distance before swinging north into the canyon).
  • After 0.5 miles turn left onto Alegre Dr. NE. Opposite the turn there is one sign saying “Trail” (with a left pointing arrow) and a second sign saying just “522”.
  • After 0.1 miles turn right onto Siempre Verde Dr. NE (there are similar signs), which turns into a well-maintained gravel road
  • After 0.2 miles arrive at the trailhead at the end of the road.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry at the  Trailhead

The trailhead is just a wide graveled pad at the end of the road. I didn’t notice any trash, water or toilet services. There were no fees for parking in this area.

This is a very popular spot with dog walkers, trail runners, mountain bikers and other outdoor folk. I was the first one there at about 7:00 am on a very nice Saturday, but it was getting jammed by the time I returned that afternoon. You will probably want to arrive early.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 6320 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 9563 feet
  • Net Elevation: 3243 feet
  • Distance: 10.6 miles (round trip)

Hike Description:

Broad tread on lower Three Guns Spring Trail

There seem to be several trails departing from the trailhead. I took the large track (an old road) heading straight north out of the northwest corner of the trailhead. This is the Three Guns Spring Trail. It is a pure pleasure to walk as it crosses the flattish terrain of the lower canyon. The sun takes its time rising over the crest, so it can be brisk on a late-January morning. I had on a heavy fleece coat with a light fleece vest and was very glad that the winds weren’t blowing.

Fence and signs at junction with Hawk Watch Trail

After 0.5 miles come to a fence and, immediately past it, a signed junction. The Three Guns Trail continues north, while the Hawk Watch trail departs towards the east. Follow the Hawk Watch (which, despite the magic of this environment, is not “the Hogwarts”). Initially this tread, too, bounces along the canyon bottom and begins a gentle rise until, at 0.9 miles from the trailhead, it reaches the top of a rib. At this point the tread turns north and follows the rib-top while the grade steepens markedly. This is clearly a much-loved trail and navigation is not a problem.

Trail post and saddle where engineering of the Hawk Watch Trail begins to degrade

At 1.7 miles the rib sags to form a minor saddle. Here a trail post marks the end of the official Hawk Watch trail. The trail becomes less formal but is easily traced. It has a tendency to head straight uphill, which puts your quadriceps on notice. Gullies form on trails like this, leaving walls to the left of you and walls to the right of you. Beneath your boots are pea-sized pebbles that have, inexplicably, resisted the forces of gravity. Now they serve to make your contact with the bedrock frictionless. Slipping is not that much of a problem, although it may rehearse earlier lessons regarding the use of cacti as belay points.

View from the crest to Three Guns Canyon outwash and Ladron Peak

At 2.1 miles the tread pulls over the crest, makes a tentative turn or two and disappears. (There was some snow at this level, but not enough to bury all signs of a trail). Hmmph. Pull up just a bit further to cliffside and look out to the Manzanitos and Manzanos to the South, the Ladron Mountains south and west, and the distant spire of South Baldy (currently snow capped) in the Magdelanas Mountains. Far below your toes lies Three Spring Canyon and its intersection with Canon De Carnue (containing the broad white slash of I-40). Mt Taylor dominates the views west and the broad, broad shoulder of the Sandias lie north.  Majestic. Now, what to do about that lack of trail?

View from point 8620 to the broad Sandia shoulders

From your airy perch overlooking Three Guns Spring Canyon turn uphill and follow the crest itself. You will encounter some thickets but do not hesitate to probe downhill to the east to find easier going. It is always possible to climb back to the crest once the vegetation thins. In just a few hundred yards come to a minor summit (about 8620 feet) and look north. From here the crest drops slightly to a saddle and then begins climbing on a narrow ridge. Descend to the saddle and discover the broad Sandia Crest Trail there.

Signed junction where the Embudito Trail terminates at the Crest Trail

Abandoning the arduous task of sticking with the crest, the trail now opts for a leisurely ascending roll across the gently sloping east Sandias. This is forested terrain, but views do open from time to time. Peek to the southeast across the immense Pecos basin, due east across the Ortega Range, and northeast to the snow-capped splendor of Santa Fe Baldy in the Pecos Mountains. The trail eventually passes South Sandia Spring (currently frozen hard), hits a short bit of steeper tread and then levels into a broad swale choked with Gambel Oak. At the swale’s upper end, four miles from the trailhead, you will find a signed intersection with the Embudito Trail. Is the weather beginning to thicken? Is the deepening snow threatening to obscure the trail? If so then you could either go back the way you came (down those steep gullys!) or you could descend the Embudito, a much better trail. Are you enjoying New Mexico’s famous sunshine? Push north to go a little past the South Sandia summit.

White snow and blue sky at the crest, visible through an aspen curtain

Continue on the Crest Trail, monitoring the height of land to your left. That is the summit block. I did not find a formal path that would take you to the summit (there may have one been buried under snow), but the Crest Trail enters into a series of broad meadows, curtained by aspen and Ponderosa growing along the crest. The curtain is not so very dense that you can’t see where the terrain is starting to descend from the summit. Pick a spot, turn left (west) to get to the crest, then turn left to follow the crest to the summit.

Albuquerque, Taylor and Cabezon from South Sandia

The snow got noticeably deeper on the summit block. Gaiters were very useful pieces of attire, although I might have made better use of snake-proof gaiters since the woods were full of small, yet doughty, thorn bushes.  Eventually the bigger trees give way to Gambel oaks and, after a little exploring, the rocky summit of South Sandia. You’ve come five miles from the trailhead. Westerly views  open, encompassing the Ladron Mountains, Mt Taylor, Cabezon Peak and much of the northern Sandias. To the northeast find the nearby Ortega Range and the distant Pecos Range.

Junction where the meadow-crossing trail meets cliffside trail

If the winds are behaving themselves then you can drop from the summit on a steep west-side tread, pick up a boot-beaten cliff-side path and begin working your way south towards Embudito. On this day, at noon, the westerly winds were brisk. Under those conditions, leave the summit to the east, crossing a small declivity, and follow another boot beaten path into an aspen woods protected from those westerlies. The trail runs straight at a high wall of rock, turns south (to your right) and follows the wall to where it peters out in about 100 yards. The trail can be a little hard to follow, especially if the snow is deep. Be prepared to return to the summit and face those chilly breezes if you have to.

Unsigned junction where the cliffside trail terminates at the Embudito Trail

The trail hops over the end of the wall and then descends steeply, furrowing through Gambel oak thickets. These thickets end where the terrain levels out and the trail deposits you on a broad meadow. Keeping the crest on your right, cross the meadow and pick up a side trail at the meadow’s south side. Turn west (right) and follow the trail to an unsigned intersection with the cliff-side path. Turn south (left) and take in the vistas from the crest.  The trail will bring you into a large, open and steep-sided bowl. The tread drops into this bowl and terminates  at an unsigned junction with the Embudito Trail at 5.5 miles from the trailhead. Turn right onto the Embudito, going downhill, and follow it to a broad wooded rib that marks the northern extremity of this bowl.

View from the second forested rib back into the lower bowl.

The Embudito is a popular track and, in winter time, the snow gets packed down hard. On this date all the southwest faces were clear of snow and even muddy in spots. However, each small runnel and larger ravine will have it’s northerly faces and those can be icy. Wend your way over the first forested rib and creep carefully past such obstacles into a second bowl. Keep your eyes raised, however, for nice views of distant Cabezon. At the far end of this bowl the trail reaches a thickly forested rib and descends it to the west. There are plenty of switchbacks. If you are hiking during the warmer months you will be grateful for the dense array of ponderosa pine and fir.

Descending to Oso Pass from Embudito Trail, the trail sign is on the extreme right.

At the end of the rib, 6.7 miles from the trailhead, you come to a flat spot that is Oso Pass. There are three descent options. Embudito Trail makes a hard right-turn next to a trail sign and descends into Embudito Canyon. The informal Whitewash trail goes straight ahead, initially rising, to attain the top of the rib between Embudito and Embudo canyons. You, however, will want to turn left onto the Three Guns Spring Trail, #194.

Three Guns Spring Trail below, Crest cliffs above

The high end of the Three Guns Spring Trail is a long lateral across the west face of the Sandia. The trail yaws into and rolls out of minor canyons but descends very gently. On Oso Pass it is thickly populated with Ponderosa pines, but these start to thin as the trail drops to a junction (signed) with Embudo Trail. There are occasional glimpses of the Sandia Crest and, on those darker north-facing slopes, winter can deposit patches of firm ice. It was also the most populated portion of this loop. On this date I saw no-one on the way up to the summit, but passed about a half-dozen parties on the Three Guns.

View to lower Three Guns Spring Canyon

The Embudo tail departs the junction atop the ridge separating Embudo Canyon and Three Guns Spring Canyon. You will want to stay on the Three Guns Spring trail as it drops due south into an upper-Sonoran life zone, with  junipers steadily displacing the pinyon pine and with prickly pear replacing thorn bush. Below the junction the trail offers a short side trip to an outlook that you should take. Look east over the rise that took you Crest-ward only a few hours ago, west over Post Pass and into Embudo Canyon, and straight south over the enormous bowl that is the lower canyon. Return to the trail as it steepens and then dives (on numerous switchbacks) into the lower bowl. Having hiked 9.0 miles from the start the last switchback ends and a side-trail will take you back up canyon. I think that the sidetrail goes the the well armed spring that gives the canyon its name. From here it is an easy 1.6 miles down the canyon and back to the car.

Recommendations:

This was a terrific hike on a mild January day. The turn-back options are slightly sketchy once you’re atop the crest because the steep, pebble-filled gullies offer uncertain footing. If weather threatens then it might be better to find a hike with better options. Similarly, on hot summer days much of the mid-hike is shaded. Still, be aware that the last two miles is not protected from the sun.

As always, if you hike the Crest in wintertime bring winter clothing, real fire making gear and have extra food and extra clothing. Any protracted waiting would make you cold and then much colder.

Traction devices like microspikes are strongly recommended for wintertime hikes. I was very glad to have them through the upper bowls and descending Embudito to Oso Pass. In fact, it was a mistake to take them off just below the pass because of the numerous small icy patches in the ravines.

I went through two liters of water and had another liter and a half reserve. That is plenty.  The morning was cold enough to cause ice to start forming in the tube leading from the water bag. I was over-consuming just to prevent it from  freezing solid.

I mentioned this above, but if you have a young navigator-in-training then the untracked section at the top of Hawk Watch would make for a nice challenge. Looking back, it was a little funny how few under-20 folks were out on the trail. You could not possibly ask for more scenic terrain or better training.

If you have a visitor with hiking experience, but not very much time, then this is probably the Sandia trail I’d recommend. It has a lot in common with the Pino Trail, but this hike gains a summit and offers grand views.  The Pino lacks that glamour.

Links:

I first heard about the Hawk Watch trail from the Albuquerque Hiking and Outdoor Meetup group. They plotted out a strenuous figure-8 pattern back and forth across the southern end of the Sandia Mountains. Clearly I’ve opted for a more mellow trek.

Hawk Watch International used to do raptor banding along the Hawk Watch Trail in the springtime. You may find some sites advising hikers to stay away during that time of year. I asked, however, and was told that they no longer working there. Feel free to make that fine April sojourn.

The Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide offers separate descriptions for the Hawk Watch, Three Guns Spring, and Embudito trails. You have to do your own mix-and-match to come up with this hike, but there are excellent trail descriptions and links to printable maps.

This hike links up several different trails and can be a little confusing. A clear map that simply lays out the location of most of these trails can be found here.  The only thing missing is the connection between the end of the Hawk Watch and the summit of South Sandia Peak.

Much of this route lies within the Cibola National Forest. If you have questions about the trail status there is some data available from the Forest Service here.

01 South Sandia and Crest

South Sandia Peak from Whitewash Trail

Overview

Go from sun-baked desert to wind-blasted crest and back on a track that is notable for it’s great beauty, it’s odd shape and it’s many hiking options. The first and last segments of this trip are out-and-back ventures. In the middle, draped across the bony face of the Sandia Mountains, is a loop that draws you into gorgeous terrain. Most hikers will want to go south into the loop (counterclockwise) since the northern portion of the loop is quite steep in places.

Driving Directions

02 View to Cabezon Peak

View to Cabezon from upper bowls

  • Take Interstate-25 (I-25) north through Albuquerque and get off at exit 232 for Paseo Del Norte Blvd NE / NM-423.
  • After 0.1 miles merge into the left-most lane of the Pan American Frontage Road N. You will want to move over into the two right-most lanes on the Frontage Road.
  • After 0.3 miles stay to the right of a traffic island at the intersection with Paseo Del Norte Blvd NE / NM-423. Turn right onto NM-423, going east to the Sandias.
  • After 4.8 miles, at a T-intersection, turn right (going south) onto Tramway Blvd.
  • After another 4.8 miles, at a light, go left onto Menaul Blvd NE.
  • After 0.5 miles, where Menaul Blvd bends sharply right and becomes Monte Largo Dr NE, go left through a gate.
  • After 0.1 miles arrive at the trailhead.

Trailhead

03 Camry at Embudo Trailhead

The mighty Camry, in front of the steep-sided foothill.

The trailhead is paved and provides trash recepticals. There appear to be picnic shelters in the area (although I didn’t check very closely). I did not see any toilets or water sources. Note that you could save about 1.5 miles  (total) of desert rambling if you choose to drive further south on Tramway and take the Indian School Road to the trailhead at its eastern end. The Indian School Road trailhead is also paved.

Data

  • Starting Elevation: 5960 feet
  • Ending Elevation:  9405 feet
  • Net Elevation: 3545 feet
  • Distance: 13.2 miles round trip
  • Maps: USGS Tijeras quadrangle

Hike Description

04 view south towards Embudo Canyon

View south towards Embudo Canyon

Hikers starting at the Menaul Blvd trailhead should depart the paved parking area at its eastern edge (nearest the mountains). Pick up Trail 401 going south. The trail angles toward the base of an exceptionally steep foothill. In 0.2 miles come to a signed intersection with Trail 365. Go right onto Trail 365. Wend your way, southerly, through a thicket of intersecting trails. At the southern end of the steep hillside you will find a set of high tension lines heading eastward. As you follow them into the canyon look south (to your right) to the far side of the canyon mouth. You may see cars parked in the Indian School Trailhead, just up-canyon of a line of housing. That trailhead is where the Embudo Trail #193 begins. You will see a large off-white water tank a few hundred yards up from the Indian School Trailhead. The Embudo trail goes past that as well. Any tread that gets you there is good.

05 return path on the north canyon rim

North rim Embudo Canyon

As you follow the power lines into the canyon you will encounter an unsigned fork in the trail. Trail  401 is the one that stays under the power lines. I took Trail 365 as pulls a short distance off to the south (to the right as you go up-canyon). At 0.6 miles from the trailhead come to a signed intersection where Trail 401 re-intersects Trail 365. Go south (right) onto 401 and follow it to the Indian School Trailhead.

06-start-of-embudo-trail

Start of Embudo Trail at Indian School Trailhead

At the east end of the Indian School Trailhead pick up the Embudo Trail  #193 (signed). This gravel road makes a bee-line to the water tank, contours around the tanks southern side and then veers toward the north side of the canyon while ascending the face of a large earthen dam. At the top of the dam go directly across the dam-crest road and onto a wide tread that enters the main canyon. That tread dwindles into a regular backcountry path. Navigation becomes routine as you leave the water impoundment behind and walk into the embrace of Embudo Canyon.

08 boulder-dodging trail

Trail amidst boulder jumbles

The embrace is close indeed. For about a quarter mile the canyon offers a bouldery, jumbling wonderland of hard-eroding walls, enormous (and seemingly improbable) stacks of rock and dense clusters of shrubbery in canyon springs or sedimenting  tanks. The trail tends to split apart. On one side of the canyon it may scramble over piles of boulders and scamper around barriers of thorn. Meanwhile, just a few feet away on the canyon’s other side, another braid is taking advantage of  cemented stone steps.

08 Wide bowl above the narrows

Sandy wash in lower open bowl

At 2.0 miles the jumbling ends and the trail transitions onto the bottom of a sandy waterway. You’ve pushed through a barrier of hard rock and are entering an open and gently inclined basin carved into softer stuff. In this open terrain the trail braids out widely. There are several distinct waterways in the bowl and at least two have very walkable sandy bottoms. There is no harm in following them for a short ways. However, seek to stay on the main trail, least you follow the wash past the last intersection. As the trail rises the canyon executes a broad swing towards the north. The main tread moves to the right side (going uphill).

09 north to flat, west-trending ridge

View to flat topped rib that will be taking you home

Juniper is the king of conifers in this basin – sharing the terrain with cacti and grasses but allowing only minor competition from pinyon pine. Looking ahead, you’ll see the eastern side of the bowl rests against a low rib that descends from the main Sandia wall to the southwest. The northern side of the bowl rests against a high and strikingly flat rib that projects due west from the main Sandia wall. Take a good look at that westerly rib as it is your path home.

10 Sandia Crest from 3 Gun Springs junction

Crest viewed from ridge top on east side of bowl

At 3.2 miles from the trailhead the tread makes the first of a series of switchbacks up along the southwesterly projecting rib. Up and up you go as views open to the west. If you have a clear day then the Mt Taylor Volcanic Field is a majestic sight. When it reaches the top of the rib the  Embudo Trail turns left to ascend up the remainder of the rib and move onto the main west face of the Sandia Mountains. (Actually, there is a boot path leading down the rib as well, but a line of rocks across the tread are there to let you know it is not an official part of the Embudo trail). Reaching the main wall the trail ends at a junction with Three Gun Spring Trail (signed) coming up from the south. Continue the ascent on Three Gun Spring Trail.

11 view to not-Oso peaklet

Peaklet (left) that does not form part of Oso Pass

On this date snow started accumulating where the trail moved onto the Sandia west face. The snow was not very deep nor was the trail icy, but it could easily have gotten that way.  Water has carved the west face into a ragged corduroy that keeps the tread bumping and dodging. Rounding one particular bend, you will come face to face with a striking peaklet that has survived the water’s destructive force. That, you might reason, must be the outer end of the  formation that makes up Oso Pass. You’re nearly there! Alas, such trail hypotheses are often born to be slain. Instead of leaping boldly to the peaklet the trail  contours demurely below its base, shamelessly losing altitude in the process. Oso Pass remains stubbornly in front of you.

12a glimpses of South Sandia Peak

Glimpse of South Sandia from Embudo Trail near Oso Pass

Past the peaklet the tread weaves into and out of two major waterways, then finds a gently sloped mini-rib on which to ascend. Keep your eyes raised. The views to the Crest are wonderful. The rocky band that underpins South Sandia Peak becomes very evident, while the many bowls and canyons of the upper reaches promise tremendous hiking. You’ve left the juniper behind and now wander the domain of pine and fir. It can be spectacular in the snow. At 5.6 miles from the trailhead the trail reaches Oso Pass and ends at an intersection, signed, with the Embudito Trail. Take note of the unsigned fourth trail that comes into the intersection. It is the Whitewash Trail, a part of your eventual homeward journey.

12 Xmas tree where boots go up to S Sandia

All other boots turned left at the small pinyon and headed north to South Sandia

Are conditions questionable? You might want to simply take the Whitewash trail back (or just return the way you came). The trail to here is fantastic, more than  sufficient motivation to get you out of doors. But if the snow levels are not daunting and trail finding is possible then head right onto the Embudito Trail. It ascends a high and densely forested rib that takes dead aim at the top. At about 9000 feet, however, the terrain becomes cliffy and the tread departs the rib onto a wide, lightly forested bowl. In places the tread can be narrow and a little dodgy in the snow. Follow it into a stand of pines on the next rib, after which views start to open into a second bowl. This new bowl is carpeted with thousands of Gambel oaks, with the odd conifer scattered here and there. On this date the boot-beaten track in the snow crossed less than half of the bowl before coming to a side trail (unsigned) that takes you to South Sandia Crest. Everyone seems to be going to South Sandia since there was not a single footprint on the remainder of the Embudito as it pushed towards the bowl-top.

13 Pecos basin and (perhaps) El Cap Range

El Capitan Range (distant, on extreme left) and Pecos Basin

It is worth taking in, however. A quarter mile past the turn-off the Embudito reaches the crest. The trail is easy to follow as it furrows through a sea of oak, even though the tread itself may be buried by knee-deep snow. The views west to Mt Taylor and very-distant snowcapped peaks (possibly the Chuska Mountains) are great. To get views to the east, continue just 100 yards past the crest to find the Sandia Crest Trail. To the south, in the far distance, lie the El Capitan mountains (one of the few ranges to be oriented east-to-west in New Mexico). To the southeast lies the enormous Pecos Basin. This is a beautiful spot in which to grab a bite to eat and soak in some sun.

14 junction on Oso passDone soaking? Then return down the Embudito to Oso Pass. At the pass the Embudito Trail makes a right hand turn about the square trail post (extreme right in photo). Three Gun Trail makes a sharp left, in front of the sawed-off log (under snow in the extreme left in photo). To make a loop, however, go straight ahead onto the Whitewash trail (past the still-leafy Gambel oak, left-center of photo). The Whitewash ascends about 100 feet and then winds leisurely through an amazing piece of old growth forest. The flat rib top seems to make Ponderosa Pine very happy. Behind you, to the east, soars South Sandia Peak. To your right are views to the high terrain of the north Sandia crest. In front of you, find the oddly stubby Cabezon peak, the sharp spires of the Ladron Mountains and the hazy blue silhouette of distant South Mt Baldy in the Magdelanas. To your left lies the Mazanita and Manzano Mountains.

15 Taylor and Cabezon from first drop-off

Mt Taylor (left) and Cabezon Peak (blip at right) at first fall-off on Whitewash trail.

At 9.2 miles the rib falls off sharply and this boot-beaten trail descends without apology. Reaching a large knoll at the head of Sunset Canyon the trail contours to the north and then continues on a southwesterly traverse of the steep terrain at the head of this canyon.  Watch closely for the moment where the trail gets off the headwall and regains the top of the rib. You will want to go left onto an unsigned trail here. I missed it. (My thanks to Barry and Baxter, who steered me back to the intersection). While you are on the headwall the terrain to the south (on your left) will be rising. When you get off the headwall the terrain on both sides of your path will be level or fall away. At this point the tread begins a small descent to the west; soon the angle of the descent begins to ease. Just ahead, as the forest opens, you will see nearly flat ground. It seems welcoming, but don’t go striding out! It is here, just a few feet above the flat area, that the new trail goes off to your left. It may not be obvious at all – especially if new snow has fallen.

16 on descent from Col to Embudo outwash

View into Embudo Canyon outwash and south to Mazanito Mountains

The new path heads south, into the outwash bowl of Embudo Canyon. In places it is quite steep. The underlying rock is made up of large crystals that have a tendency to sheer off under pressure from  your boots. These act as ball bearings and can leave a hiker skidding. Very entertaining for your audience and it is certainly a workout for your tired legs. In places the large water tank that you passed at the start of the hike will be visible. The conifers dwindle, cacti appear. An unexpected switchback (the only one on this section of the trail) first pulls you away and then brings you back towards a small col in the height of land between Embudo Canyon and tiny Piedra Lisa Canyon. At the col go left and downhill on a path/streambed that leads into the Embudo Canyon outwash. As you enter the outwash you will find yourself back under the power lines. You could turn west and follow the power lines to where they come to Trail 365. On this date, just to formally complete the loop, I headed across the canyon bottom and back to the large water tank. From there, find the  Embudo Canyon trail and return to the Menaul Drive trailhead.

Recommendations

17 Author blocking views to Manzanito Range

Author, blocking your view of the Manzanita Mountains.

This is a great wintertime hike. It offers lots of options and perfectly acceptable turn-around points all along its length. There is certainly no need to wander into those steep upper bowls if the avalanche danger has been rising.

Two liters of water was plenty, even for an exceptionally warm winter’s day. (I was wearing some polypro that I really regretted).  It also occurred to me that I should not have left my sunglasses in the car. Once the sun topped Sandia Crest it was intensely bright – even blinding – where reflected by the snow.

For those folks who do hike the Embudo Trail in winter, it would be an excellent idea to have traction devices with you. They weren’t needed on this date, but it isn’t hard to imagine conditions in which they could save the day. I was very glad to have a hiking pole with me.

Links

There is a dense press of trails around and between the Menaul Trailhead and the Indian School Trailhead. Generally it is well signed, but there can be enough uncertainty that a glance or two at a detailed map would be be welcome. Fortunately, the City of Albuquerque has a Menaul Trailhead map and an Indian School Trailhead map.

The inspiration for this hike came from George at OndaFringe, who’s posts here and here describe these trails under warmer conditions. He has climbed the loop portion in the clockwise direction and comments on the effect of ascending 1500 feet in just 1.5 miles (while getting to altitude!).

Another good description of the Embudo/Whitewash loop can be found at SandiaHiking. That page includes some GPS waypoints and a printable map for the loop. They also comment on the desirability of finding that obscure left-hand turn off of Whitewash trail on descent. They even tell you what will happen if you continue striding straight ahead and following the tread down through the foothills. Evidently, you wind up pretty far to the north, at the end of Montgomery Blvd.

X marks the skyIf this isn’t challenging enough then consider the “figure 8” route proposed by the Albuquerque Hiking and Outdoor Meetup group. The proposal estimates that going up the Whitewash, down Three Guns Spring, up Hawkwatch to take the Crest Trail to South Sandia Peak and return on the Embudo trail would be 5800 feet of gain over 19 miles. That will give your quads something to think about.

01 peek up Embodito to Summit

A peek at the Sandia Crest from the lower reaches of Embudito Canyon

Overview:

The Embudito Trail takes you from the very edge of Albuquerque to the top of South Sandia Peak (a rocky prominence on the crest of the Sandia Mountains). It is an outstanding winter hike that ascends a striking canyon across at least three life zones. Do you have cabin fever? The Embudito trail will cure what ails you.  Do you need views into grand terrain?  The Embudito trail will provide them. Do you need to train?  The Embudito Trail will give you distance and altitude.

(Edit: in the original post this trail was characterized as a “generally safe wintertime ascent”. Several people who have longer acquaintance with local conditions have suggested otherwise – see comments. I thank them all. The upper bowls, especially, are steep and open. In a heavy snow year they could slide.)

Driving Directions:

07 Pinon shells inside cone

Pinon Pine cone with seeds (which proved to be hollow shells)

  • Take Interstate-25 (I-25) north through Albuquerque and get off at exit 232 for Paseo Del Norte Blvd NE / NM-423.
  • After 0.1 miles merge into the left-most lane of the Pan American Frontage Road N. You will want to move over into the two right-most lanes on the Frontage Road.
  • After 0.3 miles stay to the right of a traffic island at the intersection with Paseo Del Norte Blvd NE / NM-423. Turn right onto NM-423, going east to the Sandias.
  • After 4.8 miles, at a T-intersection, turn right (going south) onto Tramway Blvd.
  • After 2.6 miles, at a light, go left onto Manitoba Drive NE.
  • After 0.1 miles, at a T-intersection, turn right onto Larchmont Drive NE.
  • After 0.2 miles turn left onto Cedarbrook Ave NE
  • After 0.4 miles, at a T-Intersection, turn left onto Greenwood NE
  • After 0.2 miles turn right onto Trailhead Road NE
  • After 0.2 miles arrive at the trailhead at the end of Trailhead Road NE.

Trailhead:

A shy, yet mighty Camry poised at the mouth of Embodito Canyon

A shy, yet mighty Camry poised at the mouth of Embodito Canyon

The trailhead is paved. I did not notice any water, toilet or trash facilities although it has to be admitted that I was running late and not looking very hard. The suburbs push right up against this trailhead – there are houses just a few tens of feet away from the lower parking spots. It’s likely that those folks would be glad if early arrivers minimumize the noise.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 6240 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 9782 feet
  • Elevation Gained: 3542 feet
  • Miles: 5.6 miles one way
  • Maps: USGS Sandia Mountains quadrangle (for trailhead) and Tijeras quadrangle (for summit)

Hike Description:

04 departure point from outwash to canyon wall

Point where the Embudito Trail leaves the sandy wash and begins a gentle ascent up the northern wall of the canyon.

The trail leaves from the north edge of the trailhead parking lot. A sign at the start of the trail seems to suggest that the trail heads immediately east (toward the crest). If you immediately go east you will pass through a “needle’s eye” (essentially a maze-like opening in a wire fence) and rise to the top of a levee. You do not want to be there! Instead, from the sign go north for a few feet and get onto a trail that has a wire fence along the northern (left hand) side. This parallels the base of the levee for a short distance and then pulls out into the center of the  Embudito Canyon outwash. Both trail 365 and the Embudito Trail share this tread for a while, but eventually you will come to a prominent fork, signed, where 365 departs to the north (to your left) while the Embudito Trail follows the sandy canyon bed east towards the crest. As the trail nears the northern wall you will need to depart the  canyon bed, so watch for the small wooden sign shown above-right.

You will encounter several side trails that depart steeply to your left as you leave the outwash. Stay right on the gently ascending trail. This is cacti and juniper terrain on an obvious and well maintained tread. It pays to look over your shoulder for the views west to Albuquerque and the snow-capped upper reaches of Mount Taylor, as well as balloonists taking advantage of the early morning calm. It makes for quite a scene.

Above the outwash bowl the canyon walls begin to steepen. Pinyon pines become dominant and reach a surprisingly dense, near-monoculture. As the canyon walls steepen the tread narrows. Pause to admire the engineering needed to build a trail wide enough to accommodate a single boot-shod foot. From time to time the trail becomes skittish and bolts up the canyon wall in search of a shelf or a rib-top on which a reasonable tread might rest. The views down into Embudito Canyon become proportionally dramatic.

At two miles, as the tread rises to about 7400 feet, the trail crosses a pretty bench. Nice views open up to the crest. From this position the canyon begins its bend to the south, and I believe that the highpoint you see on the crest is South Sandia Peak. As the trail ascends it weaves into and back out of water-carved hollows on the north wall. Each protected hollow would seem to be pinyon heaven. These heat tolerant trees have short needles  in groups of one or two, short cones (sometimes described as near-spherical or simply “chunky”) and usually overlap the the growth range of juniper trees. Here, however, pinyon reign supreme.

08 Ponderosa, first snow and sandy arroyo

Sandy wash, tall Ponderosa and first snow

Shortly after leaving the bench the trail braids out into several short gulches, all of which descend into a steep-walled waterway. Pick your favorite gulch, enter the waterway and climb the far bank. From this point the trail descends for a while, loosing a little over 100 feet of elevation. It crosses several sandy-bottomed washes where you will find some impressive Ponderosa pines. At 2.3 miles the trail encounters the canyon bed and leaps to the south wall. This is the domain of Ponderosa Pine, Doug fir and a spruce that I haven’t been able to identify. At the PaintDigWriteHikeGaze blog this section is named as “Mirkwood”. This is descriptive of the wintertime illumination onto a trail wrapped in a forest inside a canyon**, but much too sinister.

09 N wall from Mirkwood

Glimpse of opposing wall

The angle of the tread steepens. The direction of the tread veers south. Views are reduced to glimpses of the crest and the opposing canyon wall. It was here that trail ice made its appearance: gray, slippery, troublesome and at first intermittent. Put on your spikes. The intermittency vanishes quickly and the remaining tread seemed more like a frozen stream than a national forest trail. I brought along just one pole but two would have been very handy.

10 trail sign above Oso Pass

Sign for Trail 192 on the rib above Oso Pass

Rounding a small waterway at about 8400 feet the trail takes a switchback or two and arrives at Oso Pass. The Three Gun Springs Trail (#194) comes in from your right. The Embudito trail (#192) makes a hard-left turn here, which makes it look as if the continuing tread is an extension of #194 rather than #192. Give the intersection a little study since it can be confusing on the descent. Turn left and ascend. The trail, formerly encased in canyon-bottom now perches on rib-top. The rib is forested, so views open only when switchbacks bring you to the extreme north or extreme south sides of the rib. At a little over 9000 feet, about 4 miles from the trailhead, the trail rounds to the southeast and begins contouring across a huge open bowl. This bowl is a complex of waterways, beehive-shaped rock outcrops, brush and short conifers. Reaching the far side of the bowl at 4.3 miles the trail swings east over a major rib and into a second large bowl.

11 Crest near departure from 192

Steep walled home to scrub oak

This upper bowl is the steep-walled home to a cornucopia of scrub oak. The trail crosses the bowl’s upper reaches, just below the crest. Catch your breath and up your game. Out in that bowl you will need to find a secondary trail that pulls you off of the Embudito trail and rises north (uphill to your left). The new trail will bring you to the ridge in the direction of South Sandia Peak. The trail is unnamed and unsigned. Other trail descriptions say it  can be marked by cairns, but on this date no such cairns were found. Instead, look for a Christmas-tree-like conifer about four feet high on the uphill side of the trail. Immediately past this tree find a trail masquerading as a minor rock outcrop. Hoping that it is not just a rock outcrop, cross your fingers and follow it steeply uphill towards a larger conifer. As you ascend your doubts about navigation should disappear; the outcrop submerges into the soil yet the tread bulls upward through grass and scrub oak. Follow this path, panting, to reach the crest.

14 Summit View to North Sandia Crest

Northern end of Sandia Mountains seen from South Sandia Mountain summit.

On the crest follow the trail north on gently rising terrain. On your left is a chaos of canyons and views to the Rio Grande valley and distant mesas. On your right is the crest (in most places blocking the views to the east). There will be side trails coming in from your right but keep going straight north as you pass a series of small false summits.  Finally, at 5.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail passes beneath a short, unremarkable cliff band and immediately forks. Take the uphill fork as it springs skyward. At 5.6 miles arrive at the summit of South Sandia Mountain.  The summit has a stand of scrub oak tall enough to block the views east. However the views to the southwest, west and north are charming. Grab a bite to eat, take some photos and return the way you came. Are the winds are howling out of the west? If so, you might want to take a short loop back to the upper bowl (as shown in the map). Depart the summit on a tread leading slightly east of south. Descend below the crest and into a fine stand of trees. This protected area retains snow so wintertime trail finding can be challenging.

Recommendations:

15 Author and Rio Grande Valley

Author on South Sandia Summit

The original introduction characterized this hike was as a “generally safe wintertime ascent”. The safe quality is partly hinged on having adequate gear. This certainly includes having good traction devices for your feet. One of the local hiking groups was recently scheduled to go up Embudito Trail and the leader posted that “no spikes = no hike”. I thought that was pretty strong when I read it, but having hiked this ice rink I totally agree. Bring traction!

Beyond slippery trail conditions, keep a careful eye on the snowpack and for windy/cold conditions. The Northern New Mexico Avalanche Exchange has a “forum” tab where individuals can file reports on on snow conditions in various ranges around the state. The “snow reports” tab (surprisingly) seems to be focused on avalanche education, but it is very good at that task. The Taos Avalanche Center has an “Advisory” link that uses a 5-step rating system (low, moderate, considerable, high and extreme). Their coverage map is fairly narrow (Columbine Hondo and Wheeler Peak Wilderness Areas), but even if you are elsewhere in the backcountry it can pay to stay on top of their reported trends.

A liter of water was enough for today’s hike, but that will change enormously as the sun saunters to summer solstice.

Although I saw no hunters on this trip, I’ve been seeing them in recent weeks. It may still be useful to bring along some orange attire if you’re heading into the woods.

On descent you might want to watch for two junctions. The first is the unsigned junction between the main Embudito Trail and the side-trail to the crest. If you turn the wrong way you will soon notice that you’re ascending, but the trail here is not very steep and it might not be obvious how or where you went wrong.  The second is the junction with the Three Guns Spring Trail at Oso Pass. This junction is signed, but a momentary period of trail-hypnosis could cause you to travel a lot further south than you intended.

Links:

There is a similarly named hike called the Embudo Trail (embudo is Spanish for “funnel”, embudito means “little funnel”). The Embudo Trail leaves Albuquerque from the end of Indian School Road and ascends Embudo Canyon until it meets up with Three Guns Spring Trail at Post Pass. The numerous similarities between the Embudito and Embudo trails can cause confusion when doing online searches.

Ondafringe has a post with GPS data (including altitude info) and numerous helpful photos for the trail as far as Oso Pass. Additionally, he describes an attractive shuttle hike that involves leaving one car at the Embudito trailhead and taking the second car to begin at the Embudo trailhead. It sounds great. Finally, there is a description of the unmaintained Whitewash Trail, which is of interest because it also goes to Oso Pass. That explains a mystery: Oso Pass has signs for Three Guns Spring trail coming in and Embudito trail both coming up onto the pass and then climbing out of the pass. That is, signs for three treads. But there are four very obvious treads!

As mentioned above, the PaintDigWriteHikeGaze site has a post that describes an ascent up a social trail in Bear Canyon to the crest, climbing to South Sandia Peak and then descending the Embudito trail. The trip sounds great and there are numerous photos. There are two photos that may deserve special attention. The first is the photo of the trail signs on Oso Pass. It will reinforce what to look for on decent. The second is a finely detailed image of the junction where the side trail leaves Embudito Trail for the Sandia crest (taken from above the junction). The cairn in the photo, above the junction and opposite the “Christmas tree”, is no longer in place.

16 view of Christmas Tree

View of the “Christmas Tree” in the upper bowl that marks the junction with the side trail to the crest.

The Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide has a short but extremely helpful description of the trail. It makes mention of the difficulty of finding the side trail that leads from Embudito Trail to the crest. It also mentions the off-and-on nature of the cairns that sometimes signal the junction.  The photo to the left shows what you’d see as you approach the junction from below in the winter. (It could be hard to find when the oak is green)!

**per Winston Churchill, somewhat out of context.