After a big last couple of weekends hiking and a hectic holiday weekend I decided to do a solo trip on Sunday. My goal was to take my hiking doggo, Ripley the German Shepherd, and just get in some easy miles. So I went looking through Alltrails for something that would fit my criteria and settled on the Stripmine Extended Trail Loop, that’s the spelling on Alltrails but the trail is actually Strip Mine #51. It is listed at 5.6 miles with 1,059’ of elevation gain. The route is located on the northern edge of the Sandia Mountains by the town of Placitas. I have never been hiking in this part of the Sandias before so why not.
Ripley and I got up out of bed around 7:30am without an alarm. Like I said my goal was a relaxed day of hiking. We ended up leaving right around 8am and made our customary Starbucks stop for a coffee and a pupcup. Then we made the 25ish minute drive up to the trailhead which was empty except for two other cars. I grabbed my pack and got out my new Patagonia R2 Techface Hoody-which I was excited to use. We set off and didn’t make it 100 yards before someone, aka the trail doggo, decided she needed to use the restroom. Great, it was going to be a blast carrying a poop bag for the next three hours.
We went a short distance down the Strip Mine Trail #51 until it intersected the High Voltage Trail #59. The trail was pretty easy with a gradual undulating uphill course punctuated by a few short, steep sections. After a few switchbacks we scrambled up a small hill for a view that was sadly nothing special then continued on our course. After winding through the desert scrub landscape the High Voltage Trail again intersects the Strip Mine Trail in a T. The Strip Mine goes back to the north to complete the loop however, there is a small out & back section that goes up a “hill.” So of course we went up the hill.
Weirdly enough the trail doesn’t go all of the way up the hill. Who hikes part of the way up a hill without making it to the top? The answer to that rhetorical question is not the trail doggo. So we made our own trail through small bushes, trees, and a bunch of cactus. For some reason the trail doggo just doesn’t get the whole cactus concept and my attempts to keep her out of them more often then not backfired with her all but sitting in them. I think I pulled one cactus spine out of her snoot and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 more out of her feet, not to mention the countless I would eventually pull out at home. It added 300’ of climbing through a couple inches of snow but we made it to the top of our unnamed hill.
After enjoying our view for a few minutes we descended back down the hill which was much easier going thanks to the unexpected snow making our trail still visible. Back at the intersection of the High Voltage Trail and the Strip Mine Trail we took the Strip Mine Trail back around to complete our loop for the day. The route back was rocky and pretty unimpressive. Plus wherever the trail wasn’t rocky it was super muddy. I guess on the way out earlier when the temperature was around 27 degrees the ground was nice and frozen but by the time we where on the way back it thawed out and turned into a mud pit. It felt like I put an extra couple of pounds on my feet in mud.
With our extra off trail section the trail doggo and I did 6.2 miles with 1,453’ of elevation gain in two hours and seventeen minutes. It was nice to get out for a while and just hike but honestly I wouldn’t recommend either trail. The High Voltage Trail was the better of the two and I think it would make for some solid mountain biking but rather uninspiring on the hiking front. This is especially a factor when there are so many great trails in the vicinity. But hey a bad day of hiking is still pretty solid in my book and the trail doggo is now passed out so that’s definitely a positive.
This last weekend we decided to try something new for us and hike in the snow! Coming from Arkansas snow hiking wasn’t really an option so we haven’t ever done it before. Pair that with a recent set of snow storms that swept through New Mexico and we figured it was an opportunity to try something new, the only question that remained was what trail. When we hiked Mount Taylor via the Gooseberry trail back in late October we ran into another hiker, Mac, who told us about a trail that runs along the north side of Mount Taylor which he strongly recommended. When I looked at the forecast I figured we were in for an interesting day with several inches of snow and temperatures anywhere from the low 20’s up to freezing.
We left Albuquerque around 7:45am after our obligatory coffee stop and headed towards Grants, New Mexico which is about an hour away. After leaving Grants we drove up into the Cibola National Forest and the highway turned to snow covered dirt road. Then it was down Forest Service Road 453 to the trailhead. The route I found on AllTrails.com recommended one location but we ran into some hikers at the trailhead who inquired about our route. After telling them where we were heading they said our original route was doable but about 2 miles longer for no reason and gave us directions to the “normal” trailhead for our route which was about another mile up the forest service road. So we headed up there and found a nice trailhead with a picnic area and a vault toilet.
When we set off our on hike the Jeep said the temperature was 28 degrees! The trail had about 3-4” of snow at that point. Surprisingly, we actually got hot really quickly. Cold weather hiking is new to us but we were both expecting to deal with cold temperatures however it wasn’t an issue at all. We hadn’t been going for more than 20 minutes before we were both down to only our thermal base layers. The first mile or so was a consistent but very manageable uphill through the pine and aspen forest. We were able to get some really great pictures of the winter weather. Around the mile mark the trail opened up into a huge meadow that had phenomenal views back out over the plains to the west of the mountain.
Around this point the amount of snow had started to increase to 4-6” and the incline stayed a consistent uphill so we went ahead and threw on our Hillsound Trial Crampons for some extra traction. Over the course of our hike I was really impressed with the trail crampons. As long as they continue to hold up well they will be a great piece of gear. Around mile two the trail intersects with Forest Service Road 453E but not before a nice steep little section that really gets the heart rate going. Our route continued to the east down FR 453E for another mile until it intersects the Gooseberry Trail. This section of the trail was completely untouched and although it was beautiful it was tiring work to break trail through six or so inches of untouched snow. FR 453E continues east from that intersection to hit FR 453 which goes up to La Mosca Overlook. Originally heading to the top of La Mosca along with Mount Taylor had been part of our plan but we were moving rather slower than we had anticipated so we decided Mount Taylor was enough.
We took Gooseberry trail back towards the southwest and the summit of Mount Taylor. The route hugs the edge of the mountain for a half mile and feels very much like an alpine climb, just hugging onto the edge with a big drop off. After that half mile Gooseberry again intersects FR 453E but the summit route continued uphill. We found out later that the route is called Heartbreak Hill and I can definitely understand why. The switchbacks to the summit are relentlessly uphill and the snow definitely didn’t make it any easier. But we made it up the summit at 11,301 feet and got to enjoy some stunning views that were only improved by the snow. I don’t know why but mountains, especially snow capped mountains, have always fascinated me.
After 10 minutes at the summit to take some pictures we headed off down the west ridge. AllTrails showed a trail that led down the ridge and linked up with the Continental Divide Trail and some forest service roads to make a loop back to our trailhead. However, after half a mile of hiking in 12-18” snow drifts we couldn’t locate any sign of the trail. Obviously, the trail was completely obscured but we saw no mounds that could have been cairns or any blazes. So after we ran into FR 453E we decided to change plans and follow it back to Trail 02421. I had really been looking forward to hiking on the CDT as I have done a short day hike on the Appalachian Trail before. But we figured without being able to locate the actual trail and how long we had already been out it was more prudent to take the more direct route back to the car. Plus I was getting tired of breaking trail and someone had already snowshoed down FR453E so the going was noticeably easier.
We made great time on the way back down Trail 02421. It was actually crazy to see how much snow had melted just since we had started our hike. Most of the trees below the meadow had sloughed off their snow and on the trail it was starting to compact which made it much easier. Funny enough we actually ran into Mac, the hiker who had recommended the trail to us a month earlier. He was heading up Trail 02421 to Mount Taylor and remembered giving us the recommendation. We thanked him again for recommending the trail and he seemed pretty happy that we had taken his advice.
A short while later we made it back to the car. According to Strava on my Apple Watch we covered 7.77 miles in a moving time of 3:39 which comes out to an average speed of 2.1mph. We were definitely slower than expected in the snow but to be fair there was a lot more snow than we had anticipated. I had expected four or so inches. But we consistently were in 4-6” and broke trails through sections that were well over 12”. In hindsight some snowshoes would have been really helpful especially on the sections on FR 453E and down the west ridge of Mount Taylor. All in all it was a great trip and we got some great pictures. It was also really cool to be the first people to summit Mount Taylor in the snow for 2019.
We definitely found the temperatures much easier to handle than expected. When we started the car read 28 degrees and when we finished it was 33. I really have no clue what it was on the hike or at higher elevations. It was a phenomenal weather day though with a clear sky and almost no wind at all. I really need to get my hands on a small thermometer to take hiking. It is good to know going forward that temperature won’t really be the limiting factor this winter but instead it will be snow conditions and wind. We definitely still have a lot of learning to do this winter about how the conditions will be throughout the season but we aren’t to keen to just kick up our shoes for the next 3-4 months. If anyone has some advice for great winter hikes in New Mexico please let us know!
After a couple of big weekends in a row we decided to take it a little lighter. We also had “normal” life stuff going on Saturday so we decided to make the drive up to Sandia Crest on Sunday and do a short hike. The Sandia Mountains are an interesting place. Along the west side of the mountains are some of the area’s most famous trails such as La Luz which is about 13 miles and 3,500’ of elevation gain up to the top. But what makes it kind of funny is that you can drive to the same point via the east side of the mountains.
Our trip got off to a rough start right from the beginning. We slept in pretty late after festivities the night before. I think we finally left the house around 9ish. We went to make our quick trip to Starbucks for the customary pupcups for the dogs. Well Ripley, the German Shepherd, has gotten pretty accustomed to her pupcups and a little impatient. As I was pulling out of the Starbucks she climbed up on the center console to try and reach her pupcup. At almost the exact same time someone cut me off so I had to slam on the brakes. Which equaled a flying German Shepherd who exploded one of our coffees all over the front of the car. Of course we had to turn around and get a replacement coffee. Then it was back to the house to clean the car up and try to restart the trip.
Once the coffee was cleaned up as best as we could manage we took back off to the Sandia Crest. It was right at an hour drive in most of a circle to go around the mountains and then back up to the crest. Once at Sandia Crest we found colder temperatures than expected and some significant wind. The car said it was 36 degrees out but it felt well below freezing and colder even than our day on Deception Peak. We went to use the facilities at the trailhead before starting our hike with signs on the door stating that they were maintained by the shop at the crest. I am not sure why they claimed them because even for vault toilets they were literally the nastiest I have ever seen.
So several minor tragedies managed we finally got to set of our hike. We planned to follow the North Crest Trail (Trail 130) a short two miles north from Sandia Crest, the high point of the mountains, to the North Sandia Crest which is a point at about 10,430’. The hike really wasn’t the best and was solidly rock and with plenty of tree roots. Tree roots were all over the trails in Arkansas but are a rarity in New Mexico. I don’t know if the dogs were just fired up from being cooped up while we were gone the day before or what but they were not good hiking companions. Ripley managed to apply just the slightest pressure on her leash that caused me to trip over a rock or root.
The trail really wasn’t that good but it did have a bunch of off shoots to lookouts from the mountain back over Albuquerque. The North Sandia Crest actually didn’t have much in the way of views due to trees but several of the lookouts before provided a great background for some nice photos. We turned around and covered the short mileage back home including a small side trail adventure. All in all we ended up doing 4.6 miles with 733’ of elevation gain in 1:42. On the way home we stopped at Brickyard Pizza and grabbed a green chili Lobo Pizza for lunch which might have been the high point of the trip.
Sadly this hike was meant to just be a nice easy one that we could fit into an otherwise busy weekend but it really didn’t deliver. I guess you can’t win every weekend and we have had some great trips over the last couple of months. Usually our dogs are solid on hikes. Lilly the Siberian Husky has a knee issue so she is capped at 4-6 miles but they pups did not make this an easy trip. Hopefully we can turn the luck around next weekend and have another great trip.
After my hike of Santa Fe Baldy on Saturday we decided to take a day trip up to the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area or as it is more commonly known Bisti Badlands. This trip was actually our furthest one to date as Bisti Badlands is about two and half hours from Albuquerque up in the northwest corner of New Mexico. We got up about 7am and got all of stuff including our Siberian Husky, Lilly, and our German Shepherd, Ripley, loaded up and ready to go. We had to make a customary stop at Starbucks for pupcups, little espresso cups full of whipped cream for the dogs, and then we headed off to Bisti Badlands.
The first trail we went to was the De-Na-Zion section trail that was on the south side of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. The trail was okay but mostly just followed a dry creek bed or arroyo. It wouldn’t have been a bad hike but it was a pretty common hike that can be found all over the southern half of New Mexico. I thought our trail came right next to another one so that instead of the out-back route that was on All Trails we could turn it into a loop. Well I didn’t zoom in enough on the map to realize that they two trails didn’t connect. So we set off on our own to find a way to reach the other trail; which actually ended up being the best section of this trail. We reached the top of the canyon above the arroyo and the view was much better. There were also some interesting rocks that Bisti Badlands is famous for.
We followed our new path down a dirt road back towards the car. Somewhere along the way we missed a turnoff, probably at the point where we saw some deer lounging in the sparsely shaded area, and our dirt road took us out to the main road and not the parking lot. Rather than retrace our steps we climbed under a barbed wire fence and followed the main dirt road that runs along the southern edge of Bisti Badlands back about a quarter of a mile to the trailhead.
It was safe to say we were rather unimpressed with our first taste of Bisti Badlands but we figured we drove a long ways to get here we might as well check out the rest and I’m glad we did. We drove roughly 30 minutes to another trailhead on the west edge of Bisti Badlands to hike the Bisti Badlands Trail. Although calling this a trail is definitely a bit of a misnomer. There really isn’t a trail at all. Basically this section of Bisti Badlands is like another planet. It is barren and interesting shades of red, white, black and brown that you don’t normally see. Spread throughout this crazy landscape is a bunch of unique rock formations and you basically just wonder from rock formation to rock formation in whatever pattern pleases you.
The best part is that outside of the special rock formations you are free to climb up and over whatever you want. We basically spent most of time in Bisti Badlands climbing through a series of canyons that reminded me of a smaller version of Tent Rocks National Monument. In hindsight it might have been a bit more on the rough side than we had meant to do with the dogs in tow. There were a few times that I had to perform pup lifts, in particular with Lilly the Husky who was not a fan of the crevices. We then hiked a little further into the Bisti Badlands before looping around the outer side to head back towards the car. We then piled everyone in and started the drive back to Albuquerque.
It was cool to see another side of our new home state. One of the biggest selling points of New Mexico is the crazy number of vastly difference landscapes. New Mexico has everything from desert to alpine environments and everything in between. I would definitely recommend skipping the first area we went to and going straight towards the Bisti Badlands Trail area. We hiked around 3 miles at each location but I think 6 spent at the second would be a much better use of ones time. All in all it ended up being a solid trip but one that I’m not sure I would feel the need to do again.
A Busy Weekend Part 1 With a weird schedule this weekend we actually managed to get in a couple of trips. As someone had to work on Saturday, I went for a solo hike to the peak of Santa Fe Baldy. Santa Fe Baldy is a 12,632’ peak in the Santa Fe National Forest. My planned route was to hike the Winsor Trail (254) to the Skyline Trail (251) then to the summit of Santa Fe Baldy. At a distance of 13.5 miles with 3,517’ of elevation gain it was going to be a long day. My planning was slightly complicated by unknown weather. Depending on which source I looked at I found everything from 28-38 degrees for the day to 38-58. Twenty degrees might not sound like a lot but it really can be in those ranges. Also, the area had received 4” of snow two weeks prior and with relatively cool temperatures I was unsure how much would be left or if it might have turned to ice.
The Trip I got up at 6am and made a quick trip to Starbucks for a little morning pick me up then made the hour and a half drive up to the Ski Santa Fe area inside the Santa Fe National Forest. The drive was pretty easy and I was able to start hiking right after 8am. My car said it was in the high 30’s when I started so I was pretty sure I had more stuff in my 7.6 kilo pack than I was going to need.
The first mile or so is uphill until you cross through a fence and start back downhill. The decline lasts about 2 miles then the route becomes a gentle uphill for a while. This section had a decent amount of snow but it was mostly packed down and a bit crunchy. Traction wasn’t really an issue. I did get out my gaiters to prevent any snow from getting down into my Salomon’s. I had really wanted to use my Saucony Peregrines for this hike but decided against it at the last moment because I thought they might soak through from the snow, it was probably a smart call. This section of the trail was solid but nothing super memorable. There were a couple of creek crossings-one was flowing but the other two were frozen. It was cool to hear the water flowing underneath the ice as you walked right across the stream. Water features are one thing I have definitely come to appreciate in New Mexico as they are few and far between.
From mile 3 to mile 6 the trail continued uphill at a solid incline but nothing that raised the heart rate too much. However, that all changed when I found the signpost and left the Skyline Trail to start the route up Santa Fe Baldy. From the transition from one trail to the top was right at a mile with almost exactly 1,000’ of elevation gain. So safe to say it was a steep mile. The highlight of the trip though was a wildlife spotting. I was just a couple hundred feet from the summit of Santa Fe Baldy when I came over a point and a huge big horn sheep was just standing in the middle of the trail. Then I realized he had a bunch of buddies. There were about 8 or so big horn sheep all over the trail and to the sides. I also realized I was rather close, probably no further than 50 feet or so but the sheep didn’t seem to mind me at all. I thought of the potential newspaper headline of man dies after being rammed off of cliff by sheep... My wife would not have been amused. After taking a bunch of pictures I slowly walked towards them and they just meandered off of the trail to let me pass. A short trek later the incline leveled off and I was at the summit of Santa Fe Baldy.
The views were impressive and I relaxed for 10 minutes or so to have a snack. Right as I was getting ready to leave the sheep got spooked by another hiker’s dog and took off running down what seemed like a sheer cliff. It was pretty amazing to watch and seemed right out of a National Geographic special. It had taken me 3 hours and 20 minutes to summit Santa Fe Baldy so I was hoping to go a little faster on the way out as I still had a 90 minute drive home to deal with. I did a bit of a trot/jog down the steepest sections and tried to stay around 3 mph down the decline. It worked for an hour or so but towards mile 11 or 12 I just lost all momentum and I was ready to be done. The uphill section back to the gate was just a slog. I ran into several rude hikers including one lady who was having a speaker phone conversation while hiking. That really seems to defeat the entire purpose of hiking to me. Safe to say I was worn out and happy to make it back to the car. My trip ended up being 15.1 miles with 3,522’ of elevation gain in a moving time of 5:45 according to Strava run on my Apple Watch.
Summary All in all I would say Santa Fe Baldy is a great climb. The final mile is steep but the views are constant and the summit is pretty satisfying. I will say my hike was helped by phenomenal weather. It probably warmed up to the high 50’s so I was doing sections of hiking through snow while wearing a t-shirt. At the summit there was almost no wind at all. The little wind speed meter I bought off of Amazon for $17, super reliable, was between 1-3.8 mph. I will say the approach miles are a bit rough. It isn’t a bad hike by any stretch but definitely not the most scenic and trudging back 7 miles with nothing to motivate you can be a bit rough mentally. The climb is great but the approach mileage not so great. I would definitely recommend the hike but just be aware of what you are biting off. I got back to my car around 3pm so it was pretty much an all day event. I ran into a lady right below the summit who said it took her 5 hours to reach the top and she was hoping to finish the return trip in 4.5 more.
It definitely felt like a solid achievement to summit one of New Mexico’s 12,000’ peaks. This hike actually ended up being my highest mountain summit to date and the longest hike by mileage and by time. Definitely a big step for me as a hiker. To be Continued...
On Sunday, 11/03/2019, we set out to hike to the top of Deception Peak. The goal was for this to be our first winter hike as Santa Fe, NM received about 4” of snow in the week before. Being from Arkansas originally we have done absolutely no snow hiking. So we got up around 6am, the extra hour of sleep was awesome, so that we could grab Starbucks and be on the road to Santa Fe by 7am. The drive took about a hour and a half to reach the trailhead in the Santa Fe National Forest and right by Ski Santa Fe. We were only the third car at the trailhead. We got loaded up and started around 8:30am with a temperature of around 30 degrees.
The first mile is a gradual uphill through a pine forest. There was a stream right by the start that was frozen over but you could hear the water running underneath the ice. At the mile-ish mark we hit a fence. At this point we were supposed to make a sharp right hand turn to go up Raven’s Ridge but we missed the turn and continued on until All Trails alerted us that we were off course. We turned around and located our turn on the second try. There seemed to be about 2” of snow still left so we put on some REI low hiking gaiters that we had purchased the week before to keep snow out of our shoes. It was definitely a good call.
We followed the trail down a barb wire fence on a gradual uphill for another mile before making another sharp right hand turn to head up towards Deception Peak. We saw our first few views on this section of the trail including frozen Nambe Lake down below. That might be our hiking objective next week. We hiked upwards for the next mile or so up to about 12,000’. The trail has two slight downhill sections to break up the ascent but we could tell they would be a pain coming back.
Once we broke through the tree line the wind picked up like crazy. To the point that it felt like it would almost blow you over. The snow disappeared at this point and it was just a straight hike up loose rock to the ridge and a short walk down the ridge to the summit of Deception Peak. We took a few pictures from the summit and then I decided to give the ridge scramble across to Lake Peak a try. Supposedly this was a class 3 scramble that depending on who you ask was either rather difficult or easy. Safe to say I found it rather difficult. I managed to snake my way back and forth across the ridge looking for a path to the halfway point. Then I encountered a bit of an obstacle that I tried to down climb around. But I decided it was too sketchy for me and turned back. Somewhere along the scramble back I managed to rip the top of my new gaiters. Hopefully I can repair them with some sort of patch.
After I got back to Deception Peak we again trudged through the crazy winds back to the tree line. We accidentally overshot the trail back down and made it most of the way to the top of the Ski Santa Fe lifts. Rather than backtrack through the wind we just made a diagonal path across and hit the trail around the tree line. Then we slipped and slid most of the way back down to the car.
Total distance according All Trails was 7.5 miles using my iPhone. My Apple Watch using Strava came out to 8.4 miles. I like to claim the extra distance using Strava with a moving time of 4 hours and 1 minute which makes for an average speed of 2.1 mph, definitely not blazing fast. On the way home we had to stop at a Ikonic Coffee Roasters for some coffee and bagels! It did end up being a much longer day than expected and we didn’t get home until around 2pm
I will say this hike was a bit of a tough sludge up the hill in the snow. And it was rather disappointing to not get to the top of Lake Peak. But the views from Deception Peak were pretty awesome and I would give our first snow outing a big thumbs up. Other than the crazy winds at the top the temperatures were pretty manageable and we never got too cold. We are both in agreement that Santa Fe might be our new location for a little while. Gear used for this trip (Links are to Amazon) Pack - Osprey Stratos 24L Poles - Black Diamond Trail Sport 3 Water Bladder - Osprey Hydraulics LT 2.5L Shoes - Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX Gloves - Black Diamond Mont Blanc Gaiters - REI Backpacker Low (Link to comparable product) GPS - alltrails.com on iPhone GPS - Strava on Apple Watch
This past weekend we hiked Mount Taylor which is an extinct volcano about 50 miles west of Albuquerque on I-40. Mount Taylor tops out at 11,301ft but has a prominence of 4,094ft. I was told to expect some fantastic views and I can say that Mount Taylor did not disappoint. I would actually venture to say this was the best hike to date in New Mexico. It was enough of a challenge but not so difficult that all of the fun was removed. And the views, the views were spectacular. We planned to hike Mount Taylor via the Gooseberry Trail which is the most common route to the summit. All Trails has the route as 6.2 miles round trip with 2,017ft of elevation gain.
Our trip hit a snag called three snoozed alarms at 6am. We both had long weeks so the motivation to get out of a warm bed was not high. Eventually we made it up and on the road with quick stops for gas and coffee. The trip to the trailhead took about 90 minutes. Most of the drive was down I-40 to Grants, NM then onto New Mexico Highway 547 with the last 5 miles down Forest Service Road 193 which was a well maintained dirt road. The trail head was small with only parking for about 5 cars however, we were only the second car there. We got all of our gear on and leashed up our German Shepherd who was coming with for this trip and set off at around 9am with a temperature of around 38 degrees.
The first 1.5 miles of the hike felt relatively flat although it was actually a slight incline. We were in a pine forest that makes for an easy start to the hike. Before we exited the forest we passed through some Aspen groves which I think are the prettiest trees ever. Just look at some of those pictures. Next the hike opened up into a huge field and really started the uphill. It felt weird to be out in a meadow like environment in New Mexico, I mean there was actually grass! At this point our view really started to open up and we get a hint of what this hike will be. The next six tenths of a mile was a solid uphill section that really got the heart rate going but then it eased up for a bit and the the trail wrapped around the mountain. This point had some stunning views of the elevation we still had to gain and of the surrounding hills.
As we continued around we come to see Mount Taylor and across the gully and the couple of switchbacks that lead to the top. I think when you can look across at a mountain and see the trail trace its way up is just one of the coolest sights in hiking. The last 1.2 miles had about 900ft of elevation gain to the summit. The path was a series of three switchbacks that had a bunch of wind exposure. We had to throw our rain jackets back on after warming up earlier. The last switchback provided a bit of a false summit that was a tad demoralizing. However, we only had about three tenths of a mile with not too much incline left to the summit of Mount Taylor.
At the top there is a big summit sign with the mountains elevation. We relaxed for a few minutes to eat snacks and took pictures before starting back downhill to the car. The whole trip took us 3 hours and 13 minutes with 2 hours and 52 of that moving. We covered 7 miles with 2,034ft of elevation gain averaging 2.4mph. We definitely sped way up on the downhill thanks to the German Shepherd tank who wanted to do the return at a solid trot. We stopped at Mount Taylor Coffee Co. in Grants for coffee and a muffin before making the drive back to Albuquerque.
Overall I can’t recommend this trail enough. It had some solid sections of incline but nothing that was just demoralizing or rough on the knees for the descent. Plus who doesn’t love a good series of switchbacks with a wide open view back across the way. The views were fantastic and unlike anything I’ve seen in New Mexico to date. I felt like I was in Colorado. The open fields provided a fantastic view of the Sandia’s and Monzano’s back to the east. Mount Taylor might not be the tallest mountain but its’ prominence completely makes up for it.
Our very first hike after moving to New Mexico was a trip to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument commonly just referred to as Tent Rocks. The park is managed by BLM and is about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. I would recommend this as the one place to take a visitor to New Mexico if can only do one hike.
We left at around 7am so that we made it to the park not long after it opened at 8am. I would recommend getting to Tent Rocks on the early side. New Mexico is notorious for nice mornings that quickly give way to hot afternoons but Tent Rocks also gets very crowded very quickly. There are actually signs along the route in that tell you from that point approximately how long your wait is to enter the park. The signs went out to well over an hour. However, it only took us a few minutes. There is a fee station as you enter the park where you pay your $5 entry fee and get a map and directions to the parking areas. Once we finished the short drive to the trailhead it was time to hike.
There are really only two trails in Tent Rocks and they are meant to be hiked together. The first is called Cave Loop Trail and is a 1.2 miles long loop. The second is the Slot Canyon Trail which is a point to point hike that begins about half a mile down the Cave Loop Trail. The Slot Canyon Trail is 1 mile each way so that doing both of the comes out to roughly 3.2 miles with 839 feet of elevation gain according to alltrails.com. (My favorite site for hiking routes)
The Cave Loop Trail is more or less a gravel path so it starts off pretty easy. However, once you start the Slot Canyon Trial you are in for some climbing over rocks and navigating down the narrow canyons. I wouldn’t call it an an exertion but I would definitely bring some water and appropriate clothing for a hike. The Slot Canyon Trail takes you through the canyon and past numerous lava rock formations that are the namesake of the park. They are definitely impressive to look at and very hard to capture in words or pictures.
All of the elevation gain on the hike is in a mile section that ascends to the top of the park. It definitely gets the heart rate up and makes you aware that 6,000ft above sea level is an adjustment. But the view down onto the tent rock formations is amazing. We enjoyed the view for a little bit and then began the descent back down and through the canyon. We stopped along the way for several “gram” worthy photos.
One word of warning with Tent Rocks is the crowds. Safe to say this is not a hike to enjoy a remote section of nature. Due to the proximity to Albuquerque and the sheer uniqueness of the Tent Rock formations large crowds of people come to the park. It is wonderful that so many people are taking time to experience the outdoors but many come unprepared. Probably because of the short overall distance many people neglect to bring water or wear proper clothing for a hike. Not to mention the hike does have almost 1k feet of elevation gain and tops out north of 6,000ft above sea level. So many people can be more than a tad bit rude while hiking about yielding the way or allowing faster hikers to pass. Several sections of the trail only allow for one person at a time through the canyon and require a little coordination as the trail has hikers going both directions. Either way it is a small price to pay to enjoy one of the most unique trails in New Mexico. But I would strongly recommend coming prepared for a hike even though the trail appears to be quit “easy”. It will make for a much better experience.
My GPS listed our hike as 2.9 miles but it had a BUNCH of issues maintaining a solid path through the slot canyons. Not to mention it just completely turned off for a section of the Cave Loop Trail. It showed 817ft in elevation gain in one hour and fifteen minutes of moving time. I don’t know that I would call this my favorite hike in New Mexico so far, I preferred La Luz, but from a sheer accessibility and uniqueness standpoint it is pretty unparalleled.
Let us know what you thought of Tent Rocks and follow us on instagram at day_hiker_chronicles for pictures of Tent Rocks or on All Trails: Jarred G to see our hikes.
This last weekend we set out to do an off trail hike to Peak 8304 or Peak 8300 or Mayan Temple depending on who you ask. We wanted to try an off trail route a to a nice point of prominence a try. I noticed Peak 8304 while hiking La Luz a couple weeks ago and thought sitting on the top would be pretty cool. There is already a route to the peak in alltrails.com which is titled “Peak 8304 via Pedra Lisa Trail.” So we figured we would give that route a try.
We got up around 7am on Sunday and made it to the Pedra Lisa Trailhead around 8am. On the drive it was pretty cool to see all of the hot air balloons that were up for the last day of the Balloon Fiesta. The weather was pretty solid with a temperature around 44 degrees when we started and around 68 degrees when we finished. The route follows the Pedra Lisa Trail for right around two miles. And boy were they a couple of steep miles. We gained 1,000ft of elevation is those two miles. Which doesn’t sound like whole bunch but it was the unrelenting straight up nature unlike the switchbacks of La Luz.
At mile 2 we were set to go off trail to reach Peak 8304 but it turned out that there was a rough, unnamed trail that we were able to follow. It was pretty hard to keep in some places and we got off trail at least once but it was definitely easier than a full on bushwhack. There are several cairns along the route to help but mostly we followed washouts. It is right around 0.8 miles of off trail section to reach the bottom of Peak 8304 and then another 0.2 miles to the top.
Peak 8304 has around 290ft of prominence so you are covering that elevation in that 0.2 miles and boy is it steep. Most of the climb is that awkward incline where you don’t want to use trekking poles but it isn’t a full on scramble where you can use your hands to help climb. The dirt was also surprisingly wet and a little muddy which made for slow going. The last 100ft or so is a full on scramble to the summit. There is not much exposure for the scrambling and ropes aren’t necessary. The views from the top are phenomenal and the pictures really don’t do it justice. The drop off to either side of the peak is pretty significant so you feel like you are completely out in the open with an unobstructed view. We took a break on the top to eat some snacks and just enjoy the view.
We found a mason jar with an informal summit log of sorts jammed into the rocks so we added our names. There were also some stickers and cards for a cool little blog: A Couple of Drifters. I would recommend giving their site a look if you like travel blogs. After our break we scrambled and stumbled our way down Peak 8304 without injury. A short hike got us back onto the Pedra Lisa Trail and down to our car.
For those wanting to get off the beaten path it was a solid hike. The views along the way were nice but the constant upwards gradient didn’t really make for an enjoyable hike. Even coming down the grade made solid foot placement important and I lost my footing and slid a couple of times. It really ended up being one of those hikes that was all for the payoff of the summit. And the summit views did not disappoint.
Our total distance ended up being 6.5 miles with 1,864ft of elevation gain. Our total hike time was 3 hours and 42 minutes with about 21 minutes of that being breaks along the way. So definitely some slow going but a successful summit attempt no matter what you call the peak.