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Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« on: December 12, 2016, 09:45:35 PM »
With the arrival of fall, it was time to do some exploration of northern New Mexico, an area that I hadn't been to in a few years.  I first went to the Taos area.  Unfortunately, rainy conditions limited what I could do to some degree.  The morning of Wednesday, September 21 was rainy, so I spent the time gathering maps and information about the area.  The weather appeared to clear in the afternoon, so I determined to hike up to Lobo Peak in the recently-designated Columbine-Hondo Wilderness.  Unlike my forays into west Texas the previous month, aspens were easy to find and already putting on a nice showing of color:


16921002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The occasional rock outcrop reminds one that the Sangre de Cristo mountain range as well as much of northern New Mexico had its origin in volcanic activity:


16921003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I didn't get much farther than this.  About halfway to the peak, the weather turned as a thunderstorm popped up.  Not wanting to climb higher while hearing thunder only a few miles away, I had to call it quits and descended the mountain.  The next day, I tackled the Devisadero Peak Trail just east of the town.  I'd tried this trail the last time I'd been in Taos but had been rained out of it just like my attempt at Lobo Peak the day before.  This time, the weather co-operated, at least around Taos.  Not too far up the trail, I encountered a very co-operative Mountain Chickadee that allowed me to come within a few feet for photos:


16922001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Parts of the trail provided great views of Taos.  Down below, not too far from the Carson National Forest boundary, someone apparently had an outdoor performance space with an awesome sound system, because as I hiked along the trail I distinctly could hear the pounding rhythm of dance music being played:


16922004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Fortunately, as the loop trail turned north and west, I got out of earshot of the music and into a view of Wheeler Peak and the other peaks of the Taos Ski Basin area.  While the sky was clear around Taos, you can see the clouds gathering around the mountains, presaging a rainy afternoon there:


16922007 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

After passing the summit (which had a very impressive cairn plus three reclining chairs made out of rocks!), the trail descended, affording fine views to the south and east.  In this panorama, you can see into the Pecos Wilderness area to the south, along Santa Barbara ridge.  To the right of center, barely peeking above foreground mountain peaks, are the Truchas Peaks, the second-highest set of peaks in New Mexico after Wheeler Peak and its associated peaks, and which I had hoped to visit later in my trip:


16922009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

As I got close to the trailhead, I was reminded that the area, as close as it is to Taos, is still the home of wildlife:


16922010 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It had rained early in the morning, so that print was probably only a few hours old.  On Friday the 23rd I went to the Santa Fe area.  Originally, I'd planned to go the Valles Caldera National Preserve and afterward spend a couple of days backpacking to the Truchas Peaks, but bad weather completely washed out the day I'd been planning to go the preserve.  Rather than give that up, I decided to do the trip to the Truchas Peaks another time and just dayhike in the Pecos Wilderness.  With a little bit of extra time now available, I decided to check out the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument near Questa.  This area was administered by the Bureau of Land Management, but in 2013 it was transferred to the National Park Service as a new unit.  However, under an agreement between the two agencies the BLM continues to manage the land.  I had tried to visit the area on my last trip to Taos in 2012, but along the way the radiator in my vehicle decided to spring a leak, which put an end to that adventure.  The new park looks like an interesting place - its main features are the canyons carved by the Rio Grande and Red River and their confluence:


16923001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

There are trails that go into the canyons, as well as several campgrounds both along the rivers and on the mesa which divides them.  In the background, you can see the mountains around Taos as well as the storms that ruined the day around the Valles Caldera far to the southwest.  I drove to Santa Fe, and decided to visit the Beattys Flats area on Saturday the 24th.  Getting to the Iron Gate trailhead itself was an adventure - the last four miles are on a rough, unpaved road, and I found myself caught behind two trucks hauling enormous trailers moving at maybe five miles per hour.  Apparently, they were part of a film crew, as a couple of miles in they turned into a meadow that already had a number of vehicles, trailers, and tents in it, with all sorts of electrical equipment scattered about.  I presume the Forest Service collected a nice licensing fee for this....  I finally got to the trailhead and onto the trail.  Once again, there were plenty of aspens as well as other kinds of trees present:


16924001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The trail climbs onto Hamilton Mesa, from where great views of Pecos Baldy and East Pecos Baldy are available:


16924004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

At just over 10,000 feet of elevation, spruces and Douglas-firs are the predominant trees present:


16924005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

From the Hamilton Mesa Trail, the Larkspur Trail descends several hundred feet down to the Pecos River.  Along the way, I was reminded that it was the last day of archery season for elk when a gentleman passed me on horseback with two stock animals in tow, one of which carried on it an elk head.  Down at the river, the Forest Service has constructed a nice bridge for crossing:...


16924015 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and it's also convenient for use in taking pictures of the river itself:


16924009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

This area was the site of a cabin built about a century ago by a homesteader named Beatty, hence the name of the area.  The cabin fell into disrepair years ago and was demolished, but the Forest Service built a replacement on the site for its use.  It's in the center of this image of Beattys Flats:...


16924012 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and here's a closeup of the cabin:


16924011 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

On the way back to the trailhead, to the northeast there are excellent views of the Truchas Peaks - maybe I'll get to them someday:...


16924016 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Looking off to the west, one can see the Mora River which defines the edge of the mesa:


16924024 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The next day, I traveled to the Valles Caldera area, and on Monday the 26th I finally visited the preserve.  This visit had been more than a quarter-century in the making.  I first saw the area in 1989 while on a field trip observing volcaniclastic rock deposits.  It looked like an intriguing place for exploration, but it was under private ownership and inaccessible to the public.  In 2000, the owners donated the land to the federal government, and for years access was available only through tours conducted by Park Service personnel. Finally, in 2013 the preserve was opened to the public via a limited number of permits issued for each day (with no overnight use).  I made sure to arrive early and got the second permit out of 50 available for that day (according to the logbook, on the previous day all 50 were taken), and at the suggestion of the ranger at the front desk drove the 15 miles to the northern edge of the preserve to check out an overlook.  Part of the 4.25 mile trail goes along an old doubletrack road.  It wasn't quite a wilderness experience, as along the way I encountered a backhoe attempting to repair trail damage caused by a stream crossing.  I also encountered a Wandering Garter Snake:...


16926002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and plenty of Least Chipmunks:


16926004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The area had burned a few years ago, and signs of the fire were evident as one approaches the overlook:


16926008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I finally made it to the overlook.  The Valles Caldera is the surface expression of a large volcanic crater which was active within the last 1.25 million years, and the overlook is essentially on the north rim of the caldera.  In this panorama, you can see the the majority of the caldera.  The hills in the picture are resurgent domes, essentially piles of lava that made it to the surface after the main eruptive phase had passed.  The road I traveled to get to the trailhead can be seen right of the center of the image:


16926011 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I saw more wildlife when leaving.  At the trailhead parking area (which is about half a mile from the trailhead itself), there perched a Mountain Bluebird:...


16926019 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and on the drive out a Coyote and I spotted each other, the Coyote seemingly aware that it was being photographed and so posed for a picture:


16926022 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I returned to Santa Fe, and on the final day of hiking, I endevoured to take care of some old business.  In 2012, I had visited the area and planned to hike to a high meadow in the Pecos Wilderness appropriately called La Vega.  The day before I planned to go there, I hiked up nearby Lake Peak using a social trail.  As is often the case with social trails, it's steep, and I found out the next day when going to La Vega that the grade had taken a lot out of my legs, so much so that my legs were so sore that I simply couldn't make it to the meadow.  Now, over four years later, I resolved to make it this time.  Wildlife sightings occurred almost immediately, as when I got to the wilderness boundary on the Winsor Trail I was met by a very friendly Gray Jay, who are masters at extracting food from humans by any means necessary:


16927002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It got nothing from me.  As I approached the meadow, the edifice of Santa Fe Baldy loomed in the distance:


16927004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Once again, it was no problem finding aspens in their fall glory:


16927005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I finally made it to La Vega, and it was worth the 4+ year wait.  A delightful meadow full of spruces lay surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  You can see Santa Fe Baldy on the right edge of the image:


16927007 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Below the meadow is the Nambé River, which flows to the west, eventually flowing over Nambé Falls into Nambé Lake in the pueblo of the same name.  Here, it's just a small stream:


16927011 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I returned to the trailhead and headed home the next day.  I must return in the future to finish my climb up Lobo Peak and visit the Truchas Peaks, along with sundry other destinations the area has to offer.

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Offline Jalco

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2016, 11:22:12 PM »
You covered a lot of ground this year.   I love reading your reports.

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Online mule ears

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2016, 05:57:14 AM »
Beautiful stuff Jonathan, it has been a long time since I have been in that area and recently have been thinking about a trip back.  thanks.
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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2016, 06:04:56 PM »
Always love your reports and pics, Jonathan!  Thanks for sharing.


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Offline rocketman

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2016, 08:17:04 PM »
What a great trip report! Man I love NM, thanks for sharing. Next summer, some friends and I will be exploring the Gila Wilderness.
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Offline Buck

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2016, 11:00:58 AM »
I love that area.  We took four of our boys there for a summer vacation about three years ago and explored the south side of the Caldera during day trips out of Los Alamos.
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Offline Lance

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2016, 02:30:56 PM »
Bookmarked for trip ideas later. Thanks Jonathan!

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Offline bracketboy89

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2016, 06:24:10 PM »
That's an awesome trip! Way to not let the rain stop you!

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Offline backpacker56

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2017, 08:26:14 AM »
Superb!  Thanks for taking the time and effort to post this report.
"Ah, sure, I'm a gnawed old bone now, but say, don't you guys think the spirit's gone!"

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Offline Talusman

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Re: Northern New Mexico trip report, September 21 to 27, 2016
« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2017, 11:43:39 AM »
I'm way behind on reading trip reports. I took the time to go through this one this morning and need to get off again. But had to say "Great, awesome stuff JS". Those are some beautiful pics and it reminded me that I still need to hike up Wheeler some day. Thank you for posting the report.
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