Monday, October 15

A hike up La Cienega trail

The well-named trail — Spanish for 'a place containing water' — appeals to us New Mexicans any time of the year. Even New Mexico mountains are deserts! But not La Cienega.

First Bridge at the beginning of La Cienega's Trail. Photo courtesy of Mike Coltrin and, copyright, used with permission.

Rain falls on and snow melts along the peaks of the Sandia Mountains. Water trickles down her slopes, percolates into rock layers and wells up in various springs near the mountain's base. Cienega's spring gets more water than most, and the water forms a creek, which sings its way downhill, falling over great tree roots here and cascading over granite ledges there. A delight, all the way down its short course.

I pull the red 4Runner into my customary parking place this afternoon, get out and shiver slightly in the cool breeze. Yep, time for an extra shirt, a blue bandana about the throat and even light gloves, all of which I had in the car. Suitably clothed, I cross First Bridge. Sunlight slants through yellow leaves above, and a wind sighs through treetops.

Second Bridge soon appears. There's something fun about clumping across bridges. Fallen logs form more bridges all around. A dark-blue Stellar jay flits from tree to tree, scolding my intrusion. Past Third Bridge now. The water is low, now in the fall, past the rainy season. Stepping Stone Place looms ahead, but the stones stand dry in the dirt path. No water courses around them as was the case every other time this year I'd hiked this way.

Just ahead I see Big Rock — a huge pentagon-shaped granite boulder, about 11 feet (3 m) high and 11 feet wide. Bones of the Earth. Most of the rock forming the Sandia Mountains is Precambrian granite, which is about 1.5 billion years old.

Big Rock marks the spot of the most upstream spring of the Cienega springs. It's dry this time of year. The water wells from a lower spring now, though not much lower.

I round a bend and spot a patch of late-blooming purple fleabane daisies. Next comes the intersection of Faulty Trail with Cienega. I continue due west up Cienega and break into a jog for a short ways. I'm breathing hard now. The path ahead curves up, framed in tawny oak leaves. The sunlight slants in amongst the tall firs, their green tops swaying in the wind against blue sky, their lower branches dark and scraggly. Steep canyon walls close in.

A common squirrel. Photo courtesy of Nicko Margolies and Wikipedia.

Up I go until I reach Laid Over Tree. Here the trail takes a serious upward bent, almost like a ladder, climbing through heavily eroded tree roots, and I turn around for the hike down.

At the bottom picnic area, I'm stretching my legs before getting in the 4Runner, when a bushy tailed Albert's squirrel scampers my way. He pauses about three feet away — almost close enough to touch — spurts onward another few feet, stops at the creek just behind me and drinks. Then off again, this time up a nearby tree, stops again, looks at me and waxes poetic squirrel talk.

Further reading

Sandia Hiking Guide by Mike Coltrin

Field guide to the Sandia Mountains

Sunday, October 14

A lazy weekend at Angel Fire

Friday 5 October 2007. The day dawned in Sandia Park, cool and beautiful, promising to warm into the high 70's (25 C), and making us wonder, why leave? Although we had almost totally packed the 4Runner the night before, there was a little left to do, and we didn't actually leave until about 10.

"There's nothing left in the house," Lanney said. "It's time to quit packing and go."

We headed the red 4Runner down our steep driveway through the piñons. Soon we tootling along back roads through foothills of the Sandia Mountains, past old mining towns, along the bypass around Santa Fe, up the steep gorge cut by the Rio Grande to the high plateau above — top of the world country near Taos — then east through the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the broad valley of the Cimarron River and 11,000-foot (3350 m) peaks of Angel Fire Mountain and surrounding mountains. We arrived at our cabin in tall Ponderosa pines about three in the afternoon.

Magpie. Courtesy of Adrian Pingstone in Gloucestershire, England 2004 and Wikipedia.

We had vacationed here about three years ago. Then we spotted deer in the evening. This time, though, we arrived immediately after elk season. No deer (or elk) hanging around. Plenty of deep blue Stellar jays, nuthatches, gray chickadees, white and black striped chipmunks, though. Even a black and white magpie, enticed by strewn peanuts and sunflower seeds, gathered its courage for forays onto our porch. I had not realized magpies have deep blue back and tail feathers until seeing one this close. The nuthatches sounded their one shrill note, like tiny trumpeters.

The next day we piled back in the 4Runner for a drive to Coyote Creek. We envisioned a lazy stroll along creek bottom land. Down NM 434 we chugged, across another broad valley around Black Lake (which we finally found, not much water) and then down a steep canyon the Coyote Creek had cut through the Sangro de Cristos. The road twisted and turned, following the babbling creek around cliffs and through pines. A lovely drive. Finally we made it to Coyote Creek State Park. What a disappointment. It looked like a trailer park. We paid $5 for a parking privilege, found the trailhead and scrambled up. A hard scramble up a mountain trail. Surely this is the wrong trail. Back down. Nope, no creekside trail. We gave up and headed back to our cabin.

Still looking for a lazy hike, we found one the next day in the town of Angel Fire. It was probably a ski trail cut through a meadow from cabins to ski run. But, this time of year it made pleasant walking.

We left late Monday morning, the 8th, but we'll be back. Probably in late August to take in the 'Music from Angel Fire' chamber music. Then it will be warm enough for us to kayak Eagle Nest Lake, as we had three years ago. Maybe we'll feel like some real hikes, too. Looking forward to it. This time, though, was a good, lazy vacation.

Good restaurants and lodging we don't want to forget:

Angel Fire
  • Our Place Cafe (west of the main drag, about a block). Good for breakfast. Breakfast buffet only good on weekends; other days order from the menu. Great hamburgers.
  • Talon's Italian restaurant at Frontier Square, opposite the Valley Market. Very good food. 545-377-2337
  • Retreat at Angel Fire Lodge. A quiet place in the woods. Our only quibble is the street lights. For folks wanting to see stars, it would be nice if the proprietors used shaded lantern-style lights, whose light shines down on the ground only.
  • Los Arcos, 819 North Riverside Drive