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


Omar Barsawad said...

You have just commented on my other blog: 'Uhai' - in which I had linked to your interesting site 'Wonderquest'.

I will certainly be visiting your site and blog often; may be you will find this other blog of mine interesting.

April said...

Indeed it is.

lindaadleen said...

Hi April,
Enjoyed your blog on La Cienega! Loved the picture of the old bridge! However my horse Casanova didn't think too much of it! See you on the trail as soon as it warms up!