Sunday, December 13, 2009

Four must-do Hikes near Santa Fe

A couple years ago Kathy and I spent a week in Santa Fe to take in the rich history and culture of the region, and of course, to check out some hiking in the Southern Rockies.

Among the 8 or 9 trails we tackled, there were four must-do hikes that I would recommend for anyone considering a visit to the area. The following are some photos from those hikes.

Canyon Trail in Tent Rocks National Monument
If you’re spending more than a day or two in Santa Fe, be sure to visit the somewhat unknown Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This is truly a remarkable place located about 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe.

The oddly cone-shaped formations giving the area its name are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago that left pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick.

The monument includes a national recreation trail that provides up-close views of the tent rocks, as well as the opportunity to pass through a narrow canyon.

The hike we took was a combination of the Cave Loop and the Canyon Trails - for a total hike of 3.2 miles. The more difficult Canyon Trail is a one-way trek through the narrow canyon before making a steep 630-foot climb to the mesa top. From here you can look down upon the tent rocks. You’ll also have excellent views of the Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, Sandia mountains and the Rio Grande Valley.

Wheeler Peak
One of our main objectives for this trip was to climb Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. With a roundtrip trek of 16 miles and a climb of almost 4000 feet, this would be the toughest hike either of us had ever attempted at that time.

Wheeler Peak is about 90 miles north of Santa Fe in the Sangre De Cristo (Blood of Christ) range, in the Carson National Forest. To reach the summit we took the Bull-of-the-Woods Trail that begins out of the Taos Ski Area.

Climbing in late May, there were still a few snow covered areas on the trail. In fact, we were warned that there would be a section below the tree-line where we would most likely run into some problems. Although that section still had quite a bit of snow, we were able to pass it with only a little extra work.

Prior to reaching Wheeler, the trail crosses over Mount Walter. At 13,141 feet, it’s the second highest named summit in New Mexico, but it’s not usually considered an independent peak as it only has about 80 feet of topographic prominence. From here the path leads you along a fairly narrow ridgeline to your final destination. It was here that we experienced some extremely high winds. As a precautionary measure I held onto Kathy just to make sure she didn’t get blown off the mountain! Other than the wind and cool temps at the top, the weather was otherwise perfect.

Pecos National Historical Park
Although some may not consider it to be a true hike, there is a 1.25 mile self-guided trail in the Pecos National Historical Park that shouldn’t be overlooked. The park is located about 25 miles east of Santa Fe.

The trail winds through the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo which is thought to have been established sometime during the 14th century. The original mission that was on the site was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but a smaller church was built in 1717. The massive adobe walls and arched doorways of this later church still stand on top of the earlier church's stone foundation.

In addition to exploring the old mission, the trail also passes many other ruins from the pueblo, including a "kiva". The park allows you to descend a ladder to reach the small room-sized underground ceremonial chamber.

Tsankawi Loop in Bandelier National Monument
We hiked a couple of short trails the day we spent in Bandelier National Monument. One trail that is very easy to overlook, but one that definitely shouldn’t, is the 1.5 mile Tsankawi Loop located in the detached portion of the monument known as the Tsankawi unit. The 1.5 mile loop provides access to numerous unexcavated ruins, cave dwellings carved into the soft tuff, as well as several petroglyphs from the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo that lived here until the 16th century. Many sections of the trail are worn 8 to 12 inches into solid rock! Petroglyphs are common throughout this area; however, the meanings of many are unknown to present-day Indians. The trail also requires hikers to climb up and down several wooden ladders.

Bandelier is roughly 30 miles northeast of Santa Fe.

Santa Fe
Santa Fe is an awesome town, and is probably now my favorite urban destination. Being several centuries old, the city is steeped in Native, Hispanic, Spanish and early-American history and culture (as is nearby Taos). If you love history at all, you could spend several days just checking out all the sites in the area, including the oldest house in the United States. The town is also known for its Indian Market, art galleries, museums and its Southwestern cuisine.

There’s also an excellent brewpub in town called the Blue Corn CafĂ©. With two locations in town, I would recommend going to the downtown location. If you’re lucky enough, grab a table on the balcony. Both the beer and the New Mexican style food are outstanding.

Santa Fe-Taos Hiking Guide:

Jeff Detailed information on trails in the Smoky Mountains; includes trail descriptions, key features, pictures, video, maps, elevation profiles, news, hiking gear store, and more.


smoky scout said...

This is an absolutely awesome posting - I have never heard about this area before. Thanks for adding yet another item to my life list, Jeff!

Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Smoky Scout - thank you! Glad you liked the posting.

Yes, we loved Santa Fe. There is so much to do there - and a wide variety of things to do as well. I didn't mention the rafting trip we did thru the Rio Grande Gorge, or the wineries we visited, and some of the other cool restaurants and historical sights (Taos Pueblo).

There were other things we wanted to check out but didn't have time, like the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic railroad, and Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch. Didn't make it to Albuquerque either.

We hope to get there again in the next year or two.


Anonymous said...

Not a bad assortment of local hikes, but I would add Lake Katherine, Rio en Medio and Raven's Ridge to the ski way loop.

Painted cave and other backcountry sights in Bandelier are also worth looking up.

Great hiking to all,