Saturday, July 19, 2008

Back in New Mexico

I am recently back from a 3 week vacation. After spending a few days visiting family in Rapid City, South Dakota, we spent the balance of the 3 weeks in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park doing a variety of wildlife watching, day and back country backpacking, and of course photography. These are two of my favorite places on the planet. I have been there several times and never tire of returning (nor will I ever see it all).

However, now I am back in my own backyard and went for a short hike in the Bandelier National Monument back country, the Cerro Grande hike. As with other posts to this blog, an image gallery for this hike can be found here.

That is me at the top of Cerro Grande (Spanish for "big hill"), which has good views of the Jemez Mountain range and the Valles Grande Caldera below (behind me in this photo). Despite the name, the hike is relatively short (4.1 miles round trip) with a moderately steep climb.

The hike starts at an elevation of about 8,857 ft and summits Cerro Grande at around 10,199 ft (a gain of 1,342 ft in about 2 miles; the hike is 4.1 miles round trip). For those not used to altitude, the climb can be strenuous. If you are just old, fat, and out of shape like I am, it can take a while too.

The trail head (GPS: N35 50.861 W106 25.316) starts along State Road 4 across from the cross country ski trails next to Dome Road (Forest Road 289). See the map below. The entire hike is within the boundary of Bandelier National Monument.

The hike starts with a pleasant walk through a meadow, with some lovely wildflowers in bloom.

In the butterfly images at higher resolution on my gallery page for this hike, you can see more clearly the long tongue of the butterfly. There was also some very tall grass, over 4ft high in some places, in this meadow and in various places along the hike.

There was also beautiful red tailed hawk hunting overhead as I started the hike. The chirp of chipmunks is a constant companion in this part of the hike. After about 0.3 miles or so, I encountered a mysterious temporary fence encircling a somewhat large area for no apparent reason.

Perhaps it serves as protection for a recently discovered archaeological site, I don't know.

From here, the hike climbs gently out of this first meadow to what amounts to the mouth of Frijoles Canyon (that is, where Frijoles begins, GPS N35 51.572 W106 24.901).

The Humble Beginning of Frijoles Canyon
View from the South Rim of the Mouth of Frijoles Canyon

This area remains within sight and sound of State Road 4, the only paved road through the Jemez.

At this point, the trail climbs away from the meadow and enters a steeper portion, breaking out into another meadow on the high slope of Cerro Grande.

Along the way, I encountered a tree branch that someone decorated with the spine of a dead elk.

Although I did not see any on this hike, there are thousands of elk in this area (I saw lots of signs, tracks, scat, bones; please remember to leave bones where you find them).

More climbing (GPS N35 51.864 W106 25.064, about 96oo ft in elevation) yields the first views of the Valles Caldera as well as some nice views to the south east, overlooking Bandelier, the Jemez Mountains, and Albuquerque. The first image below has some points of interests labeled. The blue arrow points to State Road 4, the red arrow to Frijoles Cayon (some cliffs on the canyon walls are visible), the green arrow to the Sandia's above Albuquerque, the yellow arrow points to the city of Albuquerque, and the white arrow to the Dome Road (forest road 289). This image can be seen cleanly (without arrows) here.

Note the hikers in the last image for scale. The Valles Caldera is to the right in this photograph.

A nice view of Boundary Peak can also be had from here.

From here, the summit of Cerro Grande is not far. The final portion of the hike is only a little steeper than the previous sections. There are no switchbacks on the trail.

The view from the Cerro Grande summit (GPS N35 50.861 W106 25.316, 10,199 ft elevation) is well worth the short journey.

I did not encounter many people on this hike. A couple that hiked to the top with their young son, but they did not remain long, and a guy that hiked up barefooted. No kidding. Why someone would do that is beyond me.

I very much enjoyed getting away on vacation, but it is good to be back home again.