Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apache Springs Trail

This past Veteran's Day I went on a short hike on the Apache Springs trail in Bandelier National Monument. This hike will take you into the upper part of Frijoles Canyon (about 3 miles up the canyon from Upper Crossing). From there, you can hike to Upper Crossing and then either continue to the visitor center, hike out of the canyon to the Ponderosa Camground to the north, or hike out of the canyon to the south and head toward Alamo Canyon or other points south of Upper Crossing. See my Long Slog in the Heat post for more information on the Upper Crossing area.

Today, I just had time to hike to the Frijoles descent. I had never gone down this trail, and I wanted to see what the view of Frijoles was from here. The trail map of the route I took appears below.

The elevation gain/loss was only about 400 ft along this route. The trail head is along State Road 4 inside Los Alamos County (GPS: N35 50.018 W106 22.627).

Shortly after the trail head, the trail drops into a small but lovely meadow. I saw a lot of elk tracks and scat in this area, which is not surprising of course.

After climbing out of the meadow, I encountered a little snow along the trail. As an avid snowboarder, I can only hope this is a positive sign for excellent snow this winter.

You know I must be desperate for snow if I stopped to take that picture. I would encounter more snow as you will see below.

At this point, the trail veers sharply to the right (GPS: N35 49.794 W106 22.643, marked on the trail map above). You are actually walking along a faint dirt road here. There was a very active woodpecker in this area as well. You also get a good view of some of the damage done by the Cerro Grande fire while on this part of the trail.
After making the sharp turn, the trail parallels state road 4 for a while and the road is audible in this area. Occasionally it is also visible in the distance.

As I was walking along, I caught the unmistakable odor of a skunk in the area. I looked carefully, but saw no skunk. Soon afterward, I encountered tracks in the snow. As I examined them carefully, there is no doubt that these were the tracks of my friend the skunk.

One of my favorite things about hiking in a dusting of snow like this is the other tracks you see, such as the mule deer track below.

As I continued to walk along, I saw a pair of doe mule deer feeding on the fall grass in the area. I also encountered an odd fenced in area around a grove of aspen trees. There were two other such fenced in spots in this area, not sure why.

Eventually, you come to a wilderness sign which is not far from Apache Springs.

The trail views deteriorate here, as you are walking through a forest. Still nice of course, but lacking expansive views. The image below was taken at this sign, and is the last open view until you descend part way into Frijoles.

Shortly thereafter, I came to a sign for Apache Springs (GPS: N35 49.478 W106 23.424).

From the trail above, I could see the sign (and warning that the water was non-potable), and some sort of concrete structure below. There was no obvious route to the springs from here, as evidenced by the erosion caused by people descending directly to the sign below from this point in the trail. This was not my destination, so I did not attempt to find a route. However, if you go up the trail a little further, you can double back down the draw to the sign pretty easily. This would be preferable to prevent further erosion damage in the area.

Past this area, you hike up through the bottom of a small canyon, which was dusted with snow on this trip.

After hiking out of this little canyon, you eventually come to the begining of the descent into Frijoles Canyon (GPS: N35 49.520 W106 24.409). If you descend a little ways into the canyon, the view opens up nicely.

Here you can see part of Boundary Peak, as well as the Sandias in the background.

There are some interesting rock formations in the canyon as well.

Because I was short on time, I turned around and returned to the trail head at this point. This turned out to be a nice, short (4.9 mile) hike in Bandelier. Sometime I will have someone drop me off there and I will hike all the way down Frijoles to the visitor center. For more images from this hike, see my photography gallery for this hike.