Saturday, June 13, 2009
Guaje Canyon Hike
Yes, I am still alive.
Now that winter is over and our new horse is settled in I finally had time to go for a new hike today and write about it, albeit briefly, here.
Today I decided to try trails closer to the Los Alamos townsite than the White Rock townsite (which is actually where I live). Ironically, all winter long I went to the Pajarito Ski Area to snowboard, but I've never hiked on the trails in that area. Today was the day to change that.
This hike starts from the Pajarito Ski Area parking lot (park across from the Aspen lift). The trailhead (GPS:N35 53.759, W106 23.580) is easy to find, just down the hill and to the right from the parking lot. For a variety of reasons, I do not have topo maps for this area on my GPS at this time. I will rectify that shortly. Once I do, I will post the hike route on the topomap here (as with other hikes). However, for now, I will just put the hike profile below.
As you can see, this is not a particularly difficult hike. Starting elevation is 9,150 ft, and it maxes out at 9,679 ft about 4.2 miles in, a rise of only 529 ft.
The trial heads down an old road, which eventually connects to Pipeline road which takes you into the Los Alamos townsite. However, the road is closed to traffic. There are several forks in the trail in which one can take various cross country ski trails up to the Canada Bonito, or you can stay on the road/trail which is the traditional Canada Bonito trail route. The first of these forks is encountered soon after you start the hike, and climb up a short rise (GPS: N35 53.912 W106 23.279). I think most people tend to take the cross country ski trail route, so I chose to remain on the road figuring I would encounter fewer people and the views looked a bit more promising to me. A good view of the Los Alamos townsite is available from here.
In addition, a good view of the Pajarito Ski Area is also available.
Here, the Lone Spruce, Bunny, and Aspen lifts are visible as are the runs Daisy May, West Mushroom, Lumberyard, Bunny 1&2, and Aspen.
Wildflowers were also in bloom all along the entire hike. Due to the early rains this year, there were a plethora. Normally, June is hot, dry, and windy.
The wild iris, pictured immediately above, is one of my favorites. They were quite abundant all along this trail.
Before long (about 2 miles in), the Canada Bonito (Spanish for "beautiful glade") comes into view (GPS: N35 54.570 W106.23.512).
This area is named appropriately. It is a beautiful glade, reaching high up on the mountain behind it.
At the end of this glade, the trail makes a sharp right turn. You can see the Valles Caldera Preserve boundary from here, but of course there is no route to that wonderful resource from this trail! I have complained on my blog before about how the preserve is managed. Having it completely inaccessible from this trail is stupid beyond belief. What a waste.
As you hike through the glade, you pass the last cross country ski trail fork that connects to the road (which is actually a single track through the Canada Bonito).
After leaving the glade, you climb out and over a saddle and back down, where you encounter the trail head for the Canada Bonito trail on the Pipeline Road side (GPS: N35 55.380 W106 23.636). There is a minimal view of part of the Valles preserve from this area. I also encountered an odd chain link fence and army green gate here, but it was unmarked. I suspected it was a road that lead into the Valles preserve, and so therefore would be blocked down below. However, curiosity got the better of me so down the road I went (it is a simple matter to walk around the gate; it seemed to be present to prevent vehicular traffic). Sure enough, about a half mile or so down the road (and about a 300 ft elevation loss) another gate is encountered with "no tresspassing" signs plastered about. Figures. Another missed opportunity to connect the unique and beautiful Valles Grande with other well known trails in the area. Pity.
Hiking a bit further from the trail head at Pipeline Road, another trail fork is encountered. I believe this is the connection of the Canada Bonito trail with the Guaje Ridge/Guaje Canyon trail and Pipeline Road (GPS: N35 55.456 W106 23.543). I took the left fork here to maintain some closeness to the Valles area. A little further down the trail was a good view of the north western portion of the Valles Grande (GPS: N35 55.487 W106 23.537).
Just a little further is yet another fork in the trail, right staying on Pipeline Road/Guaje Ridge and the left heading toward Guaje Canyon, which was my destination. The sign indicates the canyon is 2 miles ahead, which turned out to be pretty accurate.
By far the best views of the northwest portion of the Valles Grande on this trail lie about 0.5 miles beyond this point (GPS: 35 56.141 W106 23.755). It is in this area where the image at the top of this blog post was taken, as well as the ones below. On the way back, I perched on one of the rocks on at the top of the cliff and had a snack.
From here, the hike to the Guaje Canyon overlook is a nice stroll through the woods, with limited views. However, at the end of the trail (or where I turned around anyway), the overview of the canyon is nice.
Note here you can see a mix of burned areas due to the Cerro Grande fire, and areas that were not burned. By the way, I could not find a good translation for "guaje." As near as I can tell, it refers to a gourd in some way (a native squash in the area).
It is possible to descend into the canyon from this area, but I decided not to attempt it today. It is a necessary step, however, to reach the Caballo trail (caballo means "horse" in Spanish).
The Caballo mountain summit (pictured above) is 10,496 ft, but is not accessible as it is on Santa Clara Pueblo land. However, the Caballo trail takes you to the base of the meadow in the above picture, some 2,000 ft above the floor of Guaje canyon. This is a hike for another day.
I plan to do more hiking in this area, which I have not explored previously. This was a nice warm up hike for the season, coming late into the season unfortunately.
Additional photographs from this hike can be found in my photo gallery (darkglassphotography.com). I will post the photographs within a couple hours or so after posting this blog entry (it takes longer to process and upload higher resolution photographs).