A Couple Short Hikes in Santa Fe National Forest and Valles Caldera National Preserve

I’ve been busier than usual recently and haven’t spent any time blogging so I have a lot to catch up on. I left off with our final hike in Utah in the third week of August. From Utah we went directly to Santa Fe in order to start my 11 month term with Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity: More on that in a later post. We arrived a few days early however in order to get settled in; with that accomplished we went out to do some hiking – of course.

Our first hike was a product of an exploratory drive up towards the ski area. I had looked up a few trails that could be accessed from the road but as fate had it, we ended up at the Aspen Vista Trailhead. Starting at 10,000 feet the trail follows an old forest service road up to the top of the ski basin, topping out at over 12,000 feet. We were not in the market that day for a 12 mile, 2,500 feet elevation gain hike, but we did walk up the wide path for about 4 miles until we reached a stunning overlook at approximately 11,350 feet. Up to this point there were few vistas (except for trailhead itself, which also serves as a picnic area), though there were a few pretty stream crossings, and I found myself questioning why this trail had been ranked as one of the most popular. The mixed aspen, spruce, and fir forest for example was nice too but not particularly spectacular in and of itself. Once we reached the lookout however my questions disappeared. The rocky, alpine-y peninsula was gorgeous – and provided some fantastic views over Santa Fe and the valleys to the west. Definitely worth it.

Our second short jaunt was at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, located at the pinnacle of the Jemez Mountains. We had spotted the beautiful, lush meadows of the ancient caldera on our previous trip in this area but hadn’t stopped save for roadside pictures since we assumed that the preserve would not allow dogs. The internet told me now however that dogs were permitted on most trails and so we headed back for a nice morning walk through the 13-mile wide crater. Formed from a massive eruption over a million years ago, the depression of the ancient volcano is now filled with grassy valleys, home to elk and about a gazillion prairie dogs (among other things, I’m sure). We didn’t see any elk, but Abby went nuts with all the prairie dogs around, necessitating her staying on a short leash throughout our walk. Anyways, the area is phenomenally beautiful and we very much enjoyed our stroll around Cerro la Jara, a forested dome of rhyolite that appears to be an island in the midst of green grass. Before leaving we got an extra treat, observing a nest of barn swallows in the rafters of the ranger station.