In Search of Snow: More Hiking in the Canyons of the Sacramento Mountains

Gail and I did two more hikes in the Sacramento Mountains during her stay in New Mexico, one in December before Christmas break and the second in mid-January. The first, a 10 mile round trip, was done on a day when an afternoon snowstorm was forecasted and thus we left the relative warmth of the desert earlier than usual to start the 2 hour drive to the trailhead. Even before we finished ascending the mountains we could observe the snow clouds piling up, but it wasn’t until we were an hour or so into the hike that the wind really picked up and snow felt imminent. For whatever reason the actual flakes held off during our hike but the entire time it was cold, extremely windy, and clammy – which was not very pleasant once I discovered my waterproof shoes were no longer waterproof. We’ll just say I spent 3 hours being very cold and maybe 1 hour being pretty cold.

Despite the wet and freezing conditions, I really enjoyed the day since it was my second snow hike of the year, and also because I can’t help feeling excited when I know snow is coming. It’s kind of funny but I spent the first 4 winters after leaving the Northeast thrilled that I could avoid snow and cold temperatures by spending those months building and hiking in the desert, but at some point a couple years ago I just found myself craving winter again, not to mention missing trees. And so I relished the opportunity to be able to hike in the brisk air and snowy mountains last winter even if it meant I drove over 4 hours in order to do it.

Anyways, while these photos might seem underwhelming, I can assure you this was one of the more beautiful trails in the Sacamentos I’ve done, and one I’ve since hiked again. As coincidence would have it, my second outing was during a 3 hour thunderstorm in July (ah, monsoon season…), but that too was a lovely and enjoyable hike despite my getting soaked. Someday I intend to hike it sans a weather event and enjoy it without the distraction.

The second trail, completed more than a month later, was also an exceptionally pretty hike — and one that wasn’t particularly well represented by my photos. There was a good deal more snow on this jaunt, particularly when we got into the upper canyon, enough that it required us humans to slow our pace even as it spurred the dog to start frolicking. I lost one of my microspikes on the ascent (though located it on the return!) which made for a bit of sliding on the icy stretches, but the wide path and lack of rocky steps made it an overall easy climb.

I chose this hike in my quest to visit more fire towers but to be honest the trail was enjoyable in its own right and had a lovely stand of aspen near the top. Once we emerged onto the ridge the snow became more spotty and the snippets of vistas through the fir became more enticing. Arriving at the lookout complex we three breaked for a snack before us humans shed our packs and ascended the structure. Unlike some other fire tower hikes I’ve been on our view was restricted primarily to tree tops – with some limited sight lines to the White Sands Basin below – but it was wonderful to have the feeling of being enfolded in the towering evergreens despite the lack of sweeping vistas that often characterize lookout tower hikes.

After the descent from the lookout we wandered a bit around for awhile, scoping out the fire road from the south as well as the various outbuildings scattered around the plateau before committing to our return path. As the hike turned out to be a shorter one we enjoyed a leisurely trek downhill, admiring the fir and aspen coddled in snow before emerging at the junction with the larger canyon.