Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Santa Fe National Forest: Black Canyon Trail (Blog Hike #479)

Trail: Black Canyon Trail
Hike Location: Santa Fe National Forest, Black Canyon Campground
Geographic Location: east of Santa Fe, NM
Length: 2.1 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A lollipop loop through the upper reaches of Black Canyon.

Directions to the trailhead: On the northeast side of Santa Fe, take Paseo de Peralta to Bishops Lodge Road.  Turn north (outbound) on Bishops Lodge Rd.  Drive Bishops Lodge Rd. 0.2 miles to Artist Road and turn right on Artist Rd.  Artist Rd. becomes SR 475 and Hyde Park Road as you leave Santa Fe.  Drive SR 475 a total of 6.9 miles to the Black Canyon Campground entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the campground, then immediately turn left to park in the signed hiker (as opposed to camper) parking area.  Vault toilets are available at this parking area.

The hike: What a difference 1000 feet makes.  At 7260 feet, Santa Fe, NM has the highest elevation of any state capital, and it has a very dry climate that supports mostly desert shrubs for vegetation.  At 8300 feet, the Santa Fe National Forest’s Black Canyon Campground sports a thick cover of tall, mature pine trees that provide abundant shade on hot summer days.
            Many people seem to have discovered the pleasures of Black Canyon Campground, as every campsite was either occupied or reserved on the Monday morning I came here.  Fortunately, you do not need to reserve a campsite to hike this trail, so anyone can schedule a daytime visit to this slice of mountain paradise.  If you are here only to hike, make sure you park in the signed hiker parking area so that you do not block any campsites.
            Before starting the hike, I should clarify one thing about the trail length.  The difference in trail length between what I have posted here and the official 1.5 miles listed by the forest service is due to a difference in starting point.  The forest service starts at the Black Canyon Trail trailhead, which is located at the rear of the campground.  I started this hike at the hiker parking area, which is located at the front of the campground.
Black Canyon Trail trailhead (at rear of campground)
            As the previous paragraph implies, this hike starts with a walk through the campground.  Follow the paved campground road uphill, gaining about 100 feet of elevation between the parking area and the trailhead.  Where the road forks to form the campground loop, you can go either way.  The signed trailhead is located at the very rear of the campground between campsite #24 and a vault toilet.
            The Black Canyon Trail proper heads up the canyon with steep but not vertical canyon walls on either side.  At first the grade is gradual, but it becomes more moderate as you climb.  This section of trail appears to follow an old dirt road.
            0.6 miles into the hike (or 0.3 miles out of the campground), the trail forks to form its loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to turn left and hike the loop clockwise.  The grade intensifies slightly as you leave the old road and continue climbing through a forest of tall ponderosa pine trees.  This section of trail is an excellent example of sidehill, the likes of which you rarely see on trails constructed post-Great Depression.
Climbing along the canyon wall
            After climbing a pair of switchbacks, you reach the trail’s highest point as you reintersect the old road near 1 mile into the hike.  Turn slightly right to continue the loop.  Note that turning left here would take you over the hill and into the watershed that supplies Santa Fe’s drinking water, an area strictly forbidden to hikers.
            As the old saying goes, it’s all downhill from here.  The trail descends moderately using a single broad switchback.  A few partially obstructed views can be had through the pine trees, but you will need to visit adjacent Hyde Memorial State Park if you want any real vistas.
Hiking through an aspen grove
As you reenter the main stem of the canyon, the pine trees briefly give way to aspen trees.  The slightly higher water tables in the main canyon allow aspen trees to grow down here.  This section of trail would be fantastic when aspen leaves are changing color in the fall.  At 1.5 miles, you close the loop.  0.6 miles of easy downhill hiking remain to complete the hike.

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