Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve: Umbrella Tree/Big Oak Loop (Blog Hike #486)

Trails: Umbrella Tree and Big Oak Trails
Hike Location: Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: east side of Charlotte, NC (35.26187, -80.71891)
Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A rolling loop through nice forest with lots of boulders.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Charlotte, take I-485 to Rocky River Road (exit 36).  Exit and go west on Rocky River Rd.  Drive Rocky River Rd. 2.7 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and follow signs along the main park road for the Nature Center.  Be careful driving over the speed bumps on the park road: they may be higher than you think.  Park in the large blacktop parking lot for the Nature Center.

The hike: For my general comments on Reedy Creek Park and Nature Preserve, see my hike to Robinson Rockhouse, also located at this site.  This hike combines two different trails to explore the southern section of the nature preserve.  This route does not pass any historical sites such as Robinson Rockhouse, but it does offer a quiet rolling nature hike through some nice forest.
Umbrella Tree Trail trailhead
            Start by walking the paved/gravel path around the Nature Center and crossing a gravel road to reach the signed trailhead for the Umbrella Tree Trail.  This trailhead is located just to the left of a mowed-grass clearing marked as the “gathering area.”  A brochure that corresponds to numbered posts may be available at this trailhead.  The wide trail heads southeast into the forest.
            At 0.1 miles, you reach a small prairie that is surrounded by woods.  Prairies used to cover large portions of the southeast, but only small pockets such as this one remain today.  Near the other side of the prairie, you need to angle right where an unmarked connector trail heads left toward Dragonfly Pond.
Hiking through the prairie
            Now back in the woods, the trail descends moderately to reach a junction with the South Fork Trail, which exits to the left.  Continue straight to remain on the Umbrella Tree Trail as it crosses a small unnamed creek on a nice wooden bridge.  The Umbrella Tree Trail gets its name from the wide, waxy leaves of the magnolia tree, though I saw very few magnolia trees on this trail.
Stairs out of ravine
            Across the creek, the trail climbs out of the ravine using a wooden staircase and then curves right as it undulates through some smaller ravines.  At 0.6 miles, you reach a junction with the Big Oak Trail.  Turn left to begin the Big Oak Trail and head into the southern reaches of the nature preserve.
Starting the Big Oak Trail
            Marked with blue triangles, the Big Oak Trail stays on the ridgetop as it treads around a large shallow ravine, which falls away to the right.  There are some large old oak trees in this area, but there are also some good-sized beech and poplar trees.  Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the large number of boulders scattered across the fairly level ground.
            At 0.9 miles, you reach the big oak for which this trail is named.  Typical of the scenery here, washing machine-sized boulders surround the tree’s base.  1.3 miles into the hike, the trail curves right to join an old dirt road.  The noise of cars buzzing along Plaza Road filters through the trees from the left.
Big oak tree
            The trail curves right as it nears the preserve’s western boundary.  Some more decent-sized oak trees grow over here, but they live about 30 feet off of the trail.  Just before reaching the west end of the Big Oak Trail, you pass a recent trail reroute where the old eroded trail is blocked by a pile of brush.
            At 1.6 miles, the Big Oak Trail ends at its west junction with the Umbrella Tree Trail.  Turn left on a wide gravel trail to continue this loop.  After passing through one final ravine, you come out at the staff parking area behind the Nature Center.  Angle right, walk around the Nature Center, and arrive back at the main visitor parking area to complete the hike.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Andrew Jackson State Park: Crawford Trail (Blog Hike #485)

Trail: Crawford Trail
Hike Location: Andrew Jackson State Park
Geographic Location: north of Lancaster, SC (34.84080, -80.80626)
Length: 1.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A quiet lollipop loop past the tent camping area.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Near the North Carolina state line, take I-77 to US 21 (exit 77).  Exit and go south on US 21.  Drive US 21 4.3 miles to SR 5.  Exit and turn right (east) on SR 5.  Drive SR 5 east 8 miles to US 521.  Turn left on US 521.  The state park entrance is 0.5 miles ahead on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, then continue straight to the large paved parking area at the main road’s end.  Park here; the trail starts beside the meeting house at the rear of the parking area.

The hike: For my general comments on Andrew Jackson State Park, see the previous hike.  This trail starts at the park’s main parking area and takes you on a pleasant forest stroll to the tent camping area.  This hike does not have the lake views of the Garden of the Waxhaws Trail, but it also does not have the crowds of anglers drawn by the fishing lake.
Boy of the Waxhaws
            The most interesting things to see on this hike may be at the trailhead.  The most obvious site is the famous Boy of the Waxhaws statue, which depicts Andrew Jackson as a young man riding a horse and gazing off to the west.  Created by Anna Hyatt Huntington, the statue was dedicated in 1967, and it gives Jackson a fresh look compared to the older Jackson normally depicted in portraits.  Beside the statue lies a monument describing Jackson’s birthplace, and the park’s museum housing Jackson and Revolutionary War artifacts sits across the mowed grass field.
Crawford Trail trailhead
            Just left of the signed trailhead sits the blue park meeting house.  The trail itself arcs around the right and back sides of the meeting house to reach an information board, where the trail forks to form its loop.  As directed by another trail sign, I chose to turn right and hike the loop counterclockwise.
            Almost immediately the trail crosses paved Old Church Road and reenters the woods on the other side.  Old Church Road is a rural road with little traffic, but what traffic does frequent this road moves at a high rate of speed.  Thus, you need to look and listen carefully for vehicles before you cross the road.
Hiking the Crawford Trail
            The trail heads south with the road’s noise audible through the trees on the right.  At 0.2 miles, a side trail goes left into a depression.  Some short but steep ups and downs need to be negotiated before you reach the park’s tent camping area at 0.3 miles.  As directed by another sign, turn left to continue the loop.
            The trail traces the north perimeter of the campground before descending slightly to reenter the woods.  This part of the forest is typical Piedmont forest with a mixture of pines, hardwoods, and a few red cedars.  At 0.6 miles, the trail curves left to join what appears to be an old logging road.  You ascend gradually as you cross some wooden waterbars.  Small chunks of asphalt and concrete get you over wet spots, but they look very out of place in the middle of the woods.
Waterbars and asphalt
            0.9 miles into the hike, the old logging road ends at a wooden vehicle gate and a junction with paved Old Church Road.  To continue, you need to turn left and walk about 150 feet along the road’s shoulder to where the trail reenters the forest on the other side of the road.  A short distance later, the meeting house comes into view through the trees on the right as you close the loop.  A short walk back to the trailhead is all that remains to complete the hike.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Andrew Jackson State Park: Garden of the Waxhaws Trail (Blog Hike #484)

Trail: Garden of the Waxhaws Trail
Hike Location: Andrew Jackson State Park
Geographic Location: north of Lancaster, SC (34.84346, -80.80703)
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2014
Overview: A short nature trail around the park’s fishing lake.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Near the North Carolina state line, take I-77 to US 21 (exit 77).  Exit and go south on US 21.  Drive US 21 4.3 miles to SR 5.  Exit and turn right (east) on SR 5.  Drive SR 5 east 8 miles to US 521.  Turn left on US 521.  The state park entrance is 0.5 miles ahead on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the small entrance fee, then turn left twice to reach the gravel lake parking area where this trail begins.

The hike: Located less than 1 hour south of Charlotte, Andrew Jackson State Park marks the birthplace of America’s seventh President.  A museum on site preserves and honors the heritage of President Jackson.  Boy of the Waxhaws, a famous statue of a young Andrew Jackson riding a horse and gazing off to the west, pondering our country’s future, does the same.  The May 29, 1780 Revolutionary War Battle of Waxhaws, a major victory for the British, also occurred near this site.  The park was founded as a Lancaster County park; it was donated to the state in 1953.
            But for a wider scope of amenities, this park would be a top-tier destination for outdoor enthusiasts in the Charlotte area.  As is, the park offers only a small 25-site campground, two picnic shelters, a small fishing lake, and two short hiking trails.  I actually like this park the way it is, small and quiet.  I hiked both of the hiking trails in one visit that lasted about 2 hours.  The Garden of the Waxhaws Trail around the fishing lake is featured here, while the park’s other trail, the Crawford Trail, is featured in the next hike.
Trailhead: Garden of the Waxhaws Trail
            Start at the rear of the gravel parking area where an interpretive sign that says “Garden of the Waxhaws” marks the trailhead.  Follow the dirt trail into the woods to begin a counterclockwise journey around the park’s fishing lake, which shimmers to your left.  Quickly you pass a bench just before a spur trail to the park’s playground exits right.  A couple of spots give nice views of the lake and an island in its midst.
Park fishing lake
            Just over 0.1 miles into the hike, you cross an open grassy area on the fringe of the campground, which lies to the right.  A sign warns you to keep out of the campground, but its poor placement might accidentally divert you from the trail.  Strangely, I often found myself hiking against the signs and arrows that mark this trail even though I never deviated from the trail.  In fact, I hiked the loop in the direction recommended by the park brochure.
            Past the clearing beside the campground, the trail briefly turns to mulch and heads back into the woods.  Some interpretive signs help you identify trees in the forest, the most common of which are maple, oak, and tulip poplar.  At 0.4 miles, you reach the east end of a fairly long wooden boardwalk.  This boardwalk takes you over the wetlands formed by the lake’s main water source.  I saw numerous dragonflys up here, and several small toads hopped off of the trail as I approached.
Crossing the boardwalk
            At the west end of the boardwalk, the trail turns left to head down the west shore of the fishing lake.  This side has more up and down than the east side, but the going is still pretty easy.  Some wooden waterbars take you over the steepest areas, and some more benches overlook nice lake views.
            At 0.9 miles, you pass what appear to be the supports of an old fishing pier just before reaching the west side of the dam that forms the lake.  Here the trail surface turns to mowed grass as you begin the hot, sunny walk across the dam.  You pass a few of the park’s canoes along the shore as you approach the gravel parking area, thus signaling the end of the hike.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Washita National Wildlife Refuge (Blog Hike #483)

Trail: Riverside Hiking Trail
Hike Location: Washita National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: northwest of Clinton, OK (35.63703, -99.27336)
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A gravel nature trail with good prairie viewing opportunities.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the east, take I-40 to SR 44 (exit 53).  Exit and go north on SR 44.  Drive SR 44 north 13.9 miles to SR 33 and turn left on SR 33.  Drive SR 33 west 5 miles to N2090 Road.  Turn left on gravel N2090, then immediately turn right to reach the refuge’s Riverside Recreation Area.  The trail starts at the left side of the parking area as you enter.  There is a vault toilet at this parking area.  From the west, reach this same parking area by taking I-40 exit 41, SR 34, and SR 33.

The hike: My first visit to Washita National Wildlife Refuge came on a whim.  I had started the two day drive from New Mexico to South Carolina that would conclude my major hiking trip for summer 2014, and I had no plans to hike in Oklahoma.  After all, July in Oklahoma usually means scorching sun, 100 degree temperatures, and high humidity.  Then I got to western Oklahoma, and the weather was 64 degrees and cloudy.  I had to capitalize on such a golden opportunity, so I stopped at Washita National Wildlife Refuge to squeeze in one more hike on my way home.
            On its own merit, Washita National Wildlife Refuge protects 8075 acres mostly of reverting prairie farmland along its namesake river.  The Washita River is a true prairie river, slow-moving and mud-bottomed, and this land is true prairie land.  The refuge was established in 1961 to provide feeding and resting opportunities for migrating waterfowl.  Thus, the best bird-viewing opportunities come in the winter.  This refuge also lies in the Anadarko Basin, an area famous for oil and gas production.  In fact, 6 wells operate on the refuge’s land.
            For hikers, the refuge offers only two short trails.  The 0.3 mile ADA-accessible Centennial Trail features a wetland overlook.  The Centennial Trail is not described in detail here, but the trailhead is on the south side of SR 33 on the west bank of the Washita River.  The refuge’s other trail, the 0.5 miles one-way Riverside Hiking Trail, connects the refuge’s Riverside and Turkey Flats Recreation Areas.  Because the Riverside Recreation Area lies closer to paved SR 33, this description will start there, hike the trail south/east, and then give some options for getting back to the trailhead.
Trailhead: Riverside Hiking Trail
            The Riverside Hiking Trail leaves the south side of the parking area and heads into a small cluster of black walnut trees.  The trail has a fine grey gravel surface with wooden edging for its entire length.  Interpretive signs help you identify the refuge’s flora and fauna.  Many bird songs can be heard, but the tall prairie grass will largely prevent the birds from being seen during the summer.  The same can be said for the Washita River, which lies largely out of sight less than 100 feet to your right.
Hiking through tall prairie grass
            At 0.25 miles, you cross an old gravel road.  If you walk about 100 feet to the left along this road, you will find a rusty piece of farm equipment, a relic from this land’s agriculturally productive days.  Near this area I met a bird photography enthusiast from Oklahoma City who helped me identify some of the area’s birds.  In particular, he showed me a roadrunner perched in a nearby tree that I would have overlooked otherwise.  I learned not to hike these refuge trails too fast, or else you miss seeing too many things.
Old farm equipment
            Past the gravel road, the trail curves left to head away from the river and climb slightly.  At 0.4 miles, you cross an area where red mud has washed across the trail.  200 feet later, the trail enters an area of small trees.  I heard a large number of grasshoppers chirping away in these trees on my visit.
            0.5 miles into the hike, you reach the south end of the Riverside Hiking Trail at its junction with gravel N2090 Road.  Several options now present themselves to complete the hike.  The obvious choice is to retrace your steps along the trail for its entire distance.  Alternatively, you could form a lollipop loop by turning left on N2090 Road and then turning left again in just over 0.1 miles to hike around a white metal vehicle gate.  This route takes you past the rusty farm equipment to reunite you with the Riverside Hiking Trail at its midpoint.  As a third option, you can keep walking up N2090 Road almost back to SR 33 to reach the road you drove in on, then turn left on the Riverside Recreation Area access road to form a true loop.  Whichever option you choose, keep your eye out for wildlife as you conclude your visit to the prairie of western Oklahoma.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hyde Memorial State Park: Circle Trail (Blog Hike #482)

Trail: Circle Trail
Hike Location: Hyde Memorial State Park
Geographic Location: east of Santa Fe, NM (35.73064, -105.83715)
Length: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A steep climb to several impressive viewpoints.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

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 when you leave the City of Santa Fe.  Drive SR 475 7.1 miles from its junction with Bishops Lodge Rd. to the Hyde Memorial State Park Visitor Center, which sits on the right just after entering the park.  Park in the lot beside the Visitor Center.  Note that there is a mandatory $5 state park fee that must be paid before you begin the hike; the self-pay station is located on the south side of the Visitor Center.

The hike: With a base elevation of 8500 feet, tiny 350-acre Hyde Memorial State Park is the highest state park in New Mexico.  The additional 1200 feet of elevation compared to Santa Fe 8 miles to the southwest creates a slightly moister environment.  Thus, while the area around Santa Fe sports a true desert appearance, tall pine trees cover the park’s hillsides.  The park is named for Benjamin Talbot Babbit Hyde, a late 1800’s and early 1900’s naturalist and nature educator who financed some of the pueblo excavations in this area.
            The park offers a 50-site campground, a small lodge, and three picnic shelters.  The park also offers several hiking trails, the most famous of which is the Circle Trail described here.  This trail gains 1000 feet over 1 mile, and therefore it presents some level of difficulty.  Nevertheless, most people in decent physical condition can do this hike with adequate preparation.  If you are hiking in the summer, make sure you allow enough time to complete the hike before the almost daily afternoon thunderstorms build.  I needed just over 3 hours to complete this loop.
West Circle Trail trailhead
             To do the big climb first, I recommend starting at the park’s Visitor Center and hiking the loop clockwise.  To accomplish such a route, walk out the front door of the Visitor Center, cross SR 475, and pick up the West Circle Trail at the signed trailhead.  The park divides the Circle Trail into two semicircular parts.  The 2.2 mile section of trail west of SR 475 is called the West Circle Trail, while the 1 mile section east of SR 475 is called the East Circle Trail.
            The trail crosses Little Tesuque Creek on a nice stone bridge before turning left to begin the climb.  The climb is steep with an almost uncountable number of switchbacks.  On the bright side, the trail is well-graded, well-designed, and well-maintained with no particularly rocky sections. 
Climbing on the West Circle Trail
             At 0.3 miles, you reach the crest of a finger ridge that projects out from the main mountain.  The first of two benches is located here.  This bench faces southeast and offers a view of the old Santa Fe Ski Area.  Some of the structures and tow ropes can still be seen across the canyon.  This ski area served Santa Fe from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, at which time the current one was constructed further up the canyon.
View from first bench
            The trail stays near the crest of the finger ridge as it continues climbing.  Only a couple of short flat areas are encountered during this long climb.  Tall ponderosa pine trees line the trail for most of the hike.  When I got near 9000 feet of elevation, the pine cones popping open in the warm sunshine sounded like Rice Krispies in milk.
View at second bench
            At 0.8 miles, you pass the second bench.  This bench looks up the canyon toward Ski Santa Fe, the city’s current ski area.  Back on the climb, an old trail exits left near 1 mile into the hike where the rerouted trail switches back to the right.
Just shy of 1.1 miles, you top a false summit and descend for a short distance before starting the final steep climb to the actual summit, which is reached at 1.2 miles.  A sign greets you at the summit, but the pine trees growing here preclude any real views.  To find the view, continue another 0.25 miles through a high saddle to reach another false summit, this one with a couple of picnic tables.  Now you get to reap the fruits of your labor: views can be had off both sides of the ridge.  The view east looks up the canyon toward Ski Santa Fe, while the view west extends across the desert north of Santa Fe to the Jemez Mountains.
View east up canyon

View west across desert
            Past the picnic tables, the trail curves right and begins its steep descent.  As hard as it is to believe, the descent is actually steeper than the climb.  Although it goes faster, the descent presents the opposite set of problems compared to the climb.  Watch your footing, and use a staff or hiking poles to save your knees.
The sound of vehicles zooming on SR 475 tells you that you are near the bottom of the steep hill.  2.1 miles into the hike, the signed Girl Scout Trail exits to the right.  The Girl Scout Trail forms a 0.5 mile loop and features some nice interpretive signs.  If you stay on the Circle Trail, the Girl Scout Trail’s other end is reached only a couple hundred feet later, so you can decide if you want to extend your hike by tacking on the Girl Scout Trail.
Starting the East Circle Trail
            At 2.2 miles, you reach the west shoulder of SR 475 and the end of the West Circle Trail.  Cross the road and angle right to find the trailhead for the East Circle Trail.  After crossing Little Tesuque Creek on a wooden footbridge, you reach a junction with the Piggyback Trail, which exits to the right.  The Piggyback and Circle Trails come back together in 0.5 miles, so you could go either way here.  Being the purist that I am, I chose to turn left and hike the Circle Trail in its entirety.
The Circle Trail climbs using one (but only one) switchback to reach the campground road, which it angles right to cross.  Note that the vault toilet to your left here is the only restroom facility on this hike.  The trail climbs gradually (but only gradually) to pass around a secluded sub-region of the campground that appears downhill to the right.  Now at the East Circle Trail’s highest point, a gradual to moderate descent comes next.
East Circle Trail
            2.7 miles into the hike, you reach two trail junctions in rapid order, one with the south end of the Piggyback Trail and the other with the Waterfall Trail.  Turn left and then right to stay on the Circle Trail. Note that a 0.5 mile detour on the Waterfall Trail would take you to a small rocky waterfall, but the creek that forms the waterfall was dry on my visit.
The trail crosses the waterfall creek on a pair of wooden planks before heading into an area that treads along the steep hillside.  At 3 miles, you descend some switchbacks on a recent trail reroute.  A final moderate to steep descent over wooden waterbars deposits you at the lodge behind the Visitor Center, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Elena Gallegos Open Space: Nature Trail (Blog Hike #481)

Trail: Nature Trail
Hike Location: Elena Gallegos Open Space
Geographic Location: east side of Albuquerque, NM (35.16328, -106.47017)
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A desert nature trail to a small spring.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Albuquerque, take Tramway Blvd. NE to Simms Park Road.  Turn east on Simms Park RoadSimms Park Rd. deadends at the Elena Gallegos Open Space.  Pay the small entrance fee, then turn right to drive the park’s main loop road.  After the road climbs to its highest point, park in either of the parking lots beside the restroom building on the right side of the road.

The hike: Located in eastern Albuquerque at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, Elena Gallegos Open Space protects 640 acres of sandy desert land.  The park is named for a wealthy Spanish colonist who came to possess this land via a Spanish land grant in the early 1700’s.  The open space features two reservation areas and seven picnic areas, but most of the park is undeveloped desert.
            I came to this open space while I was waiting for the fog to clear before riding the nearby Sandia Tram, so I only wanted a short stroll.  The park’s Nature Trail described here fit the bill perfectly.  The trail provides a good feel for the desert and takes you to Cottonwood Springs, a rare green oasis in the desert landscape. 
The Nature Trail connects with many of the park’s other trails and with the trails of adjacent Cibola National Forest, so you can easily extend this hike if you wish.  Simply download a park trail map and explore. Note that at the time of this writing the trail map could only be downloaded by clicking “Elena Gallegos Map” among the blue bars on the left side of the park’s webpage, not by using the .pdf link in the main white part of the webpage.
Pino Trail trailhead
            Start at the Pino Trail trailhead, which is located at an information board beside a paved trail about 20 feet to the right of the restroom building.  Almost immediately the Nature Trail forks to form its square-shaped loop.  As directed by a sign, this description will turn left to leave the pavement and hike the loop clockwise.
Crossing an arroyo
            The dusty trail descends slightly as it passes a picnic table and crosses a small arroyo.  This arroyo is dry most of the year, so getting across is not a problem.  The trail climbs gradually away from the arroyo and, 0.2 miles into the hike, comes to a junction.  The ADA-accessible paved trail going left leads to a secondary parking area, and the trail going right will eventually continue our loop.  For now, continue straight to reach a wooden wildlife observation blind that overlooks Cottonwood Springs.  Due to some tall aquatic grass, I could hear but not see the birds and mammals that call this spring home.
Cottonwood Springs
            Back on the main loop, the trail heads east as it climbs gradually to reach a wider trail that is shared with mountain bikers.  As directed by another sign, turn right to head south on the third leg of the Nature Trail.  The trail dips back through the arroyo as you pass a large boulder on the right.  Numbered posts indicate the existence of a trail guide, but I could not find one on my visit.
            Just past 0.6 miles, you reach an intersection with the Pino Trail.  Turn right one more time at this intersection.  The final leg of the loop is an easy downhill glide with the restroom building and parking area visible straight ahead the entire way.  If you wish, you can take a short detour and walk through the Philip Tollefsrud Memorial, a collection of enscribed boulders dedicated to a 1970’s leader in establishing Albuquerque’s open spaces.  At the end of the boulder collection lies the Pino Trail trailhead, which signals the end of the hike.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Santa Fe Canyon Preserve: Interpretive Trail (Blog Hike #480)

Trail: Interpretive Trail
Hike Location: Santa Fe Canyon Preserve
Geographic Location: east side of Santa Fe, NM (35.68644, -105.89511)
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A short loop around Santa Fe’s old municipal water reservoir.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Santa Fe, drive east on Alameda Street 1.3 miles to Upper Canyon Road.  Turn left on Upper Canyon Road.  Drive narrow, suburban Upper Canyon Rd. 1.3 miles to Cerro Gordo Road.  Turn left on Cerro Gordo Road, drive less than 200 feet, then turn right into the gravel preserve parking area.  The trail starts at the rear of the parking area.

The hike: When you think of historical attractions in Santa Fe, municipal water is probably not the first category to come to mind.  Nevertheless, Santa Fe would not have become the city it is today without a clean, reliable source of water.  Built in 1894, the reservoir that sat on the site featured here would serve the city’s water needs for nearly a century.  Today larger reservoirs located further upstream serve the same purpose.
            In 1994, the dam that formed the 1894 reservoir was partially dismantled, and the lake was drained.  The site was transferred to The Nature Conservancy in 2000, and they manage it as a nature preserve today.  The preserve’s only trail is the 1.6 mile Interpretive Trail described here, but the preserve also offers access to Santa Fe’s extensive Dale Ball Trail system, which offers almost unlimited hiking and biking opportunities through desert habitat.  Like the Dale Ball Trail system, most of this hike is exposed to the sun, so wear a hat and sunscreen on summer days.
Stile at trailhead
            Start by walking through a stile beside the green vehicle gate at the rear of the parking lot.  Almost immediately a trail linking to the Dale Ball Trail system exits to the right.  Continue straight and climb moderately but only for a short time to reach the remnant of the 1894 reservoir dam.  An interpretive sign contains some historical pictures of Santa Fe and the reservoir.
Remnant pond
            The trail descends gradually as the small pond that represents the remnant of the reservoir comes into view.  If you look just below a low metal wall on the other side of the pond (more on the wall later), you can see the vegetation change that marks the water levels in the former reservoir.  The change occurs several feet above your head, so where you are walking would have been underwater 25 years ago.
            Past the pond, the trail undulates slightly and soon comes to a fork.  The two choices come back together in 0.2 miles, so you could go either way.  The left choice takes a lower line through a wet area beside the Santa Fe River, while the right choice takes a higher line around the wet area.  I chose to angle right and take the higher line.
Trail forks
            The trail narrows and climbs gradually as it enters dense, green, almost jungle-like undergrowth.  Obviously this streamside area contains a lot more water than the surrounding desert landscape.  Just shy of 0.5 miles, you pass a couple of benches on the left that overlook the Santa Fe River as it spills over another old dam.  The greenery here is so dense that you might not see the benches until you get right to them.
Narrow trail through wet area
            Just past the benches, the trail crosses the narrow Santa Fe River on stepping stones.  Very soon after crossing the river you climb away from the creek and find yourself back in the typical desert environment.  At 0.6 miles, you reach a trail junction marked by a wooden post with a sign.  The trail going right leads to the Randall Davey Audubon Center, the official headquarters of Audubon New Mexico.  This hike turns left to stay on the Interpretive Trail.
            After a few more feet of climbing, you reach the highest point on this hike and the east end of a half-mile-long low metal wall.  This wall also has ties to municipal water: it was built in the 1930’s to prevent silt from running off the mountain and contaminating the reservoir.  A few small rocks have accumulated on the trail beside the wall, but for the most part the wall makes for easy hiking.  A bench gives a nice view of the entire preserve and the pond you walked beside earlier.
Hiking along the wall

View from bench
            1.1 miles into the hike, you reach the west end of the metal wall.  The trail curves sharply right here and passes through another stile, this one in the preserve boundary fence.  You have now left Nature Conservancy property and are walking on City of Santa Fe property.  After descending slightly, angle right where an unofficial trail heads left.  If you pass back under the boundary fence, you have missed this turn.
            The trail traces the upper reaches of a small arroyo before passing two connecting trails to the Dale Ball Trail system, both of which exit to the right.  The Interpretive Trail trail signs are oriented in confusing ways at a couple of points in this area.  A final steep descent brings you to a metal vehicle gate and the trail’s end at Cerro Gordo Road.  A left turn and short road walk are all that remain to complete the hike.