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
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A desert nature trail to a small spring.

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.


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