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
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A short loop around Santa Fe’s old municipal water reservoir.

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 1.5 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.
            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.

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