By Susan Brown
Hiking in New Mexico will provide all types of hiker a memorable experience. The in-credible landscape of mesas and mountains, forests and lakes, desert and plains provides such a diversity of grandeur and splendor it’s impossible to not just put on a pair of hiking boots and get out on a trail. Here are five that showcase the best of the state.
The Rio Grande Gorge is a 50-mile-long canyon teeming with a diversity of plant and animal life. The river, itself, is part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The views from the top are magnificent panoramas of sage-brush dotted high desert mesas. The hike takes you down into this rift valley where you’ll pass stands of ancient juniper and ponderosa pine trees. As part of the Wild Rivers Recreation Area, you might happen upon big horn sheep or mule deer. Look up for spottings of red-tailed hawks and migratory birds. The moderate to difficult hike has a 1,300-foot elevation gain. Take plenty of water … and a camera.
This 3,100-mile trail traverses 770 miles of magnificent New Mexican landscape. An eight-mile, well-marked loop of it passes right through the beautiful San Pedro Parks Wilderness, a vibrant area marked with crystal clear streams, lush, grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers and dense stands of spruce, conifers and aspens. The man-made San Gregorio Reservoir is along the way for a peaceful resting point. In the fall, you might see deer, elk and bear. Although the elevation is about 10,000 feet, the trail is moderate trek through stunning scenery in the peace and quiet of the mountains. Lots of snow in winter.
The Pecos Wilderness, where this trail is located, is home to the highest number of 12,000 foot-plus peaks in the state. It is a true mountain wilderness complete with invigorating alpine lakes, thickets of fir and pine trees on steep rugged ridges, broad mesas, and gorgeous wildflower-laden meadows. This 12-mile out-and-back trail is a comfortable and moderate trek along a well-maintained path. It climbs steadily to the picture-perfect goal of Stewart Lake in the shadow of Santa Fe Baldy Mountain, the highest peak in the Santa Fe County. If you take your dog, be sure it’s leashed.
This is not a strenuous hike, but it’s covered with all manner of eye-catching rock art that makes it a dramatic one. With more than 21,000 petroglyphs to look at the mile-and-a-half out-and-back trail could be an exhaustive walk. Carved by the Jornada Mogollon people, the sunbursts and animals and geometric designs carved more than 1,000 years ago are evidence of another culture’s form of communication. The trail winds through the basalt rock on the ridge of the Three Rivers Valley and through desert landscape. Who really knows what all those horned beings and crazy-haired figures mean, but it’s a fun place to let your imagination go wild.
Dripping Springs Natural Area is a desert terrain dotted with mesquite trees, creosote bushes and native grasses. This three-mile loop trail provides breathtaking views of the Organ Mountains, named for the pointed pinnacle shapes reminiscent of the pipes of an organ. The area is noted for its weeping walls—there’s a waterfall along the way. The hike is moderate, through desert scrub and oak woodlands. It has about a 500-foot elevation gain, but since you start at 5,500 feet it’s a noticeable difference. There are historic ruins of an old hotel and a sanatorium to explore. Keep your eyes peeled for a golden eagle, mule deer or even the elusive mountain lion.