August 22, 2010
There is something majestic about the month of August – a golden generosity, an expansiveness, a time of fullness. Summer’s intense light has crested, but the reservoirs of life are still filling and shining in the sun. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the mountains above Santa Fe. August is the perfect time for a walk right up to the sinuous backbone of the Santa Fe Range, where you can bathe in alpine light while relaxing in the warmth of desert winds filtered through a sea of fragrant evergreens.
Even if you don’t have the time to reach the very highest parts of the range, you can enjoy views of the peaks through partings in the spruce and aspen:
Every opening in the forest is brightened by wildflowers and brimming with life:
Some trails lead to broad and unexpected meadows perfect for a lunchtime stop:
The summer rains bring out an amazing variety of mushrooms on the forest floor. Some of them look like they came right out of a fairy tale (and bring the same deadly consequences characteristic of these stories, if you disobey and eat one):
Others can get as big as dinner plates, and can – if you know what you’re doing – even grace them later, sauted:
Mushroom hunting is an art, and since the books I’ve seen show a picture of one, captioned “Edible – choice” and then next, a practically identical picture red-lettered “POISONOUS”, I’d bring an expert along to help out. Nevertheless, it’s fun to see the mushroom hunters slipping furtively through the woods in August, with their net bags.
If you persevere in your climb upward, you’ll be rewarded with some magnificent views of the very crown of the Southern Rockies in New Mexico:
Unlike the soft and mostly forested face the Santa Fe Range presents to us here in town, the east side of the mountains has been bitten into by ice, and gives a much more alpine aspect:
You’ll definitely know you’re in the Rocky Mountains once you’ve reached these heights.
So if you’re lucky enough to be able to visit us this summer, try to make some time for a walk in the mountains. If you’re feeling fit and frisky, aim for a real Rocky Mountain High and spend a day on the network of trails that reach the crest of the range above Santa Fe. August is generous with light, warmth, and abundant life at these altitudes. Go up to the granite throne and accept your gift.
Getting there: The Winsor Trail is the best path into the high country from Santa Fe, and you can reach the upper part of this trail from Ski Santa Fe. You’ll want a map if you’re going exploring in the Nambe Creek watershed and the range crest above, and you’ll need some time. Visit our neighbor Travel Bug for maps.
The walk to the meadow at La Vega is approximately 3.7 miles one way, and while the elevation gain is minimal, there are some up and downs on the way. You’ll be making some trail changes along the way, and while there are Forest Service signs to guide you, I would definitely bring a map.
The hike to Windy Saddle is an all day affair, and you’ll be pleasantly fatigued when you get back to your car. It’s about a 6 miles one way, and there is an elevation gain of around 680 feet along about a 1.4 mile series of switchbacks after you’ve reached Puerto Nambe, so you’ll be winded yourself. The elevation of the saddle is 11,620 feet. Again, you’ll want a map, and you’ll need to carry plenty of water and have some snacks or lunch in your pack.
The parking area at Ski Santa Fe is approximately 16 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza, at the very end of NM 475. From the Inn on the Alameda, you turn north on Paseo de Peralta, and then turn right at the light at the intersection of Paseo with Hyde Park Road. A second right at the next light, which is Artist Road, or NM 475, puts you on your way. The Winsor Trail trailhead is clearly marked at the northwestern corner of the parking area, and the Forest Service maintains some pit toilets and picnic facilities there.
Dogs on leashes, mountain bikes, and livestock are allowed on the Winsor Trail. You can hike this trail year round, but it is snow covered in the winter and snowshoes or cross-country skis might be necessary. Thunderstorms are very frequent in the summer and you’ll want to bring at least some light rain gear, because the showers are chilling. Lightning and hypothermia are dangers once you get above tree line.