The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer

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Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats, water, and sunblock. Pets are welcome on leashes. Broken Saddle Riding Company uses many of the park’s trails for escorted horse rides. Since this is a State Park, there is a $5 day use fee, payable at the parking area near the entrance of the park. There are no camping facilities.

Apache Plume in full headdress in the Cerrillos Hills

We are moving rapidly into summer, here in the Southern Rockies, and the natural world is bursting with activity. My favorite change can be seen from here in Santa Fe, looking up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east: the grey expanses of aspen high on the mountains are donning their bright yellow-green coat, with the usual suddenness that never fails to impress me. It’s a look as soft as the fuzz on an elk’s new antler, and as welcome as summer itself.

Red columbines along the Winsor Trail above Santa Fe

The alchemy of change is strong up there among the leafing aspen, and this is that brief moment of transition when the fairies appear in the forest. By which I mean, the fairy flowers; those two species that seem the most fairy-like of all our woodland flowers here – the diminutive Red Columbine, and the elusive Calypso Orchid.

A flower like this, bright red, with nectaries perched well up into tubes, is naturally pollinated by hummingbirds, and you can hear the flying jewels chattering under the forest canopy and whirring about. The complexity of this flower is fascinating:

Hummingbird’s view of a columbine

Even more intriguing are the ephemeral Calypso orchids, or fairy slippers. After finding just one of these, years ago, along the Bear Wallow Trail, I have been searching in vain for another look. Our wet winter must have been the key to my luck this year, because I found an entire cluster of these beauties:

Calypso bulbosa along the Winsor Trail

This orchid has a surprisingly sweet fragrance, although I have to warn you that you’ll have to put your head practically on the forest floor to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, here below, in the more arid hills, a tougher set of flowers is showing off its resiliency. Our newest State Park, the Cerrillos Hills State Park, south of Santa Fe, has been offering a variety of nature walks including a Wildflower Walk.

There were splashes of color everywhere:

Paintbrush growing among the rocks

Verbena

This was a very pleasant way to spend part of a Sunday afternoon.

You can keep track of activities like these by visiting the New Mexico State Parks website. And if you prefer to explore on your own, local bookstores like the Travel Bug, Collected Works, or the Nature Center at the Randall Davey Audubon Center have good selections of guidebooks, from the most basic pamphlets, to tomes only a botanist could love.

Getting There: Cerrillos Hills State Park is about 25 miles south of Santa Fe, just a couple of miles off of Highway 14, the famous “Turquoise Trail” that connects Santa Fe to the eastern outskirts of Albuquerque. Turn into the scenic little village of Cerrillos, and then turn right at the sleeping dog – er, first stop sign, and follow the dirt road past the railroad tracks and Broken Saddle Riding Company to the park. Be sure and bring $5 to pay the day use fee.

The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats,...

read more

See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free...

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Ghost Ranch and the Rim Vista Trail

Ghost Ranch and the Rim Vista Trail

GHOST RANCH AND THE RIM VISTA TRAIL

Colorado Plateau scenery from the Rim Vista Trail

Colorado Plateau scenery from the Rim Vista Trail

One of the most rewarding day trips you can make during your visit to Santa Fe is an excursion up to the village of Abiquiu and beyond, past Georgia O’Keeffe’s house (where you might want to pre-arrange a tour) and into Ghost Ranch, where you are always welcome to stop at the Presbyterian Retreat Center and stretch your legs, or even have a picnic, surrounded by the spectacular pastel cliffs that drew Ms. O’Keeffe into their embrace for so many years:

The Mesozoic section towering over Ghost Ranch

The Mesozoic section towering over Ghost Ranch

You might even drive a little ways beyond and visit Echo Amphitheater hollowed into the cliffs, or – if the weather’s fine – brave the 13 miles of rough dirt road skirting the Chama River and have a look at the haunting Christ in the Desert Monastery, isolated and spiritually charged, waiting silently for you in its own little Zion.

Or you can be a masochist and hike the Rim Vista Trail.

Only 2.3 miles to the rim!

Only 2.3 miles to the rim!

You can’t help but notice a dramatic change in the landscape as you leave the Rio Grande in the town of Espanola and drive up the Chama River toward Ghost Ranch. Not far beyond Abiquiu mounting tablelands of red rock replace the buff colored hills of the Rio Grande Valley on your horizon, and soon you are climbing up a narrow cut of the river to enter a new world: the “Piedra Lumbre” – the Luminous Stone – a bright vista of warmly glowing hills guarded by the cliffs of Ghost Ranch to the north, and the iconic blue Cerro Pedernal – Ms. O’Keeffe’s touchstone (and personal possession, if God kept His promise) – to the south. And in a sense you have entered a new world: you’ve made an abrupt transition from the sere rift valley that guides the Rio Grande southward, into the colorful mesas and buttes of the vast Colorado Plateau.

For years a friend of mine had noticed an intriguing entry in local Sierra Club’s book of day hikes, called the Rim Vista Trail, and on this past Sunday, eager for an outing, convinced me to make the hike with him. It promised great views of Ghost Ranch, and that, together with the weather being fine and the lure of New Mexico’s best breakfast burritos, sold by Bode’s, in Abiquiu, for a late breakfast on the way, was more than enough to pull me along.

I’m not sure I can recommend this trail for your first experience of O’Keeffe Country. For one thing, it is a relentlessly uphill trek, on a stony, ankle-twisting trail churned by cattle and elk. You gain at least 1700 feet of elevation and there isn’t much shade. In fact, the cruelty of our 2005 drought and ensuing explosion of pine bark beetle is strongly evident along the way:

Drought stricken pinon forest

Drought stricken pinon forest

A magnificent 40 foot pinon pine survives

A magnificent 40 foot pinon pine survives

We estimated that between 85% to 90% of the pinon pines had been killed here! Only an ecologist could take pleasure in this sad scene. And yet he or she would no doubt note the young and healthy new saplings emerging everywhere beneath the tough twisted junipers, bringing a new cycle of life to the land.

Unaccountably, a few old survivors still held their heads high:

The trail follows an ancient landslide of arid hills, covered mostly in juniper now, which allows you to avoid the impossibly steep cliffs of the Entrada Sandstone (which form such a prominent and colorful component of the landscape here) and gain some elevation on the mesa. Eventually you reach the base of another set of sandstone cliffs and begin an angled climb to the rim, to receive your reward:

Ghost Ranch from the Rim Vista, looking east

Ghost Ranch from the Rim Vista, looking east

The trees are healthier up on this mesa, and it’s a great place to shed your pack, eat a snack, and do a little nature journaling:

Sketching on the mesa. Those are the San Juan Mountains in the distance.

Sketching on the mesa. Those are the San Juan Mountains in the distance.

These ledges are formed by the Dakota Sandstone, one of the most important sandstone “bookmarks”, as I think of them, in the pages of the geologic record of the Rocky Mountain States. The ancient sands, nearly 100 million years old – well within the Cretaceous Period, the age of dinosaurs – are river-laid at the bottom and beach-like at the top, and they mark a major reorganization of the tectonics of western North America, and indeed, of the entire planet. The Jurassic stomping grounds of the dinosaurs went under the waves for the last time, to be buried ultimately by the thick grey marine muds of the Mancos Shale. These rocks wouldn’t see the sun again until the Rockies shouldered their way up, 30 to 40 million years later.

A choir of locoweed cheers the trail

A choir of locoweed cheers the trail

The Cretaceous Period, by the way, was a time during which flowering plants gained dominance over more primitive (yet very much still with us) spore-bearing plants. Infinitely adaptable, we enjoy them today, even in the most unpromising environments:

So be sure to include a day trip to Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch when you come to visit us here in Santa Fe. I think you can safely skip the Rim Vista Trail – there’s more than enough to see and do with more gentle walks. But I’m not kidding about those breakfast burritos.

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The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats,...

read more

See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free...

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The Circle Trail

The Circle Trail

THE CIRCLE TRAIL

A view through the trees along the Circle Trail

A view through the trees along the Circle Trail

The snow is slowly retreating from the mountains above Santa Fe, although winter never gives up without a fight in the Rocky Mountains. But the spring runoff is in full force, the authorities are letting water out of the reservoirs into the little Santa Fe River, which is burbling happily across the street from the Inn, and the aspen and river birches are confident enough to put out fuzzy tassels in the lower reaches of the forested canyons that lead you into the Santa Fe Range.

So start planning a few hikes for your upcoming visit to Santa Fe this summer. The snow is leaving, the flowers are blooming and soon it will be time to hit the trail. And to “look at all the sparkly rocks, Mommy!”, as I heard a child up at Aspen Vista once exclaim.

Bright green kinnickinnic coming out from under the covers

Bright green kinnickinnic coming out from under the covers

And believe me: you can get a memorable sunburn hiking this time of year. Don’t forget the sunblock!

Some interesting local history

Some interesting local history

The abundant runoff prompted me to make the short 8 mile drive up from Santa Fe to Hyde Memorial State Park, to check out the waterfall I wrote about earlier, back in the depths of winter. But before doing this, I decided to hike the Circle Trail, on the south side of the road that divides the park into two sections. This pleasant trail, which passes though a classic section of the mixed conifer forest of the southern Rockies, is little frequented, because you have to pay a small $5 fee for day use at the State Park, and most local hikers simply opt for one of the numerous free trails in the Santa Fe National Forest.

There are surprisingly good views along the way, considering that you’re only about halfway up the road to Aspen Vista and the high country trails that leave from Ski Santa Fe:

Yes, that’s fresh snow on Big Tesuque

Yes, that’s fresh snow on Big Tesuque

And of course I had an underlying motive to hike this way: rocks! Hyde Memorial State park straddles an ancient fault in the rugged crystalline rocks exposed in the Santa Fe Range, and I wanted to compare the outcroppings on either side of this important local structural boundary. Hyde Park marks the place where you leave the foothills of the mountains, so to speak, and enter the loftier regions, and as always, there is an underlying reason for the change.

There is an excellent description of the Park’s geologic setting by Shari Kelly, one of our prominent local geologists, here, and I urge you to have a look when you have a moment. As I mentioned in last week’s entry, rocks that are often simply lumped into the generic category “the crystalline basement” or “the Precambrian basement” because of their tangled and brutal history, can reveal some amazing insights upon closer examination.

The dominant component of the crystalline rocks in the Santa Fe Range are granites and other related igneous rocks, rather than the metamorphic rocks I wrote about last time. Everyone is familiar with volcanoes and all their pyrotechnics, and can picture ash falling out of turbulent clouds over Iceland (and clogging jet engines!) or lava flowing into a seething ocean off Hawaii. These are volcanic rocks, the output of Vulcan’s forge. But there is a deeper, hotter, more hellish realm, the domain of the dark god Pluto, and the molten rocks that crystallize here, miles below the surface, are called the plutonic rocks.

Because they form in similar environments, plutonic rocks and metamorphic rocks are intimately related. And of course, to confuse matters, igneous rocks are just as subject to metamorphism as any, and most of the granites in the Santa Fe Range show clear signs of reheating and strain. Here is an outcropping on the south side of the Borrego Fault zone, a very fine-grained, light-colored granite with little quartz “eyes” that were elongated by shearing forces:

Quartz porphyry along the Circle Trail. Penny for scale.

Quartz porphyry along the Circle Trail. Penny for scale.

When you cross the road to climb up and have a look at the waterfall, you find an entirely different look:

Foliated biotite granite just below the waterfall in Hyde Park

Foliated biotite granite just below the waterfall in Hyde Park

This granite is far more visibly crystalline than the one on the south side of the park, and its metamorphism is clearly shown by its abundant and strongly aligned flakes of the black mica biotite.

The waterfall in Hyde Memorial State Park, cascading down a bowl of foliated granite

The waterfall in Hyde Memorial State Park, cascading down a bowl of foliated granite

These are the strong rocks that begin to hold up the higher peaks in the Santa Fe Range. There are more complications above – and even higher summits – but I’ll spare you that story for another time.

Oh – the waterfall. The ice is gone now, and this tiny tributary of the Little Tesuque River is singing in its new freedom:

So start planning a few hikes for your upcoming visit to Santa Fe. The snow is leaving and it’s time to hit the trail. And to “look at all the sparkly rocks, Mommy!”, as I heard a child up at Aspen Vista exclaim, while you’re at it.

A “sparkly rock” along the Circle Trail, with a shiny penny for scale

A “sparkly rock” along the Circle Trail, with a shiny penny for scale

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The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats,...

read more

See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free...

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Bandelier from above: the Frey Trail

Bandelier from above: the Frey Trail

BANDELIER FROM ABOVE: THE FREY TRAIL

Looking down on the Tyuonyi ruins from the Frey Trail

Looking down on the Tyuonyi ruins from the Frey Trail

You would think, after all the hiking I’ve done around Santa Fe and northern New Mexico over the years, that I would have discovered this overlooked gem long ago. But it took a last-minute change of plans, leading me to an unpromising trailhead on the arid uplands of the Pajarito Plateau, to put me on its track.

On a recent Sunday, with splendid weather, I decided it was a perfect day for a drive to Bandelier National Monument and a walk along the Rito de Frijoles under the Ponderosas. Unsurprisingly, I was not the only person to have this idea, and while the drive to the park entrance was swift and uneventful, a little sign at the ranger’s booth let me know there would be at least a 20-minute wait in the canyon below, to find a place to park. This is extremely unusual. Plan B formed swiftly in my mind. I knew there was a little-used trail that leaves from the campground above Frijoles Canyon, called the Frey Trail, that winds its way to the canyon rim, but I’d never walked it. Now was an as good opportunity as any.

As I suspected, there was almost nobody parked at the trailhead. A dusty and unpromising path led off to the south:

The Frey Trail winding across the arid Pajarito Plateau

The Frey Trail winding across the arid Pajarito Plateau

Although the temperatures were mild today, the sunlight was intense, and I could imagine calling this the “Fry” Trail in June. But there were promising vistas above the pinyon and juniper:

The San Miguel Mountains and Boundary Peak from the Frey Trail

The San Miguel Mountains and Boundary Peak from the Frey Trail

It was certainly an easy walk. From time to time the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s was evident:

Old sign

Old sign

And then I reached the rim of Frijoles Canyon, and discovered what I’d been missing all these years:

Switchbacking down the walls of Frijoles Canyon

Switchbacking down the walls of Frijoles Canyon

Amazing views of the ruins on the floor of the canyon, which I’d only walked past before, opened up from a raven’s eye perspective:

Tyuonyi ruins from above

Tyuonyi ruins from above

I could survey the heart of the canyon from my perch:

Looking west into Frijoles Canyon from the Frey Trail

Looking west into Frijoles Canyon from the Frey Trail

And looking east

And looking east

Below me a few other hikers traversed the lower switchbacks, pausing along the monumental stonework built by the CCC to take in the view:

Switchbacks along the Frey Trail, descending into the heart of the park

Switchbacks along the Frey Trail, descending into the heart of the park

I walked down as far as that clump of Ponderosa pines you can see above, and had a light lunch in their shade, gazing happily out over the canyon floor and the visitors walking along the paved paths to the cliff dwellings. Afterward, I wound my way back up the switchbacks and walked back to my car, meeting no one else along the way. Which is remarkable in itself in such a popular place, on a beautiful weekend.

I can’t recommend this walk highly enough. It’s only about a mile and a half hike from the trailhead at the Amphitheater in Juniper Campground down to the ruins at the floor of the canyon, and the switchbacks have been carefully constructed to make the descent – or should I say, ascent – relatively painless. Perhaps there’s a reason for the unusual beauty of this trail. Up until 1934, this was the only way into Frijoles Canyon and its wonders. And that’s reason enough, in my mind, to make the walk and relive the adventures of those early travelers, seeing the canyon as they saw it, back when the first parks and monuments – America’s Best Idea – were being conceived.

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The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats,...

read more

See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free...

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The Dale Ball Trails: Picacho Peak

The Dale Ball Trails: Picacho Peak

THE DALE BALL TRAILS: PICACHO PEAK

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

It’s finally that time of year when anybody stimulated and made restless by the first warm weather we’ve had all year begins to turn their thoughts to – Hiking! The snow hasn’t let go yet – and in fact the trail I chose for a walk on Sunday had some thick patches of corn snow in the shady places. Not to mention some slippery mud. But the sun was bright and warm, and the sky intensely blue, and there was no way I was going to stay inside on such a promising day. So where to go to take advantage of the beautiful weather and still practice social distancing?

The hiking trails closest to downtown Santa Fe are the well-maintained Dale Ball Trails. They are accessible from a variety of trailheads, none of them more than two miles from the Plaza, and they are so well marked that you would really have to work hard to get lost. It’s almost like playing a big game of connect the dots:

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

Typical trail marker on the Dale Ball Trails

At least you don’t need to carry a map!

I chose to make the relatively easy climb to the summit of Picacho Peak, just south of the Nature Preserve parking on Upper Canyon Road. This is a trail I highly recommend to guests in moderately good shape who want to get a taste of the mountains and a splendid view of Santa Fe without taking too much time out of their day. The elevation of the small peak is 8577 feet above sea level, not very high by Rocky Mountain standards, but still about a 1250 foot gain from the trailhead near the Santa Fe River. You’ll feel the elevation – but the views are worth the exercise.

Most of the trail winds through the classic pinon-juniper forest that surrounds Santa Fe:

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

Along the Picacho Peak trail

You’ll be walking over the ancient crystalline rocks of the Sangre de Cristo uplift the entire time. Most of the rocks are very high grade varieties of gneiss (pronounced “nice“):

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

A beautiful banded gneiss – walking stick for scale

The lower part of the trail enters a short segment of a shaded canyon that supports some magnificent Ponderosa pines:

The view into the Santa Fe Range from Picacho Peak

Looking up into the branches of a “Grandfather” Ponderosa

These are shot through with plenty of coarse pink granite, and in fact much of the ground is littered with the glittering fragments of these stones. In places the trail is built right on the massive rock:

The rocky path on the way to Picacho Peak

The rocky path on the way to Picacho Peak

The view from the top is wonderful:

The summit of Picacho Peak, looking to the north

The summit of Picacho Peak, looking to the north

All of Santa Fe lies at your feet to the west, with the rounded peaks of the Jemez Mountains beyond. To the southwest you’ll be able to see the little Cerrillos Hills, the rugged Ortiz Mountains beyond them, and dominating them all, the great crest of the Sandia Mountains, with Albuquerque hidden behind. On most days you can see the distant mass of Mt. Taylor, a huge stratovolcano between Grants and Gallup – the sacred southern mountain, Tsoodzil, of the Navajo people. To the south the the Rockies die out in a series of progressively lower granitic peaks. To the north you may be able to see the distinctively mounded shape of San Antonio Mountain, on the furthest horizon – especially if there’s any snow – and will marvel to think this peak marks our distant border with Colorado. But I don’t doubt your eyes will be most strongly drawn to the ramparts of the magnificent Santa Fe Range and it’s snowy peaks north and east of your perch.

So the next time you come to visit us, ask about the Dale Ball Trails and the walk to the top of Picacho Peak. You’ll be well rewarded for the short investment of time it takes to make the climb. Bring a snack: there is a perfect outcropping of gneiss with a welcoming Ponderosa tree about half way up. You’ll know it when you find it. And wave to the ravens soaring over your head. They are waiting for you. . .

 

Book Your Next Stay at Inn on the Alameda

The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats,...

read more

See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free...

read more
Going to Maars in New Mexico

Going to Maars in New Mexico

GOING TO MAARS IN NEW MEXICO

The cliff face above the Upper Falls, Bandelier National Monument

No, that is not a typo. A maar is a type of volcano. New Mexico is infested with them, statistically speaking. By now you may have noticed that I seem to talk about volcanoes and volcanic features rather often. It’s impossible not to do so – New Mexico should have been called the Volcano State rather than the Land of Enchantment. You can hardly look out your window anywhere in New Mexico without seeing something volcanic. New Mexico has “one of the largest numbers, the largest diversity of type, the largest range of preservation, and some of the best type examples” of volcanoes in the North American continent. We even have a bun in the oven, so to speak, smack dab in the middle of the state: the Socorro Magma Body. This is a mid-crustal sill of magma that is slowly, but actively, inflating beneath the city of Socorro, New Mexico and surrounding areas, one of only three such features in the United States – and the only one that hasn’t expressed itself at the surface. Yet.

A maar is shallow, flat-floored volcanic crater formed by violent steam explosions, caused when ascending magma meets water at or near the Earth’s surface. The eruption at the surface is confined to these explosions, which toss out great quantities of loose, water-sodden sediment mixed with shattered fragments of chilled magma and the occasional bit of exotic rock torn from the deeper crust. No great cone of lava is built, and in fact the low crater, usually only a mile to two across, typically fills with water to form a shallow, circular lake. Such relatively modest features don’t last long here at the surface, where weathering and erosion work relentlessly, so if you find a maar it’s probably pretty young. Geologically restless New Mexico has a world-class collection of maars, in all stages of preservation, and just west of Santa Fe, the Rio Grande River and its short tributaries have cut canyons right through an entire pock-marked field of these things, preserved by burial under the lavas of the Caja del Rio Volcanoes.

One of these short tributaries is the beautiful canyon of the Rito de Frijoles, which forms the centerpiece of Bandelier National Monument west of Santa Fe. This lovely canyon, which is mostly cut in the orange and pink deposits of the Bandelier Tuff, is accessible from end to end, nearly, by trails which start at the Visitor’s Center. The most popular trail heads up canyon to the Ceremonial Cave, with its 140 feet of ladders pinned to the cliffs and the restored kiva in its alcove far above.

A walk among the Ponderosa on the Falls Trail in Bandelier

But if you head down canyon, you will be treated to a number of wonderful sights along the so-called Falls Trail: meadows full of towering Ponderosa pine, the chortling music of the Rito de Frijoles, two waterfalls, a remarkable transition from woodlands to arid canyon vegetation, and some beautiful color in the autumn. You can follow this trail all the way down to the Rio Grande if you like, although the last bit is in a sloggy delta covered in dead junipers (once flooded by the lake behind Cochiti Dam) that I prefer to avoid.

For years I hiked down this trail and wondered at the tall cliffs of contorted lava above the waterfalls, which protect a softer wall of obviously stratified material, orange, buff, white, and grey, that could not contrast more strikingly with the somber rocks above. And this stratified stuff didn’t fall into any easy categories of sedimentary rocks I’d seen before: no water-cut channels, no dune or bar-like features, a weird regularity of bedding and the oddest mix of volcanic particles with regular sand, and – strangest of all – rough boulders of basalt sitting right in the middle of the beds, with the layers below bent down and contorted, as if someone had just thrown them there.

Finally I learned that I was actually walking inside of a volcano. Frijoles Canyon has cut a perfect cross section into the flanks of a maar, and the stratified beds are the remains of the wet sediment and shattered lava flung out by explosion after explosion of steam caused by an injection of magma into the floodplain of an ancestral Rio Grande. The gently sloping layers are punctuated by volcanic bombs ejected by explosions beneath the riverbed and hurled down onto the flanks of the growing tuff ring, as it is sometime called. That explained my mysterious boulders.

Lower Falls Trail Maar Crater

And if you turn around you will see this. It’s very likely that the Upper Falls is cascading down the lava-choked throat of the vent that fed the maar in the first place. Amazing!

Cliffs towering above the Upper and Lower Falls

You can see in the above picture that these lavas have a ‘sticky’ component, by the way they are thickened and contorted, rather than showing the flattened ‘runny’ layers characteristic of basalt lavas.

But it gets even better. Check out the photo on the left.  Just below the Upper Falls, you can actually see the curving interior of the crater of the maar, which has been filled with layers of lava, interbedded with scoria. The shallow crater filled with small lakes of lava!

lower-falls-trail-upper-falls

All of these features are preserved by thick flows of contorted andesite that form the cliffs above. Andesite is a lava rather closely related to basalt, but with a higher silica content. Don’t quote me on this, but I think of andesite as ‘contaminated’ basalt – basalt that has incorporated lighter material from the crustal rocks through which it has leaked upwards.

But I always found these particular rocks puzzling, since they are nearly as dark as basalt and full of tiny crystals of olivine – that component of the Earth’s mantle whose presence nearly always shouts ‘basalt’! Oh well, no one said igneous petrology was straightforward.

In any case, what an opportunity it is, to be able to see a volcano from the inside out, as you can do here on a lovely trail not far from Santa Fe. It’s just one more reason to visit Bandelier National Monument when you come out to see us, here in maar-velous New Mexico.

Book Your Next Stay at Inn on the Alameda

The Acceleration Into Summer

The Acceleration Into Summer Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats,...

read more

See Santa Fe like a Local

See Santa Fe like a Local If you’ve been traveling through the blogosphere with us over the last month, you’ll note that the quest for free entertainment has been an ongoing process. Travels in the east stimulated a search for some things a traveler can do for free...

read more
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