The Quietly Changing Seasons

Warm autumnal light among the aspen

‘Then there was the good weather. It would come in one day when the summer was over.’

Apologies to Ernest Hemingway and the opening lines of A Moveable Feast, but I couldn’t help thinking of that quiet commencement as I had a walk up to Puerto Nambe, high above Santa Fe, after last week’s subtle ending of summer, in a day and night of cold, steady rain. The best weather for hiking in the Southern Rockies is here, and the mountains are glowing with warm light and changing leaves. The first flush of the yellow aspen is spreading over the peaks:

Looking south from the trail ascending to Puerto Nambe

Frost has reached the forest floor with colorful results:

Thimbleberry dotting the forest floor

The Winsor Trail leaves the Ski Santa Fe parking lot at a high elevation, well within the spruce-aspen forest, and while you will gain even more altitude if you follow the trail all the way to Puerto Nambe, you will never leave the forest. You’ll be accompanied by chickadees flitting from branch to branch, so close you can almost touch them, juncos rustling along the forest floor, and pine squirrels scolding you from their fragrant perches as they stuff their faces with seeds from their spruce larder:

Englemann Spruce cones sharing their abundance

The trails are littered with the brown scales of these cones, discarded by winter-wary chickarees.

As you climb higher into the Nambe Creek watershed, views open up in all directions:

Looking west down Nambe Creek

Soon you’ll feel like you’re truly in the Rockies, with forested peaks surrounding you

Lake Peak in the south

and a sky that almost hurts your eyes:

Alpine sky

Even the stones seem to throw back an inner light.

Milky quartz and alpine plants

For the next month or so these high country trails will be at their best, so if you’re coming out for a visit, please make time for a walk in the mountains. The color change will peak in about two weeks, among the aspen, but the hiking will be wonderful well into October. Come indulge in a truly moveable feast.

Tesuque Creek

An illuminated pool on Tesuque Creek

We’re finally getting our summer rains here in Santa Fe, after a brutally dry and hot June, and now the challenge for you hikers and trail bikers out there is, just how early in the morning do you want to start your adventure? That’s because, by about noon, the clouds are boiling up all along the mountain ranges in New Mexico and you’re very likely to get doused by cold rain or even sleet if you’re up on any of the high country trails after that.

Even if you need to shorten your walk, if you can get up to the trailheads by 8 or 9 in the morning, you can get in a refreshing bit of recreation and mountain air. The formerly parched forest floor has plumped up nicely, and the meadows are full of mid-summer wildflowers and lots of butterflies.

Moss and lichen clinging to a boulder along our walk

This past Sunday a friend and I made a short “off the beaten path” visit to a string of meadows along Tesuque Creek, in the mountains above Santa Fe. Creek-walking has the big advantage of minimizing your chances of getting lost, once you’ve left the trails behind, and anyway, what could be nicer than having the music of a mountain stream accompany your ramble?

Steep outcroppings of granitic rock across Tesuque Creek

You don’t need to go far to find peaceful places to just sit and drink in the beauty around you.

An aspen meadow with lots of Douglas fir nearby

Kinnikinnick growing over a stone

A Rocky Mountain maple with those very characteristic crimson spots

Cumberland Rock-shield spreading over a boulder of tonalite

Monument plant – an aberrant gentian – thrusting itself up 5 feet out of the meadow

So make plans to be out early, and back in town in time for lunch, if you’re thinking of making a high country outing. Toss a cheap poncho in your daypack and keep an eye on the clouds. And above all, follow this advice:

Springtime in the Rockies

Newly-leafed aspen among the conifers

It seems like I was just writing about icy trails and late winter snowshoeing, but suddenly there’s been a change of scene and the mountains are stirring with new life and issuing invitations to have a walk. The snow has vanished from the middle elevations of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and many of our most popular trails are free of ice and spangled with the first wildflowers of the season.

One of the most popular walks among visitors to Santa Fe is the Borrego-Bear Wallow loop, whose trailhead sits at an elevation of 8880 feet, squarely in the middle of the lovely mixed-conifer forest, immediately north of Hyde Memorial State Park. There’s free parking just off the the Ski Basin Road – NM 475 – and it’s only an eight mile drive from downtown Santa Fe. The loop itself is about a 3.2 mile ramble through a shady woods, with a 640 elevation loss/gain, and a sunny meadow at the bottom alongside Tesuque Creek perfect for a snack break or a picnic.

The sign at the intersection of Borrego and Bear Wallow Trails

The Borrego Trail drops down through a forest of Ponderosa, White Fir, Douglas Fir, and Aspen on its way to the Winsor Trail along Tesuque Creek, which you will take downstream until its intersection with the Bear Wallow Trail, which will take you back up to the trailhead.

The aspen are leafing out now, in a fresh yellow-green that contrasts vividly with the much darker evergreens:

Aspen along the Borrego Trail

Is there any tree more delightful than the aspen? It’s handsome in summer and winter, and it is exceptionally beautiful in the spring and fall. Would that we all passed through the seasons of our lives so gracefully.

White fir with grizzled grey bark grow along each of the trails, calling for your attention:

The mixed-conifer forest

These trees frame views of the higher ridges to the northwest:

The Sangre de Cristo

Meanwhile the forest floor is dotted with color and new life:

Red columbine are blooming all along the trails. Hummingbirds rejoice!

The exceptionally tough Creeping Mahonia

And the delicately-flowered Rocky Mountain clematis

One of my favorites peeks out this time of year:

The cheerful Canada violet

Meanwhile a variety of small deciduous trees send forth their first leaves and flowers:

Tiny flowers on the twigs of the lovely Rocky Mountain Maple

Tesuque Creek is singing with snowmelt:

Tesuque Creek at the midpoint of your walk.

It wasn’t too challenging this time, but you have to cross this stream twice to make the loop, and sometimes you have to be inventive. Here’s a picture of the Borrego crossing:

Kids LOVE this spot

On your ascent back up along the Bear Wallow Trail, you’ll pass one of my favorite trees, a Limber pine perched on a rugged outcropping of gneiss above Tesuque Creek:

Limber pine and Tesuque Canyon beyond

In that most delightful of nature books, “A Natural History of Western Trees“, Donald Culross Peattie writes “. . . and Limber Pines have a way of growing in dramatic places, taking picturesque attitudes, and getting themselves photographed, written about, and cared for. . . ” This specimen is no exception. It grows in a dramatic place, and I’ve enjoyed my tea in its shade many times.

So plan for a springtime walk in the mountains when you make your visit with us in Santa Fe. We can help you with lots of suggestions, and our neighbor, the Travel Bug, can supply you with maps and guidebooks of every kind.

New life

Santa Fe Living, Water Loving!

Earth Day 2012 found us thinking about water, especially since the Santa Fe River has a gentle flow right now, thanks to the late spring snows and subsequent melt that we have so fortunately received. The Inn has a perfect Santa Fe location right across from the river, so we are participants in the Adopt-a-River program of the Santa Fe Watershed Association, and we are especially cognizant of times when the water flows.

The Santa Fe River is Right Across the Street!

Water use in the dry Southwest is inextricably tied to the acequia (pronounced a-SAY-key-a) system, a community-operated irrigation method born in the arid regions of Spain and transported to the Spanish colonies of the new world. Generally engineered to carry snow-melt and runoff to distant fields, acequias bring communities together to preserve precious resources. The state of New Mexico, including the City Different, has a long history of water challenges, which is why the acequia system was, and still is, so critical to regional farming.

The historic Acequia Madre

The Acequia Madre, the Mother Ditch that fed the Santa Fe farmers of yesteryear, is just around the corner from the Inn on, you guessed it, Acequia Madre street. Whenever spring melts permit, the Acequia still runs through town, both above- and below-ground, down through the Railyard and all the way to the southwestern end of Santa Fe.  So far, the Mother Ditch is dry, but with the 402nd cleaning scheduled for this Sunday, April 28th, we expect to hear the acequia burbling its liquid song again soon.

Not Quite Ready to Run!

Waiting to Open!

Most of the northern NM villages have functioning acequia systems, and those who live along the ditch and hold water rights are responsible for keeping the acequia clear of debris and impediments throughout the growing season, so that each user has ample flow when it is time to water. For an in-depth historical view of functioning acequias, you can head to El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, Santa Fe’s wonderful living outdoor museum.

A functioning acequia at Las Golondrinas

You’ll notice when you arrive just how dry our high-desert air can be, so Santa Fe travelers, remember to drink water, and plenty of it! It’s the life blood of the the Southwest, and we appreciate every precious drop.

Late Snow and Winter Walks

Snowshoeing above Aspen Vista in Santa Fe

Although the calendar says Spring is almost here, someone forgot to tell Mother Nature, and this past weekend she gave another touch up to the 155 inches of snow (!) she has showered on our peaks. Forecasters promise warmer weather in Santa Fe this coming week, however, and that was a sufficient spur to have a hike up at Aspen Vista after the skies cleared Sunday.

There’s nearly always plenty of parking at the Aspen Vista trailhead, maintained by Santa Fe National Forest. This popular trail is only about a 25 minute drive from downtown.

Easy parking at Aspen Vista

The Forest Service has a few helpful hints posted there:

Winter in the mountains

Just getting out of your car will get you this view of Big Tesuque and the soft, sensual western face the Sangre de Cristo Mountains presents to Santa Fe, far below:

The view south from the Aspen Vista Trailhead

Even if you only have a short time to make a drive up to see the snow on your Spring Break, you’ll enjoy a stop here:

Aspen Vista Trailhead

But if you have a little more time, and are feeling adventurous, be sure and rent a pair of snowshoes and head off on your own. You’ll see aspects of the forest you really can’t enjoy any other way – like these hypnotic tangles of aspen covering entire ridges:

Among the aspen

From place to place the trees open up to give marvelous views of the mountains in their winter garb:

Big Tesuque

When the clouds part, the alpine sky embraces you in blue:

Reaching for the sky

In places the trees part to reveal unexpected meadows:

A snowy meadow high above Aspen Vista

These are good place to stop and find a fallen tree to rest on, and enjoy a warm drink. You might see evidence of other mystic activity – obviously someone is maintaining the Snow Spiral in this meadow:

The Snow Spiral

It even has a banco built in!

With the parade of storms we’ve had this winter, Ski Santa Fe is having a great season, and there’s no reason why they won’t be going strong all the way until they close at Easter. And if you’re not comfortable striking off in snowshoes on your own – or if you want to explore a trail you’d never find otherwise – engage a local guide from a company like Outspire or Santa Fe Walkabouts to help you out. You’ll probably discover that a guided adventure like this will be the absolute highlight of your trip to Santa Fe, and something you’ll remember for a long long time.

The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail

The Frey Trail descending into Frijoles Canyon, seen from the Overlook

Even after years of visiting the park, I’ve discovered that Bandelier National Monument still has pleasant surprises concealed within its boundaries. Bandelier is one of the most popular day trips out of Santa Fe, just about an hour’s drive west of town, and most visitors feel amply rewarded with an excursion to the cliff dwellings in Frijoles Canyon, and the pleasant walks along the little Rito de Frijoles, burbling in the shade of the singing Ponderosa pines and the warm glowing walls of the Bandelier Tuff. But the park has an extensive network of trails throughout its bounds, and some of these are easy walks that give a different perspective on the way the Ancient Ones lived – and which will reward you with some wonderful views of Frijoles Canyon and the archeological sites it shelters.

This Sunday’s adventure started near the old Amphitheater not far from the entrance to the Park. On my last visit to Bandelier I walked down the Frey Trail, which is the pre-1939 way of getting down into Frijoles Canyon, and at the brink of the descent, admired a precipice of Bandelier Tuff off to the west:

Descending into Frijoles Canyon on the Frey Trail

A closer look at the map showed another trail not far from this one, that actually leads to the top of this cliff. It’s called the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, and of course I immediately made a mental file to have a walk on it on my next visit to the Park. This past Sunday was a perfect opportunity for a winter hike on the sunny flanks of the Jemez Mountains, and after throwing a few things in the day pack, made the short drive west to Bandelier and the Juniper Campground just inside, where the trail begins.

The sign at the trailhead

Your walk begins in a grove of fragrant Ponderosa:

Off on our adventure

Much of the walk winds across the dry, sparsely wooded top of the plateau just north of Frijoles Canyon, which still shows signs of stress from our drought around 2005. There are a surprising number of archeological sites up here, with small interpretive signs to enhance your stops:

Partially excavated ruins just off the Tyuonyi Trail, up on the mesa

There are more modern cultural features up here too, like this rustic corral:

A corral near the old CCC Amphitheater

Distant views of the volcanic mountains that surround Bandelier lie off to the south and west:

The San Miguel Mountains and sharp Boundary Peak southwest of Bandelier

In only 45 minutes of easy walking you reach the Overlook, perched high above the ruins of Tyuonyi Pueblo:

Looking down from the Overlook at Tyuonyi and the Visitor Center

This is a perfect place to sit and contemplate the vast history, cultural and natural, of old New Mexico.

Contemplating the past

The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail loops back to the trailhead across the mesa so you don’t have to retrace your steps back to the Amphitheater. There are beautiful views up Frijoles Canyon:

Looking west up Frijoles Canyon

And dizzying ones down:

Just above the ladders to Alcove House, looking down

Bandelier, like all National Parks and Monuments, is a wild place at heart, and evidence of the more brutal side of Nature isn’t hard to find:

A murder site along the trail, thoroughly picked over

Past and present mingle to thoughtful eyes. Modern pine cones holding new life lie over a bed of the Cajete Pumice that showered over the mesa perhaps only 40,000 years ago:

Pine cones and pumice littering the mesa

The return trail winds through an airy forest of Ponderosa before returning you to your car:

Fire and drought-thinned forest typical of the Pajarito Plateau

This was a very rewarding walk, and a perfect one for a late winter day in New Mexico when you need to get out for some sunshine and exercise, but don’t feel like facing the icy and somewhat muddy trails in Sangre de Cristo Mountains nearer Santa Fe. So be sure and put the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail on your mental list of things to do when you come visit us!