The vast and beautiful Galisteo Basin, south of Santa Fe

After a rather turbulent early spring with freezing nights, cold winds, and almost no moisture, the days are finally warming up here in Santa Fe. It has looked like spring since mid-April, but it certainly hasn’t felt like it. But now May has arrived and the sun is beginning to triumph, and the west wind can bring a sudden taste of the desert to the city. If you’re here for a visit conditions couldn’t be nicer. (If you’re trying to get the garden started, you may have another opinion).

It’s always important to take a break from washing windows and putting up the screens and getting the soaker hoses laid in the vegetable patch, and on Sunday a friend and I drove about 16 miles south and east of Santa Fe to check out the relatively undiscovered Galisteo Basin Preserve. We took along a picnic lunch rather than the usual backpack fare:

Picnic under a grizzled old juniper

One can be civilized even in the Wild West.

The Galisteo Basin is a basin in two senses of the word. Geographically it looks like a basin: a vast open bowl of juniper-grassland with pinon-dotted hills, surrounded by blue ridges of low mountains. No canyons gash its gentle lines. The surrounding highlands give it a protected feel, unlike the exposed and open spaces of the Great Plains further east. People feel comfortable here. There are old villages like charming little Galisteo, and modern housing developments of an open plan are springing up, and no doubt there are ancient pueblos hidden from view by the passage of time.

Geologically the Galisteo Basin is a basin as well. When the Rocky Mountains were first born around 65 million years ago, the uplifts of ancient continental crust were paired with areas of subsidence that received the sediment shed from the growing highlands. The birth of the modern Rockies is called the Laramide Orogeny by the geological crowd, and the Galisteo Basin is a classic Laramide Basin. The climate was warm and mild in those days, subtropical with moisture blown in from the Pacific, unblocked by the Sierra Nevada (or for that matter any of California, which hadn’t been assembled yet) and rivers, lavish by our current New Mexico standards, brought plenty of mud, sand, and gravel down from the verdant new Sangre de Cristo. You can still find fossilized palm logs in the tiny riverbed of Galisteo Creek.

Conditions are much different now. We’re high and dry, and there’s not a palm tree to be seen:

The view southwest from our picnic

As more people move into this pleasant part of New Mexico, efforts are being made to preserve the Basin’s viewscape, and to give opportunity for public access and recreation.

A good example of sensitive multiple-use planning

Although our picnic was nice, gusty and nonstop winds brought on by afternoon warming put just a few too many positive ions into the air for human pleasure, and neither one of us felt like lingering after our repast. But the views were wonderful and the break in routine welcome, and no doubt we’ll be back out this way on a calmer day, to explore the trails so carefully laid out in this beautiful piece of the Old West.

The view back toward Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Getting there:

The Galisteo Basin Preserve is south and east of Santa Fe, off of State Road 285, about 16 miles from town. 285 leaves Interstate 25 east of Santa Fe, after about 9 miles, and heads south through the planned community of Eldorado. The unpaved pullout to the Galisteo Natural Preserve can be found just off to the right of 285 very shortly after you cross the rail spur that cuts across the road (clearly signed with overhead signals). The entrance to the Preserve is also signed.

A link to activities.