Saturday, February 16, 2013

Santa Fe's Arroyo Systems

Snow and sunrise on the Arroyo en Medio
As a kid growing up in Santa Fe during the 80s and early 90s we didn't have many trails to run or bike on, we had dirt roads and arroyos. Arroyos were not a real draw for biking of course, but for running and hiking and a myriad of childhood adventuring activities they were first rate. I still run and now bike in them on a weekly basis, generally as link-ups within a longer route but sometimes as a long traffic-free out and back.

Only over the last year have I been introduced to the names and some of the history of the arroyos around town. There's a least a couple dozen of them, many are familiar, some obscure. Some are runnable (hikable, explorable), some run through private land, some have had their courses shortened or re-routed by development or roadwork. Looking up information on these guys is nearly impossible (umm, on the internet at least. I did not search the stacks at the state archives), so I went into compilation mode with the idea of drawing a picture of the arroyo systems around Santa Fe. So here they are, arranged from longest to shortest:
My bro Sean puttin' in the work along the Arroyo Chamisos
  1. Arroyo de los Chamisos - The 2nd largest drainage in town next to the Santa Fe River. The Chamisos begins at the foot of Atalaya Mountain behind St. John's College and runs west for 20 miles, through the south end of town, joining up with the Arroyo Hondo near NM 599 and I-25, and eventually emptying into the SF River near La Cienega.     

    Great running from Old Pecos Trail, Museum Hill, St. John's, all the way to the summit of Atalaya. The Arroyo Chamiso Urban/Bike Trail stretches along the north rim of the arroyo from St. Francis Dr. and Zia Rd down to Cerrillos Rd, and will eventually connect to NM 599 and the Santa Fe River (Trail) west of town.

  2. View Arroyo de los Chamisos - Santa Fe in a larger map

  3. Arroyo Hondo - (South Santa Fe County) - Hondo meaning "deep" due to the small canyon it cuts into the land west of the highway. The 3rd longest drainage near town at 16 miles, begins in the Barbaria area of the east foothills then runs west past El Gancho Health Club and (under) I-25 north, through the Arroyo Hondo Community and crossing the Santa Fe Rail Trail at the railroad tracks, eventually merging with the Santa Fe River in La Cienega.    

    Fantastic running (and biking) to be had if you have the time to poke around, particularly up by the trails at the county's Arroyo Hondo Open Space. Lots of private property along this drainage, be considerate.

  4. View Arroyo Hondo - Santa Fe in a larger map

  5. Arroyo de la Piedra - Piedra meaning "rock or stone" most likely from the rocky outcroppings near its source in the foothills (see La Piedra Trail). The Piedra runs east to southwest for approx. 3.5 miles, beginning northeast of town behind Ten Thousand Waves Spa, flowing down through the Barranca neighborhood, under Valley Dr to Fort Marcy Park. At Fort Marcy the La Piedra, along with several other arroyos, come together as the Arroyo Mascaras.    

    There's some great running to be had up high on the Piedra as it crosses the Dale Ball Trails in the fotthills, where the trail is scattered with  brilliantly colored moss-rocks (piedras) high up in the arroyo drainage. The arroyo itself crosses through several parcels of private property in the upscale Barranca neighborhood and is impassable in sections. The lower Piedra is used for the starting section of the Striders' Annual Fowl Day 5K, run each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

  6. View Arroyo de la Piedra - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map

  7. Arroyo de los Pinos - Begins near Old Santa Fe Trail just north of Museum Hill paralleling Arroyo Chamisos to the south. The new Santa Fe Botanical Gardens are setup on the south rim of the arroyo along with the newly relocated Kearny Gap Bridge spanning the gap. The Pinos runs west for 2.5 miles past EJ Martinez Elementary, under St. Francis Dr. and under the Rail Trail near (the old) Frankie's Flats bike shop and the cluster of businesses at Llena St. The arroyo no longer empties into a larger drainage, instead tailing off to nothing via city storm drains before reaching the Santa Fe Indian School.     

    Fantastic running can be had through sand and footpaths from Museum Hill to Don Gaspar. Loops can be run-out around Museum Hill by connecting the Pinos with the Arroyo Chamisos. Highly recommended although the first go may include some route-finding.

  8. View Arroyo de los Pinos - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map

  9. Canada Ancha - Runs for approx. 3 miles beginning in the north foothills, running along the south side of Hyde Park Rd near Ten Thousand Waves Spa, crossing Sierra del Norte at the Dale Ball trailhead then bending south and wandering just to the east of Gonzales Rd. The Ancha fades at Lejano Lane now, two blocks north of its historical outflow into the Santa Fe River near Patrick Smith Park. The Ancha is not a great place to run, although the Dale Ball Trails cross over at three separate points. The city has plans to add a soft-surface trail linking Gonzales Rd to Sierra del Norte (the proposed Sarah Williams Trail) that will parallel the Ancha on the north side of the road. Significant cfs can flow through here during a July shower, use caution.

  10. View (Arroyo) Canada Ancha - Santa Fe in a larger map

  11. Arroyo Barranca - Runs north to south for approx. 2 miles beginning at Tano Rd. Hill down to Fort Marcy Park where the drainage merges with Arroyo de la Piedra and becomes Arroyo Mascaras.      

    Great running up the Barranca including several intermittent footpaths on the east arroyo edge between Fort Marcy, Governor's Mansion Dr., all the way up to Camino Encantado. One of the few 'trail-runs' accessible from downtown Santa Fe. The Barranca comprises a majority of the course for the Striders' Annual Fowl Day 5K, run each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

  12. View Arroyo Barranca - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map

  13. Arroyo Rosario - Runs north to south from Rosario Hill north of downtown, alongside Rosario Cemetary before joining the Arroyo Mascaras at Paseo de Peralta. If you grew up in the area you would know that the infamously tough St. Kate's cross country course wove in and out of the Arroyo Rosario over its torturous length. Many a prep runner suffered mightily in the sand of Arroyo Rosario (just thinking of it brings back the copper taste in the back of my throat). Nowadays, angry dogs impede my attempts to run and explore this drainage. Arroyo Barranca is the perferred alternative.

  14. View Arroyo Rosario - Santa Fe in a larger map

  15. Arroyo Mascaras - Traverses a short distance from Fort Marcy Park, under Paseo de Peralta where it absorbs Arroyo Rosario, past Gonzales Elementary, before emptying into the SF River. No real running to be had in the Mascaras unless you're a high school kid being forced to walk Heaven-and-Hell (the culvert under the Paseo), but its certainly cool to pronounce, and to know the name of a once very centrally located Santa Fe arroyo with what I'm certain is a significant amount of history.

  16. View Arroyo Mascaras - Santa Fe in a larger map

  17. Arroyo en Medio - Runs east-to-west beginning in the Sol y Lomas neigborhood west of Old Pecos Trail, passes through culverts under St. Francis Dr, paralleling Zia Rd to the south for about a mile, then running alongside Chaparral Elementary before emptying into the Arroyo Chamisos at Yucca Rd.    

    When I'm really getting after it I probably run the En Medio a couple times a week. There are a few footpaths through here as well as tunnels to duck traffic crossings. You can just as easily sneak down to the Arroyo Chamisos footpaths without seeing anyone as you can sneak up onto the dirt roads of Sol y Lomas. A planned section of the Santa Fe Urban Trail System will be built through here in the not-too-distant future, connecting Ragle Park to the Rail Runner Station at Zia Rd and St. Francis Dr. I'm not sure how I feel about this actually. I've become possessive of my beautiful wash of sand.

  18. View Arroyo en Medio - Santa Fe in a larger map

  19. Arroyo del Cerro - Runs north-to-south beginning south of Hyde Park Rd near Sierra del Norte, down toward Santa Fe Canyon before joining the SF River near Cerro Gordo Rd. The Arroyo del Cerro doubles as part of the west section of Dale Ball Trail for about a mile and serves as an informal trailhead where Dale Ball meets the tight bend in Cerro Gordo Rd. It goes without saying that the running and biking along the Cerro is awesome. As an interesting side note: small fossils can be found in the shale at the Cerro Gordo parking area. Elementary school classes used to visit from time to time to observe and study them. A happy memory.

  20. View Arroyo Cerro - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map

  21. Arroyo Saiz - Runs north-to-south, beginning east of Cross of the Martyrs at Artist Rd, running down to Palace and Alameda St before joining the Santa Fe River. The Saiz is pretty navigable, has some marvelous cottonwood groves, and is one of the few runnable downtown 'trails', best run in circuits on what I call the Green Man Loops although the first couple visits may require some route-finding. Maybe more than just some actually.   *Update*   It has been noted in the comments below that a section of the Arroyo Saiz crosses private land through the Estancia Primera neighborhood. Roads are the suggested byway though I'd imagine these are also private roads. The Gonzales Rd pedestrian trail has since been put in place which makes for a fine unobstructed loop safe from vehicle traffic. 

  22. View Arroyo Saiz - Santa Fe, NM in a larger map

    Other minor systems and county systems include:
  • Arroyo Cabra - runs south to north east of Camino Cabra; joins the SF River on Upper Canyon Rd
  • Arroyo Mora
  • Arroyo Palau
  • Cuchara and Calabasas arroyos north of town, criss-crossing the La Tierra Trails 
  • Arroyos south of town in the Sunlit Hills, Eldorado and Galisteo areas. I know none of them by name
Related Links
 - Santa Fe Area Trails Listing
 - Arroyo (Chamiso) Washout
 - Come Hell or High Water - Monsoon Season


  1. Fantastic, sorta wish I lived down there still...

  2. I agree. And I can imagine roaming around out there as a kid.

    In the back of our seven acres in SW Michigan was the woods and a ravine with a little creek that ran most of the year and I spent a lot of my childhood out there.

    When I'm on the road sometimes I stop in the desert and take a little walk up a wash or arroyo -- I'm not sure of the difference -- and take some pictures. I like the way they reveal layers of geologic history, and desert life seems to congregate along them, I assume because there is some moisture there, and you can catch a little shade now and then.

    When I still lived in the Midwest and was new at trucking a driver told me a tale of a dry river bed somewhere out here where you could drive 500 miles or something like that. The beauty if it being that you avoided all the scales, which any truck driver can identify with.

    I didn't believe him, but then once some years later I picked up a load of copper at a mine about 75 miles north of Benson, AZ. The directions took you in from Phoenix, from the west, and back out that way, on a little highway, which was a hundred miles out of the way. I wanted to go east with the load, and saw in my atlas an unimproved road that went down to Benson, so I went for it.

    As soon as you turned south from the mine and went a quarter mile there was a weight limit sign. I blew past it and the ones they had spaced out about every five miles, and took the road all the way to Benson.

    As it turned out it followed the San Pedro River, which has a little water in it down in Benson but up at that height was completely dry. The road crossed the river bed several times and sometimes just followed the dry bed when some canyon walls closed in. There were some touchy situations, where the river meandered and the roadway would go up and over the bank and back down into the river -- my trailer would sometimes bottom out and I had a heavy load, 50,000 pounds of copper, 80,000 gross, truck and load. I just gunned it and went for it.

    There were little ranchettes spaced out along that road every few miles. I saw a few people, but they didn't take much notice. One was a guy mending fence and he just glanced up and went back to mending fence.

    It was high anxiety all the way, wondering if I'd get ticketed and wondering if I'd end up buried in pea gravel or quicksand where there was a hidden pool of underground moisture. It was sure nice to come upon some pavement on the outskirts of Benson.

    It's just such a pain to backtrack. You mention dead ends and impassable areas and meeting up with real trails, and I assume you found all that out the same way, plunging forward always.

  3. Damn now that I look at it that's a long comment.

  4. What a great post! The arroyo systems are endlessly confusing for me so thanks for the guide.


  5. Yep, arroyos are great fun to play in. Cool rocks, cool trees, chamisa, often a few rabbits and maybe a coyote sighting. There also seems to be an unending array of exotic discarded items or decades old beer cans. All good stuff. Better if you know where you're going or just came from - therefore the maps and proper names. Have fun out there!

  6. Great Post - I will refer back to this very often!

  7. Glad to hear it. As far as I know this is the one and only arroyo reference available. Electronically anyway.

  8. This is an excellent site and good resource. However once up to Avenida Primera So. road in Estancia Primera (by the clubhouse) the arroyo saiz is entirely on private property until its beginning at Hyde Park rd. and Gonzales. The city designated trail instead goes up Avenida Primera to Hyde Park rd. where the trail continues on up.

    1. Estevan - appreciate the added information. The page and related maps will be corrected to note these public/private access limitations. All such information is welcome.

  9. I just found this post and would love to know how which of the arroyos are bikeable with a gravel bike in March, typically.

  10. Hello - Gravel bike is narrow-tire, yes? Uncertain about the rideability of arroyos other than on frozen mornings. Those are the best days on mountain bike in any case. The week after a heavy rain is also a good time. Happy riding.



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