Wednesday, December 26, 2018

South Mesa - Bandelier National Monument

The climb to the rim from Frijoles
The snow and cold may have finally arrived this morning. Not the case the previous two weeks however which provided optimal time to hit the difficult to reach trails. My favorite, and in my opinion the most underrated trails in the area, are at Bandelier.

I generally sneak in the back at Ponderosa campground. This is because I'm cheap when getting out for a run and don't care to fork-up the $25 gate fee. However I hadn't been out in the canyons for some time and Ponderosa and upper Frijoles were nuked by the Las Conchas fire and after repeat visits it can be bleak. The visitor's center and south mesa are still forested and serene so I hit it up last weekend while still free of ice and snow.

I intended to run out to the rim of Alamo Canyon, but didn't bring a map with me and made a fateful left turn that instead brought me out toward the Rio Grande canyon. Still beautiful, and new trails are always a fun adventure, but the ups and downs of fording the easy to navigate Lummis canyon were missed as was the awe of staring down into Alamo (800ft).

On the trail there was a single pair of hiking tracks which ceased after a couple miles. Still lots of tracks though all were wildlife (!), primarily deer and coyote. Saw an anthill made almost entirely of quartz crystals which fascinated me enough for a closer inspection. On a couple of rest stops to tie my shoe I was astonished to find that the mesa that evening was soundless. Without sound. I could stand there and look around at mountains and canyons and sunset and though craning my neck a bit there was not the smallest mote of movement or sound. After 15-20sec this odd absence would actually begin to bother me and I'd run on, stopping later to confirm that it was not a trick of the imagination. The Caja del Rio drew fairly close, maybe two miles direct, however the yawning Rio Grande canyon loomed below and between. Seems the trail likely descends a break in the mesa down to water's edge at some distant point. At my turn around (45min) the canyon had aligned with my line-of-sight and stretched far to the west with a glint of the pool at Cochiti dam reflecting sparks of white with the fading sun.

The Sandia uplift and Rio Grande canyon at center. Does not convey how sharp this view looks in person.

Snow on the San Miguels, juniper, cloud, and sunset
Note (12/26): The Monument is closed during the current government shutdown. I'd imagine there's access at Ponderosa and Frey Mesa. Perhaps Upper Frijoles off FR 289. The current snowstorm may make this a moot point for the next several days in any case.

Trail map, lower Alamo Trail: Bandelier Natl Mnmt < >

Related Posts:
 - Bandelier Celebrates 99 Years (Feb 2015)
 - Bandelier and Lummis Canyon (Apr 2012)
 - Frijoles Canyon in Recovery (Apr 2012)


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