Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rendija Canyon to Deer Trap Mesa - New Trail!

This summer when I heard of a new trail connecting Deer Trap Mesa to Rendija Canyon, I wanted to check it out right away but then 4 months flew by and nothing happened. Once, I took a willing hiker victim there but when said victim was informed of the rock stairs, that was the end of that!

On Monday, a group of us went to Deer Trap Mesa but this time, I chickened out, thinking the north facing slope, down which the new trail runs, would be snowy and icy. Then, that evening, I worked myself into a "now or never" frame of mind, fueled by thoughts of looming winter weather scheduled to arrive Thanksgiving weekend, and decided to try to find the trail from the bottom and go up it the very next day. I credit spouse for enabling my quest because even though he was sure I'd get lost, he picked me up at Deer Trap trailhead, where I left my car, and dropped me off at Pajarito Trail trailhead in Rendija Canyon. I don't know yet of a trail that connects from there with the new trail so I walked down Rendija Canyon Road (dirt Forest Road 57), past the Sportsmen's Club, in search of the new trail.

On the way, the site of the former "Poor Man's Shooting Range", as called by locals. It is much cleaned up from it's glory days when it served not only as a shooting gallery full of broken glass and trash but also as a dump for appliances and electronics (you can imagine what happened to TV screens). This land is owned by the Department of Energy.

A little under a mile and a half from the Pajarito Trail trailhead, along Rendija Canyon Road (Forest Road 57), is a tombstone-like cairn that marks the bottom of the new trail. When I first saw this, I thought maybe this was the start of the trail but to be sure, walked further on. I can tell you from experience that if you pass Guaje Booster Station No. 2, you've gone too far! The bottom of the trail is between the former Poor Man's Shooting Range and the booster station. To be more exact, Craig Martin, on Los Alamos Trails Facebook page, posted that the trailhead is on the right (south) side, about a mile past the Sportsmen's Club, just past a concrete stream crossing and there's parking on the same side for 2-3 cars. I wanted to add to the cairn somehow but the rocks I found were frozen in place.

When I first passed by the cairn, I entirely missed the distinct trail cut on the hillside.

The small parking area is where the power pole is.

The first switchback and the only place I encountered a little ice,.

I fell in love with the colorful ponderosas that the trail glides past. The trail very gently takes you up 400' or so and 1.25 or so miles to Deer Trap Mesa.

Nearer to the top, the second switchback with snow but no ice.

The northern arm of Deer Trap Mesa rising ahead. The light area to the left of the tall ponderosa is the first stairs.

Trail view east to Sangre de Cristos Mountains. There are many sweeping views from the new trail and from Deer Trap Mesa.

Oh, how I love these stairs! They are an absolutely beautiful work of art! The photo doesn't show, but they glisten in the sunlight. The hewn top steps are split in the middle. For drainage, perhaps?

The new hike (see copy and paste at bottom of post) is billed as having two stairs but this one, marked by the squat cairn (bottom foreground), was merely a rock scramble.

Hip, hip hooray for the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), sponsored by the Los Alamos Family YMCA, which have done so much over the years for the betterment of our local trail system!! This is back on the Deer Trap Mesa trail.

Here are waypoints to help you find the trail, NAD83/WGS84 datum. BOTTOM is the tombstone cairn in Rendija Canyon, DETRAP is the YCC sign on Deer Trap Mesa which is just west of the rock scramble "stairs":
GPS Name    Easting                Northing          Elevation   
BOTTOM    13S 386362mE    3974663mN    6778 ft.    
DETRAP    13S 386335mE    3974293mN    7145 ft.    

Here is a quote and Google Earth satellite view from "Los Alamos County Open Space and Trails" Facebook page, both posted by Craig Martin, July 29, 2015. It's how I first heard about the new trail:
In 2013 Los Alamos County purchased about 300 acres of land from the Forest Service in Rendija Canyon and is slated to acquire another 900 acres in a land transfer from the Department of Energy. The rolling terrain and ponderosa pine forests allow for some interesting loop trail possibilities. This year's Family YMCA YCC crew constructed the first part of this future trail network by connecting the end of the north arm of Deer Trap Mesa with the Rendija Canyon Road. Utilizing in part existing social trails, the connector has two staircases and two long switchbacks as it descends from the mesa top to the canyon bottom. Because the stairs aren't at all bike friendly, once the land transfer is complete a future crew (2016?) will construct a bikeable route to connect either at the Deer Trap Trailhead or with the Barranca Crossing Trail or both. So loop possibilities are limited now, but the future is wide open. Check out the trail and let us know what you think!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pajarito Mountain August Walk

Drove up Camp May Road Friday. I haven't walked up Pajarito Mountain much this summer and I miss it. My favorite route is the East Road from the ski lodge.  It's a jeep road that reliably gets you  back of the mountain and isn't too difficult. The summer trail map on the ski hill's website labels it Lower and Upper East Road.

Going up, I practiced heavy breathing, trying to beat storm clouds before they spilled rain and thunder. I saw two hikers. One walking a leashed German Shepherd and the other with a device that announced "five miles". Both were tall, lean men.

From the jeep road, the long trace of Pipeline Road is easily seen to the north which made me muse a lot about walking up Pipeline from the Quemazon Community to the ski hill again.  With all the downed timber from past wildfires and the heavy rains this year that spawned a green jungle of oak and locust on the mountains, I've lately fantasized how nice it would be to float like a butterfly above the landscape, wandering and exploring wherever I want!

Fireweed growing at base of burnt snag.
Despite storm clouds, the weather remained nice on the walk up and most of the way down. On the return, about a mile from the ski lodge, there was a bit of thunder and rain but nothing dramatic and no lightning! I unfurled my umbrella and was glad of the stout walking stick on the wet, loose downhill. I didn't start walking until almost 11 am - must get earlier start!
At the meadow on the back of Pajarito Mountain, sweaty and overheated, I tore off my headgear to cool down; then, I got slightly chilled and put it back on and a windbreaker too. It was SO quiet - such a pleasure to listen to silence. I started down but then went back to take this photo looking west. Cerro Grande is the dark hulk on the left middle.
These yellow daisies say summer is nearer to ending than beginning.
Looking south over Pajarito Canyon at San Miguel Mountains.
Looking north toward Pipeline Road - burnt aspens, aftermath of 2011 Las Conchas wildfire.
Purple daisies and red elderberries repeat that summer will end and cooler weather and snow will come to the ski hill.
Back at the parking lot, eating a Larabar, I noticed scraggly, sweet-smelling white clover being heavily visited by loads of bees. Surprising that what looks to me like "weeds" is food for bees.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States