Or, How Fond Hiking Fantasies Are Imploded by Ground Truth:
On 9/7/11, both Wednesday hiking groups went far afield - Cerro Azul and Atalaya - so I chose to stay in Los Alamos to explore. I'm always excited about the new possibilities for hiking close to home on all the newly constructed Los Alamos County trails in the Eastern Area. For instance, each time I go down the new Zipline Trail (constructed by Youth Conservation Corps, sponsored by The Family YMCA), I pass, soon after turning right onto the Tent Rocks Trail, a faint, blocked-off trail that beckons me. I've often wondered if I could somehow follow this over to the bottom of the Camp Hamilton Trail, hike up and then loop back via the Pueblo Canyon Rim Trail.
I decided I'd first try the loop in reverse, starting from the Camp Hamilton Trail and then hopefully working my way west to go up the Zipline. I knew from reading Craig Martin's 2nd edition of Los Alamos Trails that the traditional route of the Camp Hamilton Trail is interrupted one half mile from the trailhead by a "resource protection" fence. Craig's book says the trail would be re-routed in 2007 and gives directions to go eastward along the fence, then northward to the Camp Hamilton cabin ruin, which is the trail's namesake destination. I've visited the cabin ruin and it's in truly deplorable shape. I knew for my loop hike plan, it would have been best to determine if it was possible to travel west along the fence but I was curious about the re-route so I decided to follow it at least to where Camp Hamilton Trail crosses Pueblo Canyon Trail.
What I found is that if there truly has been a "re-route", it's very indistinct. Trying to follow it, I went into, across and along a skinny arroyo that runs below the ridge fenced off by the resource protection fence but I often had to stop and carefully look to see where to go next. Eventually the fence and trail headed north and intersected the Pueblo Canyon Trail, a dirt road. At that point, I walked west on the Pueblo Canyon Trail until I reached the treated wastewater effluent stream from the new Los Alamos Wastewater Plant. The stream crossing is too wide to hop across, there are no helpful rocks to aid in stepping across and I don't trust crossing at the marshy areas on either side.
I decided to try Plan B: Recently I had looked down onto this area from high atop Kwage Mesa and imagined myself easily going uphill to bypass the treated wastewater effluent stream and then back down to the Pueblo Canyon Trail. Enacting ground truth, when I went uphill just south of the stream, I encountered the dratted resource protection fence - again! I was disconcerted to see from my hillside perch that the fence continued all the way downhill to the marshy, effluent stream thus totally blocking travel outside the fence above and around the stream. Now, I became stubborn and, although I don't like to trespass, I didn't intend to backtrack, so I stepped across the fence (bare wire not barbed wire); unfortunately, I did this just as a pickup, with a clear line of sight, passed by on the dirt road below. I briefly saw myself getting arrested for trespassing but decided to quickly walk my way out of the fenced area to finally get around the stream and continue westward.
When I managed at last to leave the resource protection fence behind, I found myself in an enchanting park of tall ponderosas. I saw a faint trail going my way, could have been a game trail, that traversed gently into and out of pine needle laden gullies (and past some discarded truck tires). I enjoyed following this west, paralleling the north-facing slope of Pueblo Canyon, hopeful that I was finally on course to the Tent Rocks and Zipline trails. Along the way, I came upon a partially-standing fence, this one barbed wire, with a rusted sign, ominously warning "Contaminated Area - Do No Enter". Non-plussed since the sign looked ancient, and the fence was mostly broken down (barbed wire laid haphazardly on the ground), I continued on.
When I started hiking several hours earlier, I saw dark clouds far to the northwest but by now, the storm was overhead. I could hear thunder rolling as raindrops splattered on my golf umbrella. When I came to a wider canyon dropping from sheer cliffs above which the Los Alamos County Pajarito Cliffs site is located, I decided it was time to head back to my car rather than tackling the canyon crossing.
On the way back, it rained hard and my arms, pants legs and shoes got soaked but my trusty umbrella kept my pack dry. On the way up Camp Hamilton Trail, water streamlets ran downhill on the trail. Ascending the cliffy, rock wall part of the trail, I saw water flowing in mini-waterfalls off the edge. The arroyo far below the trail, which had been perfectly dry that morning, now had a skinny, frothy stream tumbling down it. On the mesa-top, parts of the trail were underwater. When I got to the head of the formerly dry arroyo, which the trail crosses, the storm run-off made a small, prettily gushing waterfall which was easily crossable . Back at the car, although I hadn't been successful in my original loop hike plan, I was glad I attempted it and plan to try again.
I have some harsh words, though, to say about the resource protection fence which is a hindrance to hiking in the area. I wish I knew the precise reason why the fence cuts through the traditional middle route of the Camp Hamilton Trail. The Camp Hamilton Road is listed as a New Mexico Registered Cultural Property in Los Alamos County. I don't know what, if any, protection this listing confers. Regardless, it's unfair to have chopped the trail in the middle without the public having any clear idea why.
The indistinct "re-route" of the Camp Hamilton Trail that I followed to bypass the resource protection fence does not seem a viable, alternative travel pathway because it forces a long detour eastward around the fenced resource protection area in order to rejoin the Camp Hamilton Trail. Since the "re-route" of the Camp Hamilton Trail is so ill-defined, it appears not well-used by hikers, perhaps indicating they are voting with their feet to get where they want to go.
The Camp Hamilton Trail is more than just a trail that goes to the Camp Hamilton cabin ruin. The cabin ruin itself is at the edge of reclaimed open space at the site of the former Bayo Canyon sewage treatment plant so the trail provides a way for hikers to access that as well as the Los Alamos County trails in Bayo Canyon. The Camp Hamilton Trail also intersects the Pueblo Canyon Trail, the dirt road that crosses the treated sewage effluent stream and continues up Pueblo Canyon to a slew of other trails in the Los Alamos County Trail Network. Before the "Environmentally Sensitive Area" was fenced off, chopping the trail into two separate sections, perhaps consideration should have been given to providing a more direct right of way for the Camp Hamilton Trail.
Despite the severing of the Camp Hamilton Trail, this area still has potential for many great loop hikes for hikers willing to hike into Pueblo Canyon from the Pueblo Canyon Rim Trail, via the Camp Hamilton Trail or the new Zipline Trail. Hiking access between the Camp Hamilton and Zipline trails could be improved by construction of a trail that would travel more directly between the two without need to detour eastward around the resource protection fence and without having to deal with crossing the treated wastewater effluent stream. This trail could be constructed by following a route that goes north of both the fenced resource protection area and the effluent stream, along the north-facing slope of Pueblo Canyon. The terrain this trail would pass through is rough, going in and out of drainages, filled with dead and down wood and teeming with gambel oak thickets; but if you look at the daring chutzpah of the new Los Alamos County Open Space Trails constructed since the 2nd edition of Martin's Los Alamos Trails, like the Pueblo Canyon Rim and Zipline trails - you'll know it could be done!
From mesa-top Camp Hamilton Trail, looking back toward Eastgate Industrial Park.
Three cairns at start of descent of Camp Hamilton Trail into side canyon. Here, the Pueblo Canyon Rim Trail intersects the Camp Hamilton Trail. On the way back up, make a sharp left turn here if you want to continue on the Camp Hamilton Trail.
Beginning descent from the 3 cairns, you see successive tiers of rock walls built on a cliff face along this part of the trail.
More views of rock walls on Camp Hamilton Trail.
|Tent rocks in canyon arroyo far below trail.|
Lighter green area is the decommissioned Bayo Canyon wastewater treatment plant. It’s now been reclaimed for open space. The Camp Hamilton cabin ruin is on the southern edge of this.
The green-roofed building tucked into Pueblo Canyon, below Kwage Mesa, is the new Los Alamos Wastewater Plant. The treated wastewater effluent stream runs in the trees south of the new plant.
High tuff walls along Camp Hamilton Trail.
Looking across Pueblo Canyon, the lighter green area is Big Otowi Ruins, now owned by San Ildefonso Pueblo and off limits to hikers. Also owned by the pueblo is the bumpy mesa, called Seven Bump Mesa, to the right of Big Otowi Ruins.
Downhill, this is more a slide than a trail. On the way up, the eroded “steps” cut in the pumiceous tuff work quite well!
Walking east along the dreaded resource protection fence which has totally cut off the more direct northerly route the trail used to follow.
The "re-route" of the Camp Hamilton Trail loosely follows a small arroyo. At times, the trail is indistinct. This whole area is rife with dead trees.
A corner of the dreaded resource protection fence. The sign says "Keep Out - Environmentally Sensitive Area - No Trespassing"
When I reached the Pueblo Canyon Trail, I walked westward on it as far as the treated wastewater effluent stream.
It’s difficult to find good places to cross the treated wastewater effluent stream because the area is marshy.
Westward through the ponderosa parkland in hopes of intersecting the Tent Rocks Trail.
This partially standing barbed wire fence. The sign says “Contaminated Area - Do Not Enter”. More remnants of the national lab.
The small canyon I turned around at because of impending thunderstorm.
Looking across the canyon where I turned around, at astoundingly steep cliffs below the Los Alamos County Pajarito Cliffs site.
This is the small, unnamed side canyon far below the Camp Hamilton Trail where there is now a silver ribbon of water running in the formerly dry arroyo.
A close-up of water streaming over the tuff in the arroyo below the Camp Hamilton Trail.
The small, prettily gushing waterfall running over the Camp Hamilton Trail.