Borrego Bear Wallows / Atalaya / Picacho Peak

My home state, Minnesota, is the worst for “false springs” – glimpses of warm, sunny days that trick us into packing up the snow boots and skis and start daydreaming about flip flops and gardening – then suddenly presents us with late-March blizzards and sub-zero April temperatures.  It is often said, “If you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, then wait five minutes.”  (It is also said that Minnesota has two seasons: Winter and Road Construction.)  However, I have learned that Santa Fe comes in at a close second for its false springs.  At one point in February I walked the dog in my sandals, then a few days later we had visitors come down with the sole purpose of escaping their Minnesota winter to golf in the sunny southwest, only to be cursed with wicked winds, frigid flurries, and twenty-something temps.  As soon as our guests left to head north, we had two gorgeous 60-degree afternoons in a row…followed by several inches of snow this weekend. 

Evil is what it is.  (As we speak, my furry winter boots and strappy Chaco sandals are both sitting by the front door, ready for whatever Mother Nature throws our way.)

However, despite the late-winter rollercoaster ride, there have been a number of picturesque days that have allowed me some excellent hiking adventures. 

Borrego/Bear Wallows
Saturday, February 11th, was such a beautiful day that I couldn’t not get outside and take advantage of the bright southwest sunshine.  (Plus, Kua desperately needed some exercise after being cooped up in her kennel all week.)  In looking through my Sierra Club day hiking book for a short hike close to town, I discovered the Borrego/Bear Wallows trail, a mild, 4-mile hike offering gentle hills and wooded scenery comprised of Ponderosa Pines, spruces, and Aspens (which I’m sure are fantastic in the fall). 

According to the Sierra Club book, “This is the Borrego Trail along which shepherds brought their flocks to market in Santa Fe from towns to the north, before modern roads and other developments made life easier and less interesting.”  This was a lovely hiking trail with rolling hills and loads of fluffy snow.  Kua was in heaven.  Throughout the hike she would run ahead, then wait for us to catch up, or lag behind to sniff something interesting, followed by a sprint to rejoin her flock (she is a shepherd after all).  She probably hiked at least four times as much as we humans did with all her back-and forth romping.  One step for man, four steps for dog kind…or something like that.

 I spotted a woodpecker!

Sunday, March 4th, was the day our visitors left, and though it was cold and windy, it turned into a sunny day for hiking in town.  I had been putting off hiking Atalaya for a while because I’ve heard that it’s steep and challenging and I don’t feel that I’m in as good physical condition as I was last fall, but I finally decided to tackle this challenge.   

Atalaya (Spanish for “watchtower”) is the highest point in this section of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, at 9,121 feet at the peak.  There are some steep sections of the hike, and some slippery areas too (I should have brought my shoe chains!), but overall this was a beautiful trail offering spectacular views.  During the climb upwards there are many opportunities for viewing the city and the Sandia and Ortiz mountain ranges to the south.  The peak offers stunning panoramic views of the entire Rio Grande River Valley, mountain ranges to the west, and Tesuque Peak to the north.  The views made this hike very rewarding.

Picacho Peak
Yesterday was an emotional day as we said goodbye to my family’s 20-year-old cat, Apple Jack, who deteriorated quickly over the past few months in his battle with cancer.  And as if it weren’t challenging enough to let go of this amazing member of our family, my 3-year-old kitty, Laila, had an allergic reaction to her annual rabies vaccine yesterday, forcing me to leave her overnight at the emergency animal hospital.  Thankfully she is doing fine now and had exceptional care in the hospital, but it certainly wasn’t easy to deal with two pet-related crises in the same day.  After this difficult day, hiking was exactly what the doctor ordered.

The hike to Picacho Peak is part of the network of the Dale Ball Trails, beginning off of Upper Canyon Road.  This particular section of the trail winds through a forest of junipers, cacti, yucca, and ponderosa pine.  The light dusting of fresh snow resting on tree branches, hazy fog lingering in the air, and occasional soft chirp of birds created for us a serene, peaceful hike.  Kua was surrounded by snow and sticks, her favorite things, and discovered that she also enjoys climbing on top of rocks.

Picacho Peak, at 8,577 feet, offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and surrounding mountains.  It was amazing and somewhat surreal to find ourselves above the cloud line.  Like Atalaya, this was also a rewarding hike.  

 I love these snow-covered cacti.

I look forward to the arrival of spring, but for now I continue to enjoy bundling up, strapping on my boots, and exploring Santa Fe’s snowy trails and breathtaking views.


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