I am losing precious days…I must break away and get out into the mountains and learn the news. ~ John Muir
The High “U” – head up for the big views
Stone cairns topped with a turquoise rock guide you the entire length of the High “U.” Start from the north side of the Lower Pond, or from the high road to the parking lot. This walk takes you up high fast and then continues in a “U” on mostly level ground. The views to the north up the river valley, to the east to the mesa and Tecolote Mountain, and to the southeast to the faraway Sangre de Cristo mountains are beautiful. To the west, the ever rising hills invite you to go higher to big views of our west section and the mesa Pedernal near Abiquiu.
The river runs a mile north to south through our land along the base of the cliffs. Raccoon, bobcat, even the occasional mountain lion and bear, leave prints on its sandy banks. Chances are you’ll come across a beaver dam, or scare up ducks, geese and, sometimes, a great blue heron. Take the handy printed directions that live in the Walk Box in the breezeway. They will lead you down. Once at the water’s edge, head north or south through the willows on cattle trails. Wear shoes that can get wet, and in summer bring insect repellent.
The Box Canyon – a (mostly) dry river bed
Just south of the casitas, down the road that runs between the barn and Wood House, lies the arroyo. Drenching rains during the summer monsoons can cause it to run for a few hours at most. Otherwise dry, its packed sand surface makes for an easy hike interspersed with some boulder hopping. The quantity of water that surges through this canyon is evidenced by the brush and debris deposited high on its walls. When you clamber out of the box at the canyon’s western end, you’ll observe the arroyo broadening widely into the drainage that serves a large watershed on the ranch’s west section.
Lambing Pen Walk – arroyo to start, back on the canyon rim
Start by heading west up the arroyo on the box canyon walk (see above). About half way to the box an elk trail on the right cuts sharply out of the canyon, leading you up to the north rim of the canyon. Trails heading east from here take you to Lambing Pen Lookout (photo from late October), named for the small stone corral used by shepherds to safeguard their lambs. The sheltered arroyo portion of this walk contrasts strikingly with the high wide views of a return home by the lambing pen. Some of the trails on this walk can be tricky to discern. Generally speaking, if you can spot a way out of the arroyo up the north side, take it.
The Mesa – hidden magic at the base of Tecolote (Owl Peak)
Looking east across the valley you can see the long line of willows marking the river, the cliffs above the river and, above them, Tecolote Mountain and the rest of the La Madera Range. You’d never guess that a 300-acre mesa of flowing natural springs and pinon juniper forest extends from the cliffs to the base of the mountains. The full mesa hike crosses it from south to north and involves two easy river crossings and a moderate climb up to this completely hidden land. All the views are spectacular, but the one from the cliff edge looking down on the valley is truly unforgettable.
To the top of Tecolote Mountain
From this photo you can almost plan your ascent up the long shoulder to Tecolote’s 7,170-foot summit. Once there you can see it all — Albuquerque’s Sandia Peak, the mountains of Taos, north up the valley to La Madera, and far to the west toward Abiquiu. This 1.7 billion-year-old range is best climbed in the spring or fall, or early on a summer morning to beat the heat and avoid afternoon rains. Cross the river at our bridge, follow our cairns up the mesa, then angle toward the long southern ridge and follow it up. Some boulder-hopping required, but rest along the way and it’s completely doable.
So many new sights await you at Cliff River Springs. But first, choose a lovely casita to call your home…then start exploring!