Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fourth of July Trail-Manzano Mountains Wilderness,Cibola National Forest

    This was our first hike ever in the Manzanos. As is often the case when I'm beginning to explore a new area in our state, I turn to one of my two old editions of Laurence Parent's Hiking New Mexico, which I believe is still being published as 95 Hikes in New Mexico.  My journeys to Serpent Lake, San Leonardo Lakes, Trampas Lakes, the 10k Trail, San Pedro Parks,plus a few that I'm forgetting,
and now this fantastic hike have all been taken from this very useful guide.This hike of his is a loop with a stem using trails 173,79,170(the stem) and Forest Road 55.
We parked outside of the campground in an area designated as Hiker Parking. Although there was only one group camping on this gorgeous late spring weekend, it is well known, because of the abundant maple trees,that this place sees very heavy use on Fall weekends, hence the need for the extra parking.There is no fee,unless you are camping( or decide to park at a campsite).
 FT 173( Fourth of July Trail) starts at the back of the campground and initially feels like an extension of the road. Soon however it begins climbing almost like a staircase on top and through boulders of grayish gneiss. It was little hot and a tad humid( by NM standards),but I was glad to see mud and then a trickle of water from Fourth of July Spring # 2, so Seamus the Scottie could cool himself down. This section has a very closed- in feeling with many small maples lining the trail.

 Things leveled off bit as with left the narrow little spring canyon. We were now in  a more mixed forest with conifers, oaks and still plenty of maples. The trail turned to the southwest, as we walked in a section deeply shaded by larger conifers. Soon after we hit the junction with FT 79 ,the Cerro Blanco Trail, and turned back to the northwest. Now we were in a forest made up almost entirely of maples with their electric green spring leaves. Many trees were quite large,but often they were growing in thick stands of smaller trees similar to young aspens. It was truly stunning to be here in late spring, I'm sure it is spectacular in the fall. I couldn't believe I'd never made my way over into this gorgeous mountain range before.

 One of the nicest things about hike is that the little leg that brought us to a saddle on the crest is mostly a lateral move with only moderate elevation gain. There had been no long range views until we reached  that saddle, but as we did  the forest reduced itself to low growing oak scrub which had yet to leaf out, punctuated by a few spruce trees. Now we could see to the west and east.The flat mesas that border the Rio Grande Valley , Los Lunas, and the surrounding little towns were right below us. Towering above us to the north were Mosca and Guadalupe Peaks.To the south  a formidable ridge with limestone cliffs rose up. At our feet, a horny toad blending in so well with the buff colored limestone gravel, gave my wife  little surprise, and then we noticed there were several of the little guys running around.

 There was a stiff little breeze is this open spot, so we retreated to the glade of maples to have our picnic. After lunch we began heading back down to the junction of FT 173 and FT 79, we then proceeded to head south on FT 79. There were now a few open spots where we had views out to  mesas and playa lakes to the east and then as the trail descended  near Cerro Blanco views opened to complex terrain of  forested canyons and  high ridges on the south. FT 79 descends quite steeply beyond here on that loose granitic grus surface which makes the possibility falling almost inevitable. We went slow, very slow and consequently stayed upright.

 Now we  walked in a pretty little hollow with the music of a tiny, rushing stream and the calls of songbirds.We stopped,rested and lingered a bit in the shade of more maples, while Seamus played in the water. After going around a small  waterfall, that was almost completely hidden from view,  and passing some truly enormous ponderosa pines, the trail emerged onto FR 55.

 I'm learning to be a little wary of using road walking to create loop hikes, but in this case this final leg was almost as nice as the trails. Tajique Creek was  flowing at a decent clip, and the riparian area it had created was green with grassy clearings with the biggest maples of all shading them. This hike is truly a New Mexico classic.

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