Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Sandia Cave, Las Huertas Picnic Area- Cibola National Forest
Instead of going back the way we came, we turned down NM 165 and headed north towards Placitas. I had wanted to see this area and Sandia Cave back in March, and now was a perfect opportunity. The road immediately turned to dirt past the Balsam Glade picnic area. It's rough, rutted in spots, narrow and mostly like very slick when wet. Of course, it's like a corkscrew going down the mountain as well. We're used to it, but I can see how it might not be everyone's idea of a Sunday, or in this case a Saturday afternoon drive. Stopping at Las Huertas Picnic area kind of proved the point. Here it was a beautiful spring Saturday and one other car was at this lovely little canyon in the mountains. The stream was rushing though the dense riparian area dominated by good sized box elders. Some kids played in the cold water.We hiked around bit, letting Seamus play and drink in the stream. A few more people began showing up,but I kept wondering as nice a place as this, and as close as it is to populated areas, why weren't there more? Well, it was a gift for us and we enjoyed it.
A little farther down the road was the parking area for the Sandia Cave trail. After meeting an enthusiastic couple who recommended the experience highly, I ended up hiking the short trail, but Andrea was not feeling it and stayed behind with Seamus for company. The trail was good and eventually employs staircases and guardrails( thankfully, as it requires walking along a narrow stone ledge) to access the strange caged spiral staircase that's bolted into the side of the limestone cliff more than a hundred feet above the valley floor. It felt a little strange going up the narrow twists, while basically hanging out there in mid-air. I opted not too look around until I got to the top and the cave.
I fully expected there to be graffiti. I had seen a little at the parking lot and on the trail already, and two caves that I had hiked to near Las Cruces, Shelter Cave and Geromino's Cave had plenty. Still, it's always disappointing, and I have a hard time understanding what motivates people to bring spray paint out into desert or the forest. Later, I watched some videos of this cave on youtube from 2009 and 2010 and realized the fluorescent colored stuff I saw wasn't there yet. So, much of the "decoration" was recent( within the last 5 or 6 years).
Anyway, I walked back in the cave about thirty feet. I could see the passage continued but it was going to get completely dark, and I had nothing to light my way. Back at the entrance, I enjoyed the views down to Las Huertas Canyon and up to high ridges and peaks above and then headed back down. I met several groups on the way back and realized, that even though it seems to be neglected by the Forest Service, this cave is a destination.
Note: Las Huertas Canyon Picnic Site is a fee area as are all the developed sites in the Sandias. I'm not sure about Sandia Cave and trail.Also, Sandia Cave has held a controversial place in the history of North American Archeology. Look it up.