Spring Hiking in Taos: Miners Trail

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 The mild temperatures and blue skies of spring invite us outdoors to explore the trails near Taos. While we will likely get more snow, especially in the high country, the hikes near the Río Grande are generally dry and in good shape now. One of the less-traveled paths is Miners Trail, located on the west side of the Río Grande, north of the John Dunn Bridge.

This moderate hike begins at the rim of the gorge and descends just a bit more than a mile to the river. From the start of the trail, there are big views east to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Cristobal area. Although it may be windy on the mesa, the trail is more protected and will likely be less breezy. The hike descends gradually, switching back through the ponderosa pine and juniper landscape. Basalt rocks and cliffs, reminders of the area’s volcanic past, mark the route.

Flocks of chickadees can be heard in the trees. According to Valerie Williams, wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), birds that can be seen along the Río Grande this time of year include a variety of hawks, eagles and the Western bluebird and pinyon jay. Other animals that live here are the mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk and bighorn sheep.

The trail leads to the river, which flows swiftly and is a deep-green color in this section. Sand beaches and black lava rocks line the river. It is a good place to stop for lunch, fishing, or just to watch the water cascading across the rapids.

The total distance for the hike round trip is about 2.5 miles. It begins at about 7,200 feet and descends to 6,500 feet for a total elevation change of 700 feet. Because this hike is more remote than some in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, you may have the trail all to yourself.

History: In the past, there was mining in this area. According to geologist Paul Bauer in his book, titled “The Rio Grande,” the area was called the Río Grande Placer Gold Mining District. He says that the gold found here originated in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and washed down the Río Hondo and other rivers to settle into the gravel of the Río Grande. Remnants of the mining past can be seen in the form of an old Rumely tractor near the river, which was most likely used to flush water through the gravel in the search for gold.

Del DuBois, former BLM park ranger, says that after the Civil War, there were young unemployed men who came west in hopes of making their fortunes by mining for gold. Although there were reports that the gold here exceeded that to be found in California, most of these finds petered out quickly without much ore being found.

DuBois says that the rapids that can be seen just to the north are the Garrapata Rapids, which became more pronounced after debris from the 1996 Cerro fire flowed into the river here.

John Dunn Bridge: Long John Dunn owned both the bridge at Taos Junction and the bridge in Arroyo Hondo, now known as the John Dunn Bridge. In the early 1900s, both bridges were washed out in a flood. Dunn rebuilt the bridge in Arroyo Hondo and charged a toll to people and animals to cross. He established stagecoach service and mail delivery from the train station in Tres Piedras to Taos. He also built a hotel near the bridge and arranged the stagecoach schedule, so that the passengers on the last coach of the day found it most convenient to stay overnight at the hotel before continuing on to Taos. The bridge was sold to the Territory of New Mexico in 1912 and has been a free bridge ever since.

For more information: Beginning in April, the BLM will offer guided hikes, and Miners Trail may be on the schedule. Call (575) 758-8851 or visit www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/fo/Taos_Field_Office.html.

Directions: The trailhead is more remote than many and more difficult to find. You may wish to bring the directions with you. From Taos Plaza, drive four miles north on Paseo del Pueblo 522 to the intersection with the Taos Ski Valley Road. Continue on to approximately mile marker 5. Look for the sign that says “John Dunn Bridge access.” Turn left onto Los Rios (B-007) and follow it as it turns to dirt and begins its descent toward the river. Cross a small bridge over the Río Hondo and then the John Dunn Bridge over the Río Grande. Follow the switchbacks up to the top of the rim. Continue north to the fork in the road and stay right onto TP (Taos Plateau) 219. Follow this road for about 1.5 miles and stay right at the last house. Go just a bit more than 2.5 miles to the trailhead. The last section requires a high-clearance vehicle and should be avoided when it is muddy.

Cindy Brown is the author of the “Taos Hiking Guide,” available at local retailers and nighthawkpress.com. Contact Cindy at cindybrowntaos2010@yahoo.com.

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