Old 570, the perilous road leading into the canyon of the Río Pueblo was closed 20 years ago after a massive rock slide. Long-time Taoseños tell stories of taking the family pick-up truck down this road to cross Taos Junction Bridge and get wood near Carson. They mostly remember holding their breath in fear, while driving back up along the narrow gravel road with a full load of wood, looking down over the steep cliff to the Río Pueblo below.
After more than 57,000 pounds of basalt rock fell on the road in early 1993, the state Department of Transportation decided not to re-open it. The road became a trail overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is known as The Slide Trail. It is part of the Orilla Verde (green ribbon) trail system and can be accessed either from County Road 110, past the University of New Mexico Klauer campus or from the Taos Junction Bridge area.
It is a pleasant and moderate climb up a gravel surface that is partially overgrown with grasses, sage, and willow. The rock slide section is near the bottom and here the path narrows and climbs up and down for a short section.
According to Tami Torres, outdoor recreation planner with the BLM, the trail was improved last year with the help of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, so that the slide section has a trail through it, rather than requiring a scramble over the boulders.
The trail crosses several springs and arroyos that empty into the river. If you begin near the Taos Junction Bridge, you will hike up 1.3 miles to the rim of the Río Grande Gorge and gain about 700 feet in elevation.
Spring is a good time to explore the hikes near the Río Pueblo and Río Grande. The relatively low elevation at 6,100 feet ensures that the area gets less snow and that the snow melts faster than some of the higher elevation hikes. Later in the season, it gets hot here, but during the spring the temperatures are usually moderate.
On a recent March day, I drove down the switchbacks and over the Taos Junction Bridge to the Río Pueblo campground. I parked near the trailhead and began the pleasant climb up. The trail starts almost level with the Río Pueblo and gradually climbs up away from the river. Views over to the Pueblo land across the river are filled with massive lava rock formations, so large they resemble great rocky ocean liners. Some days are breezy and a wind breaker came in handy on recent trips here.
Near the top, there are vertigo-inducing views down to the river far below. It is worth noting that this hike may not be appropriate for people with a fear of heights.
There are a few remnants of the old road, with an occasional post, concrete barrier or car visible on the rocky slopes that lead to the river. The top section of the trail is the most heavily impacted by humans with graffiti and litter.
Torres says that the BLM has been awarded funds “to acquire 78 acres at the high end of the trail adjacent to the south side of County Road 110, where it terminates at the jersey barriers leading into the Río Pueblo de Taos canyon.”
After the land has been acquired, the BLM will begin to actively manage this area to prevent dumping and will construct a trailhead, along with picnic tables, signing and trails that connect to the Rift Valley trail system.
On recent hikes, there have been big horn sheep visible on both sides of the Río Pueblo. According to the BLM staff, other animals that can be seen are lizards, deer and elk, as well as many birds. The gorge is a migratory path for birds; hawks, along with bald and golden eagles have been spotted.
Although they are in the area, it is unusual to see black bear, bobcat, and mountain lion. There are a variety of snakes, with rattlesnakes being rare. Bull snakes, which resemble rattlers, but are non-venomous, are more often seen, but I've never seen any snakes near the trail here.
The lower trailhead is near the confluence of the Río Pueblo and the Río Grande. Both rivers are flowing powerfully now and there is tremendous energy where the two come together, producing thundering rapids and sparkling spray.
North approach: drive north four miles from the Plaza on Paseo del Pueblo to the intersection with the Ski Valley Road. Turn left onto US 64 and drive past the Río Grande Gorge Bridge. Turn left onto the West Rim Road toward Pilar and Ojo Caliente.
After about 8 miles, there is a stop sign, make a slight left and continue past the Petaca Point trailhead. The road is gravel, narrow and windy from this point on, with steep dropoffs to the Río Grande below.
Cross the Taos Junction Bridge and turn left into the Río Pueblo Campground. There is a fee station where you can pay the $3 fee for day use. Continue up the road to the left and park near the trailhead. The entire one-way trip is about 22 miles. There are outhouse facilities at the campground.
South approach: drive south from the Plaza on Paseo del Pueblo, just over 5.5 miles. Turn right at County Road 110, the road to the National Guard and Taos Country Club and continued 4 miles. Park at the dirt lot just above the rocks that close the road. This approach brings you to the top of the trail. An alternate approach is to drive south on NM 68 to Pilar 17 miles and turn north on NM 570 and head toward the Taos Junction Bridge. Go past the bridge to the trailhead.
For more information
Contact the BLM Taos Field office at (575) 758-8851 or the Río Grande Gorge Visitor Center at (575) 751-4899. At the Río Grande Gorge Visitor Center, there are maps, books, and a knowledgeable staff. It is open year round, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, November to mid-April and 8:30 am to 4:30 p.m. the rest of the year. You can get information about current trail and river conditions.
Cindy Brown writes about nature. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.