Taos News Lifestyles: Spring hiking in Taos: Río Grande West Rim Trail

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Difficulty:

Easy, a flat hike.

The hike:

You can go as long as you like on the path, which follows the west rim of the Río Grande River. The entire trail is nine miles each way. Mountain bikes are allowed here, as well.

The trail comes close to the gorge at times and then veers farther away. The area is covered with black lava rocks — remnants of its volcanic past.

This is a great hike to begin the spring season. It is relatively level, with a few gently rolling sections, and offers great views of Taos Mountain and El Salto to the east.

By summer, it is advisable to do the hike early in the day, before it gets too hot because there is not much shade. The vegetation includes low-growing sage.

An afternoon storm may roll in across the mesa. Usually there is some warning, such as a low dark cloud coming your way or the far off sound of thunder, but it is hard to judge the distance and the speed of the storm — so it is best to turn back toward the trailhead as soon as you notice the approach of a storm.

Sunset is a beautiful and cool time to be on the trail. Nowhere is "the big sky of Taos" more evident. It can be windy at times and the sheer aloneness of the mesa can be a bit daunting, until you fall into the pleasant rhythm of walking.

Look down into the gorge and you will see the river and may be lucky enough to see a herd of big horn sheep on the floor of the canyon or on the rocky slopes on the east side of the gorge. Coyote, fox, and rabbit are among the animals here. Deer and elk are in the area, but are less often seen.

Birds of prey such as falcons, hawks, and eagles nest on the steep walls of the gorge. Great horned owls have been sighted here, as well. A variety of birds migrate through the area, including cliff swallows which can be seen diving into the canyon. Sage and brewer sparrows can be seen nesting in bushes and grass near the edge. Because there are so many birds in the area, you may wish to bring a bird identification book and a pair of binoculars.

There are snakes in this desert environment, although they generally stay hidden. The only poisonous snake is the prairie rattlesnake, identifiable by its brown and white diamond pattern and rattle. If you see a snake on the trail, you can back up and let the snake escape and that will likely be the end of your encounter.

According to the staff at BLM, letting the snake have the right-of-way and giving it plenty of room is always the smart choice. Valerie Williams, wildlife biologist for the BLM, notes that snakes are an important part of the desert ecosystem, controlling rodents and providing food for birds of prey. They should be left alone, never killed or disturbed.

Rafting season is now through June, so you may see rafters on this section of the Río Grande, known as the Taos Box.

Destinations:

• Overlook, by walking 10-15 minutes, you can reach an overlook area with a bench.

• The Wash, if you continue walking for more than 40 minutes, you will come to some trail markers off to your left. A few feet beyond the markers, you will see a depression in the ground covered with large black volcanic boulders. In a wet year, there will be little ponds in the area.

• The Point, another 30 minutes or more beyond the wash, you will reach a dramatic point with a lone bush to mark the area. There are good views into the gorge from this point.

Directions:

From Taos Plaza, go north on Paseo Del Pueblo Norte four miles. Turn left at the signal at the intersection with US 64 and go west seven miles. Cross the bridge and turn left at the rest stop immediately west of the bridge. There is a well-maintained bathroom and water available here.

The BLM recommends that you place any valuable items, such as cameras etc. out of sight to reduce the risk of car break-ins.

Trivia:

The Río Grande Gorge Bridge is a somewhat famous tourist destination and has been featured in many movies.

It is 650 feet above the Río Grande, making it the fifthhighest bridge in the U.S. It is 1,280 feet long and was built in 1965.

The bridge has appeared in several films, including "Natural Born Killers," "Twins," "She's Having a Baby," "Wild Hogs" and "Terminator Salvation."

Safety tip:

Don't take or throw rocks off the edge of the gorge; you may disturb the nest of a falcon or a big horn lamb or other wildlife below.

Cindy Brown is a contributor to "Day Hikes in the Taos Area" by Kay Matthews and the author of hiking guides for local bed and breakfasts, as well as Lessons from Nature in healing, strength, and flexibility.

If you have hikes you are willing to share, email her at cindybrowntaos2010@yahoo.com.

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