If your fancy new wrist watch is bugging you to get your steps in for the day or if you want to get out and try your newest camera phone on the local flora and fauna, then the Slide Trail is for you. Labeled as “easy” for its steady, gentle incline, the trail follows the old County Road C-110 (aka, Taos Junction Road) and is part of the Orilla Verde trail complex. This is the now-defunct road that used to descend down the eastern cliffside of the Río Pueblo de Taos to the Taos Junction Bridge. Trailheads for the Slide can be accessed at the rim of the Río Pueblo de Taos canyon (at the Overlook Trail parking lot) or via New Mexico State Road 570 (from Pilar) near the confluence of the Río Pueblo de Taos and the Río Grande.
No longer used for automobile traffic due to a massive mud and rock slide that covered a large segment of the road, County Road 110 in its early days was part of U.S. Highway 64 and later U.S. Highway 68 before becoming bypassed by more direct routes to Taos. A regular thoroughfare for north-south travelers since its construction, the rim-huggingroute was first used as a way for teamsters (horse and wagon drivers) to transport goods to and from Taos to Embudo Station and the “Chile Line” – a segment of a narrow gauge railroad line belonging to the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad that connected Alamosa, Colorado, with the Española Valley. Later, as automobiles became more prevalent in the area, usage became slightly precarious due to the extremely narrow travel lanes the gravel road provided.
Nonetheless, even as the ways to cross the Río Grande became available, the road was still widely used as a way to get to points west. Wood haulers would frequently utilize the spine-tingling “shortcut” to reach harvesting areas in the Carson National Forest near Ojo Caliente. Residents of far-west communities, like Carson and Tres Orejas, would use the road to travel to Taos quickly – hopeful that oncoming travelers knew where the rare pullout areas were located and were kind enough to yield.
Now, with the road permanently blocked, the Slide Trail has adequate space for walkers and bikers to traverse up and down without having to worry about whether the up-hillers or down-hillers should step aside and let someone pass. Identified on maps as a “single-track,” the trail still has the appearance of an old dirt road. However, it’s not maintained as such. Thus, footing can be a challenge in some areas – especially where erosion and exposed rocks require hikers to briefly look down at their feet. Also, the namesake slide itself does offer a slight technical challenge as the trail zigzags and steps up, down and around big obstacles in this segment.
The best features of this particular trail truly depend on the eyes and ears of the beholder.
If animals in the wild are what you crave, then the Slide Trail will surely provide a worthwhile experience. The wide variety of birds that call the canyon home can be viewed or heard throughout the extent of the hike. A quick hand on the shutter button of one’s camera may capture hummingbirds hovering around the bloom of the month or a gliding vulture casting oblong shadows on the face of the basalt cliffs. Many smartphones also have voice recorders that can be used to capture the songs of the resident birds as they endeavor to chirp above the din of the churning river below.
Wild Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be seen grazing on the hillsides and, depending on their course, generally are apt to stay still long enough for several snapshots. These sure-footed creatures were introduced to the area in 2006 and have expanded their range within the recreation area.
If geological formations are your cup of tea, then the towering walls on each side of the canyon offer a vertical wonderment – millions of years in the making. Near-perfect lines and corners on many of the basalt monoliths give the canyon the appearance of the Las Vegas strip. Or perhaps this was the look that Vegas was aiming for – with a real-life river running down the middle of the boulevard.
And, of course, the vast varieties of vegetation in this multilayered eco-zone really offer the proverbial frosting on the cake. From granddaddy ponderosa pines in the lower sections of the canyon to cacti and other succulents growing in the craggy cliffsides, the range of plants, flowers and trees found here is impressive – worthy of our awe.
Just as with any hike or walk undertaken in remote areas, always take plenty of water and be prepared for all kinds of weather, as temperatures can fluctuate greatly during the summer months in Northern New Mexico. Inside the box canyon, shadows cast on parts of the trail during early morning hours that offer reprieve from the sun may not exist on the return trip. Similarly, take a rain jacket; monsoon clouds can roll in quickly and catch an unprepared hiker in a downpour. It’s always best to plan your hikes with these details in mind. Also, if you bring snacks, please refrain from sharing your human treats with the wildlife.
In any case, don’t ignore the buzzing sound coming from your wrist. Get out and give the Slide Trail a try. The 2.6-mile round trip will give you more than 8,000 steps, but moreover, the beauty of this Taos County gem will make you want to come back time and time again. Just don’t forget to look up!