The Río Grande del Norte National Monument is home to breathtaking hikes down into the gorge of the Río Grande and up to mountain tops. Its unique volcanic geology, rich cultural history, wildflowers and wildlife make the monument a treasure of Northern New Mexico.
The monument was designated in 2013 and covers more than 242,000 acres of land. Elevations vary from 6,000 feet near the rivers to a high point of 10,093 feet at the top of Ute Mountain. Since prehistoric times, humans have lived and traveled through the land.
This summer, the Bureau of Land Management is offering a series of guided hikes and special events that will take visitors all over the Río Grande del Norte National Monument and share its history and natural beauty. The series began in early May and will continue throughout the summer. Although the hikes in the series can generally be done on your own, going with a ranger ensures you will learn more about the history of the land and also see more, including hidden petroglyphs, wildflowers and signs of wildlife.
John Bailey, recently retired manager of the national monument, was instrumental in organizing these guided hikes and new staff members have stepped up to make sure that the hikes continue to be offered each summer.
Guided hike: The Slide Trail/Old 570 in Orilla Verde
Coming up Saturday (May 25), ranger Tom Adams will lead a hike down the Slide Trail – the former route of old State Road 570. Adams has a background in archaeology and plans to focus on history of the area. “There are unique petroglyphs like the Star of David left by a Jewish group from the Great Lakes area that headed through on the way to Costa Rica and there are also hidden Pueblo rock carvings,” said Adams.
He will be pointing out the four valuable resources that form the basis of the national monument: ecological and wildlife diversity, unique geology, history and cultural resources. This is his first season with the BLM, and he is excited to share the history of the area.
The Slide Trail follows the course of old State Road 570, the perilous road leading into the canyon of the Río Pueblo. which was closed in 1993 when a massive rockslide covered the road. An estimated 57,000 pounds of basalt rock slid onto the road and the State Department of Transportation decided not to reopen it. The road became a trail overseen by the BLM as a part of the Orilla Verde (green ribbon) area of the monument.
The trail overlooks the Río Pueblo and descends into the gorge ending near the confluence of the Río Pueblo and the Río Grande. Adams said that with all the moisture we’ve been having, there are wildflowers that haven’t bloomed in years, including the cliff fendlerbush, full of white flowers. Other flowers that are blooming now include the red Indian paintbrush and the purple penstemon. Since the rivers are migratory routes for birds, now is a good time to see birds passing through headed north and there is always a chance of seeing bighorn sheep.
Altogether, the hike is just under three miles of easy-to-moderate walking and has an elevation change of 700 feet, dropping from 6,800 feet to 6,100 feet near the river. Adams said, “We will take it slow and allow at least two hours for the hike down and the return back up to the rim.”
Because this is a relatively short hike, it is a great one for kids.
The hike begins at 9 a.m. Meet at the Slide Trailhead, which is located at the end of County Road 110 past the golf course. To get there, drive south from Taos Plaza on Paseo del Pueblo Sur, just over 5.5 miles. Turn right at County Road 110, the road to the National Guard, University of New Mexico-Taos – Klauer Campus and the country club. Continue on for four miles. Park at the dirt lot.
Water, rain jacket or other light layer, snacks, sturdy shoes, along with hat and sunscreen.
For more information
Call the Río Grande Gorge Visitor Center at (575) 751-4899 or the BLM Taos Field Office at (575) 758-8851. If you would like to receive the monthly schedule of guided hikes via email, contact Tim Long at the Wild Rivers Visitor Center, (575) 586-1150.
Throughout the summer, there will be guided hikes and other programs offered in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. Coming up on Friday night, (May 31) at 8 p.m., the Wild Rivers Visitor Center will host a star party with El Valle Astronomers. The dark skies at Wild Rivers offer a perfect backdrop for stargazing. “We pick a date when the moon will not be bright, so that we have the opportunity to see planets, galaxies and star clusters,” says ranger Tim Long. He explains that the astronomers will bring their big telescopes, along with their knowledge to help everyone have the best chance to see some celestial objects. A second star party will be held on September 27. If you go, be sure to dress warmly and bring a red filter for your flashlight.
Campfire talk series
The second Saturday of the month through the summer, Wild Rivers will host a series of campfire talks titled Cuentos y Historias de Questa: a glimpse into the past. The talks will take place at the amphitheater near the visitor center and will feature speakers with long knowledge of the history and customs of the north, including ranching, farming and the gathering of piñon.
On the third Saturday of the month, there will be talks about the butterflies, archaeology and herbs of the national monument. Ninth-grader Marielle Gomez of the Taos Pueblo will talk about her award-winning research with monarch butterflies on June 15 at 7 p.m. Gomez has helped organize yearly monarch counts and markings in the Wild Rivers area. On July 20, Dr. Emily Donald Brown will talk about recent archaeology research in Wild Rivers. The series will conclude with a daytime walk called Finding Wild Herbs and Medicinal Plants in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument with herbologist Cathy Hope. The walk will follow the rim of the river at the Chiflo trailhead.
On Sept. 21, NeoRio with LEAP will return to look at nature-based themes and invite participants to create art and enjoy music, art talks and a farm-to-table feast at Montoso Campground. On Sept. 28, the second annual Video Prism Festival by John Wenger will take place at the Wild Rivers Amphitheater, showing films from artists of New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.
From Taos Plaza, head north on Paseo del Pueblo Norte, which becomes State Road 522. Go a total of 27 miles, passing through Questa. North of Questa, look for State Road 378 to Cerro; turn left here. Follow this road 3.5 miles to the entrance for Wild Rivers. Go another eight miles to the south and head left at the fork to reach the Wild Rivers Visitor Center.
For more information
Call Wild Rivers Visitor Center at (575) 586-1150. The center is open seven days a week from 10 am to 3 pm.