Fall hiking in Taos: Comales Canyon Trail

By Cindy Brown
Posted 9/25/11

Fall is a great time to explore the hikes south of town in the Camino Real Ranger District of the Carson National Forest. Leaving Taos, State Road 518 climbs up into the woods, providing great views back into town.

There are many beautiful trails …

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Fall hiking in Taos: Comales Canyon Trail


Fall is a great time to explore the hikes south of town in the Camino Real Ranger District of the Carson National Forest. Leaving Taos, State Road 518 climbs up into the woods, providing great views back into town.

There are many beautiful trails to choose from all along the road. The leaves are beginning to turn yellow and the trails are lightly traveled.

Comales Canyon, located just over 30 minutes from the center of town, is one of the truly lovely hikes in this part of the forest. It follows a creek lined with rock walls and climbs into aspen groves and fern-covered meadows.

Difficulty: Moderate to difficult; some steep sections

The hike: Comales Canyon Trail begins at 8,000 feet and climbs to 10,400 feet. The first section is on an open, rocky incline. The trail soon enters the woods and follows a creek. This section is wet and surrounded by woods of aspen and pine trees and there are still a few flowers, including monkshood and asters to be seen. Rocky walls of orange and gray granite line the west side of the creek.

There are numerous crossings, with rocks and logs to provide a way across. After about 50 minutes of gradual climbing, there is an aspen grove, which is a great destination or place to rest before resuming the hike. If you continue along the trail, you will reach the first meadow, after another 10 minutes. The meadow is followed by a second aspen grove.

In this section, the trail levels out. As you continue further up, Comales will join the Córdova Canyon Trail, where there are views of the surrounding peaks. The trail can be hiked as a loop of about eight miles.

If you head down the Córdova Canyon Trail, you will reach State Road 518 at the Agua Piedra campground, more than four miles to the south of the Comales trailhead.

You might chose to leave one car at the Agua Piedra campground and drive back to the Comales trailhead to begin the hike. Comales continues further up into the woods and eventually connects to several other trails including Osha Canyon Trail and Bear Mountain Trail.

On a recent visit, as my hiking partner and I walked through an aspen grove, enthralled by the sun shining through the blowing leaves and the amazing stand of ferns, she remarked that the place seemed wild and primeval.

One minute later, we looked up ahead to see a black bear on the trail. The bear was meandering along, apparently in search of food and did not see us. We had time to try to get a quick picture and then we quietly and quickly returned down the trail.

Bear tips: According to local wildlife experts, it is not too surprising that we saw a bear. Matt Pengelly, Taos game warden for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, who is seeing lots of bears this year, says that black bears are the only ones we see near Taos — even if their fur is almost white, brown, or black.

These bears are generally non-aggressive. Pengelly says that it is "extremely rare for a black bear to attack a person." He says it is important to give the bear some space and most often the bear will move off the trail.

"It is best not to surprise them; make some noise, let the bear know you are there," says Pengelly.

Francisco Cortez, wildlife biologist with the Forest Service notes that fall is the time of year that bears are trying to fatten up for the winter.

He points out that due to early summer drought conditions, there are not enough berries, acorns, and other food for the bears, so they are on the move looking for new sources of food.

Cortez recommends that you be aware of your surroundings and notice areas of disturbances like trees with claw marks or rocks that have been overturned by bears looking for ants.

You can also be on the look-out for paw prints and animal droppings or scat. He says that most animals are anxious to avoid humans and will generally try to stay out of your way, as they search for berries and insects.

Cortez adds that it is important never to approach any wildlife, as doing so may trigger a defensive attack, especially if there are young animals with adults.

If you do encounter a bear, follow these tips:

Do not block the path of travel or escape route; give the bear time to leave.

Do not run. Predators can out-run humans.

Back up slowly and speak in a firm voice.

Make yourself look larger by waiving your arms or a stick. n If attacked, fight back and if someone in your group is attacked, help them fight back. If you hike regularly in more remote areas, you may want to carry a bear deterrent spray — a fogging device that is effective up to 40 feet away.

Directions: From Taos Plaza, go south on Paseo del Pueblo Sur four miles. Turn left at State Road 518 and go just over 15 miles to the intersection of State Roads 518 and 75 (to Peñasco). Stay on State Road 518 for an additional 2.2 miles. Go past the Comales Campground to the left, around a curve.

Immediately after the trail sign on the right, you can pull off or drive up a short four-wheel drive road to park at the trail head. The whole drive from Taos Plaza to the trailhead is 21.6 miles and takes 30- 40 minutes.

Cindy Brown contributes to Day Hikes in the Taos Area, by Kay Matthews and is the author of hiking guides for local bed and breakfasts and other publications. Email her at cindybrowntaos2010@yahoo. com.



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