Saturday, April 16, 2011

Santa Fe Quad

Atalaya Mtn. (9,121 ft.)

UN 8086

Sun Mtn. (7,952 ft.)

Talaya Hill (7,436 ft.)

As shuttling back and forth to Rio Rancho has become the background of my life, I decided that I should make every trip count. As it turns out, there are quite a few New Mexico and Colorado peaks which can be accessed with just a modest out-and-back off the trip I'm repeatedly making anyway.

The area around Santa Fe, near the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo range, sports a host of peaks. An accident of topography and cartography, however, puts just two ranked peaks and four unranked but named peaks on the USGS quad which includes most of the city, and bears its name. So, on the way down to Rio Rancho, I stopped off and grabbed one of those ranked peaks, and made the same little detour on the way back to climb the other one.

9 April, 2011: I took the Old Pecos Trail exit off the interstate to skirt the eastern edge of Santa Fe. Five miles further on, I arrived at the Atalaya Mountain trailhead, which is located on a city street, just after dawn. The streets finally give out, roughly at the National Forest boundary, and the actual trail takes off up a ridge, heading up to the range crest. The trail is surprisingly good, impossible to miss, and nicely signed where there are route finding choices to make. It leads to a saddle just south of the summit, where yet another sign clearly points the way. Having not seen a single other person, I arrived at the summit 56 minutes after setting off--just as the sun peeked over the hills to the east.

After installing a register, I made it back to the car in about 40 minutes, and was somewhat surprised to find that the parking lot--large enough for only 7 or 8 cars--was nearly full!

14 April, 2011: Taking the same detour on the way back, I pulled off Camino de Cruz Blanca a bit sooner, at the campus of St. John's College, into the parking lot which also accesses the Atalaya Mtn. trail. This access point appears to be a cooperative effort of the College, the city of Santa Fe's park & rec. department, and the Forest Service: How nice it would be if there were more similar collaborations in Colorado!

After following the trail down into the arroyo on the east side of the campus, I left it when it crossed the arroyo for the last time and took off to the east, and instead continued on southward to the water tank. Past this point, the road gradually becomes a trail, veering to the right (southwest) away from the bottom of the drainage. A couple of hundred yards brings one to the junction where a smaller, but clear, trail heads west to the saddle between UN 8086 and Sun Mtn.

From the saddle, I first climbed 8086 (since it's ranked!), then basically re-traced my steps down the north side and climbed the south face of Sun. 8086 was 90% a bushwhack, as the trail disappeared almost immediately. Sun, however, has bits of trail here and there all the way to the top, and although it is considerably rockier than 8086, it is not as steep and sports less visibility-impeding timber. Views from the summit are better, too. Neither peak has a register or cairn, but the high points are not hard to find.

I quickly descended, re-connecting with my ascent route at the saddle, and was back at the car in well under two hours.

Extra credit: After Sun, I drove a short distance north on Camino del Monte Sol and found the informal trailhead for unranked Talaya Hill. For a few extra minutes of driving and hiking, I got myself up to 4 out of 6 named peaks on this quad. Unexpectedly nice views from the summit of this one, too.

Long life and many peaks!


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