Hana had asked her brother to suggest a long day hike that showed off the best that New Mexico had to offer. It had to be pretty spectacular, as New Mexico was in direct competition on our cross-country journey with my home state of Nevada. Her brother suggested a long loop through the Pecos Wilderness outside of Santa Fe. The loop left the Santa Fe Ski Area, climbed up to the Wilderness, topped Deception Peak, skirted the Santa Fe river drainage on the way to Lake Peak, and traversed to Penitente Peak before descending to the meadow at Puerto Nambe, and a long hike through dozens of golden aspen groves before returning to the Ski Area. The entire loop was above 10,000 feet, and topped at 13,000+, with views of Santa Fe Baldy, a moraine lake, wildflowers, the Rio Grande valley, the Valle Caldera, and the distant Sandia mountains.
We woke at 6:00 am, to head out with the cows along the trail at 7:00 am. We wanted the early start to avoid getting caught by the
clockwork afternoon thunderheads on the bare peaks. We reached the edge of the Pecos Wilderness, and then turned off along the border fence to follow the Raven’s Ridge, a lesser trail that climbed direct to the ridgeline of Deception Peak. Along the way, we passed a field of wildflowers and Hana almost fell into some barbed wire. On top of Deception, we had great views of Mt. Baldy, Lake Peak, Penitente Peak, and Truchas Peak.
We followed the rocky ridgeline, getting a little lost when I tried to shoot through a rocky gap that fell away into the lake below the eponymous peak, and after some scrambling, gained the summit of Lake Peak. We were making great time, so we grabbed a snack, enjoyed the view, and descending to the saddle linking to Penitente. We overlanded up to Penitente, and were rewarded with some of the best views of all–especially the completely treeless north side, and the wonderful, gnarled dwarf pines to the south. We had crushed the peaks early, and could saunter our way down to the meadow at Puerto Nambe.
Some great weathered signage took us off Penitente into the dwarf forest that soon grew to mossy pines and some thick trail. We wound our way to the meadow and finally saw our first other hiker–for almost four hours on three separate peaks we hadn’t seen another soul! We passed over a few rushing streams, even this late in the year, finally running into a few other groups who were enjoying the Pecos Wilderness. Everywhere were aspen and birch groves, some green, some gold, and that delicious mountain smell. I had a slight headache from the elevation (living at a paltry 2,000 feet doesn’t prepare one for a hard hike above 10K), but was thoroughly impressed.
Hana’s brother had chosen a perfectly representative hike, showing the best that New Mexico’s mountains had to offer. We arrived back at the car, tired but exhilarated, and ready for a well-deserved beer down at the Santa Fe Plaza. Land of Enchantment, indeed!