Sunday, July 26, 2015

Backpacking New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness

I backpacked this magnificent 223,667 acre wilderness in 1989 and 1991. It is located northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest and the Carson National Forest. The 20 mile long valley encompasses the Pecos River valley and is the southernmost end of the 1000 mile long Rocky Mountain system. Elevations range from 8400 feet to 13,100 feet. As early as 1892 it was set aside as a timber reserve, then later as a national forest. In 1955 it was named Pecos Wilderness and then in 1964 was part of the original Wilderness Act land holdings.
Middle Truchas Peak (13,066 feet elevation) is flanked by 13,100 foot South Truchas Peak and 13,024 foot North Truchas Peak seen in the photo below. Pecos Falls (elevation 10,480) cascades more than 50 feet down to the river. The Sky Line Trail curves in a 48 mile horseshoe around the Pecos River valley, passing numerous high-country lakes on its path. All totaled, there are 15 lakes and 8 major streams in the wilderness.

The guide book states: "Rugged, deep canyons separated by broad, gently sloping ridges and mesas covered by a pleasing mixture of dense spruce forests, majestic aspen stands, and open grassy meadows commonly filled with wild flowers in the summer months." And it lives up to this billing!

Main access is by trailheads located about 30 miles east and north of Santa Fe, NM, north through the town of Pecos and into the national forest. A ranger sub-station is in Pecos.

This view below is of the Pecos River valley with the tall Truchas Peaks in the background.

In 1989 we entered at Cowles and backpacked 5 days, heading north on the west side of the Pecos River, camping near Pecos Falls and day hiking to Lost Bear Lake, and then returning south on the east side of the river, leaving at Iron Gate Campground.
The highest waterfall in the wilderness is Pecos Falls which cascades a distance of over 50 feet. This photo only captures a small portion of the falls. On the left you see my younger son, Steve, and our Italian foreign exchange student, Luca, exploring the falls.

Here's one of our comfortable campsites nestled among the trees.

Steve and Scott enjoying the views.

In 1991, we entered at Holy Ghost Campground. Our campsite was at Stewart Lake, seen in the photo below at an elevation of 10,200 feet along the 50+ mile Sky Line Trail which makes a horseshoe-shaped loop around the Pecos River Valley. Since we had hiked much of the horseshoe trail two years earlier, our goal this time was to get up high and visit some of the magnificent high altitude lakes.

Some of the high Tuchas Peaks can be seen in the distance.

We were on a day hike up to Lake Katherine when we were clobbered by an intense hailstorm and thunderstorm which hit us at the 11,500 foot level. The temperature dropped from the upper 60s to the low 30s in moments, and as we retreated back to camp, you can see the remnants of the 3 inches of hail still on the trail. Arriving back at camp, we discovered our tents were flooded and all our gear was sodden. The temperature was still low and the sun had not returned so drying out was not an option, so we packed up, retreated off the mountain, and got a motel in Santa Fe. As we dried all our gear on the driveway on a beautiful 90+ degree day in town, we could see that the storm was still raging up high on the mountain!

Santa Fe National Forest site

Pecos Wilderness info

"Trail Guide To Geology of the Upper Pecos" by Patrick Sutherland and Arthur Montgomery; New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Minerals, Socorro, NM; 116 pages.

"Trail Guide: Pecos Wilderness" by Southwest Natural and Cultural Heritage Association; Albuquerque, NM; 1991, revised 1995; 194 pages.

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