It’s a scorcher this week, and a jaunt to the mountains offers a reprieve for body and soul. Whether your schedule allows for an hour or a full day’s trek, pack your trail etiquette by revisiting these important tips:
- Before venturing out, let someone know where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the trail and have the matched level of expertise to navi it safely. Novices should begin on easier trails. Groups should pick a route for the least experienced of the bunch. If your own ability has outgrown the trails and endangers others with less skill, research an alternative setting that complements your experience level.
- Come prepared with appropriate supplies that take into account a sudden change in weather or circumstance. Park in designated areas, pay fees where required and don’t bring anything of value that would remain in your vehicle.
- Whether on foot, horseback or vehicle, stay on marked trails that are open for the season. Venturing off trails damages the natural habitat, increases safety risks and creates trafficked areas that cannot be maintained. Avoid trails after heavy rains, as they are vulnerable to ruts and erosion. Trails that cross private property deserve special attention, so behave like a perfect guest and you will be welcomed back. Leave s how you found them.
- “Pack it in, pack it out” means not leaving anything foreign in the wilderness. Pack garbage bags for your trash to take and dispose of at home, and if you see more along the way, pick it up and feel good about your small act of service. Use “leave no trace” practices if nature calls either you or your dog. Dogs are domesticated animals, and their waste does not belong in nature. Bagging and leaving dog waste to pick up later is a memory waiting to happen. Find a way to carry it in the moment. While it may be challenging to stoop and scoop after your horse, dismounting and pushing manure off the trail will be appreciated by those on foot. It should go without saying that cigarettes are a huge fire hazard — this year in particular.
- When it comes to the rules of these roads, learn the correct right-of-way yields. Downhill yields to uphill travelers. Hikers yield to horses, and bikers must yield to both hikers and horses. Horses are large and unpredictable, so avoid loud or sudden movements and control your dog. Slowly and calmly step off to the downhill side of a trail. If you approach from behind, calmly announce your presence and intentions. Ask the rider for instructions such as, “Am I OK over here?” Ideally, equestrians use trails or arroyos with fewer potential obstacles, but on the multiuse trails, be patient, yield when you can and communicate tactfully from the saddle. They don’t call it a high horse for nothing, so defuse a potentially challenging situation by dismounting to be at eye level.
- The thrill of the descent for a bike rider can be a startling experience for other trail users. Alert those ahead verbally, consider equipping your bike with a bell and always slow down around other trail users. ATV and dirt-bike riders should always stay on the marked trails, slow down when passing people and consider stopping and turning off engines when encountering horses.
u Like an automobile, travel in the right lane and pass on the left. Look behind you before passing. Your voice is your turn signal, so remember to communicate with fellow trail users. When it’s time to find the rest stop, pull over off the trail. Anticipate large groups or a horse around every curve and adjust your speed or gait accordingly. Groups should travel single file or take up no more than half the trail width.
- Set a warm tone by smiling and offering a “hello” when passing fellow trail users. Announce yourself when approaching from behind with a calm and friendly tone.
- Take in nature visually, but don’t take any souvenirs home with you. Leave rocks and vegetation undisturbed. Give wildlife a wide berth and check park regulations about safe distances one must keep when encountering specific animals. Never venture off the trail to get a closer look, which can damage natural habitat and put you in danger.
- Let nature do the talking. Be respectful of both human and wildlife’s connection with nature. Turn ringers off and speak in a low tone.
- Perhaps the most controversial trail user is man’s best friend. If you are in a group, ask in advance if anyone objects to the company of a dog, especially when horses are involved. To leash or not to leash is a perennial question. You must be in control of your dog if you choose the latter, but keep the leash handy. If your dog has never seen a horse, then it’s never experienced a hoof in the face either. Opt for the leash until they are seasoned around horses and all other trail users. You should never assume anyone is a dog lover or that dogs are as nice as yours, so be cautious and respectful.
- Consider volunteering for trail maintenance weekends organized by the New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors at nmvfo.org.
Over 40 percent of New Mexico is experiencing exceptional drought, the highest and most severe rating of the five drought categories. The entire state is rated abnormally dry. Tread lightly when you head for the hills this summer.
Let your conscience and your etiquette be your guide to show respect to fellow trail users and promote stewardship of the land. Happy trails!