Gasping for air as they walked, volunteers on their way up the mountain to perform trail maintenance may have cursed themselves for spending so much time in front of computers. Some were able to chat on the way up, but most had to stop talking and focus on their breath — but this was Atalaya after all.

The Atalaya Trail, one of Santa Fe’s most popular and beloved trails, turns 24 this year. It has only been two dozen years since the trail up Santa Fe’s “Watchtower” was officially established in 1991 by the United States Forest Service with critical help from a small group called the Friends of Atalaya.

Many public trails in the West have a history of starting out as footpaths for accessing high country forests, for gathering wood or utilizing pasture land for sheep and cattle grazing. Trails that now lead into the foothills east of Santa Fe were originally developed for these purposes. Trails can be lost to fencing, private ownership, the construction of new homes or neighborhoods, or the development of roads on, over, or across traditional routes. The result is usually the end of the trail — literally and figuratively, for the public. Atalaya is among the fortunate few that have endured.

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