Happy Trails: Time travel on the Arroyo Hondo Open Space

A view of the Arroyo Hondo Open Space Trail in March from a newly opened trailhead. New Mexican file photo

In these dry times, consider those who made the difficult decision to leave this area in the early 1400s. The pueblo they had built on the bluff was no longer thriving. The grass-covered remains of that native settlement can be seen — at a respectful distance — from one of the trails in the Arroyo Hondo Open Space. The settlement is protected by an archaeological easement and is separated from the county-owned Open Space by the almost impassable Arroyo Hondo.

Many spectacular views are available to visitors to the Arroyo Hondo Open Space. This 86-acre property overlooks many of the historical sites related to the movement of people over many centuries. One can imagine Coronado and his expedition passing just west of the parcel on their way to the Pecos Pueblo and the Llano Estacado.

There are no developed overlooks, yet, but visitors can glimpse the stark canyons of the Rio Grande River and the Santa Fe River, traversed by settlers from Old Mexico using the Camino Real. The Spanish ventured into the Arroyo’s bottomland, once farmed by the ancient inhabitants, to graze their horses and cattle. To the north and east, there are views of the Old Santa Fe Trail, used by Anglo-American traders, settlers and troops arrived. It is rumored that the hills of Arroyo Hondo were used in that era as lookouts — ideal for sending and receiving signals.

From the upper parking lot, a concrete “trail” is a gentle — easy enough for school children — and worth it. Cresting the hill, a vista unfolds with the Galisteo Basin, the Ortiz Mountains and the Sandias as a backdrop. The trail curves west toward the Pajarito Plateau. The trestle for the Santa Fe Southern Railway is visible.

In the early days of the last century, grand plans led residents to dam the Arroyo to create a water source for irrigating the flat plains. Prosperous citizens and potential investors came out to view the large construction project on horseback or in a Model T — that is, until a violent thunderstorm and subsequent flash flood roared through the arroyo and ruptured the dam’s wall on July 17, 1912. The volume of water was apparently so great that it washed out the railroad track two miles downstream, causing a nonfatal derailment of the next train. The remains of the dam can be seen from the contour trail around the property.

Today, visitors can appreciate the Arroyo Hondo Open Space and its trails — on foot, bike or even on horseback. It’s popular with trail runners and dog walkers and offers short but exciting intermediate bike loops. Just a short car trip (or bike ride) from town, it has two convenient trailhead parking areas. Arroyo Hondo Open Space is one of the local properties managed by the County Open Space & Trails division.

Bill Johnson is a board member of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.

(1) comment


Arroyo Hondo Open Space is a shining jewel of the Santa Fe County Open Spaces. Nearby, and yet far. Go for the solitude, for communion with and appreciation of Nature and Place. This gem belongs to all of us.

But, as they say on TV, wait! There's more! Consider other County O.S. gems: the Ortiz Mountains Educational Preserve, administered by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, or the Cerrillos Hills, managed by New Mexico State Parks - check websites for both. And the Rail Trail, the Spur Trail. The list goes on and continues to grow.
Take pride in YOUR Santa Fe County Open Spaces & Trails.

Bill Baxter, a volunteer with the SFBG, conducts history hikes in the Ortiz Mountains.

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