The parking lot at Calabasas sits atop the La Tierra Trail system on Camino de los Montoyas, not far from where the city limits end and the county begins. It’s high and a bit lonely, except for the cars of old-timers who’ve used the lot for years. A new kiosk lays out the rules and also leaves room for postings, just like a friendly “comment” feature on the Web.
The trail across the road winds down to a mega four-way trail intersection with a map. It’s the big No. 1, the first node on the trail network. Is it a good idea to ignore the map and wander off instead? No, folks used to get lost because there were no markers. Now it’s possible to chart a course, because signs have been added to every intersection, with maps at the main points. There are multi-use (horses, too) or hiker/biker trails (no horses). More than a mile away (the maps include distances to the hundredths of a mile) is No. 2, a ridge trail that looks down into the Arroyo de las Calabasas and up over to the Jemez Mountains in the west. Fix the route in your mind: No. 2 to No. 6 to No. 7, and then back to No. 1, where the car is. Not quite 2 miles, which takes about an hour on foot on single track.
The chatter between friends usually keeps creatures hidden. But, if you’re lucky, harmless snakes, jack rabbits, bunnies, western blue birds, pinyon jays and lots of giant beetles in season might appear.
Other hikers and bikers sometimes show up, to admire each other’s dogs or to talk about weather conditions. Faster folks, the La Tierra Torture Mountain Bike racers, dash through here in May. The La Tierra Trails are dryer than the Dale Ball Trails, but even so, it might be muddy. It’s hard to ask trail pals to stay in the goop instead of creating an ever wider trail. Shoes can be washed off, but plant life is destroyed for decades by off-trailing, either on foot or on a bike.
Looping back to the east, the trail between No. 6 and No. 7 has views of the ski area and the cellphone tower near the Calabasas parking lot. Is it annoying to see the tower? Sort of, but it’s been there a long time, and it used to be the only way to find the car again.
After No. 7, the trail drops into the Calabasas arroyo. The trees are taller, shadier than on the ridges, and there used to be two homeless camps. Both are gone. Getting rid of campfires in this dry pinyon-juniper terrain is a relief. The maps, the numbers, the fence, the corralled parking lots have all made La Tierra Trails a bit more user-friendly. Credit the city of Santa Fe with building a system that works for people who want to ditch their cars.
On May 4, the La Tierra Torture Mountain Bike Race will bring some fast-paced riders to the trails for a few hours. It’s “torture” only if you want it to be. There’s a beginners’ loop with wider, less technical trails for those who aren’t into the pain. For a map of the courses plus registration, go to www.latierratorture.com. The race organization gives all the proceeds to nonprofit trails-oriented groups in Santa Fe.
Margaret Alexander is on the board of directors of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust.