Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guaje Ridge Trail

Upper Guaje Ridge between Pipeline Road and the Mitchell Trail has been repaired and is in really good shape. Below the Mitchell to the Cabra Loop, the trail is really eroded. We re-built most of it in 2005 following the Cerro Grande fire, but we didn't move the trail into better spots. I think this trail needs to be relocated on about 60% of its length. It's not easy trail work--a two-hour hike to get to the work spot. We need a new plan!

On July 4, 2011 former Los Alamos Fire Marshall Mike Thompson and I walked a long loop up the Mitchell Trail and down Pipeline Road. The Las Conchas fire was actively burning in Guaje Canyon and to the north, but most the loop we walked was fire-free. The exception was a hot spot along the upper Guaje Ridge Trail near Pipeline Road. The fire had burned through the day before left smoldering logs, fallen snags, and fire creeping through the duff. Most of the trail had been untouched by the fire, but there were some ugly spots.

The next day, smoke billowed from the north of Guaje Ridge in the area Mike and I had walked the day before, and the area continued to push out smoke for the next four or five days. I expected that all the areas that had been untouched were now burned. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that the upper Guaje Ridge Trail was much like I had seen it in July. Some areas did burn, but most of the trail and surrounding forest is intact.

East of the Mitchell Trail, most of the Guaje Ridge Trail escaped the flames. Above the Mitchell intersection, the burn is patchy and much of it was a re-burn in the Cerro Grande burn scar. I did mark 73 hazard trees along the upper 2 miles, so the area isn't completely untouched.

Hiking in July in full fire gear isn't much fun. Mike Thompson walked through this aspen stand on July 4. The aspens are re-growth following the Cerro Grande fire and were a welcome relief from the sun. The green spot gave me hope that the ridge would be spared by the Las Conchas fire.

The intersection of the Guaje Ridge Trail and Pipeline Road on July 4, 2011. It is the most devastated section of the Guaje Ridge Trail.

Looking into Quemazon Canyon from Pipeline Road near the pipe rack, October 2005 and November 2011. The fire came up this canyon and burned the western portion of the Guaje Ridge Trail.

The Cerro Grande fire spared a half-mile long stretch of the Guaje Ridge Trail just below Pipeline Road. The Las Conchas fire burned through that stand of firs and spruce with a mosaic pattern. There are small patches of blackened forest, but most of it was a moderate burn that do not effect the essential feel of the trail. 

Aspen regeneration after Cerro Grande burned hot in Las Conchas, and this stand of aspen is regenerating again. The soil here is exposed and that might create erosion problems in spring and summer.

New Mexico locust dominates this slope along the ridge trail about a half-mile from the Mitchell Trail. It completely burned off above ground and will be back with a vengeance!


  1. July 26, 2013: Cindy Trujillo & Carl Begeal rode Guaje Ridge down to Mitchell and Rendija. We have great memories of Guaje Ridge from the Pajarito Punishment ~ 20 years ago! Needless to say, this area has been punished since then by fire. Locust trees have really taken root in the effort to prevent erosion. It's going to take a lot of work to keep these thorny trees from consuming the trail. It rained about an inch last night up at the ski area and the eastern slopes of the trail were fairly rutted, so can't fault the re-seeding effort entirely. We are all scratched up, but it was fun anyway. Guaje remains epic in a new way. Hope there is local interest enough to restore this great trail eventually. Seems like there is potential.

  2. There is plenty of local interest, but rebuilding the trail in the same place a second time doesn't make sense. We'll need to get a Forest Service evaluation of a reroute and they don't have the staff or the funds to do that now. I'm hoping for 2015.


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