Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Drove up to the Valles Caldera for the first of two short hikes today. Highway 4 is a scenic, and usually pleasant, drive, unless you get behind a slow-moving construction vehicle, like we did.  We were forced to crawl along behind that vehicle all the way up, and into, Jemez Springs where we encountered road construction, which is where the construction vehicle was headed. Should have known! After getting past all that, we made pretty good time until we encountered even more road construction in the area around the Las Conchas Trail Head. Seemed like it took forever to get up to the Valles Caldera and the Coyote Call Trail Head

Marty and I attempted to hike this trail in August of last year. We had driven up to see one of Marty’s friends and, afterward, decided to hike the Coyote Call Trail since it was in the area. It’s not a real good idea to start a mountain hike at 11:00 AM during monsoon season, but since this trail is relatively short, and since the clouds didn’t look too ominous, we figured we would give it a go. When we arrived at the trail head, I remember we sat in the truck looking at the clouds and some rain over the caldera to the west, wondering if we should take a chance. It actually didn’t look too bad, but when in doubt, don’t… right? Guess not because we went anyway. Bad decision.

Less than a mile into the hike, thunderheads started rolling in from the east (our view towards that direction was blocked by forest and a ridge line), it started to rain, and lightning started up with a vengeance. Things got very intense, very fast with serious lightning flashes right over our heads followed immediately by very loud thunder. Long story short: we turned around and made it back to the truck without getting barbecued, but that was the closest we have ever come to becoming a lightning statistic. It was truly an unnerving experience to say the least. I made myself a promise that before the next monsoon season, I would buy a small lightning detector and carry it with me on every hike from then on. I recently kept that promise and bought a Strike Alert, it’s about the size of one of those old-style pagers, and this was the first hike I did carrying the Strike Alert.

Heading northeast on Hwy. 4, the Coyote Call Trail Head is on the right, not far past the entrance to the Valles Caldera. This is a short, loop hike of only 3 miles. Elevation at the trail head is 8,735 feet. Highest elevation is 9,170 feet. Total climbing was only 488 feet. Steepest grade was only 12% for 0.1 miles. So not a difficult hike at all. You could easily do this hike in an hour, although it took us 1.5 hours because we stopped and did a good deed for the Forest Service. A small, dead tree had fallen on some of their equipment, so we lifted it off, and shot some close-up video and stills of the damage. Once we got back to ABQ, I put it all together, uploaded it, and e-mailed the link to the Forest Service so they could take a look and determine whether they needed to send someone out to inspect. They thanked us and seemed surprised that we would go to all that trouble. All in a day’s hike, right? 🙂 After giving it some thought, I decided not to include any of that in the video I did for my blog.

And if you’ve been thinking about doing this hike, consider this:

Not only will you have to deal with all that road construction (at least for the remainder of this summer), but virtually this entire hike is through a burn scar. On the video, I speculate as to whether this scar was due to a controlled burn, as we saw a sign not far down Hwy. 4 that indicated controlled burns were going on in the area, but after looking at the few pics I took from the trail head last year, I see evidence of burn scars along the upper part of the trail. If that is the case, the burn scar along this trail is due to the Las Conchas Fire that occurred back in 2011, right before I moved to ABQ.  The reason we didn’t see these burn scars last August when we were out there was because we didn’t make it to the upper part of the trail before we were forced to bail out due to lightning.

CoyoteC all Trail Map

Click Map to Enlarge

Coyote Call Trail Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile