TAJIQUE, NM--Last month my grandson Robert Bennett, biking partner Mike Moye and I decided to hike to the top of the Manzano Mountains. I have used this trail several times before and it has a special place in my heart. I guess it comes from having done it so often that it feels like an old friend.
There is nothing like a hike in the wilderness. Over time, a favorite trail takes hold in your heart. It lives in your memory and is never forgotten. No matter what infirmities may befall you, that old trail still beckons: every ridge line, every vista, every little spring, every grove of oaks. It belongs to you...forever.
My grandson is an excellent hiker with his long legs and light frame. If left to go at his own gait, I doubt I could keep up with him. There is something about silently ascending a winding trail in the mountains that keeps one always looking around the next turn of the trail. Little things like a flower nestled in an old tree stump give a perspective to the hiker that good things in life are always there to be noticed.
It is important to introduce these pleasures to our youngsters. Memories of wilderness experiences we have as a child can become a peaceful haven for troubled times.
I have two trails that belong to me in that way. One is in the Pecos Wilderness, going from Iron Gate Campground to Mora Flats. It is one of the first hikes I ever took in New Mexico. I still remember the smells and colors of the forest, the first view of the meadow below, and the aspens quaking in the wind. The long climb out of the Flats onto Hamilton Mesa became a ritual not to be dreaded, but accepted with a knowing chuckle.
The other is the Cerro Blanco Trail in the Manzano Mountains. The trailhead is about a mile south of Fourth of July Canyon and climbs up to the crest. From the top, views of Mosca Peak and the entire Rio Grande Valley are yours to enjoy while you eat your lunch.
The trail begins with a fairly mild ascent through a canyon with some large ponderosas. The steep part begins with the climb of Cerro Blanco. However, that part only lasts for about half a mile before leveling out a bit. The trail joins the the Fourth of July Canyon Trail which comes up from the north. Just keep going. After another half a mile we join the Crest Trail. Turn right (north) on the Crest Trail and after a few hundred yards there are a couple of short paths that access a beautiful saddle with views of the valley below.
We three sat and looked at our world from atop the flat rocks in that wonderful spot. To the north the pyramidal shape of Mosca Peak seemed to speak of ancient times. Rocky formations on its side looked like the villages of long ago.
Below us, the dark line of trees of the bosque let us know exactly where the Rio Grande ran. The community of Meadow Lake was directly in front of us. Roads ran to the mountains from the river down there, but where they went was unseen--hidden among the trees.
City life looks mighty tame out here. These vistas give us a look at the whole picture: Time, Space, The inevitability of change, Infinity...and beyond.
Although autumn hiking among the maples, oaks and aspens is incredibly beautiful, almost the entire trail is dappled shade and sunlight, making it very pleasant on a summer morning as well. The steeper parts are more manageable with walking sticks and good shoes. Total length out and back is about five miles.
To get there, exit I-40 at Tijeras. Turn south. At about 28 miles turn right on highway 55 to Tajique, then right at the sign for the forest road to the trailheads.