In the midst of quarantine, my roommates and I are desperate to get outside. After the first few hikes, we purchased a book titled 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Albuquerque by Stephen Ausherman and David Ryan. Once we knew we wanted to go north, the book led us to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trail area in San Ysidro, NM.
It was a good drive from campus to the trailhead. It was a 50-minute drive on I-25 and Highway 550. The longer trip meant there was a higher probability for us to successfully social distance, but it isn’t one of the closer hikes I’ve done. The drive took us through Rio Rancho, Santa Ana Pueblo, and the Zia Pueblo. Once you get onto highway 550, you see amazing views of canyons and White Mesa.
San Ysidro Trail
The trail was a loop of about 5.8 miles and a 521 feet elevation gain. The hike would have been shorter if we grabbed the gate key from the BLM office, but we figured the extra mile or so wouldn’t hurt. The trail is often the place for dirt bike practice and competition. There are a number of smaller branches off the trail for dirt bikes to practice on in addition to the main hiking trail.
Tinajas in the Slot Canyon
The big draw to this spot is what the dirt bikers call their “Grand Canyon.” It is a small slot canyon that the hike takes you right through. During the monsoon season, the canyon fills up with water. It can sometimes boreholes into the canyon called Tinajas.
They are small ponds that draw migratory birds, game species, and microorganisms to the area. These are also the reasons that slot canyons can be so dangerous. There are strong eddy currents that occur during heavy rains which could drown you if you fall in. When we went, we made sure it wasn’t going to rain. We even had to turn back and scramble out of the canyon when the Tinajas were too large to cross over.
We stayed on the trail well for the first half. There were a few times where the dirt bike trails can be confused with the hiking trail. The short scrambles led us to really beautiful views though. The main scramble happened when we had to climb out of the canyon because of the ponds. (Some of them get really deep.)
We were able to follow the canyon from above and meet back up with the trail. After the canyon and once you pass the cinders, the trail was a lot harder to follow. You need to keep an eye out for cairns or small rock stacks that mark the trail.
It was a really beautiful day to hike this trail. I love loops because you always see something new. Climbing through the slot canyons and figuring out ways to get across some of the smaller Tinajas was the best part.
I would warn that the trail is not as well marked. Be sure to be aware of your surroundings and stay close to cairns. Always check the weather before and don’t hike this trail during the rainy season. Stay safe maneuvering through the canyon. I would also recommend bringing a few friends just in case!