Because of my deteriorating knees, I limited the miles I ran and
walked on gnarly mountain trails around Los Alamos. After checking out part of the
Mitchell Trail to Guaje Ridge, I found enough
challenge in running several of the trails within the city limits
that traverse the mesas and drop down into the steep canyons.
I'll briefly describe some of these trails and show photos in
this two-part series,
beginning with the open-space trails and morphing into trails
used in the Jemez Mountain races.
map above is from the
www.visit.losalamos.com website. I realize it's 'way
too small to read here but it'll give you an idea of how the
mesas (in green) and canyons (tan color) relate to each
other. Trails are dotted black lines. This copy is a .gif
file so it may not translate as well online as a .jpg
DEER TRAP MESA TRAIL
This is the only trail in the network where we managed to get
I was hunting for a fairly level, smooth trail for a long run in
my training buildup for the Bighorn Mountain Trail 50K in mid-June. So
far, all we'd found were fairly hilly, rocky trails. The description of
Deer Trap sounded good: a trail rated "easy" and
promising continual spectacular views along the mesa top for 2.6
miles. That would work; I'd just run and walk the Y-shaped trail
out and back for several hours, using our truck as an aid
We enjoyed the drive on Barranca Road to the
trailhead at Deer Trap Mesa, one of two long fingers of land
that extend beyond Barranca Mesa. What a nice neighborhood! Not
only are the houses and yards attractive, there are also several
trails that access Bayo and Rendija canyons.
runners' dream: living in close proximity to an entire
network of great trails!
Unfortunately, we had difficulty following the correct path about a quarter mile past the
Deer Trap trailhead.
Abrupt break in the rocks: OK, now where do we go??
We dropped off the mesa per the directions, heading for the only
trail we could see, but failed to go back up as soon as we were
Here's the trail -- so far, so good (see
Jim down there?)
We continued on the only trail we saw, a narrow, canted path on the steep north
slope of the mesa. It was nearly impossible for me to walk, let
alone run, on the loose rock and dirt with my weak ankle on the
downside of the trail. Jim wasn't having any fun, either.
Heading back to find the correct trail
We turned around and met an
outbound hiker at the prominent rock formation where we got off-track.
We should have climbed back up to the mesa top at this point but without a sign
there, we didn't know that:
The man pointed out the correct
path on top of the mesa but by then we'd had enough of this
trail. Because of the two steep ascents/descents we'd already
discovered that were required on each loop, it
wouldn't do for my long run. I asked the hiker about a smoother,
flatter trail and he
immediately recommended one on the next mesa to the south:
the North Bayo Bench Trail.
We headed that way, but not before I had my fill of the gorgeous
views from Deer Trap Mesa! That part of the description was spot
on.(see first photo in entry).
BAYO CANYON TRAILHEAD
Bayo Canyon runs for miles between Barranca and North Mesas and
off to the east of Los Alamos.
There is an interesting network of trails along both canyon
walls and down in the bottom of the canyon itself.
The main trailhead is near the roundabout at North Mesa and San
Ildefonso roads but on this particular day we were closer to
trailheads along Barranca Road. Unlike the turn we missed on
Deer Trap Trail, most of the trailheads and intersections in the
Los Alamos trail system are well-marked with handsome signs like
the one below. We parked the truck in front of
someone's house on Dos Brazos and dropped down about one-third
of the way into the canyon on this side trail to reach the North Bayo
Wow! The bench trail was exactly what I was looking for:
mostly-smooth, wide, undulating trail with awesome views into Bayo Canyon and east to the Sange de Cristo Mountains.
That day Jim and I ran/walked out to the end of the mesa about a
mile to an overlook,
turned around, and retraced our steps back
up to Barranco Mesa.
The next day I parked at the trailhead near the roundabout and had an enjoyable
five-hour run at moderate elevations from 6,815 to 7,287 feet.
Most of the time I ran back and forth on this bench trail, where
the elevation is about 7,200 feet,
thoroughly enjoying the cool morning air and great views:
Out and back from the main trailhead to the overlook on the
popular bench trail is 3.4 miles. I extended the distance
by doing a loop toward the other side of the canyon on each out
From the North Bayo Bench Trail
I could see a parallel trail on the bench across the canyon on
It's part of the Bayo Canyon system of trails and doesn't have a
separate name on either of our trail maps (the locals probably
have a name for it). Part of it is used at the beginning and end
of the Jemez Mountain race.
On my last, much longer, loop I ran along that trail eastbound
and down into the canyon:
I turned left about 300 feet below the overlook. This is a good
view into the canyon from the overlook:
Looking down into Bayo Canyon from the N.
Bayo Bench Trail overlook
I circled around the point of the mesa and hiked up a steep,
that brought me back to the North Bayo Bench Trail, near the
If I had needed
additional mileage I could have followed any of the four trails
extending east through Bayo Canyon for many miles.
The trail on the side of North Mesa is fairly smooth for
about a mile (the part included on the Jemez Mountain race
course), then becomes more narrow and rocky as it drops into the
The trail I took to get back up to the North Bayo Bench
Trail is also pretty gnarly. Most of the miles during my long
run were on smoother sections.
I ran on the smooth North Bayo Bench Trail three times, all on
weekday mornings when only a handful of other runners, hikers,
and cyclists were using it. It's much busier on weekends.
Mid-May is a good time of year to see wildflowers in bloom along
The day Jim and Cody were with me we spotted two deer in the
rocks above us. They had little fear of any of us:
These photos show parts of the Bayo Canyon trail used in the Jemez races:
Ruts in the soft volcanic rock were
originally made by homesteaders' wagon wheels
in the early 1900s, then further eroded by
people walking on the trail.
I ended my long run several days ago with a couple of
miles along the Dot Grant and Woodland trails in Rendijo
Canyon, also accessed from the Bayo Canyon Trailhead at the
roundabout. I wasn't sure which of the trails Jim would be
running in his race but showed him photos of each so he could
see how nice they were.
Because of the large number of trail photos I'm including, this
topic is continued in the
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil