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"The Los Alamos County Trail Network, along with routes in the surrounding
Santa Fe National Forest, offers hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians
more than 75 miles of trail to explore. Trails range from 5,400 feet in White Rock Canyon
to 10,454 feet at the summit of Caballo Mountain. Most trails are easy to follow,
but may be rough, steep, and challenging for all trail users . . . "
- Los Alamos County Parks Division trail network map
Although I wasn't able to cover as many miles in the Los Alamos trail network this year as last, I had just as much fun. In fact, since I've been walking for the pleasure and the health of it instead of training for races the last eight months, I've had even more fun on the trails!

We are back in Los Alamos so Jim can run the Jemez Mountain 50K tomorrow. Although he's using the race as a training run for subsequent ultras this summer, he's still tapering this week and not running major miles. He needs some good hill and altitude training, however, so he's done two runs/hikes on the race course on Guaje Ridge (elevation ~ 8,864 feet) and Pajarito Mountain (~ 10,400 feet).

A fine place to acclimate at 10,000+ feet:  the oversized bench on Pajarito Mountain

I've had several shorter hikes on Guage Ridge, Pajarito Mountain, and other parts of the area's extensive trail system. In this entry I'll show some pictures from these runs/hikes.

You can get information about the trails in and around Los Alamos from at least two websites: the Parks Division link above and www.visitlosalamos.com. Many of the trails in the system are open to cyclists and equestrians, as well as runners and hikers.


All of the Jemez course distances (50-mile, 50K, and half marathon) send the runners up the Mitchell Trail early in the race.

The trail is not the prettiest; it winds through the huge Cerro Grande burn area that threatened Los Alamos ten years ago. There is a certain stark beauty, however, especially on a blue-sky day:

It's interesting to see what plants have sprouted and now thrive on the mountainsides below the burned snags. The area is very dry this spring. There aren't nearly as many flowers in bloom on the trails around Los Alamos now as there were this time last year but there are some pretty ones out there:

Yellow Pea is one of the few flowers blooming in the area now.

On Sunday we began our hike from the Mitchell Trailhead (elev. 7,312 feet) on Arizona Ave. near 45th Street. The trail rises rather steeply over rocks to its intersection with the Perimeter Trail (elev. 7,553 feet), which winds around the western and northern part of the city.

Jim approaches one of the water tanks near the Mitchell / Perimeter intersection.

Runners approach the Mitchell Trail from the Perimeter Trail four to five miles into their races and climb over rather rough terrain to a remote aid station on Guaje Ridge at 8,852 feet, an ascent of 1,300 feet in 2.2 miles. The 50K and 50-milers return to this aid station a second time at 26 and 43 miles into their races, respectively, and return to the finish via a different route down the ridge.

I haven't gone to the top of Guadje Ridge because of the steep descent with loose rock that I'd encounter coming back down on an out-and-back training run. Jim says there are nice panoramic views from the ridge. I showed photos of the ridge in an entry last year but couldn't see it from my position this time.

Looking up the trail toward the first saddle, one of several
false summits on the way to Guaje Ridge

Jim went all the way up to the location of the aid station on the ridge on Sunday, climbing as fast as he could on his first day at this higher altitude. From the Mitchell TH, he had an ascent of 1,540 feet (and 1,540 feet back down). Cody and I followed him part way up (and about half a mile behind) but turned around when we got to a steep section below the saddle with loose rock that would have been difficult to descend with my cartilage-challenged knees.

I could see Jim up ahead as he approached the first saddle, as well as three other folks on the trail that he stopped to talk to.

You can't see Jim here but he's visible in the full resolution version of this photo.

Turns out two of them were our friends Sandy and Dick Powell!  Dick was helping Sandy pack in a bunch of two-liter bottles of soft drinks to the aid station location on the ridge.

That's the only way to supply fluids and snacks to this aid station -- on the backs of volunteers who are willing to hike them in during the week before the event. Sandy will work this aid station all day tomorrow during the race, while Dick is in charge of the Townsite Lift AS on Pajarito Mountain. Thanks, you two, for all your hard work before and during this race!

After Cody and I descended we continued north on the Perimeter Trail for a little while, then rendezvoused with Jim back at the truck. This is the edge of the burn area; the first and last several miles of the race course through town are heavily treed, as are some other parts of the course.

Part of the Perimeter Trail, looking back toward the snow-topped Sangre de Cristo Range

I hiked a total of about four miles that day, Jim over five. It felt like more to both of us since we aren't acclimated to this altitude yet and neither of us has been hiking/running trails quite this steep recently.


The next day we struck out on easier trails in and along the walls of Bayo Canyon, which is in town. We were still breathing hard going uphill at 7,000-7,500 feet, though.


Jim started at the Posse Shack on North Mesa, the location of the race start/finish, and followed the 50K course down to the Bayo Canyon trailhead as he will during his race. Instead of continuing through the tunnel and toward Guaje Ridge, however, he turned right to follow the trail through the canyon and back up to the Posse Shack as he will in the last couple miles of the race.

Part of the race course through Bayo Canyon

Runners turn up this trail for a nice little rock climb and finish on the mesa at the Posse Shack.

Jim didn't have his camera and I didn't go this way on Monday. I took those two photos today, after the course was marked.


While Jim was running on the race course Monday, Cody and I revisited a trail along the opposite wall of Bayo Canyon. I really enjoyed running there last year.

The Bayo Bench Trail begins at the Bayo Canyon trailhead near the roundabout at the intersection of North Mesa Road and San Ildefonso Road. That's the same trailhead Jim passed through on his run the same day, but after I was there.

Smooth track near the trailhead

The Bench Trail undulates through the canyon floor and up the northern wall below Barranca Mesa for 2.6 miles to its end, with a great viewpoint overlooking the canyons and mesas east of Los Alamos. It's a popular trail but Cody and I practically had it to ourselves that sunny weekday.

I chose these photos to show you some of the variety of the trail (flat/hilly, smooth/rocky, narrow/wide), the terrain, and scenic views. There are lots of good viewpoints in both directions along this partially-shaded trail.








I noted how dusty the trail was and how wilted the (few) flowers were. Although the Los Alamos area desperately needs rain, thank goodness we didn't get the severe weather that struck other areas near us on Monday. Golf ball-sized hail was reported south and east of us in New Mexico that day. The Panhandle area of Texas also had nasty hail and thunderstorms, the weather we tried to escape by heading to Los Alamos earlier than planned. We're even more glad now that we made that decision!

Thankfully, we dodged the weather bullet again.

Cody and I did an out-and-back hike totaling a little over five miles. Trail users can extend the trek from Bayo Bench Trail by going down to the floor of the canyon between two "fingers" of Barranca Mesa (the top of the trail is through these trees on the left)

and connecting with several other trails for various distances:

Last year Jim and I did a loop with the Bayo Canyon Trail (on the south side of the canyon, R above), for a total of about six miles back to the trailhead.

These photos are some that I took on the return back to the Bayo Canyon trailhead on the Bench Trail:







Another day this week Cody and I hiked farther east through the canyon floor a couple miles farther than I've gone before. It's a nice trail but has some deep sand that is hard to walk or run through. Although it's treed, it's hotter with fewer breezes and scenic vistas than higher up on the canyon bench or on the mesas. 

I started out near the race start/finish on North Mesa, following the 50-mile course through the horse stable area and down a couple hundred feet or more of elevation into the canyon:

The descent heads west with a view of the Jemez Mountains (Mt. Caballo).

I could see the Bayo Bench Trail across the canyon and watched several cyclists heading east toward the overlook:

Once in the canyon I made a sharp right turn on the Bayo Canyon Trail and followed it down even further to the eastern portion of the canyon floor. As the trail descends I had some good views toward the north canyon rim and the mountains to the east:

I'm always fascinated in this area by the unusual paths worn into the soft shale:


These views are out and back along the canyon floor:



The Fireline Trail parallels the canyon trail for about a mile but I didn't take it. It appears to traverse part way up the canyon wall and might have afforded better views. Next time!

The next photos are going back up the alternatively rocky/smooth Bayo Canyon Trail to our campsite on North Mesa:



North side of the upper Bayo Canyon wall with Barranco Mesa on top;
the canyon is 200 to 250 feet deep here (you can't see the floor in this photo).

That hike out and back was about seven miles but the trail continues much farther east than I went. In fact, it continues off the trail maps I have! Who knows where it ends up??


I found this trail last year when we camped during race weekend in a parking lot across from the Posse Shack on North Mesa. Just past the adjacent horse stables it's called Kwage Mesa; the mesas in Los Alamos all have multiple "fingers," some with different names to reduce confusion about locations.

The trails on long, narrow Kwage Mesa form a long, narrow loop (no surprise there!) with an out-and-back path that extends another 3/4 mile east to the end of the mesa. The total distance out and back is about 5 miles from the parking area near the Posse Shack, or less from the trailhead at the eastern edge of the stables. I did about six miles total because I walked over to the north rim several times to take pictures.

Jim went with Cody and me for most of the hike on Thursday but turned around before I headed out to the end of the mesa. He's tapering for his race, after all!

The northern leg of the loop is wider and smoother than the other side. It overlooks Bayo Canyon and Barranco Mesa to the north (on the left, below):

The ridge to the right (above) shows the long finger of Kwage Mesa, where I'm heading next with these photos.

Looking north to Barranca Mesa from Kwage Mesa

Nearing the end of Kwage Mesa; Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background

View east from the end of Kwage Mesa

The views south toward Pueblo Canyon and the mesa above it aren't as scenic; they show the city/county maintenance facility, airport, other businesses, and houses. I prefer undeveloped views.

Here are some more photos from the southern part of the Kwage Mesa Trail heading back to the stables. There are nice views of the Jemez Mountains to the west. This part of the loop is single-track and rougher until reaching the dirt roads through the stable area.



I'll show some photos from the stable area in another entry.

Next entry: exploring Pajarito Mountain, which is on the race course

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil