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Trails and Ride Descriptions
For use with your own horse and planning your horse vacations.
I have had so many requests from people traveling with their own horses for help on planning their vacations that I've included this page. I'm here to help with planning your horse vacation locally and, if possible, other locations that I'm familiar with. As I have mentioned before, I have maps for your use, can print out a topo map from my TOPO! program, and generally give you good destinations for riding while in NM. There are numerous locations in Northern New Mexico to camp and overnight with your horse as well.  Keep in mind that all of the overnight camping in New Mexico is primitive. 
You won't be able to pull in with your rig and hook up to some fancy electrical outlet and water.  This is high desert country and having extra horse and people water is not only a good idea, it is essential. 

Because there are so many different places to ride, and each has their special attraction or destination, I've written a helpful decription of each ride, including what you will expect to see and how long it takes to ride. The minimum ride times help you figure how to plan for your ride and see the most. Almost all rides can be made shorter or longer. The exception is where I state the minimum ride time for a particular location. I have detailed maps for you to borrow and will outline the trail for you. Trails are not marked but are well traveled by the local cattle. They should be obvious to the open-eyed trail rider.

Rides listed here first are local. You may park your rig on a nearby county road to tack up.  

Rio Del Oso Ride. 
You ride down a short section of dirt road to a natural opening in the basalt topped sandstone mesas. This first section is the gateway to many rides in the area. After about 1/2 mile in a sandy arroyo, you climb up over a small hill and head through Pinon and Juniper covered hills to the Rio below. You follow the historic and original Abiquiu road through the Cottonwoods along the creek bed. This ride can be as short as 1-1/2 hours or
as long as all day depending on how far you follow the river. The dirt road is over 22 miles long and can take you way up to the high country.

Badland Ride
Ride through arroyos and hills to reach the "badlands" The badlands are an awesome rock/sandstone formation carved by water and wind into bizarre shapes. Ride through these rocks to find shapes that look like heads or animals. The area is dotted with small caves and a neat hole-in-the-rock that was used for overnight hunting forays by the ancient indians. Lots of uphill and downhill riding, some of it in very deep sand. Figure on 2 hours for this ride. Add another hour if you want to ride the small slot canyons nearby.

Mesa Ride
This ride takes in a huge loop. Starting on the power line easment, You follow a 2-track through some old trash heaps (unfortunately). The trail climbs past a portion of the badlands above, then continues a gradual climb to a mesa top with fabulous views. From the mesa top you can take in views of the mountains all around. Of particular interest is the volcanic rock strewn about by the nearby caldera. Take a steep plunge off the mesa back into a winding arroyo where you'll see more weird shaped rocks. Eventually, you come out by a creek and back along a dirt road to the ranch. About 3 hours.

Window Rock
This is a 4+ hour ride. From here you cross the Rio del Oso and climb up a big mesa. From there it winds across numberous arroyos, following cow paths, and briefly into some tall pines. Then it's downhill for quite some ways in another sandy arroyo. Turn and go up another hill to the window rock. It's quite large. From there, across the top of a mesa to arrive a well-rutted old jeep road. Down again and up across yet another mesa to arrive back at the Rio del Oso. 6 hours. 

Diatomaceous Earth Mine
An little-known mine that was formed millions of years ago at the bottom of an ocean. Tiny one cell creatures called diatoms, died in the billions where there bodies formed this deposit.  4+ hours.

Within a 20 minute radius (driving)
Copper Canyon Ride
This is one of my favorite rides.  The ride is colorful and geologically outstanding. The ride starts at a deep arroyo which has carved its' way through the Plaza Blanca formation, a nearly white volcanic ash deposit from a long, eroded away volcano. Eroded into spires and columns, the 25 million year old ash  gives way to an ever-changing sea of rock and stone in various bands and layers culminating at the back wall of the canyon. The back wall, almost purple-ish at times, is 240 million years old at the bottom. The largest fossil insect ever found was pulled out of this canyon. It is on display at the Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque. Also worth exploring are the copper mines near the middle of the canyon.
This is one of those rides where you just want to peek around every corner. Allow a minimum of 3 hours for this ride, but to truly explore you could easily spend all day. The picture at the top of this page features a view of the volcanic ash as we are exiting the canyon. The picture below is of the beautiful, copper-colored sandstone.

    Copper Canyon in Summer                                                     Copper Canyon in Winter

Plaza Blanca Ride
Very close to Copper Canyon is Plaza Blanca. Here you will find the same volcanic ash as in Copper Canyon, but on a much bigger scale. While the canyon into Plaza Blanca is small in comparision, this ride differs in that you ride in the canyon while looking up and later ride up and look down. You ride up a steep hill and into the next wash where we follow a narrow twisting gully. Stop and tie the horses to climb up some rocks to get a quick view, then it's back to the trail for some more climbing, this time by horseback to a old sci-fi movie set. The movie set is mostly firepits and rock trails. There are no out-buildings. Nearby is a Muslim mosque called Dar al-Islam. Approx. a 3-4 hour ride.

Plaza Blanca


Rio Chama to dam ride

Follow the Rio Chama river as it winds through the special waters area. This ride is recommended for lazily sightseeing for migratory birds. In winter you might see Snow geese and Canadian geese, as well as ducks. In summer, look for eagles, hawks, and great Blue Cranes. About a hour and a half each way on trail. Most of the trail is a dirt road. This road provides access to anglers for the special waters. ( requires a special permit to fish) There are porta-poties and picnic tables at the base of the dam.

Rio Chama Wilderness Ride
Ride along the Ojitos portion of the Continental Divide Trail   THe trail first takes you through the fragrant sage/grasslands of the lower canyon. Following the well-marked trail of CDT posts, stop at a gravity-fed water trough. Roughly following the canyon bottom, both sides of the canyon feature "desert varnish" a type of iron oxide stain on the sandstone walls. As the canyon narrows, you'll be crossing a wash several times that requires of quick downhill/uphill saddle balancing. Eventually, the canyon climbs to a different eco-zone where the juniper and pinon give way to Rocky Mountain Cedar and Ponderosa. Often the stream flows here in the wash and while there aren't any fish, I've seen bear prints in the mud. This ride can be short or long depending on your endurance. I've set a mimimum for this ride because it off the beaten-path, both trail wise and driving wise. 

As another option, although not as scenic, it is possible to ride along either road on each side of the river. This terrain is obviously flatter, but you will still see the cliffs and canyon of the Rio Chama. As a bonus, you can ride or drive to the Christ-In-The-Desert Monastery, a Benedictine Abbey nestled in the Rio Chama Wilderness. Visit the brothers and their gift shop where you can browse hand-made items, music, and books.

CDT Trail to Mesa de Los Viejas
This is a newly opened section
Great views of the Rio Chama and wilderness area. A nice trail that winds back and forth up the hill. The last part is somewhat steep, but do-able.

Rim Vista at Rio Chama Overlook
Near Abiquiu Lake this short trail (2.3 miles to the top) offers views of Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu Lake, Pedernal Peak, and a section of the CDT. Wind through rocks and this trail makes a short but steep climb the last 200 yds.  Check out the view from the picture below! Can be washed out in early spring and watch for rattlesnakes.

San Antonio Hot Springs
This is a great ride. There's the scenery of the canyon and the forest, plus the bonus of a soak in the Hot Springs. I doesn't get any better! It's about a 1.5 hour ride each way and a gradual ascent. It is a bit of a drive however. The Hot Springs are located up in the Jemez Mountains a 2 hour drive one-way from Santa Fe.  You can continue sightseeing the Valles Caldera, Jemez Springs, and the Jemez Pueblo so your drive won't be wasted. Bathing suits are not required at this remote natural hot spring. The Forest Service has improved this spring by making small pools downhill, each one cooler than the other. The top pool averages 105 degress. Very popular with the locals, this spring can get busy. Bring some wine, cheese and bread and you have the perfect picnic for this destination. Wear your suit under your riding clothes or duck behind a tree to change.
Valles Caldera
Close to the San Antonio Hot Springs is the Valle Caldera. This huge volcanic crater is home to large herds of elk, deer and other wildlife. The trails are old logging trails for the most part with some reserved for cross-country. The reserve was created by Congress in 2000 and purchased for public land use. Formerly the Baca Location No 1, it is now known as the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Horseback rides are by reservation through their website,  This a a fee area and each person entering is subject to a $20 entry fee payable in advance. Rides are subject to the rules and regulations of the Preserve. Ride time is half to full day. Drive time from Santa Fe is about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Santa Barbara Canyon/ Duran Canyon/ La Cueva Lake Loop
Riding in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is always a treat. From Santa Barbara Canyon you can ride in two directions. The lakes and streams are home to native trout. You can wander the Pecos Wilderness and imagine the pioneers or the more recent sheep herders in their day to day travels. The Santa Barbara trail head leaves the parking area and takes you up into the hig country via a wooden bridge. Wildflowers such as Columbine and Iris abound. Streams are often lined with ferns. This trail connects with many other in the Pecos Wilderness.
Drive time 2+ hours.
Duran Canyon has a less developed campground, but great access and ease for large rigs. The area boasts two alpine lakes, trails through lovely aspen trees, and great views. La Cueva Lake is a small alpine lake surrounded by a large meadow. Kick back here and watch the clouds roll past. Elevation: 10,669.

Pecos Wilderness, south entrance via Jack's Creek
Ride the famous Pecos Wilderness via Jack's Creek, Cave Creek and Stewart Lake. Also, Beatty's cabin and Iron Gate.  High Altitude and great scenery.  For more info go to the Santa Fe National Forest.

Serpent Lake
This trail is awesome! Elevation at lake is 11,600 and ride to the top of the mountain is steep, but worth it! Top is 12,400. and there are views to die for! This trail is not for the faint-hearted, fear of heights, or having health risks. Figure on riding at least 4 hours or more and a 2 hour drive to get there. 

San Pedro Parks Wilderness via Resumidero Campground
Worth every mile of drive time, this scenic ride is one of the best. The drive itself is one of the best scenic views too. Along the way you'll get to see Abuquiu Lake and dam, Pedernal of Georgia O'Keefe fame, Red Rocks and canyons of Coyote, and wide open landscapes, and that's before the ride! Riding up the Vega Redonda trail you be amazed by wildflowers, two beaver dams, lush meadows and just when you think it won't get any better, you'll break open into a huge meadow at the top of the world that will make you want to ride across it humming the theme to Bonanza!  Great multi-day rides and destinations. Continental Divide Trail is at the top. Great choice for overnight trips.

Nambe Badlands
Here is a great spot for those wanting something closer to Santa Fe. Classic desert, sandy arroyos, sandstone hills, hidden springs, and rugged landscape complete the picture. Easy riding and great views. Ride anywhere from 2 hours up to all day.

Diablo Canyon to the Rio Grande (Santa Fe)
Pure desert except for arrival at the river. 3:10 to Yuma was filmed here. Have lunch underneath the cottonwoods. One way in and out. A good choice for spring/fall rides. Not recommended for the height of summer, due to lack of shade! It's not called Diablo for nothing!

Head Waters of the Rio Chama.
The ultimate ride and overnight destination.
The two main trails in this pristine area are the trails to the waterfalls and the Hughes Trail. Pictures don't do justice to the beauty of the area. Massive cliffs with waterfalls, rivers full of fish, weasles, badgers, and views that take it all in! The rides here are lengthy. It is a 2-1/4 hour ride one way to the falls and more if you wish to explore. The Hughes trail is also long and is about a 6 hour loop. There are ancient glacial deposits and some of the rocks show striations of ice movement. Elevation goes to 10,400 on the Hughes trail side. The stands of Aspen show antler marks from bucks in the rut. The wildflowers constantly change with the seasons. The meadows are full of wild Iris. One of my favorite places to ride.

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