PLACITAS — If you’re tiring of the old gym routine or if your knees have been taking a pounding from jogging, why not try the oldest exercise known to man for a cardio workout?
That’d be walking or, if you’re like 65-year-old Mike Coltrin, hiking.
No loud music, no sweaty equipment, nobody showing off their six-pack abs … just cholla, yucca, piñons and junipers — and more fresh air than one deserves.
Arguably nobody knows the hiking trails of the Sandia Mountains better than Coltrin — and he’s written a book to prove it.
The revised and expanded edition of “Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide” by Coltrin has just been published by UNM Press.
“Friends of the Sandias was assembling a field guide to the Sandias, and UNM Press wanted a hiking guide to accompany it,” Coltrin said, while leading a reporter on the short “Strip Mine Trail,” just south of NM 165 and a bit east of The Merc in Placitas. “There’s no doubt I know the trails.
“There are about 50 hikes, 60 trails, in my book,” he said.
He initially wrote it in 2007 and recently updated it. He’s hiked every one of those routes, keeping copious notes along the way.
There are about two-dozen “family-friendly hikes.”
Take Strip Mine Trail, No. 51 for the U.S. Forest Service in the Cibola National Forest. There are myriad trails branching off from it, all with recently installed USFS signage.
As for every trail, Coltrin provides a description: “Strip Mine Trail, a rough and exposed trail, follows an old Jeep road past an abandoned strip-mining area from which the trail gets its name.”
Coltrin isn’t sure what was once extracted from the mine.
“The hike is moderate in difficulty and relatively flat,” and he recommends hiking it before the weather gets too hot.
“The trail goes up and down through rolling gullies and passes a small strip mine just to the north. The exposed earth below the top soil is red and quite striking,” he writes.
There are also technical details: elevation, distance covered and a comprehensive map. As he hikes, Coltrin occasionally checks his GPS.
Although no trail bikers were observed on a recent morning, it seemed most hikers that day were content to let their dogs lead them along the trail. Naturally, it’s always a good idea to be cognizant of what’s nearby.
Coltrin occasionally sees wildlife — none wilder than the time, he says, “I came face-to-face with a mom (bear) and her two cubs; we looked at each other and they ran away. That was the only time my pulse was raised.”
All the trails that follow are accessible off NM 165, which goes through the village of Placitas. As detailed in Coltrin’s new book, there are:
• Sandia Cave (Trail 72): “An important archaeological site of prehistoric man on the North American continent … discovered in 1927”;
• Osha Spring (Trail 247): “A primitive trail … (that) follows an abandoned rock bed mining road for much of its length” (8.8 miles, round trip);
• Crest (Trail 130), which “extends 26 miles from its northern Tunnel Spring trailhead near Placitas to the southern Canyon Estates trailhead near Tijeras.” (It’s rated as difficult, and that 26-mile distance isn’t a typo);
• Ojo del Orno (Trail 130B): “Very steep, with poor footing in places. Only take this unmaintained trail if you are an experienced hiker and confident in your balance”;
• Agua Sarca (No. 231): “Not an officially maintained trail … (and) may be hard to follow or seem to disappear altogether at some points”; and
• Del Agua (Trail 248), “which heads toward the rocky, west-facing slope and begins winding its way up the mountainside and making its way south toward the mouth of Del Agua Canyon.”
Of course, the popular La Luz Trail, Piedra Lisa Trail, Sandia Crest Trail and others are in the book, along with concise information on how to find the trailheads. The book also contains 26 topographical maps, as well as a list of what to take along — water, food, hiking boots, dog on a leash, hiking companion and a cell phone, although coverage isn’t guaranteed.
A native of northeast Oklahoma, armed with a Ph.D. earned at the University of Illinois, Coltrin is a chemist by trade; he retried two years ago after a 30-year career at Sandia National Labs.
“I was a runner out of grad schools and ran trails,” he explained.
He obtained a similar trail guide authored by Mike Hill, and after injuring a knee while running a marathon in 1983, turned to hiking.
“I always had a hiking diary, filled with notes,” he said. “Eventually, I hiked all of Mike Hill’s (trails).”
But Coltrin is more than a Sandia Mountains hiker: He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2005, after “practicing” by hiking several of Colorado’s “14ers” (mountains with elevation of 14,000 feet or more), as well as the Alps and mountains in Madagascar and South America, including Machu Picchu.
He estimated that he hikes about 500 miles annually, and as much as 20 miles — on the North Crest Trail to the Crest House — at one time.
“I’ve never been married, so I have a lot of time,” he said, chuckling.
What’s next? An adventure to Lake Havasupai Falls, the Grand Canyon’s most-famous waterfalls, this month.
(More good information about trails in the Placitas area may be found at placitasareatrail.org and on the Placitas Area Trail Association’s Facebook page.)