A high desert wind whips into the canyon, bounces off towering sandstone cliffs, whistles its way through slot washes and twists around eroding hoodoos, howling like a freight train.
This is San Lorenzo Canyon in the long light of a New Mexico summer afternoon, and the solitude and geologic features seem light-years from civilization.
But the small, dramatic canyon in Socorro County is an easy hour-and-a-half drive south from Albuquerque, making it a worthy day trip for adventurers of all kinds.
Visitors come to explore the narrow slot canyons, hike the trails and washes that wind through the area, or picnic under impressive sandstone cliffs, which vary in height from 100 feet to 300 feet, according to Denny Apachito, an outdoor recreation planner with the Bureau of Land Management.
Others come to photograph the wild geologic features in the 2.5-mile canyon, which Apachito said is less than a million years old.
Although the canyon isn’t long, it’s easy to spend hours exploring the various caves, hoodoos, arches and side canyons accessible from the road or trails.
There are three slot canyons on the north side of the road that are particularly dramatic, Apachito said.
One of them, which is easily identifiable by a wide wash that intersects with the road, is referred to as “The Toilet Bowl.”
“It got its name from the violent surge of water that runs down the canyon during monsoon season,” Apachito said.
Walking into the slot canyons along the washes is easy, but things get more technical further in. There are spots where hikers wishing to continue will need to hoist themselves up a ledge or get a lift from a fellow adventurer.
The BLM jointly manages San Lorenzo Canyon with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a primitive recreation area, and there is no running water, other services, or official maps of the trails, Apachito said.
Hikers wanting to explore the canyon or the trails should be prepared to find areas of interest on their own.
“All trails in the area are unmarked, but well-used by hikers,” Apachito said. “The trails are well-worn.”
While there are no official trail markers, hiking apps and websites display many trails in the area. And other hikers have left stacks of rocks called cairns to help guide the way.
“The best hiking will be beyond where the road ends in the upper reach of the canyon,” Apachito said.
Hikers wanting to explore this area will need to do a short scramble over the rocks at the end of the road, or find a way around, and then follow the canyon in, keeping an eye out for San Lorenzo Spring at the western end.
Those looking toward the sky in the canyon may spot quail, sparrows and cliff swallows, along with various birds of prey, and Chihuahuan Desert plant life is on display in all directions. San Lorenzo is also home to several types of lizards, snakes, bobcat, coyote and mountain lion.
“Lately the canyon has seen an increase in desert bighorn sheep population,” Apachito said. “Be on the look out for them as well.”