CORRALES – Massive, gnarly cottonwoods and long, leaning elms pose in grotesque tableau here in the Corrales Bosque Preserve just east of where Romero Road ends and just west of where the Rio Grande drifts on as best it can in this dry year.
The Sandia Mountains, blue-gray in the distance, can be seen through a tangle of tree limbs and a mesh of leaves that are mostly still green but flirt with yellow, gold and rusty orange in clumps here and there.
A lopsided “V” of 25 honking Canada geese fly over, and an insistent breeze, just crisp enough to suggest a change in the air, rattles the forest canopy.
Autumn, which according to the calendar got here two days ago, is still more a whisper than shout in the Corrales bosque, but you can see it if you look close, hear it if you stand still, feel it if you walk through it. You could probably smell it if it weren’t for that mask.
The sweetest season
Looking for autumn. That was the idea for the Corrales hike outlined in this article.
After a summer savage with its heat, a pushy winter that showed up like unexpected and unwelcome houseguests for a few days earlier this month and a pandemic that’s made a joke of plans and schedules, it was time for a shot of the sweet season, that gentle and colorful part of the year.
A hike along the ditch banks and bosque of Corrales would, it seemed likely, be just the ticket for finding autumn, for meeting it more than half way.
“Autumn is definitely the best time for hiking in New Mexico,” said Albuquerque’s David Ryan, co-author, with Stephen Ausherman, of the third edition of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Albuquerque.”
“Winter is a perfect time for the lower elevation hikes along the river or the back country, for visiting the hikes down south. With the hot weather of summer you’ll have to do your hiking in the morning or at higher elevations.
“Spring is still cool enough to do most hikes. But in autumn, the temperatures have cooled down enough to let you do any hike anytime of day.”
As a bonus, Ryan said, autumn gives us the blazing color of leaves making their last hurrah and, a little later in the season, the fine-feathered fellowship of birds come to stay through the cold months. Expect sandhill cranes to be here by late October or early November.
“And when the leaves start to fall, you can see porcupines up in the trees of the bosque,” Ryan said.
This Corrales hike, inspired by number 4 in the “60 Hikes” book, follows the Corrales Acequia which runs north and south through the village west of Corrales Road; and the high road, which runs north and south between Corrales Road and the Rio Grande.
The former portion gives hikers a more intimate view of village domestic life – gardens, horses, goats, etc. – and the latter, which courses through the Corrales Bosque Preserve, gets you closer to the wild side – with Russian olive, waterfowl, muskrats and coyotes.
The best places to start the hike are the Corrales Recreation Center, 2 miles north of the intersection of Alameda and Corrales roads; or the Bosque Preserve entry point on Romero Road, 5 miles north of the intersection, because those locations have parking.
The entire hike is more than 7 miles long. The hiking is easy-going along mostly level dirt trails, but you are looking at a minimum of four to five hours if you do the full route.
A flicker start
It’s about 8:30 a.m. on a pleasant weekday morning at the Bosque Preserve parking area on Romero Road. The sound of a train whistle rides a light wind from tracks east of the Rio Grande.
To get to the high road, you go through the pedestrian-accessible gate, cross over the Riverside Drain, known as the clear ditch, and walk up an incline to the elevated road.
It’s worth nothing that an alternate route south is the Sandoval Lateral, irrigation ditch, just west of the high road. That route is shadier, and thus cooler on hot days, but it is completely screened off from the bosque.
On this day, a northern flicker, fetchingly attired in red cap and spotted vest, signals the hike’s start with its shrill, single-note call.
Mile markers, in the form of galvanized steel pipes, are spaced every tenth of a mile. This portion of the hike starts at about mile marker 5.3 and ends at a wooden bridge north of marker 2.6.
There are a few places along the high road that go west over the Riverside Drain to the Sandoval Lateral, but there are more opportunities to take trails east into the bosque and eventually to the river.
Recently, a walk to the Rio Grande on a trail near the wooden bridge terminus revealed nature at work as a coyote on the east side of the river stalked a great blue heron that calmly strolled on its long legs into the refuge of the flowing waters.
The wooden bridge will get you over to the Sandoval Lateral. Cross that at a point just to the north and then turn south and walk to an exit gate that leads to East La Entrada Road.
East La Entrada goes to Corrales Road, which is busy. Be careful when crossing over to the west side. Turn left, or south, and walk to Jones Road, which leads west to the Corrales Recreation Center.
Cross the soccer field behind the center to access onto the Corrales Acequia, which takes you three miles north back to Corrales Road. Use caution and the crosswalk here to get you back on Romero Road and the Bosque Preserve parking area.
Good at any speed
There’s a privately posted speed limit sign on the Corrales Acequia that reads “Walk, Trot, Jog.” It might have added pedal. These ditch-side trails are popular with runners, horseback riders and cyclists.
There’s plenty to see along the acequia; hawks perched in trees, the twin spires of the historic Old San Ysidro Church, fields of dazzling yellow sunflowers and apple orchards.
And, right now, you can find the start of autumn. What more could you want?