July 29, 1999
Highlights: Great hike for a hot day. Aspen, pine and radical views. Location: Across from Tolby Creek Campground on N.M. 64 between Cimarron and Eagle Nest. Park at the entrance to the Colin Neblett Wildlife Area next to the Eagle Nest Dam. Round-trip distance: About 12 miles. Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous, but relentlessly uphill Elevation: 7,500-8,000 feet Maps: USGS Touch-Me-Not and Garcia mountains
The trip to Tolby Meadows is a great hike for a hot day, as it's woodsy and cool.
Roughly six miles one way, the path follows Tolby Creek up to aspen-ringed meadows more than 9,000 feet.
Park at the entrance to the Colin Neblett Wildlife Area next to the Eagle Nest Dam, just across the road from Tolby Creek Campground on N.M. 64 between Cimarron and Eagle Nest. While not unusually strenuous, this hike is nevertheless long and relentlessly uphill.
Two hundred yards from the horse corrals where the track divides there's a small, neat sign to the left marked Tolby Trail. This is a wider, more obvious path for horse-packing into the designated campground just below the meadows -- easy to follow but dry. Save it for another day.
For the creek trail, keep walking forward along the road and through the open gate, following the water. Beavers have been re-engineering the drainage for a couple of seasons and passage requires a little willow thrashing and creek jumping to stay on course.
The sound of water chuckling alongside, the canopy of pines and unusual array of wildflowers are worth it. Watch to the left for a couple of places where the path bails up the side of the canyon around patches of sheer rock at the water's edge. All is not lost if you miss those trails -- the creek is your best guide to the top. Once past the lower portion of the canyon, the path sorts itself out to the right of Tolby Creek until it forks about three miles up.
Take a break here and make a decision. The left fork crosses the water, climbing toward the campground and past it to the Meadows. This way is not marked, but is clearly a trail that winds upward through aspen and pine, jumping subsidiary creeks and passing a man-made pond as it ascends.
The campground is marked by signs; pass it by and keep walking. Think about traveling on cross-country skis or snow shoes, just for perspective. Radical views to your right of Eagle Nest Lake, the south end of Touch-Me-Not and Baldy Peaks. The road tops out in a grove of huge aspens and Tolby Creek winds along the valley floor. Great picnicking where a little feeder creek crosses the road and forms an oasis.
If life, however, is just too ho-hum, take a right where the creek forks. The trail continues forward but deteriorates rapidly before disappearing altogether as it enters the deep and steep upper portion of Tolby Creek. Sheer walls, monster boulders and a murky rain forest effect make this section challenging but not hopeless if you're willing to do a little scrambling.
It's also flash-flood city if serious rain threatens. In that narrow canyon, the creek will fill up fast, and you will not want to be there when it does. Work along the canyon wall above the water as much as possible.
Just when you feel like it's all been a big mistake, the canyon begins to open up a bit into wee trout ponds and lush greenery and sunshine -- the bottom of Tolby Meadows. The main trail from the campground circles around out of sight to the left behind the aspen grove, dropping into the top of the meadow, where you can pick it up for the trip down.
It's a breeze.
Charlotte Amrine Hollis