Thursday, Aug. 16, 2001
HIGHLIGHTS: Lots of wildflowers above 8,000 feet. Multicolored butterflies are everywhere.
LOCATION: Any trailhead on the east side of the Manzano Mountains. Travel south from Tijeras on state roads 337 and 55 to the Village of Tajique, then west seven miles to Fourth of July Campground, or to other campgrounds and trailheads farther south.
ROUND-TRIP DISTANCE: The trip as described is about 6.5 miles. Hikes from other trailheads may be steeper and farther.
ELEVATION GAIN: About 1,300 feet.
BEST SEASONS: The trails may be hiked in all but the worst winter weather. However, to see wildflowers at their peak, go from mid-July to early September.
HAZARDS: Some of the trails have not been maintained recently and are badly overgrown. Care must be take to stay on the trail.
MAPS: Manzano Mountain Wilderness, Cibola National Forest, USDA Forest Service.
Manzano Crest Trail
Now is the time to hike the Manzano Mountains. Wildflowers of every description are in full bloom, and more are coming. The area along the crest has received some good rains, and while the trails may be a little muddy, the hiking is great.
My hiking party chose Trail 173 from Fourth of July Canyon to Crest Trail 170. We hiked north to the Isleta Reservation boundary under La Mosca Peak, then took Albuquerque Trail 78 back to the campground.
The loop is about 6 1/2 miles, and even though we hiked it on a Saturday, we saw nobody else on the trail.
We did, however, see multitudes of wildflowers and lots of multicolored butterflies. The trail is pretty well grown over as you approach La Mosca Peak, mainly because there has been a lot of rain in the area.
As you hike the trail, each small clearing is a colorful garden of wildflowers. My favorite is the mariposa lily, a delicate white flower with a brilliant yellow center. Usually these flowers are alone on a hillside, but we saw several large groups of them during our trip.
We also saw woolly mullens, which are about 6 feet tall and covered with small yellow flowers. The Manzano Mountains are the only place I have ever seen the woolly mullen.
Other flowers included gila (shooting stars), Indian paintbrush, monkshood, penstemon, purple hairbells, pasqueflowers, farro (white) and bisquet root (yellow) plus more that I couldn't identify. (I had neglected to bring my wildflower book.)
The Fourth of July Campground is seven miles west of Tajique, which is about 20 miles south of Tijeras on N.M. 337 and 55.
Forest Road 55 from Tajique is good all the way to the campground, even if it rains. There is ample free parking for hikers, and trailheads are well-marked.
Trail junctions are also well-marked with signs that give approximate mileage to the next junction. Our GPS unit showed the distance to be a little farther than the Forest Service signs indicate, but not enough to make much of a difference.
There are many other trails in the Manzanos that lead to the wildflower-littered Crest Trail. The trailheads include the Bosque, Capilla Peak, Red Canyon Campground, Ox Canyon and Kaiser Mill.
Good areas to visit are Manzano Peak and Gallo Peak, both of which are sometimes covered with ladybugs.
These trails are generally in good condition. But if you choose to explore one or more of them, it's a good idea to get an early start so that you can beat the afternoon thunderstorms. And don't forget your wildflower book.
David G. Jackson