October 22, 1998
Highlights: Outstanding panoramic views of New Mexico's tallest peaks, plus mountain meadows, numerous wildflowers and a lively stream part of the way Location: Turn right at traffic light where N.M. 522 and U.S. 64 intersect just north of Taos. Drive 15 miles on N.M. 150 to Taos Ski Valley and park in public lot. The trail begins just above wooden sign showing map of trail. Round-trip distance: About 9 miles Difficulty: Moderate to difficult climb in high country Elevation: About 9,400 feet-12,400 feet Maps: USFS Latir Peak and Wheeler Peak Wilderness Map, Carson National Forest Printable map
Gold Hill Loop
Surprises aren't uncommon for hikers in New Mexico. But a personalized history lesson transformed a recent trek into a particularly pleasurable outing.
Several of us set out on Bull-of-the-Woods Trail (No. 90), which leads from Taos Ski Valley's parking area and begins as a shock even to seasoned hikers. Starting at 9,400 feet, it quickly moves higher over rocky terrain and will cause a desert flatlander to gasp for oxygen. But stick with it because this trail joins others with outstanding views and constant surprises, as we were soon to discover.
After crossing the log footbridge over a mountain stream about one mile up, we turned left at the sign to Long Canyon Trail (No. 63) and followed its more-gentle incline from high to higher country. Late summer flowers flourished along the accompanying stream. Blue monkshood, literally shaped like a monk's head covering, mixed amicably with the more-common yarrow and mountain geraniums. They eventually gave way to the cobalt blue Western Fringed Gentian, growing in meadows above 11,000 feet.
We took time out for lunch before leaving the stream bed and climbing the ridge toward Gold Hill. "When we get higher, it all opens up," said our leader, who had arranged the hike. And it did.
Long Canyon Trail finally looped around a hill before it connected to Gold Hill Trail (No. 64). Here you can drop your backpack and, feeling lightened, scamper up to a 12,000-foot lookout affording dramatic views of New Mexico's biggies: Mount Walter, Wheeler, Old Mike and Simpson peaks. With the view permanently embedded on mental recorders, you now head north over the high meadow to an overlook of Gold Hill at 12,711 feet and Goose Lake more than 1,000 feet below. From here it's possible to spot the newly released Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep grazing below.
Hiking south on Gold Hill Trail, we approached a deserted mine shack where we met Bob Punty, 77. Outfitted in hiking boots, hat and a walking stick, Punty told us that we were standing at the former Shoshone Mine, where peacock copper (so-called because of its blue and green sheen) was mined until 1900. It did not prove to be a profitable venture.
"But they mined gold in Pioneer Canyon about six miles from here," Punty said. "At least five gold bricks, weighing 250 pounds each, were shipped from the old mine." He said gold was mined until World War I.
Punty, who has lived in the Questa-Red River area most of his life, had arrived with friends from Texas on a rugged eight-mile drive from Red River to Goose Lake. He climbed the 1,000-foot ascent over Gold Hill to the mining shack. Punty lives with good memories of his 30 years as postmaster at Red River and of the awards he has received for manning the Red River volunteer weather station more than 45 years.
The mention of weather reminded us of our return trip. We donned ponchos as a light rain spattered our faces for the descent, which proved less challenging.
After three miles down Gold Hill Trail, we again picked up Bull-of-the-Woods, one mile farther up the trail from Long Canyon.
Sue B. Mann