The best of two unique natural worlds combine in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain country of northern New Mexico. Here the high, dry adobe plains climb dramatically to 12,000- and 13,000-foot peaks and offer up some of the Southwest’s most spectacular wilderness. One of the more scenic paths to the heart of this remote high country is the Columbine Canyon Trail, a cool, aspen-studded ascent that follows a cascading mountain stream into the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area.
Starting in a narrow canyon, Columbine Canyon Trail meanders among wildflowers as it climbs to broad meadows and eventually links with alpine ridges that are rare for the Southwest. Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area borders the larger Wheeler Peak Wilderness, all within the Taos/Questa/Red River/Eagles Nest scenic loop famed for alpine lakes and wildlife.
LENGTH: 13 miles from Columbine Canyon Campground in the Carson National Forest to Twining in the Taos Ski Valley, making this a good weekend hike. Steep side trails to abandoned mines and cabins add several miles. If you’re looking to crank out the miles, there’s a week’s worth of connecting trails.
RATING: Easy to moderate, should you choose to explore several linking wilderness trails. Elevation, 7,400 to 12,400 feet.
WHERE: Columbine Canyon Trail is east of Questa, New Mexico, on NM 38 between Questa and Red River, 150 miles (about 3 hours) north of Albuquerque. The trailhead is at the south side of the campground.
MAPS: An excellent topo map of the area, Latir Peak and Wheeler Peak Wildernesses, is available for $5 from the Questa Ranger Districts (see address below). Day Hikes In the Taos Area ($10.95, Acequia Madre Press, 505-689-2200) is a good trail guide.
CONTACT: Questa Ranger District, Carson National Forest, P.O. Box 110, Questa, NM 87556; (505) 586-0520.