It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon as Richard and I drove to the east side of Sandia Mountain for a hike on the Cienega Trail. This hike is rated as moderate. It is not too long, about 2.2 miles one way, but it is a steady uphill climb of about 1,720 feet.
The Cienega Trail parking area is part of the National Fee Project, and normally requires a $3.00 day use fee. However, this weekend the fees were waived, a pleasant surprise. Probably due to the fee waiver, there were many visitors in the area, and we snagged the last open parking spot.
There are several picnic sites around the parking area, and all were full of families enjoying the outdoors. We hiked a short way past the picnickers to the Cienega trailhead. The path led us along a beautiful mountain stream.
The Sandias are having a problem with insect infestation that has killed many trees. The Forest Service is cleaning up the dead wood. Our hike led us past stacks of firewood. A Forest Service volunteer later told us that the firewood permit fees had been waived to expedite getting the wood out of the area.
We passed the intersection of the Cienega Trail with the Faulty Trail into an area containing high trees, with the stream still on our left. The trail alternated between open areas with some grass and flowers and wooded sections.
After passing the source of the stream, the trail became steeper, rockier, and more sparsely vegetated. The trail followed the bank of a deep ravine for some ways. After the meadow ended we entered what appeared to be a jungle, with the trail nearly overgrown. This portion of the trail had many flowers.
Just before the final push up the mountain, Richard’s daypack broke a strap. He had to carry it on one strap for the rest of the hike.
Nice views greeted us as we reached the summit. The Cienega Trail ends here, at the intersection with the Crest Trail. We could see Corrales in the distance but without binoculars we could not pick out our house.
I went off looking for a geocache located at the crest. Of course it was set up to access from the Crest Trail, so I ended up bushwhacking to get there. I did finally find the geocache. There are many geocaches hidden in the Sandias, but we did not take the time to hunt more than the one.
The trail down was almost as difficult as the trail up. I did not want to risk a fall by hurrying, so it was hardly any faster going down hill than up. My legs were very tired by the time we reached the trailhead.
Leaving, we stopped at the meadow below the trail. A Forest Service volunteer approached us, just checking up. After introductions, we found he is the camp host further down hill. He regaled us with stories of bears, including a couple that had tried to get into his travel trailer. One night a bear was trying to get in the window, while the volunteer was rattling the shades trying to frighten the bear away. Eventually he left the trailer in such haste he nearly forgot to put on his pants! On another occasion a bear was trying to tip the trailer over. Our volunteer thought it was funny, until it occurred to him what a disaster it would be if the bear succeeded. A loud shout sent that bear back into the woods.
I took many more pictures on this hike than I included here. You can watch a slide show of these photos, georeferenced to the location they were taken, at this link:
Cienega Trail at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find trail maps for New Mexico