4th of July Trail

The road to the 4th of July Campground took us through an area that had been burned out by a forest fire in 2008. This was a human-caused fire that destroyed thousands of acres. Over two years later, the devastation is still clear.

This Saturday afternoon was cloudy and threatening rain.  Here in New Mexico, it threatens rain much more often than it carries through on the threat, so Richard and I decided to go see some Fall colors.

The 4th of July Campground is "primitive". The only facilities available are toilets. There may be water, though I did not see a faucet on this hike.

Fall colors here tend to the yellows and browns.  On a sunny afternoon, the majestic Cottonwood trees in the Rio Grande valley can be breathtaking.  They blaze with brilliant yellow as the afternoon sun lights them up.  At higher elevations we see groves of Aspen, also beautifully golden as they contrast with the evergreens.  What we don’t have in abundance is the color red.

The Crimson Maple Trail is a short interpretive trail next to the campground. The supply of interpretive brochures had been exhausted due to the large number of visitors, by the time we were there.

4th of July Campground gets its name from the Maple trees that grow there, and show off brilliant scarlet colors in the Autumn.  At the head of Tajique Canyon is the largest stand of Rocky Mountain large tooth maples in New Mexico.  During my 15 years living in New Mexico, I’ve never visited, and it was time to rectify the oversight.

4th of July Trail sign

the 4th of July Trail leads up the mountain from the campground, intersecting with the Crest and Cerro Blanco trails. It gets its name from the scarlet colors of the maple leaves in the Autumn.

Maple Stump

Though we were there just past the peak colors, there was no lack of "eye candy" along the trail.

Our plan was to hike a 6.4 mile loop on the 4th of July Trail and Cerro Blanco Trail.  I assumed the trailhead was about the same distance from home as the Sandia trails we had been hiking during the summer, except south of I-40 instead of north.  Wrong!  Checking the GPS afterward, I found that the trailhead is 70 miles from home.  Much of that distance is on a dirt road, more is on a winding paved road.  We did not dawdle over dinner, but by the time we started the hike, it was about 4:00 PM.  Not wanting to be on the mountain after dark, we promised ourselves to turn around at 5:00 so as to be back at the vehicle by 6:00.

The trail was ablaze with Rocky Mountain Maple in its Fall red color.

4th of July Campground is a fee area, but there is a parking area outside the campground for day use that does not require a fee.  We encountered much traffic on the dirt road leading to the trailhead, and the parking area was practically full.  We eventually found an empty spot to park.

All the Fall colors were on display -- green, yellow, orange, red, brown.

We walked up through one of the campground loops to the Crimson Maple Trail.  This is an interpretive trail.  There are numbered markers along the trail, but unfortunately there were no interpretive brochures available.  Not surprising, I suppose, given the number of visitors taking in the Fall colors.

At times the trail passes through boulder fields as it ascends up the mountain.

I estimate our visit was about a week past the color peak.  Though many leaves had fallen, the majority were still on the trees, creating a dazzling display.  A few raindrops fell as we started the hike, due to the thunderstorm that parked itself practically overhead.  The clouds moved away, however, and we had sunshine for most of the hike.

The Rocky Mountain Maple is most often a shrub 5-6 feet tall, but it can reach 25 feet on occasion.

Our path led us along The Crimson Maple Trail, Spring Loop Trail, and 4th of July Trail.  At 5:00 we were near the intersection with the Crest Trail, about 200 feet below the highest elevation of the planned loop.  It was tempting to tempting to continue on to the Cerro Blanco Trail, but we decided to turn around.  In retrospect this was a good decision.  Continuing would have added about 2 miles to the hike, and the last mile would certainly have been in the dark.

This hike was definitely worth the 140 mile round trip to get there.  I haven’t seen colors like this since moving from Michigan.  It is worth considering a weekend campout to provide time for hiking the trails.

Adventure Maps

By rolling over the red dots on the map below you can see thumbnails of more photos taken on this adventure.  Click on the map to go to the EveryTrail site where you can see full-size photos.

4th of July Trail – Fall Colors at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking in New Mexico

Topo map showed the highest elevation on the planned loop to be about 8600 feet. We got to about 8400 when we turned back due to the lateness of the hour.