Reprint of an article by Ellen Miller-Goins in the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 2008 Summer Enchantment in honor of the late Herb Kalen.
It’s a bright early September morning as my friend Evy McLean and I climb the old logging road at the start of the Tolby Meadows Trail in Cimarron Canyon. We stop to take in the overlook – ordinarily a sweeping vista that takes in Eagle Nest Lake, the Moreno Valley and Wheeler Peak. Today, clouds hang over Wheeler, a promise of coming rain.
We are undaunted, though, and continue the steady climb. Wildflowers still bloom in abundance, the bounty of a wet, warm summer. As we hike and talk, Evy — who is also an artist and art teacher — gathers objects for an as-yet unstated purpose. Her plan is revealed when we reach a small pond where we have lunch. Evy arranges her “treasures” – a piece of dried wood, a pine cone, colorful leaves and other vegetation – into a work of “found art,” an on-the-spot sculpture that is preserved only by photograph.
Later we scramble down the return trail, past mini cascades, mossy rock, giant mushrooms, succulent rose hips and lush greenery – a contrast to the sun-baked ascent we followed up. As we make our descent, the clouds finally let loose, though their effort yields more of a steady drizzle than a cloud burst. At one point the clouds part, illuminating trailside cliffs with startling intensity.
Having followed this trail before with the venerable Moreno Valley Trekkers, I am grateful that it is through them that, one, I was lead to this trail in the first place, and two, thanks to their efforts, there is a nice return loop for this trail.
So it was with surprise and pleasure that I discovered – upon reviewing “The Hiker’s Guide to the Enchanted Circle,” by Angel Fire’s Kathy Kalen – that this is the Trekkers’ 20th Anniversary. This was the perfect opportunity to call Kalen and thank her, not only for co-founding this club that has been so much a part of Angel Fire’s history, but also for working to create the Elliott Barker Trail.
Kalen and husband Herb were already active hikers when they moved to Angel Fire in 1982 and she says their friends and neighbors soon caught on. “Herb and I did a lot of hiking and people asked us to take them along.”
Also, she was working as a volunteer at the Angel Fire Chamber of Commerce, and says, “It seemed like almost everybody who came through that door wanted to go for a hike so I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need a trail.’”
At that time, Angel Fire did have beautiful but gentle greenbelt trails (without the connecting trails we enjoy today) and a maze of old logging roads to explore but few official hiking trails. Kalen saw a need. “I decided I would write a plan that included hiking trails, cross-country ski trails and an RV park.”
The USDA Forest Service agreed only to the hiking trail concept and Kalen was off and running, but, “I thought, ‘I can’t do this all by myself.’”
In 1988, she, Herb and others formed the Moreno Valley Trekkers and dedicated themselves to group activities and public service – a tradition that continues to this day. In October that year, they began work on the trail they named for the late Elliott Barker. Barker, a conservationist, author of seven books and the state’s first game warden, who is best known as the man who made Smokey Bear famous.
They cut 5-miles to Apache Pass the first year and added more the next three years, trekking through the meadows above Bull Springs with views of Touch-Me-Not Peak and the Wheeler Peak Wilderness.
“Our long-term plan was to extend to a trail north of Highway 518 just outside Tres Ritos,” Kalen says, adding those plans were scuttled when a Forest Service official noted their trail plans only included the first 5 miles. She’s still hopeful someone will take that plan and make it work, though she says she herself has been sidelined by arthritis – forgivable since Kalen is edging up toward 8 decades old. “The old body can’t take much anymore!” she says with a laugh.
Herb, who will be 80 next January, still hikes and skis and says he’s planning a trip to Wheeler Peak to celebrate. He’s proud of the institution his wife began. “Kathy succeeded in establishing the Trekker which forms the fabric to the Angel Fire community and that speaks volumes. It’s still going and I hope it continues for the benefit of all.”
Current Trekkers’ President Bill Chapman isn’t worried. “We’re still going strong, helping the Forest Service with trail maintenance, helping with local (greenbelt and other) trails, supervising trail work by the Lutheran Youth Fellowship teens and, of course, offering a busy hiking and snowshoeing schedule for members and non-members alike.
“We’re alive and well,” Chapman says. We’re always looking for ways to be of service…. And we’re always looking for new members!”
Treks to try…
If you’re hoping to enjoy local scenery, check out Kalen’s book, “The Hiker’s Guide to the Enchanted Circle,” as well as “Red River Trails,” by J. Rush Pierce.
This area is wonderful precisely because of the myriad hiking opportunities one can find literally right outside the door – or right down the street. The following are a few of my favorites:
Just outside Angel Fire, the Elliott Barker Trail at the foot of Palo Flechado Pass offers views of the Moreno Valley, Eagle Nest Lake and the Agua Fria Volcano.
Within Angel Fire, the Deer, Elk, and Bear Greenbelt Trails (with the Coyote connecting trail) are excellent day hikes, as is the Oeste Vista Trail, which overlooks the golf course and Monte Verde Lake and features great views of Wheeler Peak.
Outside Eagle Nest in Cimarron Canyon, there are several excellent hikes, including the aforementioned Tolby Meadows. I still recommend these with the following caveat: Cimarron Canyon State Park now charges a $5 day-use fee (an annual day-use permit is $40). Additionally, its hiking trails, which venture into the Colin Neblett Wildlife Area, now require a new Game and Fish permit called GAIN (Gaining Access Into Nature). These are $9 for 5 days, $20 for the year and are available wherever fishing licenses are sold.
With the exception of Clear Creek, which is open year-‘round, some trails (including Tolby Meadows and Maverick) are closed for part of the summer (check wildlife.state.nm.us/recreation/gain and click the link “List of participating properties, specific activities allowed and seasons on each property” for specific trails and dates.
Whenever friends and family come to town, we often end up at Clear Creek just for its wildflowers, its overhanging, fern-covered cliffs and a spectacular waterfall about 1 1/2 mile from the trailhead.
I live in Red River so my favorites are almost too numerous to mention but a short list includes Columbine Canyon, the Red River Nature Trail, Goose Creek, Middle Fork Lake (enjoy it while it remains free from vehicle traffic), Sawmill Park and, of course, Wheeler Peak.
At 13,161 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico, is eighth among all the highest state points in the nation. On a clear day, views extend all the way to Colorado. On the way to the summit, wildflowers cover the Alpine tundra landscape like a Monet painting, marmots and pika shout warnings from talus slopes and eagles circle overhead. By mountaineering standards, Wheeler is relatively easy, but this is not for wimps because of the altitude and a few slopes that require muscle strength going up — and down. We like to head up via Middle Fork Lake but there are a few ways to go, including up West and East Fork Trails of the Red River and the Taos Ski Valley/Williams Lake route.
Thanks to my dad, John Miller, there are also a few off-the-beaten-path hikes I love including Fosters Park, an old road/trail/bushwhacking climb up to Fosters Park just below the Forth of July Canyon/Old Red River Pass Road. (Park off Highway 578 at the first turnoff to Valley of the Pines – the “trail” is across the highway).
You can also get to the top of Hottentot Wash, an impressive landmark of the Questa caldera overlooking Red River. Amazingly, it’s a relatively easy hike if you follow this route up the back: Go over Sawmill Mountain and down Bonito Canyon just beyond the turnoff to Greenie Peak. There’s an area to park and you can head up an old game trail bushwhacking until you reach an old Moly Mine exploration road. Turn right on it, then left at the next intersection, following the road behind the wash until you come to an old drill site. There’s drill casings sticking up out of the ground and you’ll see a very steep road heading uphill. From the top of the wash you can see Cabresto Peak, Latir Peak, Big Costilla Peak, Baldy, Touch-Me-Not, Gold Hill, the Wheeler Wilderness, Lobo Peak, Red River and the Moly Mine.
It can be toasty mid-summer but Wild Rivers Recreation Area outside Questa offers a number of fun hikes including the new Pescado Trail, which heads from the Visitor Center to the Red River Fish Hatchery, the Riconada Loop Trail, which snakes along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge and Big Arsenic Trail with numerous petroglyphs that were pounded onto volcanic basalt rocks by the Anasazi. (These are intentionally unmarked to mitigate vandalism. Ask at the Visitor Center for directions.)
Near Taos, I like the South Boundary Trail, a former sheep-driving route along the Fernando Mountains, and with everyone else, it seems, most summers I’ll take the short trek up to Williams Lake outside Taos Ski Valley. It may be well traveled, but the lake is a perfect high-country lake with abundant wildflowers and a cascading waterfall just above the lake.