Winter hiking: Pescado Trail

Pescado Trail_Hondo Fire_Cindy Brown
View of the Hondo Fire scar from the Pescado Trail. (Photo by Cindy Brown)

Now is the time for hiking in solitude and snowy silence at Wild Rivers, just north of Taos.

One of the less-traveled paths is the Pescado Trail that connects the Red River Fish Hatchery with the Wild Rivers Visitor Center. This trail gains about 800 feet over two miles and is considered a moderate trail in the summer months.

Add a foot or two of snow and the trail is more challenging during the winter. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Park Ranger Daniel Rael says, “We have gotten so much snow that the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are fantastic.” The rewards for the climb up and over the ridge are dramatic views into the canyon of the Red River, along with glimpses of nearby Guadalupe Mountain and Flag Mountain to the east.

Although the hike can be accessed from either end, beginning the hike at the Red River Fish Hatchery cuts driving time significantly from Taos, with the trailhead being 22 miles away, rather than about 38 miles to the Wild Rivers Visitor Center. From the fish hatchery trailhead, the path crosses the Red River and follows it for a short distance. The trail is defined well here, due to tracks left by people fishing in the river.

A moderately steep path follows switchbacks up a rocky hillside and into the woods. The trail continues to climb through the forest of ponderosa pine. On a recent visit, there were birds here, including the downy woodpecker and robin. According to Valerie Williams, BLM wildlife biologist, other birds that may be seen here include the bald eagle, northern flicker, western scrub-jay, the black-capped chickadee and many others.

The snow is deep in this section, so be on the lookout for the tracks left by recent hikers. If there are tracks visible, you may wish to follow them, as the trail climbs toward the ridge.

There is a fence near the top of the ridge with a gate; although if you can’t find the gate, you can climb through. After crossing the fence, look for hiker tracks heading south and west. From an overview point, there are views into the canyon of the Red River and fish hatchery below. As you continue, look ahead for the consistent opening through the trees straight ahead to stay on the trail. Continue to walk southwest across the top of the ridge. Orient yourself using the sun to the south and Guadalupe Mountain, which is visible to the north.

Pescado Trail_Red River_Cindy Brown
The Red River. (Photo by Cindy Brown)

The trail soon begins its descent toward the Wild Rivers area. It emerges just to the south of the visitor center. One of the sunny benches here is a good place for lunch.

For the return trip, retrace your steps and head east and north back toward the fish hatchery. Look for dramatic views southeast toward Lama and Flag Mountain as you crest the top of the ridge.

The hike is just under four miles round-trip. If the snow is deep, allow two hours in each direction. It is very helpful to have a map and a compass to guide you during the winter months, when the trail may be covered by snow. Maps are available at the Wild Rivers Visitor Center, at some of the trailheads and online atwww.blm.gov/nm/st/en/fo/Taos_Field_Office.html.

Wildlife

Williams says wildlife that may be present here include coyote, bobcat, bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer. She says, “In the water, you might see river otter, or signs of them, as snow can allow for the tracks of many riverine animals to be more readily seen and appreciated.”

On a recent hike, there were many wildlife tracks visible, along with other signs of wildlife. Williams says, “As always, it is critical to have dogs on leash when hiking in the woods to prevent harassment of wildlife in the area. Winter is a critical time for wildlife that have to endure bitter-cold temperatures and generally limited resources for food. Anything we can do to alleviate stress to these animals, especially during winter, will allow them to reserve much needed energy for moving through snow and across country … to find food, shelter and warmth.”

Gear and clothing

Layers of clothing that can be added and removed easily are helpful this time of year. Begin with a base layer that will wick away sweat, such as silk or a synthetic fiber. Add a middle layer of something warm, like fleece, and finish with a waterproof shell. The snow is deep enough to justify water-resistant pants or gaiters over your boots. Cross-country skis, snowshoes or some sort of traction device, such as Yaktrax or microspikes and poles, are helpful for secure footing and balance. Be sure to carry more food and water than you think you will need and remember sunscreen and sunglasses.

NMDGF_Logo_ColorRed River Fish Hatchery

The Red River Fish Hatchery is one of six hatcheries operated by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. It was built in 1941 and produces 1.7 million rainbow trout a year. It is open to the public seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some of the fishing ponds are closed due to winter conditions. There is a self-guided tour available, as well as a place to see and feed the fish.

Karl Moffatt with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says, “We are really proud of all the habitat improvements that we’ve installed in the river above and below the fish hatchery to improve fish habitat, which will ultimately lead to better angling.”

The improvements were made in conjunction with cleanup and restocking of Eagle Rock Lake. Fishing licenses are required here and throughout the state for people 12 and over. For more information, call 575-586-0222.

Wild Rivers Visitor Center

The Wild Rivers Visitor Center is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., when rangers are available. Maps and bathroom facilities are available here, even if the center is closed. All trails and roads are open. For more information, call 575-586-1150 or the BLM Field Office in Taos at 575-758-8851.

Directions

Look for the Fish Hatchery turnoff:  From State Highway 522 turn onto State Highway 515 and drive two miles over paved roads. Pass the fish hatchery and park at the trailhead.

About the author

Cindy Brown is the author of the “Taos Hiking Guide,” available at local retailers and at nighthawkpress.com. Contact Cindy at cindybrowntaos2010@yahoo.com.