La Bajada Hill...Great Hike or 4-Wheel Drive
North of Albuquerque, NM
About 400 years ago this was part of the Spanish CAMINO REAL, the royal highway to Santa Fe from Mexico City. It was a tough part, rough, volcanic, dangerous. But you had to come this way to go farther north.
In the 1920's and 30's the earliest cars groaned up the steep switchbacks. It was called La Bajada Hill and it was not very well liked by anybody traveling it.
Interstate 25 bypasses it now, four lanes of smooth pavement that hardly even makes you think twice...just a little extra push on the gas and up you go, on your way to santa Fe at 75 mph.
Whats left of the old road up the volcanic escarpment is still driveable in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. But it also makes a great hike. There's a 500-foot rise off the high desert floor to the flat mesas above. From the top you can see several of New Mexico's major mountain ranges. To the north, the Sangre de Cristos; the Sandias to the south; and the Jemez Mountains to the west. The views are incredible.
Some folks can't do this...stop and listen to the wind and imagine the people so long ago who had to come this way...but I often do. I find the quiet and peace and sun and far views are worth the effort to get here. Other than a healthy hike, that's about all it offers. If thunderstorms are building in the distance, the monster thunder clouds that climb tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere even as you watch, the panoramic sweeps offer photographic challenges. Try black and white here with a red filter to turn sky black and enhance clouds. Or take your color shots back to your computer and turn the inages to gray scale.
We elected to hike from near a very small community named La Bajada to the top. About a third of the way up the road splits, take the right branch.
To get there: I-25 north from Albuquerque to Cochiti Pueblo exit 264, go west toward the pueblo. You'll be on NM 16. Three miles, turn onto the La Bajada turnoff. About a mile and take the La Tetilla Recreational turnoff, a dirt road. About another mile, cross the Santa Fe River and the La Bajada road branches off to the right. The family car is not going to get much farther, park here and hike. It's a little more than a mile to the top.
Best time to hike is spring through fall or early summer. Summer temps can get pretty hot, no shade and heat radiates off the volcanic rock like an oven. Max elevation is about 6,000 feet. Know and follow all the rules about hiking safety, including taking water.
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