"Let's climb the Mountain," I was told enigmatically by a local Santa Fean.
My puzzlement was obvious: at Santa Fe's northern border are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Jemez Mountains are close and many small, spiky, hills are scattered all around.
She couldn't help with the name, but patiently explained to me that there is only one Mountain, and it is at the end of the Ski Basin Road. The August afternoon was rainy, foggy and cold and the idea of trekking a bit attracted me. She brought her children, who were lured by the prospect of finding edible mushrooms, and we began traveling north of downtown toward the general direction of the Ski Basin. It took very little to find that the Ski Basin Road is actually called the Hyde Park Road and that the Mountain is named Tesuque. Double naming is a local pastime.
The way crosses the Santa Fe National Forest, which I visited in another opportunity from its other side in Pecos. After leaving the town, the undulating road enters a forested area which includes the Hyde Memorial State Park, the Little Tesuque and Black Canyon, the Big Tesuque and the Ski Basin. The Big Tesuque is reached in about half an hour of driving and its facilities are just a basic parking place at one of the many curves. Pines, some of them mighty ponderosas, and sun loving aspens grow densely on the slopes, and a dense fog—or was it a cloud at this altitude?—covered some of them, looking like a moving missing part in a giant puzzle.
Big Tesuque is the name of the upper watershed of the Tesuque Creek; it extends from the Big Tesuque Recreation Site uphill to Tesuque Peak, at approximately 4000m elevation and includes several small streams that feed into Tesuque Creek.
The actual shape of the forest is the result of a large fire near the turn of the century; in the process of forest succession, species like the aspen are among the first to re-vegetate. Once established, the aspen forest provides shade and cooler ground temperatures, allowing the shade loving spruce and fir species to grow. The new trees rise up and tower over the aspen, robbing it of the sunlight it needs. Hence the actually dense forest of aspen is declining.
The Big Tesuque Trail follows the North Fork of Tesuque Creek from its junction with the Tesuque Peak Road, from less than one kilometer above the entrance to another junction with the Winsor Trail, less than two kilometers below it. The trail is open to all form of non-motorized recreation, such as hiking, jogging, mountain biking, and horseback riding. In the winter, the area offers tree skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing opportunities as well. Overnight camping is free, but subject to a fortnight stay limit.
We walked the upper part of the trail and the little girls, three and five years old, didn't complain about the exercise and were happy in their search for edible mushrooms which thrived here. Charmingly, in a kid of poetic justice, they placed the uprooted mushrooms inside an umbrella turned upside down. The trail was wet but not slippery, the narrow stream allowed crossing it back and forth, the shade and fog created a pleasant walking environment and maybe more important than all that, there weren't any other visitors; isolationist New Mexicans hardly leave their homes. While climbing, only the trail to the right of the stream was complete, the other side allowed just short walks into hidden meadows. Fallen trees occasionally created improvised bridges over the stream, to the delight of the children.
In a very slow walk, the way up took around half an hour and the end of the trail was abrupt, there wasn't any possibility to park there fore a picnic; there is only one table in the park and it is located next to the entrance. The only feasible solution is to bring some kind of water resistant blanket and to spread it in one of the casual open spaces of the forest.
At first sight, Santa Fe looked to me as a desert, but hidden within the mountains, is a lush forest waiting to be discovered.