Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Santa Fe Skyline Run: Atalaya and Picacho

Santa Fe Foothills Skyline
Atalaya Mountain (9117')
Picacho Peak (8577')
~13M Roundtrip (rough estimate) from downtown Santa Fe


A couple Thanksgivings ago, I ran up to check out Picacho Peak, a pointy and prominent knob in the Santa Fe foothills. I ran out of time to explore the nearby, higher Atayala Mountain, but this time came prepared to check out both.

View Larger Map (Picacho on left, Atalaya on Right)

On these trails in winter, "prepared" means mandatory traction, as much of the trail is shaded, but either sees enough traffic from other folks, or has creek/melt runoff from sunnier locations so as to coat large sections of the trail in solid ice. The only other tracks I saw consistently showed the shape of Yaktrax embedded in the mud. In this case, I put on Microspikes fairly early and was glad to have them for the duration.

Like last year, I left from Pueblo Bonito Inn, which is a great B&B bargain in the offseason: in this case, $75. And by leaving before sunrise, I knew I could do some damage to the breakfast buffet when I was done. I headed up Atalaya first, paralleling Camino de Cruz Blanca on a trail that was mostly a dirt sidewalk with low desert brush, but also solidly covered in ice. This trail was easy to follow before the climbing began. Eventually, there's a trail split, with the left fork labeled as "steeper." Not only was that one obviously more fun, but it had less traffic and better traction.
The Atalaya summit itself is the non-descript highpoint of the ridge to the East of town, just over 2000 feet higher than town. Great views, yes, but the irony is that most of the hiking guidebooks I've glanced at mention Atalaya (which also had a summit register jar) but not Picacho. By being more prominent and having a better view, Picacho is still my preference. That's an easy roll down to the saddle and then brief climb back up, so I headed that way. With the snow and ice, and with no idea of the actual map distance, the previous year I had estimated about 20 minutes between the two, and that was pretty much accurate.

I enjoyed the sunshine on Picacho for a bit before heading down the familiar, but very icy, trails on the Dale Ball system. The Microspikes worked great, in combination with moving very conservatively. The added insult to injury on these trails would be slipping on ice and then falling onto a cactus.

In all, this is a fun loop that is very accessible from town. Some sort of traction (microspikes or at least Yaktrax) would be mandatory in winter. From most places, the road approach is only 2-3 miles on road. The road parts are enjoyable runs past adobe buildings and art galleries, with the scent of woodsmoke in the air. Just be careful around blind corners for inattentive drivers.

I had also explored the lower Dorothy Stewart trail on a separate run. My opinion here is that the lower trails would be fun on a mountain bike, but the higher ones around both summits would be more of a chore on a bike.

Map is below in case it's useful, the Dale Ball system is well-marked but I had been hand-drawing the other sections:


  1. I finally picked up some microspikes about a week ago. It is still a bit freaky running down glare ice, but they have yet to slip even an inch. Better pack them this Saturday. Glad to see you taking advantage of your school break.

  2. Actually not much of a break, we only had a few days there and I'm catching up on blogging, and I was able to bring my laptop and do some work in the afternoon.

    Definitely digging the spikes, I had them last year but didn't use them much at all. The solid glare ice seems to work well (though I hesitate) -- I have actually slipped on really thin ice that's on top of rock or frozen mud (obviously the spikes can't dig in).

  3. Microspikes rock!!! I'm a Kahtoolavangelist.

    I gotta get down and finish Atalaya, I had fun even though it was only a short run before sunset. It was short because I spent most of the day with my stomach bloated from eating too much great NM food, so it was late by the time I was able to run.

  4. Indeed: that's why I realized that running in the morning, before first breakfast (and second breakfast), is key in New Mexico!

  5. This post is really too informative to us, good perception of images and good description


  6. Stunning scenery, hopefully will visit one day.