Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Walk on the Riparian Side of Santa Fe

We've walked a lot of miles over dry land lately so when we heard from a local there was a nice hike in a riparian zone nearby we jumped right on it.

The Dale Ball trail system comprises the North East edge of Santa Fe. Located just two miles from the famous Plaza, this system provides 22 miles of hiking and biking trails in the foothills overlooking the city.  These trails wind among juniper and pinion pine and gorgeous southwest-style homes and provide some lovely views.

To our surprise the Santa Fe River runs right smack through the middle of this trail system. Even more surprising, there was water in the river! Calling it a river seems kind of a stretch, after the years long drought this state is in the midst of, it's really more of a stream right now; but there was water and trees and birds and that makes for a very nice environment on a warm day.

In 1881 the first dam was built in this canyon, the remnants are still there; and in 1893 a second dam was built just below the first. In 1904 a major flood completely filled the reservoir with silt and a bypass ditch was built around the reservoir to deliver water to the city. Over the ensuing 100 years the historic river channel was lost.

In 1994 the dam was decommissioned in favor of using reservoirs further upstream and the river channel was restored to its historic route. Water now flows through based on environmental releases by the city, which are essential to the health of the riparian zone.

Beaver had even returned to this area, but the prolonged drought has pushed them back to higher elevation portions of the Santa Fe river.

The riparian trails are actually sponsored by the Nature Conservancy and connect to the Randall Davey Audubon Center. We had a lovely 5.5 mile hike combining riparian habitat with ponderosa forest.

Hike details: We parked at the Upper Canyon Rd. trail head, walked up the river next to the old beaver ponds, crossed the river to the Audubon Center, hiked the Center's Bear Canyon trail up into the forest until we felt like turning around, then back down Bear Canyon, crossed the river and returned on the trail overlooking the  ponds.

Looking up canyon at the beginning of the hike.
Can't get enough of those captivating New Mexico skies and the brilliant green
of new leaves on the cottonwood trees.
Looking for beaver...this was before we learned that the beavers
had moved further upstream due to the drought.
The Santa Fe river.
Heading up Bear Canyon along side the mostly dry Bear Creek.
This was a really good choice on a warm day,
it was a beautiful, shady, breezy canyon.
Looking towards the Santa Fe River watershed from the Randall Davey Audubon Center.
Clouds are building and would bring scattered showers later in the day.
Back to the Santa Fe river riparian zone, view towards downtown Santa Fe.
Evening Grosbeak
Some of the beaver ponds in the foreground.
You can tell where the water line was when this was dammed.
The Audubon Center is the reddish roof in the center of the photo.
There are lots of Magpies around here.

After months of very low humidity in the South West, since arriving in Santa Fe the afternoons have been rather humid, with thunder storms building over the mountains each afternoon. We've actually gotten brief scattered showers, just enough rain to make the truck really dirty!


  1. Great pictures of the Magpie & Evening Grosbeak
    Randall Davey Audubon Center looks like a place I'd like to visit.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Great pics.We passed through about a 3 weeks ago. If you have not been to Los Alamos, Pecos National HP and/or Bandelier and have time we found all of these interesting/educational and can recommend them.

  3. Glad you're enjoying the area. We sure did even though it was still bitter cold when we were in Santa Fe at the end of Feb. Once you reach Colorado, you'll realize afternoon storms frequent the mountains. Always hike/bike early and be off the trails by 2 or 3 due to lightening. The moisture is always welcome especially due to drought. Hope you're visiting some of those chapels. The architecture is amazing.

  4. Great bird pictures. Very nice. NM is a really pretty state. We're thinking that maybe it will be May for us next year, May is such a difficult month for the full timer.

  5. We absolutely love Santa Fe. You have captured some great photos of the area.

  6. Hello! I just started following your blog (found you via Wheeling It) and it looks like we are following in your footsteps - we just arrived in NM yesterday and we're spending the weekend in Santa Fe, so I really enjoyed reading your posts! Looking forward to reading more! Our blog is