Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pyramid Trail-Red Rock Park

The Pyramid Trail is one of two hiking trails in Red Rock Park east of Gallup in northwest New Mexico. Red Rock Park is 2 miles east of Exit 26 from Interstate Highway 40 along the frontage road. There are several signs pointing out the way to the park.

The Pyramid Trailhead is straight ahead on the main park road past the extensive rodeo facilities. The Pyramid Trail is one of the most popular in the Gallup, NM area. There is an aerial photograph map of the trail at the information kiosk but in early 2012 the image is faded and hard to read. The exact mileage isn’t posted but this hike felt like about 4 miles roundtrip and climbs steeply toward the end.

There are several interpretive signs along the Pyramid Trail. The first describes the area geology. The layers listed start with the eye catching Church Rock formation and work down. Visible up above are the Dakota, Morrison, Zuni, Bluff, Summerville, and Todilto layers. The base rock is the Entrada Sandstone that Four Corners travelers will recognize as the layer with all the Arches near Moab, Utah.

Further on there is a view toward the historic Fort Wingate. The Fort was established in 1868 with the return of Navajos from Bosque Redondo and served as a distributer of “Navajo Treaty Goods.” There are many bomb proof armament storage igloos visible that date from World War II. The Fort Wingate Indian School developed the first group of the famous Navajo Code Talkers.

After the first segment of climbing there is a relatively level segment along a ridge and Pyramid Rock first comes into view. An interpretive sign mentions the common plants and their uses for the original natives of this area. I kept an eye out for Ancestral Pueblo ruins along the trail but didn’t notice any. There are alcoves in the canyons along the way that could shelter some sites but they are a long distance away.

The last segment of trail curves around the Pyramid and climbs all the way to the top. There are a couple of balanced rocks on the way to the top. The Pyramid Rock Trail was constructed over three seasons by the Youth Conservation Corps and they continue to provide maintenance.

The last segment of trail is steep but there are constructed steps making the climb easier. From the top of Pyramid Rock there are outstanding views in all directions. The cap rock of the Pyramid is Dakota Sandstone providing a relatively smooth surface and some large boulders to sit on.

It took me 1:10 hours to climb to the top and 0:50 minutes to descend for a total hike of 2:00 hours. I hiked on a 60 F degree mid March day and carried 2 liters of water. There were about 15 other hikers on the trail during my hike.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Church Rock Trail-Red Rock Park

The Church Rock Trail is a lasso loop route of about 3 miles in Red Rock Park on the eastern outskirts of Gallup in northwest New Mexico. Find Red Rock Park at Exit 26 from Interstate Highway 40, then travel two miles east of the frontage road. There are signs for the park along the frontage road but I didn’t see any signs along the Interstate.

Inside the park the Church Rock Trailhead is at the far end of the main campground, after making a right turn off the main road. There are signs pointing out the nearby Pyramid Trail, but I didn’t see any for the Church Rock Trail. There is an information kiosk and some small signs pointing the way once you arrive. The trailhead kiosk has an aerial photo of the trail area but in early 2012 the image was faded and difficult to see.

The trail starts out along the sandy bottom of a drainage then climbs on the sandstone sides of the canyon. The eye catching formation in the distance is the Church Rock, the formation for which the surrounding community is named. There aren’t any interpretive signs along this trail but there are several on the nearby Pyramid Trail that provide some information on the geology and plant communities of the area.

One of the side canyons on the way has some Ponderosa Pines. Otherwise the trees are mostly Pinon Pines and Junipers. These Junipers seem to mostly be One Seed Junipers rather than the commonly seen Utah Junipers.

There are a couple of short segments where footholds are carved out of the sandstone to aid short climbs. Rock or log steps are also installed making this an easy trail to walk despite the rough terrain. The main trail is marked with very large rock cairns

The Church Rock Trail doesn’t climb all the way to the top but loops around well below. From the high point of the trail the Pyramid Rock is also visible.

I didn’t realize that this was a loop trail until I recognized segments that I had already hiked. The loop junction wasn’t obvious as I was traveling the trail.

Back at the trailhead I noticed an historic inscription that says “Church Rock Ranch and Trading Store bought Oct 15 1928.” My hike took 1:20 hours. I didn’t see the trail distance posted but this felt like about 3 miles. I hiked on a 60 F degree mid March day. Early in the season there weren’t any campers in the area and I was the only person hiking.