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.

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