By Cindy Brown
For The Taos News
The sounds of the river below seem to rise up and join the wind as it blows across the mesa on the east rim of the Río Pueblo. Here, rolling hills of sage, piñón and juniper frame the backdrop of Taos Mountain and the towering peaks in the distance. Cascabel Trail follows the edge of the Río Grande Gorge, connecting the trailhead at the end of County Road 110 with the Taos Valley Overlook area south of town.
The Bureau of Land Management acquired 78 acres here several years ago. Since the purchase, the BLM staff has been working to clean up and improve the area. So far, the changes have included new signage, fences and gates to help direct hikers to a variety of trails. Earlier in April, a kiosk that includes a map was installed. In the future, there will be interpretive panels added to the kiosk that focus on the history of the area. Also planned are picnic tables and benches.
"Cascabel" refers to the "tinklers," or little bits of metal that hung from the horse bridles and tack of riders who traversed this area in the past when Native peoples, Spanish settlers and fur traders made their way toward Taos, according to Merrill Dicks, archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management. Such artifacts are sometimes found in the area. "Taos was a frontier hub during the historic period and even before then," said Dicks.
It is believed that an extension of the Camino Real trail came into Taos. By the mid-1800s, the U.S. military built the first usable wagon road along the Río Grande to bring supplies through New Mexico to Fort Garland in Colorado.
Among the trails accessed here is the Slide Trail, which was former State Road 570. This road was built in 1915 by Taos County to provide access to the Río Grande Railroad near the Taos Junction Bridge. In 1993, a rock slide led to the closure of the road and it became a hiking trail. The new Cascabel Trail also begins here.
From the trailhead, hike south along the gorge of the Río Pueblo. The trail follows single- and double-track sections up and down over a gentle grade to reach an overlook point at about three-quarters of a mile. The elevation is a bit higher than 6,700 feet. The river is visible below, crashing over boulders as it makes its way south.
To connect with the Rift Valley system, continue on the trail and look for the Cascabel sign. You will cross an arroyo that is usually dry and then climb a moderate grade up to a second overlook point. This point is also accessible from the Rift Valley trailhead, located off State Road 68 about 10 miles south of town. The Taos Junction Bridge can be seen from the overlook, along with the conjunction of the Río Pueblo and the Río Grande. Red basalt cliffs dominate the views.
On a recent visit, tiny wildflowers were beginning to bloom near the trail, including red paintbrush, purple phlox and white loco.
There are bighorn sheep here, and the turkey vultures have returned to soar on the spring breezes above the Río Pueblo. On a recent visit, there were signs of coyotes on the trail and their call could be heard in the distance.
Valerie Williams, wildlife biologist for the BLM, said, "For wildlife, there is a variety one might see in the area, including desert cottontail, golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, common raven, pinyon jay, black-billed magpie and northern flicker. Scaled quail are possible, too. The bald eagles have moved north by now, though that is never written in stone; some are known to nest in southern climes, but it is rare."
Williams noted that the prairie rattlesnake could be here, along with the western diamondback, although that is rarer. Her best advice if you encounter a rattlesnake: "Stay clear!" If you see any type of snake on the trail, it is best to step back and give the snake room to escape.
"Mule deer are sometimes seen, usually where there's trees as cover nearby, and that's more toward the southern extent of the trail system," added Williams.
It can be windy and warm here. As the temperatures rise, consider going early in the morning or later, as the sun begins to set. Be sure to bring plenty of water for yourself and your dog, as there is none on the trail.
Anansi Charter School trip
This area is a great place for biking, too. Anansi Charter School will visit this coming weekend for a "Let's Move" event. The kids and their families will learn about the environment, as well as bike handling skills. They also plan to pick up trash. The event, "Move, Bike, Hike," is being planned in cooperation with the Field Institute of Taos.
From Taos Plaza, drive 5.5 miles south on Paseo del Pueblo Sur, which becomes State Road 68. Turn right at County Road C110. The sign says Old State Road 570. Drive 4 miles, passing the University of New Mexico Klauer Campus on the left and the Taos Country Club golf course on the right. The trailhead is located where the road ends.
For more information
Visit the BLM website at blm.gov/nm or call the Taos Field Office at (575) 758-8851.
Brown is the author of "Taos Hiking Guide," winner of the 2016 New Mexico - Arizona book award for sports and recreation. The guide is available at local retailers and nighthawkpress.com. Contact Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.