Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Fun, Yet Impossible, Route at San Lorenzo Canyon

Here's a tip: if you see a route on All Trails that looks easy, yet none of the reviewers managed to complete it, assume you're going to fail too. That's kind of, but not quite, the mindset I approached San Lorenzo Canyon in New Mexico with. It's a 1.5 mile loop that none of the reviewers actually found. But still, how dicey could a short loop be?

I was pleased to see signage leading us towards San Lorenzo Canyon from the highway, and while the roads weren't great, our sedan had no problem traversing them. We drove until we reached what Google Maps considers the start of the canyon and parked the car. From there, we started hoofing it down the main canyon. A few folks in vehicles passed us and I began thinking I'd picked a location that was more car than hiker friendly. Still, the canyon scenery around us was quite impressive. There were steep walls, impossibly teetering rocks and everywhere you looked interestingly shaped formations. If all we were going to do was stroll down a road for a bit, I was satisfied with that.

As we neared the end of the main canyon the All Trails route suggested we veer to the right. And sure enough, there was an obvious trail to follow. So we followed it and found ourselves off the main road and winding our way through more impressive scenery.

We scrambled our way through a few obstacles, but most of the trail was easy going. Eventually we found ourselves at a dead end. However, there was a prominent cairn marking what appeared to be a steep trail leading out of the canyon.

So up we went, and emerged from the canyon to an amazing view. Not only did we have the view, but I had serious confidence that we'd be able to follow the All Trails route. Once on top of the canyon, we traced the ridge making our way back towards the car.

And then we hit our first snag. The trail we were following stopped at a cliff wall. We may have been relatively close to our car, but without rapelling gear, it was completely out of reach.

We backtracked to the point where Shira had seen a cairn we'd walked by. And sure enough, upon closer inspection, the cairn pointed to a side trail. We took it, and sharply descended to the canyon floor again. From the distance I could see a clearly marked trail, and before I knew it, we were on high quality trail once again making our way to the car. And because we were on the canyon floor, we didn't have to worry about hitting a cliff. Once again I celebrated our good fortune, knowing that *this time* we'd have no problem following the All Trails route.

And then the canyon walls started to close in and we found ourselves at what seemed to be a dead end. There was a 6 foot or so drop, leading to a who-knows-how-far drop beyond that.

We backtracked looking for other trail options. By this point, our 1.5 mile hike had turned into a 4 mile adventure. Because the hike was so short, we'd started late in the day, and now sun-down didn't seem so far off. I was humbled by the surroundings. There was no guarantee that any of the canyons had obvious connections between them. I suddenly had visions of hiking out by flashlight, or worse, having to hunker down and spend the night huddled under a space blanket. We'd left a note on our car saying we were out for a day hike, but would anyone see it?

Ultimately, we back-tracked our route completely and made it back to the main road without incident.

So here's the deal with San Lorenzo Canyon: it's beautiful, and the hiking is awesome. But definitely approach it with care. We tracked our route with Backcountry Navigator, which I highly recommend. We also had plenty of water, snacks and standard emergency gear, which provided another safety net. While these may be standard hiking precautions, you might be tempted to skip them on a 1.5 mile loop. Don't. This landscape, while breathtaking, doesn't mess around. But with those precautions in place, San Lorenzo is an awesome place to explore.

Here's the route we took. Hopefully you can learn from our experience.

We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife while in the canyon, but we did see a crazy looking caterpillar. When we Googled its description to learn the identity, the first site we found was this one. Apparently, we'd found a Northern Giant Flag Moth. What's even more surprising is that photo on that page, documented 12 years ago, was also taken in San Lorenzo Canyon. How crazy is that?

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