Friday, February 28, 2014

US50 Phase 1: Villanueva NM

Oct 24 Hogs and wind, both on a rampage

Got a call from my wife this morning. Sounds like feral hogs tore up all her potted plants last night! What a mess!

The original plan for today was to backtrack about 30 miles to Fort Union NHP, but! The wind this morning was just as bad as yesterday and the fort, or rather the ruins of a classic star-shaped fort built by the Union during the Civil War, is out on open rangeland where it once straddled the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail. With these kinds of winds tearing down out of the mountains and across the plains the thought of trying to stay on my feet, let alone dodge whatever the wind has picked up and is throwing around, while I toured the largely wall-less ruins of the fort just didn’t do it for me. So instead I fought the winds  from inside the safety of the van while getting a few more miles south on I25 (Which is actually going west and even a little north along here.) to get to SR3.
SR3 roughly follows the course of the Pecos river along here and the Villanueva State Park is about 9 miles in. For most of those 9 miles SR3 has a speed limit of 25 and never more than 45 as  it twists and turns its way between the bluffs and mesas and the river.
Carefully negotiating the roads through the tiny but confusing little hamlet of Villanueva, I coasted on into the state park of the same name. This is the first time since somewhere in Colorado that I have been below 6000 feet.

The state park consists of two separate camping units, one up on a bluff that was already closed for the season and the other strung out right along the river. The ones along the river are very nice, large campsites that are reasonably isolated from each other, each of which comes with a generous three-walled shelter that any tent camper would swoon over in bad weather.
As is the case with many public campgrounds, when visiting the New Mexico State Park system it's a good idea to carry a stash of $5 and $10 bills to use at the self-pay stations. In the state parks I stayed at it cost $10 per night to camp, $5 for the day-use pass and another $5 for the campsite.
Once I got myself parked, paid and properly tagged I crossed the Pecos River, which was running right by the back of my campsite, on a footbridge that put me at the base of a 400 foot cliff. The river runs right up against this cliff along here leaving hardly any room, but even so there is a 2 point something mile loop trail that climbs along the cliff and past a small bench where there are Spanish built ruins of a circular enclosure that they used to fill with grain from the valley below and drive horses and mules around and around to thresh during harvest. The trail eventually comes out near the top of the mesa, another 100 or so feet above the cliff-edge.
Up here there is the option of a side trail that climbs a bit further up to an overlook with views up the valley towards the little settlement of Villanueva which is sitting on another bench above the river to stay clear of flooding. To this day there are no dams upriver on the Pecos so it is still a wild river through here.
As has been the rule rather than exception ever since I got west of the Mississippi, I had the trail pretty much to myself and spent quite a bit of time just - well - just being, as I lollygagged along breathing in the air and the sights.
From the lookout spur the main trail turns back and follows the edge of the mesa, (And I do mean the edge!) before it turns one more time and plunges back down to the river where you then have to negotiate narrow limestone ledges to get back to the footbridge.

After that hike I spent the remainder of the evening sitting in my campsite alongside the river reading and watching the shadows change on the face of the cliff. Once it was too dark to read I decided I should do something about dinner, but then I just sat there for a while longer, unwilling to let this day go.


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