ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Some of New Mexico’s most popular forest areas are increasingly seeing closures as wildfires burn statewide. While the closures are an effort to prevent more fires from igniting, they’ve also put lots of recreational areas off-limits for New Mexicans.
So what are your options if you want to get out and experience the great outdoors this weekend in the Albuquerque area? KRQE News 13 is breaking down what’s closed and what alternative options you have.
Multiple forests near Albuquerque closed
Officials have closed the Santa Fe National Forest this week to reduce the risk of fires. Starting Thursday, May 19 at 8:00 a.m., the entirety of the forest is off limits to the public. This includes roads and trails operated by the U.S. Forest Service. County and state roads will still be open, according to the Santa Fe National Forest public information office.
The Carson National Forest, north of Española, NM, is also closed as of Thursday, May 19. The forest’s campgrounds, trails, and forest roads are closed to visitors.
“The hot and dry conditions we’re experiencing pose a dire risk for wildfires to quickly ignite and spread
rapidly,” said Carson National Forest Supervisor James Duran in a press release. “Community compliance will be essential for our success in protecting the forest amid these conditions.”
Portions of the Cibola National Forest are also closed. This includes trails located along the road to the Sandia Crest as well as trails near Tijeras, New Mexico, such as Tunnel Canyon and Otero Canyon trails. Manzano trails, such as the Fourth of July trail and campground, are also closed.
And law enforcement warns of potentially serious penalties for breaking the rules. Individuals who violate forest closure orders can be charged with a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $5,000. You could also be imprisoned, according to the Forest Service.
The National Forest closures are expected to remain in place until July 18, 2022. Although they could be extended.
Some Foothills trails open, portions closed
The Albuquerque Foothills at the base of the Sandias are operated by two different government entities. Generally speaking, the easternmost portion is National Forest land, as are some trails to the north and south of the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area. But the main portion of Elena Gallegos is generally operated by the City of Albuquerque Open Space Division. This means that some areas of the Foothills are closed, but many of the recreational trails remain open.
“Our Elena Gallegos Open Space butts right up to the National Forest land,” explains Drew Ayotte with the City’s Parks Department. “So yes, those [Elena Gallegos] areas are still open.”
So, visitors can still hike and bike along many of the Foothills trails, but those trails are under “stage 2” fire restrictions. That generally means you’re not allowed to make campfires, set off fireworks, etc. So if you go, be careful, and keep an eye out for fires. If you see one, call 911.
It’s worth noting that some land generally considered part of the Foothills is closed. Those regions include parts of the Cibola National Forest.
According to the Sandia Ranger District Office, on the National Forest portion of the Foothills, only Trail 365 is still open. That’s the one that starts at the bottom of the Tramway and ends at the end of Camino de la Sierra. It’s open to hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking, according to the Forest Service.
East Mountains Open Spaces are closed
Recreation areas in the East Mountains, near Albuquerque, are closed, according to Albuquerque Fire Rescue. That means Carolina Canyon, Gutierrez-Milne, San Antonito, Juan Tomas, Loma Ponderosa, Golden and Placitas Open Spaces are closed.
East Mountain areas operated by Bernalillo County are also closed. That includes Carlito Springs, Ojito de San Antonio, Sabino Canyon, Sandia Knolls, Sedillo Ridge, and Tijeras Creek.
Some ABQ Bosque trails remain open
Despite a high risk of fire — and a woman allegedly setting 12 recent fires in the area — most of the Albuquerque Bosque recreation trails remain open, according to Drew Ayotte from the city.
Part of the reason they’re still open is because having visitors can actually help prevent large fires. “Having more people on the Bosque on these trails looking out for warning signs can really help alert our fire crews so that they can address it,” Ayotte says.
For more walks near the Bosque, the Los Poblanos Open Space is also open. It’s an operating farm that offers several loops for walking a mile or two. It’s located just north of Montano Road.
The Los Poblanos Open Space offers a scenic walk within the city. Photo from CKSegarra.
Also near the Albuquerque Bosque is Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. The park offers birding and is located just off of 2nd Street. The park and visitor’s center are both open, according to a volunteer at the refuge — although the location’s website says the visitor’s center is closed.
But, due to a recent Bosque fire, some trails are temporarily closed. On the west side of the river, trails from Montano NW to Andulucia Park are closed. On the east side of the river, Paseo del Bosque Trail has been reopened as of May 27.
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park offers birding opportunities
Nestled just off of Rio Grande Blvd. in Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park is still open for visitors. The park is a good option for brief trail-walking and people interested in birding.
“We have nature walks once a month on the second Saturday, and we have bird walks every Saturday and Sunday,” says Karen Herzenberg, an instructional coordinator for the park. “We have a guide that will take a dozen people around in an area close to the park to look for birds. And registration is required ahead of time. It is migration [season], so there’s lots to see in the bird department. And the nature walks are a walk out to the river to learn about the local ecosystem here.” To register for a guided bird walk, you can call the visitor’s center at (505) 344-7240.
In addition to guided walks, the park also has a few short trails to walk as well as a native plant garden and a visitor’s center. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. The visitor’s center is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There is a $3 per-vehicle fee to access the park (and correct change is appreciated).
Petroglyph National Monument is open
On Albuquerque’s west side, Petroglyph National Monument is still open. As of May 19, 2022, they have no plans for closing, according to a park ranger.
The site has several trails to choose from. Boca Negra Canyon is a short walk that lets you see 100 petroglyphs. It’s operated by the City of Albuquerque, and there’s a $1 parking fee on weekdays and a $2 parking fee on weekends.
Piedras Marcadas Canyon and Rinconada Canyon are operated by the National Parks Service. They have trails that are open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. Of course, for more hiking, you can visit the Volcanoes Day Use Area. It’s open from sunrise to sunset, but the parking lot is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Historical areas in the East Mountains are open
On the other side of the Manzanos from Albuquerque lies the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. It’s made up of three separate sites that date back more than 700 years ago. The sites are: Quarai, Gran Quivira, and Abó.
The three sites are all still open for visitors. They don’t offer extensive hiking options — the longest trail is about a mile long, at Quarai — but they do offer a unique look into the interactions between Spanish and local Pueblo peoples.
Each of the three sites has standing structures dating back hundreds of years, in some cases. Gran Quivira is the largest of the three and was originally a “vast city with multiple pueblos,” according to the National Park Service. Now, much of the original pueblos are recognizable only as mounds of earth. One has been fully excavated.
At Quarai, a 17th century Spanish church stands near unexcavated Tiwa pueblo ruins. There’s a quaint (think one room) museum that’s free to visit. If you’re not convinced you should visit, check out this virtual tour of the site.
The three sites are free to visit. Quarai and Abó are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day. Gran Quivira is always open, but the visitor’s center is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, according to park staff.
The Abó mission offers a chance to get outdoors and learn about New Mexico history. Photo from NPS.
Cochiti Lake is now open to recreation
Cochiti Lake, a popular watersport and camping site roughly 50 minutes from Albuquerque, was previously closed. The lake was being used as a water supply to fight the Cerro Pelado fire. But now that the fire is 74% contained as of May 18, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reopening the recreation area, according to a press release.
The boat ramp and swim beach are both open, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The swim beach hours are 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Camping is also permitted in the Cochiti Recreation Area, but reservations are required (and can be made at recreation.gov).
White Ridge is open
The White Ridge Bike Trails Area, about an hour north of Albuquerque, are still open. Previously known as White Mesa, the site offers hiking and biking in a gypsum-rich landscape.
There are no fees to access the area. And be aware that there are no facilities or bathrooms at the site.
Bandelier National Monument has reopened
Roughly two hours north of Albuquerque, Bandelier National Monument offers hiking and history. The trails were previously closed due to wildfire, but have been reopened as of May 27, 2022, according to Los Alamos’s Economic Development Department.
Open areas include Pueblo Loop Trail, Falls Trail to Upper Falls, Frey Trail,Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, and Tsankawi Trail, according to the National Park Service. Trails are open every day from sunrise to sunset, but the visitor’s center and park store is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
There is a fee to access the park. It’s $25 per private vehicle. And there is a café, Sirphey’s at Bandelier. It’s open from 9am to 4:30pm.
Gila National Forest on alert
The Gila National Forest is implementing “stage 2” fire restrictions as of May 19, 2022, according to a press release. That means recreation is permitted, but some activities are not allowed.
Fires, including stoves, campfires, and charcoal fires are not allowed at any time. Smoking is generally not allowed, unless inside an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while standing in a barren area with no flammable material. Explosives and fireworks, of course, are prohibited.
Using a motor vehicle, including recreational vehicles, anywhere off of the official National Forest System roads is also not allowed.
“We all have a role in preventing human-caused wildfires. It only takes one spark to start a wildfire,” Acting Gila National Forest Supervisor Michael Martinez said in a press release. “We are relying on you to help us prevent wildfires.”
Trails in Los Lunas open for now
The Village of Los Lunas, south of Albuquerque, operates a few trail systems that are still open. There’s the El Cerro De Los Lunas, located on Highway 6, just three miles west of I-25. There’s also Los Lunas’ Bosque trail system.
El Cerro De Los Lunas offers hikers, walkers, and joggers a fee-free set of trails among the volcanic rocks and desert landscape. The trails are open from 6:00 a.m. to 30 minutes past sunset.
Los Lunas also has some Bosque trails. To access them, there’s a parking area just south of Main Street, on the East side of the Rio Grande River.
Options further south of Albuquerque
If you’re willing to take a drive south of Albuquerque, there are a few hiking and scenic recreation options available. Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, a 50 minute drive on I-25 offers Chihuahuan Desert hikes and riparian trails.
For the month of May, their visitor’s center is open Wednesday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to an operator at the center. The refuge itself is open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. The area’s main gate closes at 4:30 p.m., but visitors can park near the first sign near the road and walk in, according to a park representative. Within Sevilleta, there’s no picnicking allowed and no open fires allowed. And if you bring pets, make sure to keep them on a leash.
Even further south is Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It’s roughly an hour and 20 minutes south of Albuquerque.
View of Bosque Del Apache. Photo by John J. Mosesso/USGS
“We have trails that vary from a half-mile long to nine and a half miles around, round trip. Two of our trails are up into the dry desert. That’s the Canyon Trail and the Chupadera trail. The rest are down basically connected to our driving loop so they’re down in the river’s bottom land,” says Bosque Del Apache volunteer, Mr. Washam.
Bosque Del Apache is still open. They offer a range of trails of varying difficulty for walking and hiking. For a relatively easy stroll, you can enjoy the half-mile-long John P. Taylor Jr. Memorial Trail. It’s a hard packed gravel trail that runs through an historic channel of the Rio Grande Bosque. For a more adventurous out-and-back tail, you can hike the Chupadera Wilderness National Recreation Trail or the Canyon National Recreation Trail, which runs though a Chihuahuan Desert slot canyon. If you don’t want to hike, you can also take an auto loop tour of part of the wildlife refuge.
To access the auto loop and some trails, you’ll have to pay a $5-per-vehicle fee. If you have a National Park pass, you can use it instead.
The refuge also has a visitor’s center. It’s open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Other than that, the refuge is open seven days a week.