The Mountain Region consists of Pajarito Mountain, Canada Bonita, Upper Pipeline Road, and a couple of the major canyons on Pajarito’s southeast side. The paved and (usually) plowed road leading to the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area make this region the best place in the entire CBC circle to get high-elevation species like Dusky Grouse, Gray Jay, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and American Three-Toed Woodpecker. Unfortunately these birds come at a price and that price is snow. In most years the high-elevation trails described here will be snowy to the point where snowshoes and/or cross-country skies are probably prudent. The two lower trailheads may offer a less snowy experience if Pajarito Mountain proves too nordic for your tastes. Explore the interactive map below to see the region boundary (red), the major roads (green), trails (blue), and the recommended trailheads (hiker icons).
The Upper Quemazon Trailhead is right at the end of the paved road at the far end of the ski area’s parking lot. Normally a dirt road continues west to Camp May from here, but in the winter they block the road off with boulders, so we’re calling it a trail for now. Follow the road past the boulders and up the hill to the Camp May camping area, and around the small loop. This is a one-mile round trip from the car and passes through mixed conifer, aspen, and alpine meadow habitats. If the ski area is open this area may be a bit crowded.
The Quemazon Trail heads northeast off the dirt Camp May Road near the parking area. In the winter the beginning of this trail is referred to as the Nordic Ski Trail because the cross-country ski club pays to have it groomed when there is sufficient snow. If it is groomed/snowy and you aren’t wearing skis then you are required to stay on the eastern/lower side of the loop. The trail passes through old-growth mixed conifer as well as a severe burn scar/ghost forest from the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire. The burned area is an excellent place to find woodpeckers. Once the trail emerges into the alpine meadow called Canada Bonita, continue to the northwest to the county line fence where the trail makes a hard right and heads up to the saddle west of Canada Bonita. Continue on this trail up and over the saddle and down into the heavy forest on the other side. When the trail breaks into a pair of small meadows, look/listen for Gray Jays; they are in this area year-round. Head back the way you came.
The Upper Pajarito Canyon Trailhead is a small dirt pull-off on the west side of NM 501 about half a mile south of the intersection of West Rd. and NM 501. The best birding in this canyon is about half a mile in near the narrow rocky portion of the canyon which is frequented by rock climbers during the summer. There is a quarter mile or so of forested canyon bottom just beyond this rocky section that is worth exploring.
The Canon de Valle Trailhead is another small dirt pull-off on the west side of NM 501 about 0.4 miles north of the twin water tanks. Follow the trail up-canyon for about a half mile until it meets a road coming down the north slope of the canyon. Take a hard right and follow the road up onto a flat plateau between Canon de Valle and Pajarito Canyon. This area is a mix of ponderosa pine and burn scar from the 2011 fire. It offers a different forest experience than the high-elevation one on Pajarito Mountain.