The River Region consists of everything from the west rim of White Rock Canyon east to the circle boundary. It includes approximately 11 miles of the Rio Grande. Because there are no bridges across the river within the circle and no direct way to get to or from the Otowi Bridge (NM 502) without crossing San Ildefonso tribal land, the two sides of the river are essentially separate entities as far as field team staffing is concerned. Explore the interactive map below to see the region boundary (red), available trails within the region (blue), and the accessible trailheads (hiker icons). Below the map are field team route recommendations for both the Los Alamos and Santa Fe sides of the river.
Los Alamos Side of the River
There are three trailheads on the Los Alamos side of White Rock Canyon that offer access to the River Trail which runs along the river from Buckman down to the outflow of Frijoles Canyon. The Blue Dot, Red Dot, and Powerline Mesa/Ancho Rapids trails are very strenuous. Each involve a ~1000′ descent to get down to the river and a corresponding ~1000′ ascent to get back out to your vehicle. Approach these hikes with caution.
Each of the three access trails has its unique attractions. The Blue Dot Trail ends at a natural spring (“Spring 3”) which is particularly verdant. It is the furthest-upstream of the trailheads and offers the easiest access to the County Line Bosque, the best cottonwood/riparian habitat within the count circle.
The Red Dot Trail passes through Pajarito Spring just before reaching the river. This is the largest spring in White Rock Canyon and features significant year-round running water (excellent habitat for American Dipper) and very lush riparian habitat. Just upstream of the intersection of the Red Dot Trail and River Trails is another natural spring (“Spring 4”) which offers additional opportunities for thick riparian habitat.
The Powerline Mesa Trail begins with two miles of mesa-top piñon/juniper habitat followed by the Ancho Rapids Trail which drops steeply down into White Rock Canyon. This is the longest and least-visited access to the river, but it ends at Ancho Rapids which is one of the best spots for American Dipper in the count circle, and also the outflow of the stream from Ancho Spring–the second largest spring in White Rock Canyon. The stream between the spring and the river sports very lush riparian habitat that is excellent for birding year-round. The Powerline Mesa Trailhead is the furthest-downstream of the trailheads and offers the easiest access to Spring 9 (just upstream of the outflow of Chaquehui Canyon) and the outflow of Frijoles Canyon, both of which are seldom visited but excellent for birding.
If there will only be one team working the Los Alamos side of the river, then the recommended route is to leave a car at the Red Dot Trailhead and descend the Blue Dot Trail to the River Trail, turn left and work up-stream past the County Line Bosque all the way to Buckman, then turn back and work downstream to Water Canyon (or Ancho if you’re feeling beast mode). Finally, turn back towards the Red Dot Trail and hike out via Pajarito Spring. This is a long day with 10-13 miles of hiking including a 1000′ descent and ending with a 1000′ ascent. It is by far the most physically taxing of the routes in the Los Alamos CBC.
If there will be two teams working the Los Alamos side of the river, then have one team go down the Blue Dot Trail, north as far as they can manage, then back to Spring 3 and back out the Blue Dot Trail. The second team should go down the Red Dot Trail, downstream as far as they can manage, then back upstream to Spring 4, and finally out via the Red Dot Trail and Pajarito Spring.
If there will be a third team working the Los Alamos side of the river, they should hike out the Powerline Mesa Trail to the Ancho Rapids Trail (remember that everything on the plateau above White Rock Canyon is technically in the White Rock Region and should be counted separately). Descend to Ancho Rapids, then backtrack up into Ancho Canyon to Ancho Spring. Next head back to the rapids and then downstream along the river as far as you can manage (but not past the outflow of Frijoles Canyon, where the circle boundary crosses the river). Hike out the way you came.
Santa Fe Side of the River
Coming from the Santa Fe side of the river has the advantage of Buckman Road, allowing for 2WD vehicle access all the way to the river without having to hike down 1,000′ from the canyon rim. There is a trail heading upstream from Buckman that passes through a number of dense riparian vegetation areas, the best of which are immediately north of Buckman. The trail continues upstream for two miles at which point it leaves the count circle (N 35.858939° W 106.155563°). This trail contains the best birding on the Santa Fe side of the river and should be the priority if there is only one Santa Fe side field team.
Downstream of Buckman there is an old dirt road that works its way along the river up above the riparian habitat for approximately three miles. There are a couple places along this road where it is possible to work down to the river and explore the riparian vegetation directly. Also there is a reasonably large riparian area at the very end of the road where it comes back down to the side of the river. The road is the easiest way in the River Region to pick up considerable pinyon-juniper habitat coverage without terribly strenuous hiking. It is possible to bushwack downstream beyond the end of the road at least as far as the power lines, but this is very strenuous and makes for a very long hike indeed.
There is a second point of access into the Santa Fe County portion of the circle, and that is the power line access road on Chino Mesa. This should be a very low priority for the Santa Fe side, but if there is someone with a good 4WD vehicle who likes scoping the river, this could be an excellent place to put them.
Chino Mesa Access Route
NOTE: Access to this area requires a high-clearance vehicle, and 4WD is strongly recommended. Anyone interested in birding this area for the CBC is encouraged to scout the access route and ensure that their vehicle is capable of making the trip. The birding value of this area is greatly improved if a good spotting scope is available; it is highly recommended that one be brought.
If you can use a device with Google maps to navigate while you drive, this link will get you directions to the parking area for the Overlook.
Take Caja Del Rio Road north from the NM 599 frontage road for 2.9 miles. Turn left onto County Road 62 (the first left after the entrance to the golf course). From here, you will be driving on dirt roads of varying quality for 12 miles and it will take ~45 minutes one-way. Reset your odometer at the beginning of the dirt road on Co Rd 62; mileages below are measured from this point.
1.3 miles: Take the right fork immediately after crossing a cattle guard (Co Rd 62 now becomes Co Rd 24).
7.5 miles: Turn right onto an unsigned road that crosses a cattle guard at the fence line (this turn is the one navigational challenge of the route. It is at N 35.741622°, W 106.173882°. If you miss the turn, you will reach a sharp left turn in Co Rd 24 at Tank Thirty-one (see map); if that happens, turn around and go back 0.8 miles). After crossing the cattle guard, take an immediate left turn onto road 24N / 2554.
9.0 miles: This is the 4WD crux of the route, a rough rocky arroyo crossing at N 35.748220° N, W 106.194822°. If your vehicle can make it past this spot, you’re going to be fine for the entire route.
9.5 miles: A second arroyo crossing, considerably easier to negotiate than the first.
9.6 miles: Just after the second rocky arroyo crossing, stay right at a fork.
10.4 miles: Stay left at a fork.
10.9 miles: In a grassy area, go left onto a very weak two-track road. If you miss this turn, the road begins to go downhill and ends after 0.2 miles when it reaches the rim of White Rock Canyon. Backtrack to the open, flat, grassy area and locate the two track heading west.
11.7 miles: The two-track joins a stronger dirt road at a fork; continue straight on this new road.
11.9 miles: The road reaches a wooden power line transmission tower and makes a sharp right turn heading down a steep hill; park next to the wooden transmission tower.
Figure 1: Map of the route (in pink) to the Chino Mesa power line overlook from the turnoff of Co Rd 24 at mile 7.5. The red line in the upper-left is the Los Alamos CBC boundary.
The CBC circle boundary passes right through the wooden transmission tower at the end of the access route and roughly the top of the small hill to the northeast (labeled 6485 on the map, just to the left of “Chino Mesa”). Everything downhill on the road to the lower metal transmission tower is within the CBC boundary. A good estimate of where the boundary line in this region lays is the line that connects the two main vertical poles of the wooden transmission tower.
Scope Sniping the River
From the wooden transmission tower at the top of the hill, follow the road steeply downhill towards the metal transmission tower. Just before the metal transmission tower, take the left fork in the road and follow it until it turns right and drops downhill. Leave the road here and walk out 100’ to the canyon rim. Find a safe spot that affords a good view of the river below, upstream and downstream. Set up the scope here and scan for birds on the 3.6 miles of continuous river that can be seen. Ancho Rapids, just downstream, is a great place to look for diving ducks and American Dipper.
Pinyon-Juniper Hill Traverse
From the wooden transmission tower at the top of the hill, walk north-northwest, staying on the river side of the line that connects the two main poles of the transmission tower, until the terrain starts to drop steeply down. Turn back and head west-southwest aiming towards the metal transmission tower. This hike is entirely off-trail. Total distance is ~0.75 miles.
About half way between the wooden transmission tower at the top of the hill and the metal transmission tower at the bottom of the road, there is a weak road that turns off to the west in a flat grassy area. On the river side of this grassy area is a short basaltic ridge at the top of a small hill. Walking up to the basalt ridge is easy and a circuit along the length of this feature is a 0.1 mile off-trail hike.