Snowfall on the burn area of Las Huertas Canyon
Recreationalists rappel to the left and right of the spiral-staircased
opening to Sandia Man Cave
Last winter fun in Las Huertas Canyon
—Ty and Barb Belknap
There was not much time off for us in March, and nobody would be interested in my adventures as an amateur plumber. Barb and I did, however, get out to cruise up Las Huertas Canyon in hopes of cross-country skiing on the Crest.
It was that weekend early in March when the temperatures started to climb into the seventies, after a lot of snow the previous week. The start of the forest road was dry, but the snowpack increased steadily past Sandia Man Cave. By the time we reached the hairpin curve right below the entrance to Cooper’s Ranch—the one with the sign warning one last time to proceed at your own risk—the snow was up to the floorboards.
Although our SUV had just past the two-hundred-thousand-mile mark, I still hate four-wheeling, and am not really much good at it. Some people do it for sport. The bigger SUVs and trucks were having a blast muscling their way up the canyon, happy to face any obstacle. I, on the other hand, was not at all happy to be shifting through the gears in four-wheel low, fishtailing out of the ruts toward bar ditches on the right and steep embankments on the left.
To make matters worse, Barb was making a lot of frantic gestures with her hands while grabbing my arm and the handle above the passenger door. Her foot applied steady pressure to the brake on the dashboard while she ordered me repeatedly to slow down. As if ....
The snow kept getting deeper until a trucker heading downhill advised us of the futility of continuing. A half dozen vehicles were stuck behind an SUV that had been stuck in a ditch up ahead for over an hour.
When it became obvious that the only way to turn around on the narrow road was to spin a doughnut at the magnificent overlook (and cliff) to the northeast, Barb got out and walked. The maneuver was performed flawlessly—it’s too bad I was the only witness.
Going back down was a whole lot easier and less stressful. We parked at a wide corner of the road below Cooper’s and skied back up the road and eventually off toward Palomas Peak. While skiing up the road, we passed our friends Tom and Amy, who, as it turned out, were the ones who were stuck. Even though their vehicle was much better equipped than ours, Tom said there was no way to go further. “The snow just keeps getting deeper and deeper,” he said.
During the day, the canyon filled to its limited capacity with sledders, tubers, and four-wheelers. Kids were flying off exposed boulders on inner tubes. Rosy-cheeked babies were toddling through the brambled oak in snowsuits. Guys were rappelling shirtless above Sandia Cave. By afternoon, the snowmelt turned to small rivers of mud. Spring was in the air.