A bushwhacker’s paradise
—Ty Belknap, Signpost
A Bureau of Land Management official told me last year that the BLM was forming a partnership with Sandoval County to manage the Crest of Montezuma open space. Final details were being ironed out before BLM would take possession of this colossal foothill that dominates the terrain northeast of Placitas Village. Land would be acquired adjacent to the Crest that would provide access to the property. A trailhead with an informational kiosk and restrooms would be built, as well as a new trail to existing trails on the first bench of the Crest.
Last spring, the BLM did in fact take possession of the Crest, and Sandoval County purchased about seven adjacent acres for public access. Then, to my great dismay, the BLM announced that the Crest would join the other two BLM parcels in the grab bag that would be sorted out by an ongoing Resource Management Plan revision. It could be mined, drilled, or developed. In all likelihood, the Crest will be open space as originally planned, but we’ll have to wait until 2012 to find out.
Meanwhile, BLM Field Manager Tommy Gow said, “It’s public land, so go ahead and start hiking.” Fair enough. I waited until the weather cooled off so I could bring my wife and dog without much fear of rattlesnakes, and went exploring for a way to the top. (This might not have been the “right” way.)
We drove through the village, turned left onto Camino Tecolote, and parked in the driveway of an empty lot at the base of Diamond Tail Road. It is said that this is the property purchased by the county to provide access, but there is no sign, no kiosk, no trailhead, and no trail. The arroyo that leads into the open space has active spring riparian vegetation that makes hiking difficult. The arroyo has also been a private abattoir—littered with carcasses of cattle, maybe a horse, and a huge boar with tusks that conjure up images from Lord of the Flies.
We crossed to the other side and headed up a dirt road past some well housings that apparently provide irrigation for Ed Shafer’s orchards. It looked like private property, so hikers should probably try to find a way through the arroyo. About a half mile up the wash, a dirt road enters from Diamond Tail and the arroyo forks through an illegal dump that includes the cab of an old white pickup truck. We took the right fork and followed the wash up toward the Crest, hoping for a gradual ascent, eventually abandoning that route when it narrowed and filled with dead piñon trees and rock ledges. From there, we bushwhacked straight up the north side of the slope. It is a difficult climb up a very big hill, but the 360-degree views make it all worthwhile. There was still no sign of a trail.
Several years ago, I found that hiking the south side of the crest is easier and more scenic. There are trails that pass through the Las Huertas arroyo, near the ruins of Spanish settlements, and past an impressive structure of quarried rock that may have been a prison for Indian slaves forced to work in the lost Montezuma mines. Unfortunately, there is no public access from the south unless there really is an existing trail from where we parked, to the first bench, and around the west side of the crest. I’ll look for it next time.
Coming down, we hiked east toward the upper reaches of the arroyo, which forked to the left at the dead truck below. Trail builders with saws could probably open a fairly easy access by just following the arroyo, although there is a fence line and a small part of it might cross private property. A few volunteers could clean up the trash and haul away the dead truck. Public interest in open space might help preserve this public land for recreational purposes, but if the public sits back and waits for somebody to say how to use it, someone else is liable to tell them how it will be used.
On the other hand, it might be better to just leave the Crest of Montezuma to the rattlesnakes, hawks, and coyotes—to allow the occasional bushwhacker, and leave the place just like it is.