The view looking up at Zig Zag Trail.
Petroglyphs on the El Cerro Negro’s ridge line
The wonders of Camino de las Huertas
It’s not often that you get to write about your own backyard. Some of the most interesting vistas in Placitas run along a stretch of Camino de las Huertas.
A must-stop should be the telephone booth and tarantula migratory paths. During tarantula mating season, which varies from spring through fall, these gentle giants leave their burrows, sometimes en masse, in search of a perfect mate. If you are lucky enough to be at the telephone booth or navigating the curve during one of these periods, you might just catch a glimpse of the fuzzies traversing the road. It is not uncommon to see cars stop in the middle of the road or pull off at the telephone booth and gaze at this ritual.
Perhaps of even greater interest than the arachnids is the observation post itself. It is the pull-off Vicki coined ‘the telephone booth.‘ The booth is located about three-quarters of a mile north and a hair-raising turn past the Community Center. At the apex of the sharp turn of the steep curve on the right-hand side of the road is the telephone booth. As you steer your vehicle off the paved camino into the telephone booth, panoramic views unfold like an alluvial fan. On most days, you can see the red-cliffed Jemez Mountain Range, the broad Rio Grande Valley, and the Cabezón volcano vent some fifty miles away. However, the most common reason for stopping there does not include any of these amazing sights. In fact, you will not find a telephone booth at the telephone booth pull-off. What you will experience is the ability to generate and receive cell phone calls. If you have ever tried to use a cell phone along Camino de las Huertas, it is usually a crap shoot. At best, “can you hear me?” is the query. Telephone booth is one of those special spots where you can make contact with the outside world, call for directions when you are lost, view tarantulas, or simply let your family know you are almost home.
The next stop is Zigzag Trail and the Rock Art of El Cerro Negro. About one mile from County Route 165 going mostly north on Camino de las Huertas are the petroglyphs of El Cerro Negro. The petroglyphs are located on private land, and the owner has carved an easterly bulldozed zigzag trail reaching nearly to the ridge line, perhaps to lure prospective land buyers to the attractive view looking west. At the top of the ridge are the craggy peaks of El Cerro Negro, translated as The Black Hill. The rock formations are about a quarter of a mile long. You can view the petroglyphs from the east side looking west. Don’t interpret the meaning of the art; just appreciate the stories that were being told. This rock art is relatively well-preserved. There is some contemporary graffiti. As is true for all petroglyphs, weather, time, and humans are its greatest threats. Most of the art is facing east, as is the case of most of the petroglyphs in the area. Looking west from the ridge is the Cabezón volcano vent and the Jemez Mountain range. For your convenience, there is plenty of parking near the U.S. Postal Service mailbox clusters.
The final wonder of Camino de las Huertas is our newly rebuilt bridge that spans Huertas Creek. In early July 2006, a great storm swept through our community. Arroyos, streams, and washes were dramatically altered. Hydrologists reported that as much as seven thousand cubic feet per second of water flowed through Huertas Creek. The force was so great that it literally moved the channel from the south bank to the north. The magnitude upstream was so horrific that the bridge spanning Camino de las Huertas washed out on four different occasions. It was truly a hundred-year flood. After more than two years, the bridge is reconstructed. There was no fanfare, ribbon cutting, or hand-shaking. Incrementally, over a span of time, the bridge was quietly phased into what you see today. We thank the Sandoval County Commissioners for approving the budget.
One of your final destinations could be the City of Albuquerque’s open space. Continuing in a northerly driving direction and left on Palomino, you will find yourself on a mesa some of us call Indian Flats. From Palomino and the Flats, the route to the open space is somewhat circuitous and may require a guide to get you through the concertina wired gates.
Owned by the City of Albuquerque and maintained by individuals and our Las Placitas Association, the area is approximately five hundred acres, or roughly one square mile of pristine grasslands, piñon and juniper forest, and a habitat for birds. In the early nineties, the City was considering turning it into a skeet shooting range. A group of Placitans strongly objected to the skeet proposal and turned it into what we see today. It is open to the general public.
In the spring, Las Placitas Association organizes bird and plant treks led by U.S. Forest Service expert Hart Schwarz and our local Placitas botanist Bill Dunmire. You can check Las Placitas’s website for additional information on the open space and other sponsored events. One of the great and rare springtime events is observing the great horned owls and their chicks nesting in the towering sandstone cliffs on the south bank of Huertas Creek. Happy trails!