Community Effort Brings Back Pajarito Canyon Trail

On Saturday, 22 volunteers spent the day roughing in the remaining 1,800 feet of a rebuild of the Pajarito Canyon Trail. Photo by Craig Martin
Community Effort Brings Back Pajarito Canyon Trail

Hikers, runners, and mountain bikers looking for a challenging trip near Los Alamos have an option that hasn’t been available since 2000.

On Saturday, 22 volunteers spent the day roughing in the remaining 1,800 feet of a rebuild of the Pajarito Canyon Trail. The trail now connects the east side of Pajarito Mountain to West Jemez Road with about 5 miles of trail.

While the lower, canyon-bottom section of this trail has long been a local favorite, the upper section was severely burned over in the Cerro Grande fire. Even before the fire, it was difficult to follow as it plunged off the high ridge. In 1999, I described my first and only trip down the trail as “a nose dive into the thick aspen and conifer forest.” The trail, if I was really on it, lost 1,000 feet of elevation in three-quarters of a mile. Steep.

The Pajarito Canyon Trail is the last of the Cerro Grande-burned trails to receive a makeover. Lynn Bjorklund, a Los Alamos native and the recreation specialist with the Española District of the Santa Fe National Forest, and I started looking at the possibilities more than two years ago. And making it happen was truly a community effort.

Work began this past summer with the Los Alamos Family YMCA’s Youth Conservation Corps trying to recreate the original route from the intersection with the Nail Trail at the bottom up toward the mountain. That young crew pushed in a mile of trail before their summer jobs ended.

Working with the Southwest Nordic Ski Club, Lynn forged a challenge-cost share grant that matched Federal dollars with hours donated by community volunteers doing trail work on Las Conchas fire damaged trails. Two years of volunteer work gained Lynn enough funding to contract with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps out of Taos for one week.

In October, that crew started at the top of the mountain and worked their way down, abandoning the original nose dive route for a much longer, contouring trail. To ease the trail grade, the length of the trail increased by 400 percent, and the Rocky Mountain crew worked furiously to complete the additional length but came up about a half-mile short.

Enter the hikers, runners, and bikers of Los Alamos. During the last two weekends, community volunteers tackled the remaining—and the roughest—sections of the trail. They hiked in two miles and fought through thickets of thorny New Mexico locust, pulled up hundreds of burned aspen roots, and moved tons of rock and dirt. Those additional 250 volunteer-hours established a rough but very usable trail. Less than 24 hours later, Facebook posts from local runners gave the trail the stamp of approval for that user group.

Even though the trail is improved from the original, it still has plenty of tough spots. Some of the grades are way too steep, some turns are not well designed for bikes, there are lots of rocks in the trail, and although the top of the trail is accessed from Pajarito Mountain, there isn’t a logical connection between the Mountain’s trails and the rebuilt route.

Knowing Los Alamos volunteers, those problems won’t be around for long.