Backpacking: Red Canyon/Box Spring Loop, New Mexico
The Box Spring Loop trail is located in the Red Canyon area near Manzano State Park in New Mexico. We went down there to do some backpacking, once in December and once in January. Both trips did not turn out as we had planned, but it was still a good experience.
Box Spring Loop Trail
Distance: 8.6 mile loop
Month Hiked: December
Garmin GPS File: Box-Spring.GPX
Directions (from the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Albuquerque):
From I-40 East take Exit 175 to Tijeras. Drive South on NM-337 and NM-55 about 41 miles, passing through the villages of Escobosa, Chilili, Tajique, Torreon, and Manzano. On the South side of Manzano, veer right at the fork onto NM-131, following the signs toward Red Canyon. Go 2.4 miles, then turn right before the entrance to Manzano State Park. NM-131 soon becomes Forest Road 253. About 2.5 miles past the Manzano State Park entrance, turn right and continue 0.4 miles toward the Red Canyon Campground. Unless you plan to stay the night, park in the day use area.
Once you reach the parking area you will be able to find the trailhead for the Box Spring Loop trail. It starts off on fairly level ground and continues to some mild elevation gain/loss. We attempted the trail two seperate times during the winter, once in December and once in January. In December there was some mild snow that could be traversed easily by your typical sedan, though when we went in January the gate was closed to motor vehicles. There are no signs at the entrance indicating usage/closure times so I am not sure when the actual seasonal closure begins or ends.
The first time we went we were unaware of how the slightly snowy conditions would impede our travel. Our plan was to do an overnight backpacking trip, stopping half way through the loop to camp and finishing the next day. It was a nice hike without too much strenuous incline - compared to the trails in Colorado it was and easy walk. Even with only a few inches of snow the trail was a bit hard to find in some spots which became a significant factor on day two.
We set up our hammocks and prepared for the evening, which turned out to be quite cold. In the morning the temperature was 15 degrees F and I assume was slightly colder during the night. We ended being pretty cold and did not sleep very much during the night. My feet were very cold and it made me really consider the validity of hammock camping in the winter. I prefer hammocks over any other form of shelter as it is so much easier on my body. When you wake up in the morning from your hammock you don't have the body aches that, at least I have, when waking up from traditional ground sleeping methods.
The drawback to hammock camping is that it is much more difficult to stay warm as you are suspended in the air allowing cold drafts to pull heat off of your body. This is intensified by the fact that you body weight collapses all the loft from the underside of your sleeping bag. This isn't an issue with ground sleeping as your camp pad insulates your underside from the ground and no drafts flow under your body. It is a conundrum for me, because I love the hammock, but I do not love being cold... I will most likely have to get or make a proper down underquilt in order to try and solve this issue.
In the morning we pack up our gear and tried to finish the loop. The problem was that, not only was the trail very hard to identify in certain areas, but trying to locate the trail became hazardous due to the slopes being quite slippery with snow. You couldn't just walk this way and that in order to find the trail, because the chance of falling and sliding down the hill was a very real danger. My wife got very scared at one point where she actually froze in fear. My senses were certainly heightened as well and when we got passed that point we deciding that without crampons, snowshoes, and or ice axes it was simply foolish to take the risk. We made the choice to put safety first and turned around - heading back the way we had come.
It was disappointing, but we decided to return later with proper gear for snow travel. This experience also convinved me that no matter how innocent a trail might seem on the map or in a book you should always bring some sort of climbing gear - especially if you have never hiked the trail before. If I could have gotten up the slopes, anchored myself to a tree, and belayed my wife up the hills it would have been so much safer.
The next month we got our snow gear together (including our climbing rope/gear) and headed back out to try and complete the trail. Unfortunately the gate was closed, although not locked... Since there were no signs indicating an official closure or any seasonal dates I opened the gate and tried to make it to the trailhead. We were breaking trail through a foot and a half of snow for about 2 miles when it became apparent that in order to make it the the trailhead we would have to be shoveling snow now and then in order for the jeep to get there. Again this just seemed foolish so we turned around.
When we returned to the gate it had been locked. We followed the tire tracks to the house passed the gate to see if that individual could unlock it for us. They were not home and I figured he had gone into town. After waiting for a couple hours we decided to head off the road into the trees to set up camp - not knowing how long we would be there. I figured we would wait until the next day to call the Forest Service to have them come out and unlock the gate or the gatekeeper would return to let us out.
A little while after setting up camp the gentlemen returned and let us out. He was a little upset at first, but I'm sure he was just frustrated at himself for leaving the gate unlocked. As far as I'm concerned if it's not locked and there are no signs indicating closure then it's not closed. If I want to try and make it out the the forest then that should be my decision - not the governments - but that's just how I feel. Anyway, once he calmed down he was quite nice and let us know that if we needed anything we could come by and speak with him.
We had some fun just walking around the area off the road and making some wind barriers next to Katie's hammock. We added something to our hammock sleep system to try and keep the cold at bay. A representitive at REI explained that he did not use underquilts - instead he would lay down an emergency blanket, shiny side up, in his hammock before putting in the sleeping bag. We decided to try this method, although in addition to the underquilt - not in lue of.
This system definitely was better and kept us warmer, though caused the moisture of our bodies to condense. Our sleeping bags did become a bit damp and for an overnight trip it wasn't an issue, but in a multi-day excursion it could have become a significant inconvenience. The temperature was fairly similar to that which we experienced the first time and was 14 degrees at 6:30 AM. All in all they were fun trips, but with the before mentioned difficulties.
I am disappointed that we did not complete our trips as planned, but I guess thats just the way it goes when visiting new areas. Be safe and take somesort of safety gear when hiking in new areas - never assume that you will simply truck along without it. At least that was the lesson I took from the experience.
January 27th, 2015← BackNext →
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