Just outside of the heart of Santa Fe, the Dale Ball trails wind up and into the foothills. Between Dale Ball trail markers 2 and 3 of the northernmost loop, a new trail branches off toward Little Tesuque Creek.
The three-mile La Piedra hike is beautiful. It wanders the hills' ridge, overlooking the valley—southward to the distant Sandias and northward, down into the valley carved between the Jemez and Sangre de Cristos—and, eventually, it drops steeply into the Little Tesuque drainage, where it connects with the Little Tesuque trail. It is the realization of Dale Ball's dream: an off-road, motor-free connection from town to national forest.
Just above the Little Tesuque connection is a brief, steep and shaded section, built within the confines of the private property that bounds it. This portion of trail consists of short, zigzagging switchbacks that seem to be eroding quickly—a good rain or snow, it seems, might wash the entire trail—soil, small trees, stones—down into the drainage.
But Charlie O'Leary, director of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust, which initiated the trail, says the trail is closely monitored and that the problem is being assessed. Solutions are in the works for improving and rebuilding the section to make it more suitable to hikers and bikers and gentler on the land. Additional fundraising is needed, and a volunteer maintenance day is to be scheduled for the near future. "We are going to continue to improve those switchbacks," O'Leary says.
He mentions the upcoming Oct. 10 Southwest Trails Conference—it's open to "folks that want to get into trail issues [and aims to] help folks get involved and connected"—which brings to mind recent discussions about revitalizing St. Michael's Drive, and the smaller routes, the trails, and the sense of place, space and peace that they bring as we wander their twists and turns.
This little section of trail, bounded by private property, is a medium for escape into the vastness of the wilderness looming just above our city. Like St. Mike's—and like the Little Tesuque below it—it is a work in progress. It has been, and will continue to be, carved into the earth. The La Piedra trail needs attention but, after all, the work done along the path is often more rewarding than the destination.