Scouring a friend’s bookshelf or picking through a pile of books in any Northern New Mexican home will most likely produce a copy of Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area. Often stiff from water damage, these dog-eared guides have provided generations of outdoor enthusiasts with the direction and motivation to step outside, into the diverse terrain surrounding the city.
From the multiple mountain ranges of the Rio Grande Valley to the sandy washes of the Española Basin, the day trips outlined in this book stem from the work of legions of volunteers who have given their time to share travel knowledge with others.
With eight editions already under its belt, the book’s publisher—the Northern New Mexico Group, part of the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club—marches forward in preparing for another printing of the fabled volume.
“Why does a book with over four decades of trekking history covering this region need an update?” SFR asks the guide book’s volunteer project manager, Aku Oppenheimer.
“I’ve found, to my amazement, there are so many changes in what seems like a very stable Northern New Mexico hiking landscape, that you really do need to review it every four or five years,” Oppenheimer says.
The changes come in the form of eroded gullies and reworked trailheads. These disturbances can disorient hikers, causing them to contribute to the deterioration of the surrounding landscape as they try to navigate back to the trail.
In addition improving the book’s accuracy, Oppenheimer plans to use his well-traveled experience and that of other longtime hikers to get creative with the additions and edits to the ninth edition.
“It’s not like we’re bound exactly to do a reprint of what’s always been done,” he says.
One change Oppenheimer hopes to include: navigational challenges that encourage willing and able hikers to push beyond the extremely well-signed networks such as the Dale Ball Trails.
Over 40 years ago, a member of the Northern New Mexico Group hatched a novel plan to raise money for their branch of the national conservation nonprofit, all while documenting the rich network of trails in the Santa Fe area.
Ann Young, the driving force behind the first edition of the guide book published in 1981, explains that there was no blueprint in place when she and her fellow volunteer, Ingrid Vollnhofer, took on the project. While some fellow Sierra Club members were initially skeptical of the undertaking, the immediate success of the book validated the work.
“When we did this, we had no idea how successful it would be,” Young tells SFR. “Honest to goodness, we scraped and scrounged and got the first edition out, and it sold like hotcakes.”
Book sales provide the most significant source of funding for the Northern Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, which works on projects in the area ranging from monitoring health impacts of oil drilling to protecting Santa Fe’s watershed.
Vollnhofer has continued to volunteer for the project since her work typing and editing the first edition, but it’s a different book now, she says. With GPS coordinates and a full-color hike locator, the eighth edition is a far cry from the previous versions that featured hand-drawn maps. Scores of volunteers have contributed hours to reviewing trails, editing the book and nitpicking every last detail to provide the most comprehensive guide with locally sourced information.
On the explosion of interest that hiking saw over the year-plus of the pandemic—and with it, sales of the most recent edition—the two longtime outdoor enthusiasts point to the effect nature has on humans.
“When you go out into the woods, you rarely get this kind of aggression,” Young says over the honking of car horns on Alameda.
“It calms people down,” Vollnhofer adds.
Oppenheimer says there are still some volunteer vacancies. Those interested in taking on a bit more responsibility while tackling Santa Fe’s trails this summer can contact Oppernheimer to volunteer for a number of different roles on the project.
But don’t anticipate picking up the newest edition of the book until this time next year. The team still needs time to track changes to the trails, add new extensions to existing routes and update the maps.
“It requires constant polishing. I’m hoping this will be the perfect edition, but I know there will never be a perfect edition,” Oppenheimer says. “You’ll always be improving the clarity and the accuracy of the descriptions, as well as chasing the changes in the landscape.”