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The Rio En Medio Trail

Trail name: Rio En Medio: map link here.

Recommended seasons: The lower part of this trail is an all-seasons trail, although it can be icy in winter. There are a number of shallow water crossings and you’re likely to get your feet wet in spring runoff so plan accordingly. A walking stick helps with the crossings. Dogs (on leashes) and mountain bikes are permitted.

The parking at the lower, western trailhead is very limited.

Small cascades along the Rio En Medio

A walk along the lower parts of the Rio En Medio Trail is one of the more pleasant hikes you can make in the Santa Fe area, especially now that the weather is warming up. This trail practically defines the words “riparian environment” for me. At no time do you leave the pleasant gurgling music of the little creek, born far above, practically in the parking area of Ski Santa Fe, and the shade, the mix of vegetation – so different from the arid hills literally a few steps away from the trail – and the spectacle of an unexpected waterfall about a mile and a half up the walk all make this a very rewarding excursion.

The weather in Santa Fe was perfect on Sunday, far too nice to spend on any mundane yard work, and the Rio En Medio hike suggested itself immediately. The trailhead is about 14 miles north of Santa Fe, and the drive requires you to cruise through the little village of Tesuque, so if you haven’t packed a lunch, stop at the popular Tesuque Village Market for something to carry along. Their Dream Bars are. . . dreamy. A turn on NM 592 just beyond the village sends you into picturesque badlands and eventually brings you to a tiny trailhead, maintained by the National Forest Service, just past the little settlement of Rio En Medio.

The trail winds through bright green thickets of willow, river birch, and Rocky Mountain maple that cluster along the creek. In many places it passes through dark groves of Gambel Oak that grow out of the canyon walls. Some of these groves are so twisty and tangled that a friend and I call it the “Witches Forest”:

Tangles of Gambel Oak along the Rio En Medio Trail

Most of the trail is as cheerful as can be. There is an amazing show of Canadian violets this year:

Canadian violets

In places the canyon opens up a into tiny meadows that host sunny, fragrant groves of Ponderosa pine:

Ponderosa pines along the Rio En Medio

Some of these pines are impressively big, with thick, cinnamon-colored plates of bark:

An old Ponderosa

And if you haven’t done it before, this is the time of year to put your nose up to these thick boles and breathe in – you’ll get a very pleasant surprise.

One oddity I’ve noticed in the stream-laced canyons of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains here in Northern New Mexico is the occasional apple tree, growing far from cultivation. They are blooming now, in practically bridal bouquets:

Apple blossoms

Are they escapes, or are they remnants of old settlements far up here in the mountains?

About a mile and a half from the trailhead, the canyon walls begin to crowd together, and if you manage to keep to the creek – and don’t mind getting you feet wet – you can enter a small slot canyon carved into the granite and gneiss:

The "Little Chasm" along the Rio En Medio

And at the end of this box is a bright cascade of water, and a good place to have a snack:

Little Chasm Falls on the Rio En Medio

The main trail actually skirts this slot in the rocks and switchbacks up a steep outcropping of granite, with views of the falls from above. The trail continues much further along the creek and eventually brings you up to Ski Santa Fe, but I haven’t walked the entire length of the path. I do know that there is a very charming series of cascades above the waterfall, so you might want to keep on going a bit to see these.

Of course, I can’t leave you without mentioning the rocks. The Rio En Medio cuts its way through the tough crystalline rocks of the Santa Fe Range, and there are plenty of glittering fragments of metamorphic and granitic rocks along the path. But keep your eye peeled for an unusual variety of granite pegmatite called graphic granite, which I often find on a walk here:

A fragment of graphic granite on the forest floor

The intimate intergrowth of pink feldspar and grey quartz mimics runes or cuneiform writing, hence the name.

This is also a great walk for those birders out there, and if you are interested in butterflies, you’ll find them in abundance here. The Rio En Medio Trail is generous with everybody.

Getting there: From the Inn, take Paseo de Peralta north and around to its intersection with Bishop’s Lodge Road. Turn right, and follow Bishop’s Lodge Road north out of Santa Fe, through the village of Tesuque, to its intersection with NM 592. There is no stop sign or light at this intersection; look for the sign directing you to the Auberge Encantado resort. Follow this winding road into the village of Rio En Medio, about 5.5 miles away, and pass through the village on a very narrow, but paved road to the Forest Service Trailhead. Parking is extremely limited so you may have to be “creative” – but please abide by the wishes of the residents in the mouth of the canyon.

fireplace