Wanda and Pete's Letterbox Hikes - New Mexico

Index to Our Other Letterboxes



Ghost Ranch is located in a gorgeous area of New Mexico halfway between Espanola and Chama off of Rt 84. It is owned and operated by the Presbyterian Church , but anyone is welcome to come and hike by checking in at the office between 8:30 and 4:30 daily. Just say you're planning to hike to Box Canyon (about 4mi round trip) and you will be given a map and instructions on where to go to start. From the far parking lot pick up the Box Canyon trail and continue on it straight while the Kitchen Mesa trail quickly turns off right. Pass three hogans on your left, an irrigation pond on your right, and some unusual gravestones on your left. Cross an irrigation ditch and go under an aqueduct, continuing to cross and recross Arroyo del Yeso many times. (Black coffee cans numbered 1 through 8 help guide your way.) Bear right with the upper camp trail - part of the proposed route for the Continental Divide Trail - takes off the mesa. Pass a small waterfall on your left and carefully pull yourself over the last few big rocks to find yourself boxed in at the end of the canyon. From the middle of a large flatish rock about 20 feet long, take about 15 steps at 230 degrees to find the Sunnyside letterbox tucked under an overhanging rock behind several smaller stones (a stilted twin trunked Douglas Fir will be to your right). Carefully replace the rock and make your way back down the arroyo. Other great hikes in this area include those to the top of Kitchen Mesa and Chimney Rock. Hope you have a good time and drink lots of water.


The Sandias are the beautiful rugged mountains just to the east of Albuquerque. "Sandia" is the Spanish word for "watermelon", and is perhaps reflective of their reddish sunset coloration, or the squash growing nearby that reminded early Spanish explorers of watermelons from their homeland. In any case, there is now a whole watermelon available for a high elevation picnic, in addition to the slice already waiting at "Sandia Crest"! This particular watermelon was carved by Laurette for a picnic party at our home in RI a while back, and we simply couldn't think of a lovelier, more appropriate place to plant it than out here in these gorgeous "watermelon mountains"!

To reach the trailhead for this 3.8 mile loop hike (or 1/4 mile nature loop if you take the Tram or ski lift), drive east from Albuquerque on I-40 to exit 176 and take route 14 six miles north, then route 536, the Sandia Crest Scenic Highway, about 14 miles to its end at the Sandia Crest Visitor Center. Presently there is a $3 parking fee good for all day at any of the many trail heads and picnic areas throughout Cibola National Forest. Please remember also that you will be hiking at over 10,000 feet here, so the air is thinner, cooler, and windier than down in town.

From just south of the gift shop complex, take the short Nature loop about halfway around to pick up the Crest Trail #130 taking off 1.75 miles to the top of the Tram. (You'll probably want to stop for Silver Eagle's "Sandia Crest" box while you're out here, too!) Continue along the shady path, past Kiwanis Meadows to another nature trail loop near the Tram terminal.

Find the Snowberry sign located 15 steps north along the nature trail from the end of an iron railing. Climb over some rocks at 220 degrees another 15 steps. Look to your right behind two boulders to spot a third boulder. Hop over and have a seat on the adjacent flat topped boulder and enjoy the view out over Albuquerque. Then look under the east side of that third boulder beneath a piece of wood and a small flat stone. Please replace everything carefully just as you found it.

You can return the way you came, but for a more interesting loop, continue to the Tram station, then take the "flat" portion of the "La Luz" trail back towards the Sandia Crest Visitor Center, remembering to turn off to the right at the well-marked junction for the 6/10 mile climb back up to the top. Hope you have a great day for a picnic!

Alive and well as of Jun 13, 2005


We always seem to have such a nice time visiting "Georgia O'Keeffe country" in north central New Mexico, so when Laurette (from RI) sent us out with a box called "Simple Pleasures", we decided to plant it in the little town of Abiquiu off route 44 between Espanola and Tierra Amarilla. While driving through this splendid high desert setting, simply turn off at the sign for the library and head up the hill on the paved road to the left just before the Abiquiu post office. Within less than a minute, the road turns to dirt and you almost feel like you've been transported back 200 years into the Spanish colonial period as you enter the earthen town plaza with its adobe walls and Church of San Tomas. You can park here near the library, if you wish, then continue on the dirt road to the east that you passed just before the entrance to the plaza.

This road will take you along the adobe walls of what was artist Georgia O'Keeffe's home for much of her later life. (She purportedly bought the ranch in 1945 for $10 and a sizeable donation to the local church!) The house itself is only open to visitors who have made reservations months in advance, but you can catch a glimpse as you go past, and then shortly thereafter, bear right uphill to view another interesting vestige of the past. The narrow windowless adobe to your left is a "penitente morada", a stopover place for members of a wandering penitential brotherhood, thought to be the first such location for one in New Mexico. No trespassing here, but continue uphill to the first big juniper on your right. From its south side you can see a fence corner about 12 steps away at 240 degrees, and another 12 steps at 220 degrees will take you to a big rock with several smaller stones filling the overhang. Removing a few of them will reveal "Simple Pleasures", Laurette's lovely little vase of flowers, blooming here in the desert in a spirit akin to that of Georgia O'Keeffe. After replacing the flowers carefully for others to enjoy, consider traveling on up route 44 several miles to Ghost Ranch, another place where O'Keeffe lived and painted for many years. This is a spot just brimming full of simple pleasures, and another letterbox of rtrw's that we planted here in a box canyon on a previous CDT work trip. Hope you take some time to enjoy this high desert country!

Reported as OK on April 6, 2009

216. CAJA DEL RIO A sweet jaunt along a lovely stream to a box canyon in the pine-clad mountains of north central New Mexico, with a few key words in Spanish.

When I decided to quick-carve this stamp at the last minute before flying out to New Mexico on a rather unplanned trip in late fall 2007, I really didn't know where I would have a chance to plant it. However, having seen this name used on maps for locations on either side of the Rio Grande, I figured I'd find some suitable place for it! Well, I didn't get to either of the places I originally had in mind, but hopefully this one will do, as it, too, features a scenic "box canyon"!

To find this semi-mystery location, go about "veinte millas al oeste" from a former mountain retreat /complex called in Spanish "The Cottonwoods" (although, if you added some fear and trembling, they could equally well be aspens!) There find a trailhead called in Spanish "The Shells", about "una tercera milla al oeste" of a fishing access by the same name. Take trail "cien treinta y siete" down the "escalera de madera" and follow the rio "cerca dos millas", crossing about "seis puentes de varios tipos". After the main trail turns left, continue a bit further along the rio towards the box canyon entrance, passing through "una cerca de alambre de puas". Immediately turn left and go up several switchbacks to see "cerca cinquenta pasos al norte" a large natural "parapeto de piedra", with a fine box canyon vista to its left. Standing with your back to "el centro del parapeto", walk back "cerca siete pasos/dos cientos y veinte grados" to find yourself in the midst of a little "circulo de rocas". Searching carefully under bark and several small stones on the south side of the one to the west as you stepped through should net you a small yellow "caja de pildora" for a quirky little "caja del rio impresion"!

After you have made your mark and replaced everything as found, you may either return the way you came, or, if you plan ahead and have a shuttle waiting at the East Fork trailhead about 3.5 miles further west down the road, continue from the switchbacks up the diminishing trail to rejoin the main trail after a brief brushy cross-country stretch, then follow along the canyon rim for a couple more miles of beautiful trail, perhaps even making a half-mile steep detour to the other side of the box canyon, where some folks will certainly be glad I didn't leave a box! At any rate, please keep in mind that this is generally considered a 3-season hike, with ice and snow making stream crossings potentially dangerous from late November through April. Plan your trip accordingly, and enjoy these lovely mountains safely!

535. Wanda's Wanda-rings: Continental Divide Trail Part 2 The Logo Another carving by lionsmane of NM commemorating Wanda's backpacking adventure from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide and the many CDT logo markers that can now be seen along the way.

Back when I was backpacking the CDT, of course, these markers were few and far between, since even an "official CDT route" had yet to be designated back then! So, when considering where to place this fine CDT logo stamp, we wanted to pick a spot that had a good example of the trail marker itself, as well as a newer section of trail to hike that would take us off some of the roads that had previously been used as the temporary CDT route in NM. One logical and easily accessible choice seemed to be the far southern approach to Mount Taylor, one of the four "sacred mountains" in this area, just north of Grants, NM off I-40. To get to the trailhead, simply go about 5.4 miles northeast on NM547 from the Pizza Hut on Business 40, and pull into the large, well-marked CDT parking lot up the short road to the right, soon after the "Entering Cibola National Forest" sign shortly before at mile 5.1.

Find the trailhead itself in the near corner of the parking lot, where you pass through a rusty-colored metal CDT emblazoned-gate, cross a small wooden bridge and then reach a brown carsonite post CDT trail marker on your right after about 35 steps. About 65 steps more brings you to a multi-trunk juniper on your right with a large colorful metal CDT logo marker attached to it. Just past that juniper, go off trail right (c.70 degrees) about 2 dozen steps uphill to some yucca plants and rocks. The small round box is hidden in an alcove just left of of a yucca group whose lower portion looks wilted. The parking lot is plainly visible from here, since you're scarcely 100 steps away from the trailhead, and you've already gotten to see at least three different types of CDT logos - imagine that!!!

Replace the box carefully, as always, and read more about my old backpacking adventures at Wanda Wandarings

536. Wanda's Wanda-rings: Continental Divide Trail Part 3 Cabezon Last of the CDT series carved by lionsmane commemorating not only Wanda's backpacking the CDT, but helping to build it, too!

This stamp of one of the most famous of the volcanic "necks" that can be seen for miles and miles along the CDT route between Mt. Taylor and Cuba is actually named after the Spanish word for "big head" - Cabezon, near one of the areas where we came out from RI to NM to do trail work for two years in a row to get the CDT off the nearby dirt roads that had served as the temporary route and onto a real trail section along Mesa Portales. So, if you read the official CDT Guidebook for New Mexico describing how this section was rerouted by Charlie McDonald and a group of volunteers - that would be us!!!

Anyway, we were hoping to get back all these years later to check and see how another one of "our sections" was doing, as we had done recently in CO with Mt. Flora, etc., but we got scared off by a warning for tons of rain coming from Hurricane Odile in Mexico that would prevent us from going through that area. Well, the rain apparently never materialized there, but by then we were headed past Santa Fe, so we just decided to leave this box up along Hyde Park/Ski Basin Road, where it would probably get more visitors anyway. Of course, lionsmane certainly has our permission to transplant it back nearer to Cabezon itself, along the CDT near Mesa Portales, or anywhere else he sees fit. Meanwhile, however, hopefully this box can still be found towards the upper part of Santa Fe Ski Basin Road. Simply go to the "boardwalk vista" and imagine that somewhere out there in that vast expanse between the Sangrias and the Jemez is that thick-necked big "plug head" called Cabezon. Then drive down to the next "aspen vista", park by the large stone-encrusted "Take a Hike" sign, and imagine taking a hike like I did all those years ago of over 3,000 miles along the CDT! (not to forget all those other trails I backpacked way back when: 5+ AT's , 3+PCT's and so many more!) After taking in the grand vista to the southwest, turn around and look across the road to a row of boulders. About in the middle, around 340 degrees when standing at the front of the sign, see a large roundish tan boulder with a smaller tan boulder to its left. When no one else is looking, carefully cross the road and sneak a peek behind and under the smaller flat tan boulder for a little round box with a "big head" in it!

586. Pig in Purgatory Sweet loop along the "Trail of the Mountain Spirits" in southwestern New Mexican "Wolf Country"

While wandering along route 35 about 3 miles west of the Continental Divide Trail crossing near Sapillo Campground, well northwest of Mimbres and just a mile or so east of Lake Roberts, we came across this wonderful little 2-mile loop trail starting from a trailhead parking lot along the north side of the road just east of a wash and across from a Gila National Forest Picnic Ground and Boat Ramp sign. You can access the trail either by walking west along the road a bit and picking up the trail heading north by a brown sign with an arrow pointing right, or by following a small trail west from the parking area and soon crossing the arroyo. In either case you will quickly reach a sign that tells you are now in wolf country, so naturally we thought this might be a good place to drop off a little carved critter that might look a bit like a pig if you squint at it and perhaps draw in a tiny curly tail. Anyway, we didn't plant the pig very far down the trail because we didn't want him to get in trouble going into a wilderness area or anything like that, but we would definitely encourage anyone else to go and do the whole loop, except after heavy rains that could cause flash flooding, as it is a very cool area with a name reminiscent of a similar rocky area in Massachusetts. If you're just after the pig, though, simply go up the trail for a few minutes to where it divides to form the head of the loop. In front of the "Purgatory Loop Trail" sign, the rocks bordering the trail form a "V". Immediately behind and to the left of the dark rock at the front tip of the "V", under a small 2-inch triangular gray stone and an even smaller flat gray stone lies a tiny little camo-bagged pig stuck into the crack formed by the next rock to the left. Please make sure you keep his hiding place looking completely natural so that no wolves will ever suspect that he is there and come huffing and puffing to try to blow his little underground rock shelter house down!

587. Itty Bitty Bluebird Flies Southwest! This teeny tiny one just flew out the window when she saw the sign for "Pajarito" (little bird) with a snowflake on it as we came plowing through the Jemez Mountains in a light May snow flurry - not too far from where we left a box in a box canyon many years ago!

This itty bitty stamp that last made a brief appearance tucked behind a stuffed bluebird at at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in RI for Bluebird's "Flying South" sendoff is more like one of those beribboned extras that wronghat attaches to main stamps than a real stamp that stands by itself. However, if anyone happens to be flying through the Los Alamos area and feels like catching a quick little birdie, just look at the base of the black metal pole holding the sign for Pajarito Mountain Ski Area on the side closest to the trees near the junction of West Road and Ski Hill Road just a few miles west of Los Alamos!

737. Little Hatchet in the Little Hatchets Drive-by along the new CDT route near Hachita, NM

So, how could we resist leaving this little dark travelin’ light stone with its attached little hatchet here near the Little Hatchet Mountains in the “bootheel” of New Mexico? Ever since the Continental Divide Trail got officially relocated to the desolate southwest corner near Antelope Wells, NM (after years of being mostly a boring roadwalk from Columbus, like when I hiked the CDT in the 90’s!), I’ve wanted to go check out this reroute. Not much left these days in dusty old Hachita, the CDT’s southernmost “trail town” - even though one trailguide book implied that after hiking through the Big and Little Hatchets from the Mexican border, it might feel like NYC! However, about 8 miles west of Hachita on route 9 is the current official crossing of the CDT and this little hatchet stamp. You can park on the north side of the road near the cattle guard at the entrance to South Wells Road to catch a glimpse of trail and a few CDT trail markers to get backpackers on track trekking northwards. For the stamp, however, carefully cross the road south towards the view of the Little Hatchet Mountains in the distance behind the large brown kiosk. Without even having to go through the chained entrance gate, just stoop at the green post on the right side of the gate and lift the middle rock of the small pile there to uncover the dark square 2x2” stone with its little hatchet on back!

Index to Our Other Letterboxes


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