With a fall chill in the air we were on the hunt for a lower elevation hike in the Santa Fe area. I ran across Atalaya Mountain on several different blogs and thought it would fit the bill with some stellar views topping out at just over 9000 feet and it starts on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Actually to be more accurate the hikes starts at Saint John’s College which unbeknownst to me is actually an alternate campus of the Saint John’s back in Maryland. It’s a tiny college campus of about 400 students nestled in the foothills of Santa Fe.
You park right next to the school and take the Lower Atalaya Trailhead you end up in a series of arroyos with some surprisingly lush vegetation. As you pop out of the arroyos and begin to climb you will notice some very nice houses (probably more like mansions) in the surrounding foothills. Very quickly you get back to nature and begin rapidly climbing the face of Atalaya Mountain. The trail system in this area is confusing and poorly marked, there are many informal trails up the mountain although they all seem to end at the top, so pick a path and start climbing! After what seemed like an eternity we crested at the top. Although Atalaya is not above treeline due to its low elevation there is a nice clearing at the top that affords you a wonderful view over Santa Fe and Valles Caldera to the west. Max was greeted at the top by a border collie and aussie that wanted to chase him. The owner was very friendly and Max was soon distracted by sticks and pine cones as the dogs moved off the summit.
We did begin to notice that the weather was beginning to shift so we quickly made the decision to get off the mountain before any potential thunderstorm reared its ugly head. Based on the dog owners advice we head back a different way to the trailhead through the Dale Ball trail system.
At first this seemed like a great idea as the trail from the summit afforded us great views back over town. As we got closer to town and reached the Dale Ball trails things took a turn for the worse. The Dale Ball trails are well marked with numbers at each trail intersection but there are boatloads of intersections and the paper signs have badly faded in the sun. This required us to decipher each sign we passed to make sure we were on the right track. Thanks to the GPS we kept picking trails that pointed us back to the car but the weather overhead was taking an ominous turn. The clouds were getting blacker and we could tell rain was on the way. At some point the trail seemingly ended on a gravel road and we couldn’t quite tell how to link back up with our original route. The GPS wasn’t much help so we decided to take the roads back to the car. At this point the clouds gave up holding back the rain and it began to pour. It was a long slow muck along the road until eventually we lost all light. We meandered through the arroyos getting all kinds of lost until we stumbled back to the parking lot, wet, cold, and tired. Our timing though was phenomenal as right as we closed the doors on the car a torrential down pour let loose. Next time I will print out a map of the Dale Ball trails before venturing out. We wisely chose to warm ourselves with a delicious cup of chai latte at the Teahouse :D. Despite getting lost, wet, and stumbling through the dark it was worth it for the views on top of Atalaya Mountain!
Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation: 1800 feet