A New Years Canyon Hike in the Chihuahuan Desert

In years past, we’ve often found ourselves meandering through the deserts of the Western United States. The Colorado, Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin all have provided ample inspiration to my tired body and mind. While many of these ecoregions feel familiar, by far the Chihuahuan is the most mysterious to me. It’s the one region we haven’t spent much time in and with our relocation to Santa Fe, I was looking forward to spending days meandering through the various public lands in southern New Mexico.

It feels comedic at how little people know of the Geography of the Southwest. In many conversations, people express how Arizona and New Mexico must be hot year-round. Visions of arroyos, barbed wire, discarded tires, and burnt out old cars litter these misconceptions. “What’s it like living in the desert?” “It’s got to be hot there right now!” As I look outside at the fresh blanket of snow and frozen birdbath.

Santa Fe isn’t in a desert. Rather, it’s the last stop on the Colorado Plateau, at the terminus of the Rocky Mountains, which span from Canada, all the way down to New Mexico. This mountain range is a large reason for our unique weather patterns. Warm wind from Southern New Mexico’s desert regions mixes with cold air from the Rocky Mountains, resulting in mild summers but brutally cold winters. Technically, Northern New Mexico isn’t a desert, and it’s not until you drop off the Colorado Plateau that you enter the Chihuahuan.

Truth told, the deserts of the American West all have very frigid winters. Well, except for the Sonoran, which is blessed with temperate winters. This is the reason you’ll find the mighty saguaro cactus towering over the mountains throughout the Sonoran Desert. Too many frost cycles or too much snow will kill off these unique cacti en masse.

We have been looking forward all year to packing up the car and heading into this stunning area but then our Covid numbers spiked and with it, new stay-at-home orders, temporarily pausing our plans.

Some of my most memorable experiences in the desert come from a whim. Oftentimes, something on the map pops out, grabbing my attention. On this trip, our friends Kyle and Kim had been pouring over maps of this region, looking for drainage lines, box, and slot canyons, while limiting our travel to a tank of gas.

With rough plans set we opted to go sans bikes this round, hoping to spend a few days walking through various drainage systems, scrambling over escarpments, and focusing on photography. When your job is all bikes, all the time, you really come to relish these outings.

Little did we know what would await us. Brilliant textures, colors, and smells overwhelmed us. Canyons are refuges for migratory bird species, bastions for cottonwood trees, and an intimate look at local geology as water slices through sedimentary layers, exposing the land’s history. Winter light, short days, and cool temperatures spur the imagination and satiate itchy photo fingers. Once the sun sets beyond the mountains, the temperature chases. Your best companion is a warm fire, a sizzling skillet, and good conversations.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy viewing these side-galleries as much as I do making them. Next time, we’re bringing bikes…

To be respectful, we’re keeping this location under wraps. If you know where it is, please refrain from mentioning it in the comments. It is surrounded by Wildlife Refuges and is heavily monitored by the local BLM office for human impact. These photos are simply for entertainment purposes and to spur your own local adventures.