The San Pedro Parks Wilderness in northern New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest covers 41,000 acres and is known for high, rolling mountaintops with huge grassy meadows. I started riding up there about ten years ago, and it’s become one of my favorite spots. The unique terrain is a balanced patchwork of conifer and aspen forest covering rocky mountainsides. By mountain standards the trails are gentle, with only about a 1,200-foot vertical gain. Every half mile or so the trail crosses through alternating aspen, pine, grassy meadows, and wide-open ridges with long vistas of distant mountain ranges.
But the real standout feature in the San Pedro are the jaw-dropping, fairway like meadows. These are perfectly flat and look almost groomed, the larger ones two miles long. Originally formed by glacier lakes, the meadows have filled in over the centuries to become prime elk habitat. Due to the remote location, the San Pedro Parks Wilderness doesn’t get many horsemen. (The trailhead is 30 miles west of Abiquiu on Rt. 96. Pass the village of Coyote and turn south on Forest Service Road 172 then onto 103, traveling about ten miles to the Resumidero campground and trailhead.)
The only thing better than riding in the mountains is riding here when the aspens are turning, particularly on this four-mile stretch of the Continental Divide Trail at about 10,500’ elevation. From the top is a view of Pedernal Mountain, a favorite subject of New Mexico’s most famous painter, Georgia O’Keeffe. The ride winds through what feels like a dozen wide-open, aspen-lined meadows that are sandwiched between denser pine forest areas. Each one seems more impressive then the last. This is wonderful horse county, and the Mountain Gods never fail to give a vibrant show.
I like to lope over one hill after another to reach rise after rise and come upon the great vistas. Cody, my gray, 18-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and I have been riding up in this backcountry for the past 12 years. I’ve never seen a more agile, savvy mountain horse, and he loves it up here like I do. Watching the horses graze and relaxing with friends after a long ride, it’s awful hard to leave. As my riding buddy Marty Cooper likes to say, “Anytime you’re horseback in the mountains, it’s a great day.”
Nancy Burchs (“the female John Wayne,” according to her friends) runs Roadrunner Tours Ltd and leads horseback tours throughout northern New Mexico. 575-377-6416, rtours.com
Holly and Ken Wolosin of Taos Horse Getaways have been exploring these mountain trails for 25 years. 575-758-8880, taoshorsegetaways.com
Aparcio Herrera of Target Outfitters in Cuba, N.M., specializes in overnight trail rides and fishing trips into the San Pedro. 575-289-3038