BY BLAKE DRIVER
At last, someone has put together a hiking
guide that explores New Mexico through the
urban-natural interface, using Albuquerque as
the nexis in a land of wild wonderment. And it’s
only natural; the often invisible lines between
city and breathtaking landscapes are what
make Albuquerque and the rest of the state,
such an enjoyable place to live.
The first section in local writer Stephen
Ausherman’s new guidebook profiles a
number of day hikes located conveniently
within Albuquerque’s city limits alone, setting
the tone for eight more sections covering a 60-
mile radius around the state’s urban center.
Breaking the book up into nine distinct regions
makes it incredibly easy to pick an exciting
destination quickly because each section
outlines fewer than 10 choices.
The layout makes orientation simple with an
overview map of the state, followed by each
region’s overview map and then each trail’s
detail map. But the real treasure in this guide
is the author’s detail and intimate knowledge
of the places he writes about. Not only does
Ausherman bring each trail’s history to light,
he discovers each place anew in terms of how
humans have helped shaped natural history,
usually unwittingly. Armchair enthusiasts will
be devouring Ausherman’s guide as an
enjoyable afternoon read for its unwavering
account of each step in the trail. It’s also a
great resource for special notes at the ends of
select sections, where readers can find things
like current information on land management
issues and other nearby places of interest.
To get an idea of what it took to gain this fresh perspective on “outdooring” in the Land of
Enchantment, Local iQ asked Ausherman himself.
Local iQ: Can you tell us a little about what it’s like to put a guide like this together? How many times a
week did you find yourself out on a hike?
Stephen Ausherman: When Menasha Ridge Press first approached me with the idea, I almost refused.
Why add to the glut of guidebooks for hiking New Mexico? But for the past few years, I’ve been
developing ways to interpret parklands through video art and creative non-fiction. I figured that a
guidebook that painted the map in different colors would be a welcome addition. So I set out to explore
lands that are largely overlooked and revisit familiar places with a fresh perspective. I was constantly
digging for information on things like the evil dwarves at the Golden Open Space. The time ratio of
research and writing to actual hiking was about four to one, so I was lucky if I could hit the trails more
than twice a week.
iQ: One of my personal favorite outdoor activities in this state is touring Native and Colonial ruins,
including the Pueblo and mission ruins at Abo Pass and Quarai. Any reason they didn’t make the cut?
SA: I included Quarai as a side trip for the Capilla Peak hike and Abo for the hike at Cerro Montoso.
They’re not feature hikes mainly because I had nothing to add to the information available on site.
The National Park Service excels in the interpretations department. They are masters of the diorama.
I almost skipped Bandelier for the same reason, but that would’ve been a grievous omission.
iQ: In the section about the Petroglyph National Monument, you say, “Suburban sprawl is the chief
deterrent” to exploring the lesser-known area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon. Then you
go on to say it’s a study in contrasts between ancient and modern worlds. But is there still part of you
that wishes housing developments weren’t butting right up against it?
SA: Of course, but it’s already happened. Tourist literature that pretends otherwise doesn’t quite
prepare you for the experience. So when you’re out there looking at centuries-old rock art and you
hear Toby Keith karaoke blaring from a backyard barbecue, it can be disappointing. On the other
hand, if you use these immediate juxtapositions to gauge cultural influences on a specific landscape,
well, then it can be depressing, but on a profound level. There’s a morbid allure to that. My in-laws
visited recently, and having just read the entire book, the first thing they wanted to see was Piedras
Marcadas. They were not disappointed.
iQ: You recommend always hiking with a partner. Do you have a regular hiking buddy?
SA: I hiked most of these routes alone. Nobody has the patience for my pace. I tend to fixate on
details, like watching blister beetles or photographing thong trees. It’s a kind of creative mediation, but
it can drag a four-mile hike into an eight-hour affair. I last hiked with my father when he was 75 and
recovering from heart surgery and he complained that I was too slow.
IQ: As far as off-roading goes, in several sections you mention off-roaders’ technical stunts in open
spaces, like on the colossal rocks in the San Ysidro Trials area during juried events. Though you’re
no fan of motoring through nature, do you have a stance in the argument surrounding off-roaders’
rights to public lands?
SA: My trail plan for ATVs involves a one-way route to Texas. I submitted it to the Sandia Ranger
District but they ignored it, so I don’t know what the solution is.
IQ: To continue with off-roading, I was surprised to see Montessa Park — the 577-acre Open Space
allotted for off-road activity south of the airport — as a recommended hike.
SA: When choosing the hikes, I didn’t want to adhere to the same criteria of scenic value that goes
into promoting or neglecting our public lands. I was looking for diversity. Some of the hikes are
physically challenging; this one is aesthetically challenging. It straddles the line between trash and
cultural artifact. It bears discernable imprints of the 20th century. Various modern entities have
abused it thoroughly, yet it remains essentially wild. It’s developed its own character, like an old
veteran who brags about his scars.
iQ: You call Montessa Park a “sacrificial land” where off-roaders can exhaust their energies in the
hopes that they won’t ride in other places. Others would say the park has only encouraged more ATV
activity in the area, especially in sensitive regions like the bosque. Do you have a response to this
SA: I’d be willing to cede some areas to ATVs with electric motors, but I don’t think they’d accept that,
not in a culture where mechanical flatulence creates a sense of empowerment.
I just revisited Buckman, this time to lead a hike for folks who recently relocated to New Mexico. We
were stunned. One hiker described the scene there as The Road Warrior reenacted by 6th-graders
on dirt quads. She was just being polite by not mentioning the drunks in jeeps and the gun-wielding
motorcyclists. All I could do was shrug and shout over the engine noise: ‘Welcome to Santa Fe
60 Hikes Within 60 Miles:
Albuquerque, including Santa Fe, Mount Taylor and San Lorenzo Canyon
Menasha Ridge Press
The best book about hitting
New Mexico's trails.
-New Mexico Magazine
The ultimate backyard hiking guide.
[full review] + profile
Escapades to hard-to-reach spots lift
'60 Hikes' to the front of the pack.