Sunday, October 4, 2015

New Mexico: Kitchen Mesa

Distance: 4.23 ft round trip with side trips
Elevation: 6,498 ft - 7,100 ft
Elevation Gain: 602 ft (net), 1,054 ft (cumulative)
Date Hiked: 25 October 2014
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes in the registration area
Fees: $5.00/person
Tags: #newmexico #hiking #georgiaokeeffe #entradasandstone

Pedernal Mountain from the top of Kitchen Mesa. Pedernal was painted by Georgia O'Keeffe so many times she became its spiritual owner. 
The Kitchen Mesa hike out of the Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico is a superlative journey to the top of an Entrada sandstone monolith reminiscent of the national parks in Utah. The route passes by a dinosaur quarry, through a desert valley, up a class 2 rock chimney, and along a high ridge with views as far as the eye can see.

Split of the Box Canyon trail and the Kitchen Mesa trail
Heading into the valley
Crossing the quarry
Ghost Ranch was the home of the painter Georgia O'keeffe. It is now a retreat center used for weddings and conferences. There are several museums on site. The physical address is 1708 Highway 84, Abiquiu, NM. It is located 40 miles west of Espanola on U.S. 84 between mile markers 224 and 225. You'll need to drive to the main building and pay the daily entrance fee before heading out to the trailhead.

Typical lower section trail segment...Sagebrush and grasses
The trail consists of two parts. The lower section travels through Sagebrush and grasses with views of the towering Entrada sandstone cliffs. A short but steep section goes over the red hill where the famous Coelophysis fossil was discovered. This quarry is now a National Historic Landmark. Interpretive signs provide a little more information about this dinosaur.

Looking back down the valley
Heading up to the rock chimney
Climbing the rock chimney
The upper section begins at 1.2 miles (573 ft gain) via a 15 ft rock chimney that is doable for anyone with modest fitness and the ability to use both hands and feet. From the top of the chimney, cairns guide the way to the actual end of the mesa, which looks down on the ranch.

Following the rock cairns 
On top of the mesa heading towards the end
Skeleton of a tree on the top of the mesa
The route to the end of the mesa travels through sparse Juniper and Pine with many social trails to the edges. The soil underfoot changes as you cross several different sedimentary layers. The layer near the end is a sharp, white composite that looks like snow but feels like a bed of nails.

Looking down into the haze
Looking down onto the ranch
Hiking Kitchen Mesa is a great way to explore the jagged and colorful O'Keeffe country.  O'Keeffe captures the emotional impact of the area in a way that no camera can. Colors blend into smooth lines. Definition is reduced but the beautiful New Mexico scenery remains.

Gerald's Tree by Georgia O'Keeffe captures the essence of a Juniper skeleton

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