Column by Craig Martin
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire…” T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland.
For a Los Alamos resident who lives to be outside, March is the cruelest month. Once or twice a week, the weather hints of the end of winter and I get a touch of spring fever. I have to get on a trail as often as possible.
But on the higher terrain above town, the snow is alternately slush and rock-hard ice, not ski conditions I dream about on autumn nights. In town, the snow is hard-packed into icy ribbons on the trails, and when it melts, the trail turns to a goo that is slicker than the ice. I’m spoiled by the Los Alamos trail network and I really balk at walking on the sidewalk.
My profession of trail caretaker further complicates the simple act of taking a trip out the door. I know this muddy season has the potential to affect long-term trail conditions by trenching the trail a little deeper and by widening beautiful, skinny singletracks.
Potholes left by bootprints and ruts gouged by mountain bike tires when the soil is slick often linger until summer. Over time, they get worn down by trail traffic, but at the expense of the trail. The trail tread is worn to dust, which is carried away by wind or water. As a result, the trail becomes a trench that deepens just a little bit each season.
Widening trails occurs when users try to avoid muddy stretches by traveling next to the trail. Vegetation is most vulnerable to compaction when it is dormant, so repeated stepping or riding on trailside grasses and wildflowers is likely to kill them.
To avoid causing problems to a trail while meeting my need for blue sky above, I adjust my routine to trail conditions or I seek trails where my impact is minimal.
- When I walk on a snow-packed or icy trail, I use traction devices on my boots. This permits me to stay on the ice and avoid walking along side the trail.
- I take an early trip—at 6 a.m., the mud is frozen.
- Trails on south-facing slopes and mesa tops dry out first.
- Trails that have a lot of rock surface don’t have much mud.
- My mountain bike stays in the garage.
- White Rock, here I come.
There are plenty of good choices for a walk right now. Here are some current trail conditions:
Trails generally free of ice and mud include the Quemazon, Mitchell, Woodland, and the eastern part of the Perimeter.
Kwage Mesa is in good shape, but Deer Trap Mesa still has some muddy spots.
Bench trails on the north sides of canyons are good: the North Bayo Bench Trail, and the North Pueblo Bench Trail.
Trails in White Rock are in good shape, including the Blue and Red Dot trails, and the trails on Department of Energy lands south of White Rock.
There’s no excuse for watching another You Tube video, get out there and soak in those fleeting hints of spring.