Blue Bell Ridge

Distance: 24 miles

Water: Yes, plenty of water

Season: Late Spring, Summer, Fall

Trail Conditions: Moderate to Poor


This is a trip intended only for experienced hikers who are comfortable traveling off-trail. In late spring 2019, many of the trail segments were in poor conditions due to some high wind events the previous winter and will likely be cleared, but other trail segments see little use and receive no maintenance from the Forest Service. Still, the rewards include some unique views of Hermit Peak, opportunities to see wildlife and some gorgeous meadows in upper Beaver Creek.


Directions:

From Exit 343 on I-25 and turn left at the bottom of the off ramp. After 1.9 miles, turn left onto New Mexico Ave., NM-329. After two miles, the road will turn to the right and reach a traffic light. Turn left here onto NM-65. Follow this road for 13 miles. You will pass the United World College before climbing above Gallinas Creek and then dropping to pass through the town of Gallinas. At a fork in the road, turn right to follow signs to El Porvenir Campground.

The road will end at El Porvenir Campground. Just before entering the campground, there will be some parking spots on the right. Park here and begin the hike on Porvenir Divide Trail – Trail #247, which begins from this parking area.


Day 1

Starting up the Provenir Divide Trail, the first 1.5 miles are on private land, so be sure to remain on the trail. After about .5 miles, the trail will cross the creek. This is the widest crossing and as long as the creek is not high, there should be plenty of rocks to hop across without getting wet. There are two more crossings within the next .5 miles on solid wooden bridges. Cherish these as they will be your last.

Following the two bridges, the stream crossings start to become more frequent. In June 2019, the creek was still flooded from the previous winter’s heavy snows. The first few crossings were fairly easy, but they became increasingly difficult to stay dry as the trail progressed. None of these were dangerous, but if you treasure dry feet, you will need to spend a fair amount of time picking your crossing point. Trekking poles can be beneficial to this end. However, if you do not care about getting your feet wet, trudge through the stream crossings and continue on your way without any consternation.

After a few miles, you will pass through Porvenir Canyon, where the stark geology that shaped Hermit’s Peak appears in the canyon, creating tall narrow walls and a number of short, scenic cascades. Be sure to take in this section because it is some of the best scenery.

Unfortunately, due to some high wind events the previous winter, there are numerous downed tress throughout this section that get worse as the trail approaches the junction with the Hollinger Trail – Trail #219. Throughout these 4.5 miles, the underlying tread remains easy to follow and because the trail is in a narrow canyon, it is nearly impossible to lose it for any length of time.

Some of the downed trees were easy to bypass while others created more of a challenge. But by the time I reached the Hollinger Trail, the combination of frequent high stream crossings, downed trees and a little bit of rain had worn on me plenty.

The junction with the Hollinger Trail is marked, but unfortunately, the trail itself is somewhat nonexistent. But again, it follows a canyon upstream so it’s difficult to get “lost”.

So, at the signed junction, turn left crossing Beaver Creek and then Hollinger Creek a couple times almost immediately. After about five minutes of hiking, you will reach a pinch point where the creek passes through a large rock formation. Cross to the south side of the creek for the easiest passage.

From here, the trail continues to follow the creek upstream, never straying too far from the water. In places, there is a clear tread that is easy to follow. In others, the trail passes through grassy meadows that have swallowed the trail. Your best bet is that someone else has been there before you and you can make out their sign.

NOTE: Although it would be difficult to get “lost”, you should be comfortable with off trail travel to do this part of the hike.

If you are unsure of whether or not the trail crosses the creek at a certain point, look for places where the creek is wider than others. This is due to erosion caused by hikers and wildlife. On this point, also be sure to look out for tracks, especially in the mud near stream crossings. Because this trail is lightly used, it’s a good place to look for wildlife.

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A bear track in Hollinger Canyon

After about 1.5 miles, the trail will cross to the north side of the stream and enter a large meadow that is about 1/4 mile long. The trail will disappear here completely. Walked to the end of the meadow and cross back to the south side of the stream where you will enter another, slightly smaller meadow dotted with aspens.

The trail should be slightly easier to make out here, but not by much. Towards the end of this meadow, the trail steers back toward the stream where it will T into the Bluebell Ridge Trail – Trail #212. Because both trails are heavily faded, this junction can be easy to miss, especially since the trail sign is no longer standing.

However, look for the fallen trail sign on the southside of the river in a small clearing and cross the creek here. Following this crossing, you should be able to find a standing trail sign just a stone’s throw upstream. From here, the trail leading uphill, to the north, is faint but does exist. The trail leading south does not appear to exist.

Turn right, to follow the Bluebell Ridge Trail uphill. After about 100 feet it becomes much more clear and easy to follow. Still, it is faint, so pay attention. Also compared to the relatively level terrain up until now, this climb is quite steep, so take your time. After a few minutes, a drainage should appear on your left. The trail will follow this drainage for about 1/4 mile until the trail reaches an opening, where the mature forest drops away and new growth aspen and other scrubby vegetation becomes dominant.

The trail is supposed to cross the drainage and climb to the adjacent ridge, but at this point, the trail disappears completely. Even so, cross the drainage where the trail disappears and make your way uphill until you’ve reached the ridge that runs to the top of the crest.

NOTE: Whereas you cannot truly get “lost” when you are in a canyon, on this section of non-trail, it is completely possible to get lost so an ability to travel off-trail competently is a must. Knowing how to Read the Landscape can be truly helpful through this section.

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View of Hermit Peak near the top of Bluebell Ridge

 

Once on the ridge, continue to follow it uphill to the top of Bluebell Ridge. If you stay exactly on the ridge, you should be able to pick up the trail once again as you approach a clearing toward the top of the crest. However, this will likely fade again once the trail enters a grassy meadow.

From here, trend left, northeast, passing toward the top of the crest. At this point, the trail will hopefully emerge again. In places, it really is a trail, but in others it would more aptly be described as the path of least resistance.

After 5 minutes, you will reach a junction with the Bluebell Trail – Trail #10. This trail heads to the right, back toward Beaver Creek. My original plan was to continue on the Bluebell Ridge Trail for another two miles until it met the Porvenir Divide Trail above Beaver Creek. However, the Ridge Trail was indiscernible from this junction and I was mentally exhausted after being “off” trail for the past several miles, so I opted to take the shorter route back to Beaver Creek and follow the Bluebell Trail.

Not surprisingly, there were many downed trees on this route and after 5 minutes, there was a particularly large blow down where I once again lost the trail completely. However, the good news was that any downward route would eventually lead to Beaver Creek, so losing the trail did not phase me one bit. There will be a drainage to your left. Stay on the high side of this drainage to the right, and with any luck, you might pick up the trail again. But if not, don’t worry. You’ll eventually reach Beaver Creek in a large grassy meadow.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can make this a day hike, but after a long and at times, frustrating day, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to kick back and enjoy having the meadowy canyon all to myself.

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Day 2

From camp, I turned downstream to follow the surprisingly good trail on the south side of the creek. These 3 miles to the junction with the unnumbered connector trail to the Hermits Peak Trail – Trail #223. For the first part of this section, the trail crosses the creek considerably less than the day before and there are few downed trees. Both the stream crossings and the downfall increase as you proceed downstream, but both are manageable.

Once you reach the junction with the connector trail, you have two options. The shortest option is to continue straight. After .7 miles you will reach the Hollinger Trail, and the path back to the parking lot will be the same as the previous day.

But, tired of stream crossings and hurdling downed trees and the desire to climb Hermit Peak, I opted to follow the connector trail, climbing left, uphill, to the Hermits Peak Trail.

This longer route extends the trip by 3 miles, but the views make it well worth it should you have the time.

Not surprisingly, the connector trail had far more downed trees than the previous year. One 100 yard section was particularly brutal, but overall the .9 mile climb went by quickly, despite the steep ascent.

Once atop the ridge, turn right. The first .5 miles are flat and easy, but eventually the trail drops steeply into a notch. Winds hit this section particularly hard and on the downhill stretch, nearly every tree had fallen. Make your way to the bottom of the notch as best you can. Once you have completed the descent, the trail begins climbing again to the right. Miraculously this section of trail is in fine shape.

Still, much of this section is faded in parts, so pay attention. As you near the summit, the trail steepens as it veers to the left, approach the edge of the plateau. Here, the trail’s grade eases but the downed trees return.

You’ll pass one more trail junction, but stay straight to reach the broad, flat summit of Hermit’s Peak. Enjoy the views, looking out to the northeastern plains of New Mexico. To continue follow the trail to the right. You’ll pass a few wooden crossings and eventually reach another signed junction at Hermit Spring.

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Amazingly, in late Spring 2019, the famed Hermit Spring was actually holding water!

 

Follow the trail downhill. It is steep in sections, so be careful, but it is wide and easy to follow. The first section is in spruce-fir forest, but as you continue downhill, pondersa pines become the dominate cover. Once again, as you near the parking lot, you will enter private land, so remain on the trail back to the campground.

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