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La Vedera del Encino

Hiking Trail or Trailhead
The Encino Trail climbs the forested north facing slope of the Sierra Valdez. In the foreground is Peñasco Amarillo de la Cañada (yellow rock of the vale). – Roberto Valdez

Vedera del Encino means ‘trail of the oak [mountain]’ in the New Mexican dialect of Spanish. The trail leads to the Cerro del Encino from the village of El Coyote. This trail in whole or in part was used by Hispano agro-pastoralists as a path from the valleys to the high country called the Sierra Valdez for their livestock and other necessities of local resource procurement. This was also wild horse country until about the 1920s when Hispano’s engaged in occasional roundups and harvest of horses to break. The wild horse population disappeared by action of the US Forest Service to improve the range. The trail developed in roughly its present form by activity of the US Forest Service employees relevant to forest fire suppression.

From the ranger station near the village of El Coyote the path climbs to (or descends from, depending on perspective) the Encino Lookout Tower atop the Cerro del Encino. The tower was decommissioned in the 1980s. A hiker may find the views to be vast and appealing as the valley below is bounded by colorful cliffs and mostly red soils. In the upper elevations, the trail passes through or in sight of ancient lava fields of vesicular basalt called locally piedra malpais (NM Spanish: PIEH-drah mahl-PAIS, no accented ‘i' as in most of Latin America). It is in the mid to upper elevations of this route that was the scene of wild horse harvests. The trail is so infrequently used in recent times that it would be wise for the hiker to use a GPS unit or at least closely examine the path herein given and plan the route accordingly because the topographical map of the area (Youngsville quadrangle) features incomplete portrayals even in a 1979 photorevision.

An idea for the hiker is to be dropped off at the top using Forest Road 100 to Encino Lookout, and descend to the village of El Coyote and get picked up by their driver. The former USFS ranger station is now a Senior Citizens center. A hiker may consider official parking down below to be nonexistent but there are side roads in the forest that suffice nicely. Another idea is to walk the rim from the Encino Lookout/ Cerro del Encino southbound for a little more than 2 miles to Cerro Valdez, a location of the Forest Service lookout before it was moved to the Cerro del Encino (at 36.100588,-106.579566, only a concrete foundation remains). The vast high-country grassland is called the Valle de la Grulla (valley of the crane).

It is very important for any hiker to acknowledge and appreciate that this country is an anthropogenic or a “human-environment landscape” associated with the Hispano mountain culture. Hispano mountain culture developed and evolved over four centuries in New Mexico's mountain environment and by contact with American Indians that modified the patterns of lifeways of Hispano agri-pastoralist. Locals are wary and suspicious of outsiders but mostly friendly and respectful if the visitor reaches out. A good icebreaker is to use Spanish place names with some attempt at good pronunciation. There has been some long standing conflicts between the natives that have deep ties to the land and outsiders who have begun to gentrify the region and against the US Forest Service itself. The recent economic downturn has slowed gentrification considerably and the USFS has curtailed its dominance somewhat. A visitor is asked to approach their enjoyment of this country with the understanding that cattle and the occasional rattle of pickup trucks or ATVs are part of the activity of locals attempting to hold on to fragments of traditional human-environment interaction. Many are about their business of checking on cattle or other similar activities and a good policy is to support their way of life even if it conflicts with a visitor’s presupposed concept of what untouched nature is supposed to be.

The nearest grocery store and gasoline is in the village of El Coyote itself.

From bottom to top these are the place names that serve as waypoints along the route with their coordinates in decimal degrees:

Coyote Senior Citizens Center 36.165851, -106.604481 -This center is run by the County of Rio Arriba since the late 1990s. It was the former location of the US Forest Service district headquarters.

Trail leaves road 36.163701, -106.602977

Casita de Polvora (historical) 36.160682, -106.601573 - (little house of gunpowder) Locals refer to a small rock building at this location as a waypoint in their agro-pastoralist travel activity. It is said to have been constructed by the US Forest Service and used to serve as a storage room for dynamite. The trail is the road for a short distance.

View of Peñasco Amarillo de la Cañada (yellow cliffrock of the vale) 36.159347,-106.587090 -There are several "yellow cliffs" (Peñasco Amarillo) in the region and some locals conceptualize them as the same because they are the same layer. This one is associated with the nearby “Cañada de los Corrales" (vale of the corrals).

Llano Amarillo 36.145901,-106.573885 - (yellow arid flat) Although this clearing has scrub grass that is green, the specific name of Amarillo (yellow) is believed to have originated as an association with the nearby Peñasco Amarillo de la Cañada.

Banco Largo 36.144169,-106.568570 -(Spanish: long bench) From the coordinates indicated, this long bench runs 2 miles east and 2 miles SSW and is 1 mile in width at its widest point. Banco Largo is currently shown on USGS maps at a location too high in elevation and too far south at what should be called Los Posos.

Area of C Serrano Cabin 36.143314,-106.557240 – The trail circumvents the private tract at this location and begins the steep climb.

North End of Los Posos 36.137507,-106.549582 - "Los Posos" means 'the holes" which describes the irregularities of an ancient lava field. It is very rough and stony here, like the famous El Malpais. The area is about 2.5 miles in length southward from this point.

La Punta de la Sierra 36.130088,-106.551147 - Meaning 'the point of the mountains [of Valdez].”

Cerro del Encino 36.122518, -106.553091 -(mountain of the oak) A US Forest Service lookout tower was positioned at the summit of this feature. It was a small building atop a galvanized steel tower with a small residence built at the ground level nearby. This fire lookout tower went unused since around mid-1980s.

Trail Distance

6.5 miles

Vertical Gain or Loss

3428 feet

Nearby Places