Cienega Loop

No short text A nice day-hike loop in the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque. Parts of the trail are along a stream, which may have water in non-drought times. Also of interest was a travertine waterfall.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Cibola National Forest; Sandia Ranger District
Region: Central; Sandia Mountains.
start: 7358ft; 2243m end: 7358ft; 2243m
min: 7135ft; 2175m max: 7805ft; 2379m
elevation gain/loss: 669ft; 204m.
Length: 5.85mi; 9.41km.
surface: mixed
condition: Not too eroded.
ease of following: Easy to follow (with one exception noted below).
obstacles: None.
Fee: $3.00.
Season: All year. They lock the gate on the road to the trailhead in late fall through early spring, so to hike this hike you have to add an additional mile or so to get to the trailhead.
Dogs: Yes. On leash.
Bikes: Unknown.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The picnic area is popular; expect to see people on the trail near it.
Trailhead facilities: picnic area, trash can(s), vault toilet(s), water.
Hike attractions: scenery, wildflowers, wildlife.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2000-08-27 2003-05-24
Time it took us: 5:40. 4:30.
Usage (people/hour): 5.00. 5.00.
Cleanliness: 9. 9.


Waypoint Type Description
CCPGPicnic areaCienega Canyon picnic area
CCYNTHTrailheadReal trailhead for Cienega Canyon trails
CLROADTrail junctionCienega loop trail becomes gravel road
CLY1Trail junctionUnsigned junction on Cienega loop trail
CNGATHTrailheadCibola National Forest Cienega Canyon trailhead
FLTJ1Trail junctionUnsigned junction on Cienega Loop trail
FLTSP1SpringSpring on Cienega Loop trail
TRAV WFScenic pointTravertine waterfall on Cienega Canyon trail


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Albuquerque New Mexico USGS 1983 1:100000 Y from (free)
Cibola National Forest, Sandia Ranger District US Forest Service 2006 1:63360 N from Amazon (purchase) Sandia Ranger District portion
Cibola National Forest, Sandia Ranger District US Forest Service 2006 1:24000 Y from Amazon (purchase) Doc Long-Cienega enlargement area
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

Take I-40 to the North 14 exit (exit 175). Go north 5.75 miles from when you pass under I-40 until you get to a triangle of asphalt with a road heading west. There are signs on both sides of the road indicating that this is the road to the crest.

Head up this road for 1.7 miles. Turn left at the sign that says, ``Sulphur Canyon, Cienega Trailhead, Cienega Canyon''. Follow the signs to the Cienega picnic ground (GPS: CCPG). When you enter the picnic ground, you want to turn right, and go as far as you can. This puts you near the starting trailhead.

You could also park lower down (i.e., near where you enter, or even turn left), and hike up to the trailhead (GPS: CNGATH), giving you part of the altitude gain while you are fresh. The trailhead where you will be returning is in this area.

If you park lower down in the picnic area, a trail is to the right of the road as you hike up. It provides a nicer way up than hiking the road.

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About the hike:

Diana Northup at the actual trailhead

The trail starts out as a concrete trail along a stream. On the left as you head up the concrete is the actual trailhead (GPS: CCYNTH). At the trailhead sign, you go left. After the turn onto the Cienega Canyon trail, there are many false trails; stick with the main one (it is easy to tell which is the main trail).

If there is water in the stream, look in the water for water striders and the interesting pattern they make on the water. Look also at the interesting tree shapes along here.

As you hike up the canyon, you can see this travertine waterfall to the left of the trail (GPS: TRAV WF).

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In general, the climb is gentle over the whole hike. In this part, it is also wide.

In the spring, we found pollen all over the leaves of the plants here.

After you have hiked for a short while, you come to the intersection with the Faulty trail (GPS: 148195). You can also see the wilderness boundary on the Cienega trail, had you continued that way (see the Cienega Canyon hike page for what is up that trail). Instead, turn left. and climb out of the valley. If you have a GPS, it will be much happier now, as it has a better chance of seeing satellites. This trail is much rockier now. After a while, it widens.

Since this trail is outside of the wilderness, you may run across bicycles. We also saw evidence of horses using the trail. A nice feature is that this trail is less hiked than the Cienega trail, so you have probably left most of the people behind.

We saw this Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on a lupine as we were hiking.

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As you climb out of the valley, you get views like this. You also climb into different types of plants, and it is sunnier up here.
As we were hiking, we heard clicks that were due to cicadas in the trees. We also saw this skin where a cicada had emerged from its years underground to spend its few weeks as an adult.
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Just before you get to a spring (GPS: FLTSP1), you reach a fork in the trail (GPS: FLTJ1). You want to take the left fork. When we hiked this trail, we missed the junction altogether, and took the correct trail by accident. You will know you are on the right trail because you will see a small travertine waterfall (it was dry every time we hiked past). At this point, the trail goes up and left. It is not obvious, but neither is it hidden. You just need to be watching.

In this area, we saw evidence of thinning and controlled burns. A later sign said that this work was done for the benefit of wildlife, funded by the New Mexico Habitat Stamp Program.

The next junction is CLY1. The left branch is the more major trail, and it is the one you want. A little after this branch, we came across a sign on a tree indicating it was a permanent monitoring station for the neotropical migratory bird conservation program.

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A little further at CLY2 it is unclear which trail to take. We went left, and this turned out to be the correct choice. The soil is red, then suddenly it becomes yellow, with a sharp contrast between the two. There are also more signs that horses use this trail, although we did not see any on tour hike. On our second hike of this trail, a sign had appeared indicating this was the horse bypass trail.

At this junction, we saw this Santa Fe Phlox (Phlox nana).

The soil along here is red and then yellow. The transition between the colors is abrupt.
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On the left appears to be an old mine. The dirt is disturbed, and there is historic trash (old cans, an old bed) scattered around.

This penstemon was nearby.

After a little bit more hiking, somebody's backyard appears. This is a sign that you are approaching the end of the hike.

The trail turns into an old gravel road, which then turns into a paved road (GPS: CLROAD). which goes through the picnic area. Follow the road all up to where you started.

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Plants we saw along the trail:

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