Tres Pistolas (Three Gun) Spring to the Embudo Trail

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The Tres Pistolas trail is an excellent winter trail, because it faces south---snow melts quickly from it. You can get a good workout by doing the trail quickly (as some runners do), or you can take it more slowly, looking at the views south and the plant and animal life.

If you set up a car at each end, you can hike down the Embudo trail.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: Cibola National Forest; Sandia Ranger District
Region: Central; Sandia Mountains.
start: 6338ft; 1932m end: 6338ft; 1932m
min: 6338ft; 1932m max: 7910ft; 2411m
elevation gain/loss: 1643ft; 501m.
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Length: 5.31mi; 8.55km. Out and back distance. This distance includes a side trip to the spring.
surface: mixed dirt/rock
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None
Fee: $0.00.
Season: All year. Winter is probably the best season; any snow will melt quickly except at the top in the shade. Fall and spring can be pleasant. Summer is likely to be quite hot unless you start at sunrise.
Dogs: Yes. on leash
Bikes: No. Most of the hike is in wilderness.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: The trailhead parking is only open 6am to 10pm.
Trailhead facilities: None other than parking.
Hike attractions: exercise, scenery, wilderness access, wildflowers, wildlife, year-round access.

When we hiked it:

Date: 2002-01-27 2004-01-31
Time it took us: 3:00. 4:00.
Usage (people/hour): 0.00. People per hour not recorded. 4.50.
Cleanliness: 9. 9.


Waypoint Type Description
3GUNTHTrailheadTres Pistolas (3 Gun) trailhead


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
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:

From Albuquerque, take I-40 east to exit 170 for East 333 (old US 66). Head east on old 66 for about 1.7 miles to Monticello. Take an immediate right (heading east), and the road then curves to head north. After 0.5 mile, turn left on Alegre. You might see a sign for Forest Road 222. Some of these signs are in poor condition, so then again, you may not. At less than 0.1 mi, turn right on Siempre Verde. Another short distance to the right turn on Tres Pistolas. The road dead-ends at the trailhead parking area.

The actual trailhead is at the north end of the parking area and is pictured here. You can easily see it marked with the granite boulders. Beware the other trailhead, which goes somewhere not described here.

Diana starting out on the Tres Pistolas trail

About the hike:

Diana walking on the trail

The trail starts off flat and climbing gently. Note the clouds in this photo (and most of the rest of the photos on this page). It rained shortly after we finished the hike, and while it is blue here, it will be overcast and lowering by the end.

Initially, the trail is open, and amongst oak, piñon, juniper, cholla, and yucca.

After slightly more than half a mile, you come to the wilderness boundary. At this point, the Hawk Watch trail takes off to the right to the migration count site. Do not take this trail, but instead continue straight.

The wilderness boundary
red and purple prickly pear pads
Note how the prickly pear cactus turn a red or purple color when it is cold. It also looks like somebody has been eating this one.
While most of the trail is the pink-orange of granite, keep your eyes open. We saw green rocks and this white one.
white rock
yellow lichen, pink granite, and green beargrass
Diana noticed the interesting colors of lichen, contrasted with the rock and the beargrass.
As you climb, you begin to get nice views to the south. You can see the telescope domes of the Starfire Optical Range from this trail.
an early view south
trail marker
After 1.55 miles of hiking, you will see this trail marker. I guess at some time in the past, the trail was indistinct here. Go left; the trail is obvious.

At 1.64 miles into the hike, you come to another trail marker. This one marks the junction between the trail that heads to the spring and the trail that continues up to meet the Embudo trail. Take the right branch initially; you will be back here after visiting the spring.

In this photo, the trail to the spring is heading off to the right of the piñon.

The junction where the spring trail takes off
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After about a 15 minute walk, you arrive at the spring. When you are done looking at it and the area, return back to the main trail.
Back at the junction, turn right to continue to the junction with the Embudo trail.
Looking south from the junction with the spring trail
Snow in the shadows, a prickly pear
In the wintertime, you will often see snow in the shadows.
You can see this (dry) waterfall for much of the hike. It would be interesting to see it running. Then again, if it is running, you may be getting very wet also. This photo was from our 2002 hike.
The dry waterfall
Embudo trail marker

After about 2.75 miles of hiking, you see the first ponderosa pine. It is a sign that you are nearing the junction with the Embudo trail.

At 2.81 miles, you meet the Embudo trail.

You have the good views as you head back down the trail. One of them is to be able to see the trail where you started.
View of the trail near the trailhead

Plants we saw along the trail:

Reader comments about this hike:

On Mon Mar 6 21:51:58 2006 Cindy from Albuquerque, NM said:
One of my favorite hikes in the Sandias. My dogs love it too! I only took this hike in the winter so far and I agree with the website, it might be too hot in the summer. Have a great time and you will meet some nice hikers along the way!

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