Day 11 – Drake Canyon entrance to Taos Plaza

Woke up before dawn – just barely. Did my usual morning thing, where I lie in my sleeping bag and snooze, checking the time every 305 minutes or so, reviewing the day, thinking about packing up the tent, making a gratitude list.

  • We’re safe
  • We’ve got water
  • There was water across from Drake Canyon
  • The creek sounds nice
  • Oatmeal and shaved almonds and brown sugar
  • Coffee
  • We made it this far
  • I’m not injured
  • I’m not in pain
  • I’m warm (enough)
  • Riley is ok
  • Riley came back (from the elk chase)
  • I got to do this at all

I started packing up while it was still dark enough to need a headlamp. By the time I pulled the pack out of the tent, I didn’t need the headlamp anymore. I packed up the tent before breakfast (usually do it after) because I wanted to eat on the road side of the creek, so we could get off faster.

Got to see what the group from the night before had left. It probably wasn’t all their fault, but it was a kinda nasty campsite compared to what we’ve gotten used to. They’d left a new plastic lighter soaking in the creek, for starters. And there was broken glass across. A beer can or two. Plenty of cigarette butts. Weird pieces of plastic. A couple shell casings.

There was nowhere to sit, so I sat on the ground in a cleanish place. Set Riley down in a spot well away from any broken glass. Heated water and gave him his last trail breakfast – emptied the bag. Made my own breakfast and two cups of coffee. By the time I was eating, already two young guys were tearing around on one of the dune buggy things. I can’t begrudge them for having such a good time – they were clearly overjoyed with their toy. But forget about peace and quiet.

Engine culture. I don’t like it.

We ate and then I filled up all the water containers – there would be no water until we got to Taos plaza, though I was hoping for a water source at the El Nogal trailhead (nope).

We headed right into Drake canyon, past a cast-off drug enforcement department hat. Riley smelled something to the left of us, but we kept going.

As you go deeper into Drake Canyon, it gets to feel less like desert. There aren’t any water sources, but the trees get big and provide nice shade. The grasses and bushes are a bit dry, but they grow well. We saw several places – nice fields – that would have made a good tent site. No water, of course, but a tent site. And eventually we crossed into mountain biking territory.There was a boundary tape with skulls on it that said something like “bad ass trail” or whatever.

I knew I was heading into mountain biking area. That’s what El Nogal is best known for. I was worried about getting run down by a biker (they can do that, and they are especially bad on the Colorado Trail). But we didn’t run into anybody until we were well down the mountain and coming into El Nogal. Even then, it was one woman, going up and thus going pretty slow.

The trail to El Nogal takes a left about 3-4 miles into Drake Canyon. You begin headed up the last mountain, on a gravelly, steep (quite steep) trail that switchbacks most of the time.

This is where I found the… whatever it is. Looks like it’s made of stone. I found them on two places along the trail. Gave the nicer one to Emily. My guess is that it’s a rosary bead, though I have no idea why I think that.


Here’s the view on the way up. It’s not much given how beautiful Taos can be, but it’s a view. And you can tell how high up you are.

Once you’re up this far, the trail levels out. It’s rolling, but flattish for a good 20 minutes. You could camp up here, though there’s no water – the ground is open enough. It has a nice high feel, and there are view through the trees in many places.

Just keep your dog and any small children close. Because I think something hunts up here.

I am furious (again) that my phone wouldn’t keep the photograph (though I did take a photo and it did appear to save it), but there are two separate elk skeletons as you go through here. And that’s just what’s immediately visible from the trail.

This made me a little nervous, but I was so proud of us that we’d made it up Drake Canyon and up the worst of the up – and nearly all the way through – that I just wooted my celebration for a bit, letting off steam. It’s pretty exciting being up here, just because you are so darn close to being all the way through. Taos Plaza is only two hours away.

As you cross over the first flat part, you’ll go up one more steep bit (just for good measure). This is the proper “View Point” (that’s it’s name). It’s nice, with a few small hill and if I remember correctly, a satellite station. We stopped for the view to have a deep drink of water and a snack.

And then we headed down. It’s a long, long down. But as you get closer, the trail is actually marked.

And as you go further down, along a switchback, you’ll finally get to see Taos and the edge of the mountains north of it.

Right about here you’ll hit cell service. My phone lit up with about 30 txt messages, plus various social media messages, and about 600 emails. I had several voice mails as well. Was able to call Rob, and rested a bit while doing it. Riley lay down fast. We were both so tired at this point. Just brutally, bone aching exhausted.

View of Taos and the mountains north of it

We kept going. Down and down and down and down. It gets very hot and dry as you get closer to El Nogal. Riley was already tired, and he doesn’t handle heat well. It seemed hotter on the down towards El Nogal than at any other time of the trip.

The footing is also not great. It’s a bike trail, so it’s not flat like a walking trail, but steep on either side. In some places it’s severe. Granted, because the muscles in my legs were so shot, it just made it harder. And down can in some ways be harder than up.

But we kept going. We were getting low on water at this point.

By the time we finally pulled into El Nogal campground, I was delirious with heat and exhaustion. Riley seemed to be, too – he actually lay down at one point while we were walking. So I gave him a break then, plus some water, and took the heavy part of his pack off. I carried it the rest of the way into Taos Plaza.

The land flattens out as you approach the El Nogal trailhead. It gets nice and grassy, with big cottonwoods for shade.

And then finally (FINALLY) you cross the bridge over into the El Nogal parking lot.

The parking lot looks like this:

There are public bathrooms here, but no water. I gave Riley a rest while I used the bathroom. I had stopped about ten minutes earlier to give him water, and to drink the last of the water I had for me. Poured some electrolytes in to try to keep my head on straight. I wanted to be fairly alert to negotiate the traffic on 64 while we walked into town.

I actually texted rob a couple of times (and tried to speak to him once, but he was eating lunch or something and couldn’t talk). I almost had him come to pick Riley up at El Nogal. Poor pup was so tired. But we carried on, and took the left out of the parking lot and headed into town.

It’s not an ideal walk. Especially at first, there is not much shoulder, and the curves are tight. I kept Riley off the road, with me on the close side of traffic, and kept his leash super short. There is glass here and there alongside the road, but his feet were fine.

After 15-20 minutes of walking, the road straightens out and sometimes you have a better shoulder. Then after about 20 more minutes, you finally have a nice shoulder to walk on. I relaxed a lot. Riley was still really tired, so we were walking super slow. After all his leaping around all along the trail, by the time we were walking into Taos Plaza, I felt great, and he was the one dragging.

We were walking by a metal work shop when an older fellow popped out and asked us if we needed water. Angel! He had us come in and gave riley a bowl of water and me a bottle of water and showed us around his shop. Even cut up a hotdog for riley, who ate it greedily. Taos people are fantastic. Its a town that admires road travelers and wanderers, so it’s ok to drag your dirty, exhausted self into town here. You’ll fit in better than you would other places.

Riley and I said profuse thankyous to the nice man, and kept going. About ten minutes later there were sidewalks, and about fifteen minutes later there were tourist businesses (hotels, art stores). And then finally, after waiting forever for the light and gawking at the buzz of “downtown” Taos…

we walked into the Plaza.

Taos Plaza

Taos Plaza

Rob was there to meet us with a big hug and some water. He led Riley to the car while I took these photos really quickly. Wanted to have a wee ceremony of arrival, but I just whispered my thanks to this status instead. Thanks for getting us here safe. Thanks for letting us make it all the way through.

Riley, apparently, collapsed in the back seat and gave Rob a look of the most profound gratitude. We headed over to the hotel and I took a shower while Riley had some more water and ate some kibble and treats. Then we got back in the car and headed to the Taos Cow in Arroyo Seco for a massive ice cream cone. Ate dinner that night at the Love Apple.

And slept in a lovely, big, soft, clean bed.

At the hotel, in a nice big fluffy soft clean bed


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  1. Hi – I stumbled upon your posts researching an upcoming trip in the Pecos. Great adventure! The stone you found is a crinoid columnal fossil. Nice find!

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