Red Dot Trail--Pajarito Spring

Red Dot Trail--Pajarito Spring

White Rock, New Mexico 87544

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One of New Mexico’s premier hikes is the Dot to Dot Loop in White Rock Canyon. The canyon is a spectacular gorge carved by the Rio Grande through lava flows from the Caj del Rio Plateau on the east side of the river.

This isn’t a trip for novice hikers or folks in slick-soled cowboy boots. The canyon is rough, the rocks sharp-edged, the trip fairly long, and the climb out is steep. The journey is about 7.8 miles and requires and a rugged elevation loss and gain of 1,000 feet from the canyon rim to the Rio Grande. The trip normally takes a long half-day, but hikers should take time to enjoy the Rio Grande, and to watch for petroglyphs that adorn many of the rocks in the canyon. Take along plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and energy. The canyon is hot at mid-day in summer, but spring and fall are ideal times to explore the gorge.

Two trails provide access to this section of White Rock Canyon. The trails are uncreatively named for the color of spray-painted circles that mark the trails. The ancient Red Dot Trail, more formally the Pajarito Springs Trail, drops quickly to the small stream born from the springs of Pajarito Canyon and follows the stream to the river. The Blue Dot Trail, developed as a livestock passage in the 1930s, descends steep switchbacks to reach the river. Along the Rio Grande, the River Trail connects the dot trails, and on the rim, the White Rock Canyon RIm Trail parallels the gorge for two miles.

To reach the Blue Dot Trailhead from the intersection of State Road 4 and Rover Boulevard in White Rock, head east on Rover. In 0.1 miles, turn left onto Meadow Lane. In 0.7 miles, turn left into Overlook Park. Pass by ball fields and turn right onto a paved road marked for the trailhead.

For the Red Dot Trail, continue south on NM-4 from the intersection with Rover. In 0.2 miles, turn left onto Sherwood. Follow Sherwood 0.5 mile to a t-intersection with Piedra Loop. Turn left onto Piedra and find the trailhead on the left in 0.6 miles. There is parallel parking for about six vehicles at the trailhead.

If you start at the Blue Dot Trailhead, head to the canyon rim from the trailhead and pass through an old fence to begin the descent. A half-dozen switchbacks bring you to a level bench, but the steep drop soon continues. After a mile, the trail enters a spring-fed thicket and meets the River Trail. Turn right and follow that trail for two miles, heading south. The Red Dot Trail is a few yards after crossing the strong outflow from Pajarito Springs. Turn right and follow the trail as it parallels the stream, crossing it once, for a few hundred feet, then begins the stair-like ascent of the canyon slope. It’s only a mile to the rim, but it’s a slow mile.

Meet Piedra Loop at the Red Dot Trailhead. Turn right and walk along the road for 0.4 miles. On the right, find a signed trail just before a guardrail opposite La Senda Drive. The trail heads downhill on an easement between two houses. Cross Pajarito Canyon, and then pick up one of several trails that parallel the canyon rim, heading generally east. The White Rock Canyon Rim Trail is more defined at the edge of White Rock Canyon: turn left and walk the trail for 1.8 miles along the rim. After crossing an open field, take the trail to the right and it soon meets the Blue Dot Trail. Turn left and walk back to the trailhead.

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