Cherish summer in Santa Fe with good books, lush gardens, buzzing bees, a trip to the zoo, a science project or two, and the restorative balm of children's creativity.
The silky soft gypsum of White Sands are the perfect place to make some sand angels.
Photo by Tira Howard.
By Christina Selby
New guidebook complements maps and profiles of over 40 New Mexico hiking trails and scenic routes with descriptions and color photos of flowers you might find there.
All photos by Christina Selby. Click for captions.
Spring rains release the first blooms of the season, the Easter daisies and pasqueflowers. As the days lengthen and the sun strengthens, rainbows of flowers follow the melting snow up the slopes into lush alpine meadows and high tundra. As the cool fall breeze arrives, the flowers retreat back down the mountains to blanket the lowlands in yellow sunflowers and purple asters.
Wildflowering can add a whole new layer of fun to your hikes around Santa Fe and beyond. The greatest way to impart wonder and a love of nature in younger family members is to get them out on the trail. Doing some research before you go to find out what wildflowers will likely be blooming can add a feeling of adventure and sense of discovery when you actually find the colorful beauties.
As beloved botanist and botanical illustrator Robert DeWitt Ivey said: “Our lives attain a new level of enrichment when we gain the ability to recognize as friends the plants and animals of our own environment. We can go through the seasons expecting encounters with them at times and places magically predestined. They greet us on every hand and add dimensions of meaning and belonging to every outdoor experience.”
How? Here a few tips that I’ve found effective with my young children.
Take a guidebook to identify the favorite flowers your kids encounter on the trail. Bring a loupe (a small magnifying glass) for up-close views. Let kids smell, touch and taste a leaf or a petal, but also talk to your kids about loving ’em and leaving ’em. A picked flower will not produce a seed for next year’s flowers to grow. Best to let them complete their full lifecycle.
My kids get worn out from long and bumpy rides, and that doesn't make for a great start to a hike. Try to keep the car ride to the trailhead short and on decent roads. I've stopped telling my kids we’re going to go for a "hike.” They unfortunately associate that with something long, boring and sometimes difficult. Instead, we go for "outdoor adventures" or to "play outside in nature" or to discover “natural gems.” That seems to pique their interest enough to get them on the trail. To keep them going, I bring plenty electrolyte drinks and their favorite snacks.
Also, I try to keep in mind that hiking with my kids is really about being outdoors together rather than reaching a destination. Whether you go five steps or 5 miles, enjoy it!
Below are five kid-friendly day hikes around Santa Fe that put on a colorful show in the summer.
Cave Creek - Pecos Wilderness
Wildflowers to spot: heartleaf arnica, Hooker’s evening primrose, bee balm.
This hike, 5 miles in and out, follows a stream alternating between flowery meadows, aspen glades and conifer forests. The destination, caves carved into the limestone cliff where the creek enters and then disappears, is fun for kids of all ages to explore. All along the hike there are places to stop and splash around in the creek rimmed with colorful wildflowers. Beebalm is a regular on this trail. Let kids roll the unique square stem in between their fingers and smell the fragrant mint leaves. At the caves, plants and flowers cling to the rock face, making a delightful hanging garden.
Gooseberry Springs - Mount Taylor
Wildflowers to spot: Cardinal catchfly, albino silvery lupine, sidebells wintergreen.
Choose your adventure to reach the summit of the extinct volcano Mt. Taylor. The Gooseberry Springs trail is 6 miles round trip. Or, for those with a high-clearance vehicle, you can drive to the La Mosca lookout, which shortens the hike to less than 4 miles round trip. The wildflowers are like fireworks here in July and August with a riot of color filling in the alpine meadows at the top. Trying to spot the tiny gems sidebells wintergreen, wood nymph and columbine will keep kids going through the last stretch of montane forests near the top. The view from the top of the 11,301-foot peak is spectacular.
Cañada Bonito - Jemez Mountains
Wildflowers to spot: Gunnison mariposa lily, showy daisy, Whipple’s penstemon.
This easy hike in the Jemez Mountains takes you to an alpine meadow on the border of Valles Caldera National Preserve. Elk and other wildlife are regularly spotted early and late in the day. This is a good hike for sauntering and ending with a picnic in the meadow. Near the end of the day when the purple to maroon Gunnison’s mariposa lilies start to close up, look carefully inside the flower for sleeping bees.
Sandia Crest Trail - Sandia Mountains
Wildflowers to spot: tall Easter daisy, purple locoweed, yellow skypilot.
This hike follows the crest of the Sandia Mountains, skirting the cliffs and passing through alpine conifer forests and meadows. You can drive to the Crest House at the top, or take the tram ride up and then hike. The tram is a beautiful and fun way to see the Sandias if your kids can stand the long lines. While wildflowers go quiet in the heat of the foothills below, the tops of the mountains stay cool in mid-summer and explode in color. The signed nature trail is a great loop for younger kids, while older kids will enjoy the challenge of the Sandia Crest-La Luz Loop Trail. The Kiwanis Cabin is a fun feature to explore along the way, as well as the tram visitor center.
Norski Trail – Santa Fe National Forest
Wildflower to spot: stripped coralroot orchid, common harebells, Richardson’s geranium.
This short and easy trail is a great introduction to the flowers of the alpine aspen groves and meadows. In early summer find wild strawberries, followed later by the more tart thimbleberry, always a fun treat for kids on the trail.
Wildflowering around your home
Wildflowers grow almost everywhere at some point during the year. I like to go exploring with my boys in our neighbor park or walk along the Santa Fe River. We find all sorts of flowers growing in unexpected places — out of cracks in the sidewalk, in between tumbleweeds at the park, and on the chamisa-covered hills along the river.
The added bonus is that once you identify the flowers in your neighborhood, you’ll know what will grow well in your yard. Use an app like iNaturalist to identify the wildflowers in your area and then ask your local nursery for seeds of the native wildflowers to plant in your garden. Wildflower seeds are best planted in early spring just as the ground is warming or in fall when they can settle in for the winter.