September 1st – 3rd, 2018
This was a 3 day, 2-night trip led by Keith Ferguson with the New Mexico Backpackers Meetup into an area North of Chama along Colorado Highway 17. We were 8 people representing 2 states those being New Mexico and Colorado. Judy Graham and I drove up from Santa Fe. The well-signed turnoff to Red Lake trailhead is about 8 miles North of the Colorado border onto Forest Service Road 114 and another 3 miles to the parking lot.
The hike to Red Lake is moderate at 3 miles and 836 feet of ascent on a good trail. The area is popular with several parties camped at the lake, some of them families with children in tow. Red Lake is a great jumping off spot into the terrain that surrounds it. This area sits on a high plateau, over 11,000 feet in elevation, and covers thousands of acres, most of which is comprised of grasslands, small lakes, and marshes. Trails are few and those shown on the map do not exist in our experience with the exception of the Continental Divide Trail.
Our first day was spent on the short, 2 and 1/2 hour drive up from Santa Fe, followed by the 2-hour hike to Red Lake. After setting up camp we headed out on what was supposed to be the Dipping Lakes Cutoff Trail. It, in fact, does not exist with the exception of distantly placed, unsigned markers made of wood poles and cairns, some of which are quite impressive in size. None of them really assist with navigation. That task is left to the hiker with appropriate tools. Our hike this day included grey skies, with periods of slow-moving hail or fast-moving graupel, I really could not tell which. Interspersed cloud, rain, and sun marked the evening hours.
Reaching Dipping Lakes was the theme on day two. People asked about this location before the hike began and it had been a point of interest and discussion amongst the hiking communities I associate with. This is probably because the East Fork of the Chama River originates here along with one of the largest waterfalls in the area flowing from Dipping Lakes. The group intention was to hike there on this trip. We got a late start, however, and by noon the first thunder was heard. My hiking partner Judy Graham and I decided to turn around at this point. The rest of the party continued on to the lakes. Judy and I decided to take a more creative route back to Red Lake cutting off some miles but gaining insight into the fascinating terrain that surrounded us. We do not think we cheated ourselves by not going all the way to the lakes. We reckon they will still be there when we have a chance to return.
We got to our camp within a couple of hours from the turnaround point, verifying that we had found a shortcut. The rest of the group returned soon after and the balance of the afternoon and evening was occupied by alternately taking shelter and exiting our tents to escape the rain and engage the Sun.
Our third and last day was accompanied by fog and low clouds making for a spooky, otherworldly, but fascinating hike out. Near the trailhead, we met a family who anxiously asked us about Dipping Lakes. We told them what we knew and found.