Edward Sargent Wildlife Area
“…within a few hundred yards of the parking area, there were many areas of matted grasses - evidence the elk bedded down here just last night.“
Itching to get out on more trails, we have waited out the monsoon season to do some great horseback riding at the Edward Sargent Wildlife Area near Chama. The 20,000 acre preserve is a favorite of birdwatchers and elk hunters alike. It is one of the largest properties managed by New Mexico Game and Fish extending all the way to the Colorado border.
We pick a glorious Sunday day and load up to haul to Chama; a small town featuring the picturesque Cumbres & Toltec Railroad with track built in the 1880s, which runs to San Antonito every day during high season.
Last June we were at The Sargent; however, today’s scenery is vastly different. In June, the rushing rivers were swollen and the ground was just sprouting new green from winter snows. Now the rivers are tame and the grasses have grown knee-high on a horse. Snatching off nibbles of grass that tickle the horse’s noses as we ride are completely irresistible.
As we saddle up to explore a new trail, the meadows of grasses are swaying back and forth in the light breeze….everything is green and seeding. One guide book promises “you will see elk”. With chatty riders and 13 noisy horses, I suspect our chances are slim of sneaking up on elk. But saddled up and within a few hundred yards of the parking area, there are many areas of matted grasses - evidence the elk bedded down here just last night; I become optimistic.
Trail map in hand, we continue across the first meadow that leads to a climb into the trees. The unimproved jeep trail is clear and the climb is gradual expecting to go from 8,000 to 9,000 feet providing we keep a fair pace. With 13 riders, the fiddle-factor becomes a variable.
Someone carrying GPS tells us we are within 3 miles of the Colorado Border, but no elk sightings as yet. We have agreed to ride up and find a spot for picnic lunch. So with the clock ticking, we turn around to an area we just crossed with plenty of downed trees serving as picnic benches.
Tying horses to old Aspens and settling in, we enjoy our snacks and water, and a rest from the saddle in the shade of the aspens and conifers. After a rest, we continue back down with thoughts of checking out the Rio Chama River which had rushing waters in June.
Today, with a weather report of 40% chance of rain, we keep a watch over our shoulders at the clouds forming in the sky. We stop to debate, then we return to trailhead for a vote. The consensus is to roll the dice and check out the Rio Chama River, so we ride another 15 minutes to find the Rio Chama. We have passed several swales during the day that serve as waterholes for the wildlife, but most of the horses declined that opportunity to drink from them. However at the Rio Chama which is cool and clear, the horses enjoy a long drink from the fresh-flowing waters.
Satisfying the horses and our urge to explore, we head for the trailers and the trip home with plans to return soon to this magnificent wildlife area. As we reach the trailers, as if on que, a monsoon forms on the horizon.
Riding NM Game and Fish Wildlife Areas requires a G.A.I.N. pass and a habitat sticker; $10 for 5 days or $20 for a year obtainable at http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us. Failure to obtain a pass can be a $500 penalty and up to 6 months in jail. The Sunday we were at Sargent, the game warden was present.
Photos courtesy of Susie Morgan and Cindy Roper