Mt. Taylor Yesterday & Today
The Cibola National Forest & Grasslands' Mt. Taylor Ranger District is a great place to explore both the history of the area and to see some great things currently going on.
The District is the site of the The 30th Annual Winter Quadrathlon will be held on February16. This race is not for the faint of heart -- or anyone who isn’t in superior physical condition! It’s such a challenging event, the race organizers have posted a training program that starts more than three months prior to the event.
About Mt. Taylor
There are actually two Mt. Taylors – the mountain and the Ranger District. They’re located in Grants, New Mexico – about an hour west of Albuquerque. The area has a rich history – both ancient and recent. Mt. Taylor, the mountain, is an extinct volcanonamed for President Zachary Taylor. However, eons before, it was known to the Acoma as Kaweshtima; to the Hopi Tsiipiya; to the Zuni as Dwankwi Kyabachu Yalanne; and to the Navajo Nation as Tsoodzil. It is a religious and cultural site for as many as 30 Native American tribes who go there to collect plants, stones, minerals, pigments, feathers, soil and sand, in addition to hunting, religious pilgrimages, accessing springs, and as a place for special offerings.
The Mt. Taylor Ranger District’s roots are a little more modern. The District evolved from additions to the small forest reserves first set aside in 1906. Much of the area was logged before being designated as National Forest. Today, visitors can find remnants of the many historic sawmills and logging communities in the area.
The District brought together history and recreation when they developed the Hilso Trailhead, which was named for the historic Hilso Sawmill. Visitors will catch glimpses of the remains of a thriving sawmill community as they ride through parts of the 26-mile trail system. Hilso was dedicated in 2011 and quickly became a popular location for biking and as a top-flight mountain biking destination.
The trailhead was developed following years of collaboration between the Mt. Taylor Ranger District and their business, county, state and federal partners. Some of these same partners have joined forces to develop the Zuni Mountain Trail Partnership. This ambitious project proposes to develop a network of interconnected mountain bike and hiking trails in the Zuni Mountains.
Logging is also the basis for a fascinating auto tour in the District. The Zuni Mountain Historic Auto Tour is a 60-mile route that starts near Grants, New Mexico and finishes near Bluewater Lake. Each of the 18 stops on this self-guided tour offers a glimpse of logging operations and what life was like in the logging camps.
The Mount Taylor area and the Zuni Mountains was a major east-west flight corridor since the earliest days of aviation. It is also the site of numerous plane crashes – both civilian and military. This history sparked the interest of the Mt. Taylor District’s archeologist Linda Popelish (now retired), who led three Passport in Time projects to explore the aviation history of the area.
The first project, completed in 2009, was to locate the crash site of the “City of San Francisco,” plane that went down in a violent thunderstorm in 1929. Eight people died in what was the country’s first major airline disaster over land.
The 2010 project focused on recording beacon sites on the old Los Angeles-to-Amarillo (LA-A) air route, which traversed the Continental Divide over the Zuni Mountains. This network of lighted beacons was an essential part of the development of early cross-country airways for night navigation during the 1930s.
The goal of the 2011 project was to preserve and to create interpretive information about Beacon Site 61, which sits atop a ridge on the Continental Divide at the Oso Ridge Fire Lookout (elevation approximately 8,700 feet). The site includes the base of the long-gone beacon tower, which also held a fire lookout cab, and the original generator hut that housed the power to light the airway beacon. A 1930s cabin that was the residence for the lookout is also squeezed onto the small volcanic knob near the currently used lookout tower.
For more information about Cibola County aviation history, please go to the Cibola County Historical Society.
Mt. Taylor Ranger District has sought collaborators to help manage other area of the district. A mutual concern about high fire risks, the need to restore a culturally important landscape and watershed, and the desire to support local forest-based industries led to the development of the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). This program has received a grant of $400,000 to restore the Zuni Mountain landscape to historic vegetation conditions using thinning and prescribed fire. The materials from the thinning will provide firewood for personal use and commercial contracts. When completed, the landscape will have fewer but larger trees and more open areas to allow grass and herbs to recover. This will increase resilience to climate change and may increase water availability.
The Cibola’s collaboration efforts has recently receive national recognition. Jeanne Dawson, a forester working on the Mt. Taylor Ranger District, was selected for a national award from the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF). Dawson and NWTF Regional Biologist Scott Lerich received the Habitat Management Project Award for their work on the Bluewater Ecosystem Restoration and Puerco Landscape Planning Projects. These forest restoration projects were designed to improve wildlife habitat.
For more information about the Mt. Taylor Ranger District, please call 505.287.8833. Or check out the Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center, which has a lot of great information about local attractions.