Photography ©Paul Ross

A Perfect Pairing

A Galisteo Basin Hike & Picnic

by Judith Fein

I often marvel that when I’ve got an itch to hike in wide-open spaces, I can scratch it at the Galisteo Basin Preserve, a short twenty-minute drive from Santa Fe. The last time my husband, Paul, and I went there, we stopped at Arable restaurant in Eldorado and chose takeout dishes that reflected the themes of the land.

Galisteo Basin, NM
Some sections of the trail curve and wind, while at other places it’s wide open. Photography ©Paul Ross.

The preserve offers an array of trails. I selected one of the farthest, the Cottonwood Trail. Three mature cottonwood trees welcomed us to the trailhead.

The earth seemed to change colors under our feet as we walked along: it was red, then gray, green, white, beige or tawny. We weren’t the only happy ones in the area. Nearby, two horses stopped for a snack, and one of them looked out over the land and neighed its approval.

The flat trail is lined with juniper trees, the occasional proud pine and the sculptural skeletons of trees that were once robust. As the path curves and winds, cholla cactus pop up, showing off their yellow buds. Near them, small, tight-knit communities of paddle cactus huddle together as though they are gossiping about the few hikers and bikers who pass by.

When we reached a crossroads, we turned right onto Trail 45, humorously labeled Bob Was Here. We followed the trail towards Richard’s Ramble Trail, smiling as we conjured up images of Richard and Bob, volunteers who worked hard to clear the trails, at the same time assuring their names would be known for posterity.

Trail 45 is lined with grayish-white rocks, and it goes gently uphill and down. Although we were the only ones on the trail, we saw from the tracks in the dust that bikers enjoy this trail as much as we do. In the distance we could see the great expanse of the Galisteo Basin, with the outline of foothills beyond.

Subsequent steps took us into an arroyo. Walking through it triggered memories of carefree strolling on beach sand when I was a child. Our calves loved the workout they were getting because the dry riverbed sand was fairly deep. We stopped for a moment at a map which indicated we were on the Arroyo de Los Angeles Trail. The angels clearly provided us with the perfect weather.

Paul’s phone indicated that we had walked three miles, by my phone was sure it was three and a half. So, as they say in French, you cut the pear in half: Paul and I compromised and called it three and a quarter miles.

A soft pretzel from Arable in New Mexico
We dipped Arable’s German-style pretzel in Dijon mustard, one of the culinary delights we enjoyed at our picnic. Photography ©Paul Ross.

Speaking of pears, you undoubtedly want to know about the Arable delights we enjoyed for our picnic lunch. We began with a large, fresh, homemade German-style pretzel, which we dipped in Dijon mustard. Then we slurped organic butternut squash soup that was sprinkled with spiced, roasted pepitas. I opted for shrimp and grits, an ode to New Mexico with its red chile butter and Tamaya blue-corn grits. My secret pleasure was that the bed of grits evoked the rich sand of the arroyo. Paul loved every baby green leaf, plump baby potato, olive and caper of his generous veggie Niçoise salad. And then, to celebrate the colors of the Cottonwood Trail, we had butterscotch budino for dessert. It’s an irresistible indulgence of creamy organic custard, sea salt, caramel and whipped cream. In case you feel hesitant about eating such a rich dessert, I can assure you that if you hike the Cottonwood Trail and feel your heart soar from the beauty of the land, your reward is that calories don’t count.

When planning a hike in the Galisteo Basin Preserve, remember to bring enough water to stay hydrated. Protect yourself from the sun and avoid hiking in the heat of the day. These simple measures will keep you safe and comfortable so that you can enjoy your hike to the fullest.

Judith Fein

Judith Fein is an award-winning international travel and culture journalist, author of three books, speaker and frequent media guest as a travel expert. Her husband, Paul Ross, is an award-winning photojournalist, writer and photographer. Their website is


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