Photography © Paul Ross

On Top of the World: Hiking Kwage Mesa

by  Judith Fein 

My husband, Paul, and I have a special way of visiting Los Alamos. We lovingly and hungrily carry our takeout food — this time from Santa Fe’s Santarepa Café — and head for Ashley Pond Park on Trinity Drive. This serene place, with mountain views, picnic tables, a small waterfall and a pond with ducks and geese, has quite a bit of history.

Ashley Pond Park was named for Ashley Pond Jr., who founded the nearby Los Alamos Ranch School. A school for boys that operated from the end of World War I until the third year of the U.S. involvement in World War II, Los Alamos Ranch School was dedicated to educating its students in classical subjects and the outdoors. The school’s students belonged to the first mounted troop of Boy Scouts in the country, and they canoed, swam, played hockey and practiced ice skating at Ashley Pond.

Photography ©Paul Ross.

As we sit by the pond and watch the white geese floating peacefully by, we unpack our lunch. In Santa Fe, the City Different, we are blessed with a Cuisine Different, meaning it’s global, highly unusual in a small town. Santarepa Cafe features Venezuelan fare. Their specialty is arepas, one of the few pre-European colonization dishes still eaten regularly in Venezuela. These plump, stuffed tortillas are made of ground maize dough. They are accompanied by shamrock-green chimichurri sauce, which we chose, or a white garlic sauce.

We ordered La Melegindo, which was overflowing with sofrito-coated shredded chicken and accompanied by sweet plantain and avocado. The sofrito sauce’s red color comes from paprika, and the mild, piquant taste is supplied by the peppers, cilantro, onion, garlic and cumin. We also tried La Vegana, which features black beans, sweet plantains and avocado. We had sides of thick, steakhouse-style yuca fries and asadero cheese-filled tequeños, which are fried, breaded cheese sticks. Our desert was alfajores, corn cookies dusted with coconut and filled with dulce de leche.

Plump, stuffed arepas. from Santarepa Cafe, Santa Fe, which features Venezuelan fare. Photography ©Paul Ross.

After eating, we walk around the pond before driving to Kwage Mesa Loop Trail, which is 5.4 miles from Ashley Pond via Trinity Drive, Diamond Drive and San Ildefonso Road. Narrow and flat, Kwage Mesa Loop Trail winds along the top of the mesa.  It rises high above the surrounding countryside and offers a dramatic view of the turquoise sky overhead, snow-capped peaks in the distance and a forest of pine trees below. The silence is pierced only by ravens making their throaty “kraa” calls as they fly by.

At a crossroad, we turn right to continue following the Kwage Mesa Trail. The dirt path widens and becomes sandy. We soon find a narrow, parallel trail that leads along the edge of the ridge. We marvel at the striated rock of another mesa, a sweeping view into the canyon and the vast expanse of land and sky.

Photography ©Paul Ross.

At the far end of the loop trail, the 180-degree view becomes soul expanding. We are surrounded by mesas, mountains and canyons displaying a rich palette of colors: orange, yellow, brown, white and black rocks, yellow grass and hunter green trees. Our eyes follow an ancient lava flow that once poured out of exploding volcanoes. It’s as if an unseen hand has adorned this landscape with a giant paintbrush.

We head back to the trailhead. As always, walking this beautiful 4.6-mile dirt trail has been a wonderful respite from day-to-day life.

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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