The Google Map below shows the current (2015) route layout for the conceptual Northern New Mexico Loop. Click the white ‘layers’ box at top-left on the map for an interactive list of trail segments, alternate routes, and a few points-of-interest along the way (all of which are most easily viewed in full-screen map mode; click the appropriate icon on the right side of the map header bar for this).
The main route – in red – is organized by “trail segments,” with each segment covering the distance between two resupply locations. If one were dedicated to thru-hiking the full loop in springtime, a clockwise hike out of Santa Fe would be the order of the day, which is how the loop is described. In autumn, one could probably thru-hike in either direction, although counter-clockwise would tackle the highest terrain in the first half of the trek – useful if starting on the late side.
As is evident here, the main route is also a happy slave to the best terrain along the way, convoluted at times though the journey may be. This is actually an improvement over the route as originally envisioned. It’s a mere 500 mile hike, after all, so what about all the meandering. Why not take the time to savor it? You’ll end up right back where you started regardless.
On the topic of alternate routes – depicted in blue on the map – there are a whole host of these now, which fall roughly into the following categories:
“True” alternates – hike “here” for a while, instead of “there,” for a change of pace and a different perspective.
“Cutoffs” – a favorite values-inflected talking point especially among CDT hikers, these avoid some of the convolutions in the main route, increasing efficiency, but potentially at cost in terms of making the very best memories.
“Bypasses” – i.e., to skip something, optionally, like an exposed summit in bad weather.
“Spurs” – out and back, baby, whether to town or to summit.
And finally “links.” The map shows just one of these, the Vulture Link, which connects the Northern New Mexico Loop with the Grand Enchantment Trail at Sandia Crest. This represents the biggest change, is entirely new (although a few hellbent hikers have tried various connections before), and now makes a whole bunch of stuff possible. The Vulture Link (there’s a good story behind the name, but mostly a good guy and fellow long-distance route enthusiast with vast knowledge of the region and to whom I’m indebted) really helps to anchor the Northern New Mexico Loop conceptually, lending it some additional raison d’etre, as outlined in the previous blog post here.
We think the humble little NNM Loop stands on its own, and is best experienced in full fashion out of Santa Fe Plaza. Others may disagree while possessing far greater ambition and a poignant, far-flung gaze. All well and good – the Vulture Link and NNM Loop will see these folks between the GET and CDT and onward to whatever distant horizons may beckon.
Use this Google Map for entertainment purposes and general information, but probably don’t try to hike with it. For this I’m working on a CalTopo (topographic) page-by-page mapset, along with a companion databook, available later this fall – well in time for hikers next spring with any luck.