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Ignacio Chavez WSAWelcome to Wilderness Wednesday, our weekly posting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

This week, we highlight the Ignacio Chavez Wilderness Study Area (WSA), which is situated on a broad volcanic plateau covered with piñon pine and interspersed with groves of ponderosa pine; slopes below the plateau are dominated by desert shrubs.  The diversity of landform and vegetation provides scenic appeal and vast views from the rim of the plateau to the surrounding desert.
In general, BLM Wilderness and WSAs have few trails.  Because vegetation on BLM lands tends to be less dense, access without trails is more feasible.  To perpetuate wilderness values, including undeveloped qualities, a high degree of solitude, and challenge and adventure, the BLM does not routinely plan and build new trails.  In some cases, animal trails or out-of-use vehicle routes offer hiking or horseback riding routes, though these may not be managed by BLM as would a designated trail.  The BLM does build and maintain trails where doing so would protect resources (for example, to relocate a well-used travel route from unstable slopes or soils to a more sustainable location).  In the case of the Ignacio Chavez WSA, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CNST) was designated by Congress and passes through the WSA.
Visitors can access the CDNST from one of two non-designated spur trails: one immediately below the plateau rim, the other just above it.  Which of the two spur trails you use will depend on what time of year you visit, as a gate on the access road just below the rim is closed to prevent road damage during the wet seasons.  If you visit between July 1 and September 14, or between November 14 and April 14, the gate will be closed.  Park at the small primitive camping location to the right side (north) of the gate and look for an unmaintained trail marked by visitors with rock cairns and leading north from the camping area through rugged terrain approximately 1½ mile to the CDNST.  When the gate is open, continue driving 1 mile past the gate to a signed parking area delineated by a split rail fence on the right side (north) of the road.  At first, following rock cairns, hike a flat, out-of-use vehicle route to the north, through a gate in a barbed wire fence, and across dry meadows approximately 1 mile to the CDNST.  This is an area only for hikers with excellent navigation skills as only the CDNST is well marked and maintained.

From San Ysidro, New Mexico, drive US 550 about 18 miles to just north of mile marker 41 and the junction with NM 279.  A green highway sign labeled, "San Luis-Cabezon" marks NM 279.  Drive west on NM 279, a paved road, through the small village of San Luis, after which the road turns to gravel and dirt.  Travel on this gravel road approximately 13 miles, crossing the bridge over the Chico Arroyo, until the road splits – NM 279 continues south to Guadalupe and BLM Road 1103 begins here and continues west.  At about 1 mile, CR 25 splits to the right and from this point the WSA is on the right side of 1103.  Continue on 1103, climbing to the mesa top.  Look for the gate described above.  These are dirt roads that can be muddy when wet and require suitable undercarriage clearance.  For more information, please visit the Ignacio Chavez WSA website

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Last updated: 07-16-2014