White Rock Canyon Trails
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Put it anywhere else and you’d have a National Park.


White Rock Canyon is one of the two jewels of Los Alamos County Open Space. Carved by the Rio Grande through lava oozed from the Caja del Rio volcanic field on the east bank of the river and the orange tuffs of the Valles Caldera eruptions, the canyon is a geologic masterpiece created by hot rock, landslides, and the mighty river. Averaging 1,000 feet deep from rim to river, the canyon offers spectacular vistas, rugged terrain, and a chance for solitude unmatched in the County. Those features alone would be enough to designate the place as special, but White Rock Canyon hosts rare four plant species, is frequented by at least three endangered species, and most importantly, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (the only canyon in the United States to enjoy such a designation).

Basalt—the stuff of fluid lava flows—dominates the rock walls of the canyon. Varying from black to brown to almost purple, the hard, pock-marked rock forms sheer cliffs near the rim. Below the canyon edge, the soft underlying mudstone of the Santa Fe Formation creates a slick surface for slipping rock. Massive slump blocks have rotated toward the river, slicing off tons of canyon wall as they slid. The remaining boulder piles make any travel in the canyon as difficult a journey as one finds anywhere.

PictureSoil blown and washed in from above accumulates behind the basalt ramparts. The Ancestral Pueblo residents of the large villages of the Pajarito Plateau put this soil to use, dry farming some of the terraces and on others building extensive canal systems to irrigate their fields. Left behind are the rock-lined canals, block terraces, and magnificent petroglyphs in profusion. Hundreds of horned serpents, elk, kachinas, spirals, bejeweled ladies, and others are scratched or pecked onto the rocks. This collection of ancient artwork led to the canyon’s listing on the National Register in 1990.

Two major routes, the Red and Blue Dot Trails, lead into the canyon. The Red Dot Trail is an old route leading to Pajarito Springs. It connects to the Blue Dot via the River Trail. The trails are virtual rock staircases, but the rewards for hikers along these challenging routes make the journey worthwhile.

Sit on the rim of White Rock Canyon at Overlook Park. Take a walk down either the Blue or Red Dot Trails. However you experience the canyon, you will be enchanted by its immense, timeless beauty. It is indeed a national treasure.

To take a hike into the canyon, take a look at the Red Dot/Blue Dot hiking guide.