Travertine Falls in Hondo Canyon

The New Mexico bird finding guide mentions a small waterfall covered in moss and surrounded by lush canyon vegetation. Even without birds, this spot, Hondo Canyon, would make a great short hike on its own. Information about the falls and the trail, especially a map, was hard to find online; either it was in books where the relevant pages were missing, or on sites with subscription fees. The one reference I did find mentioned a lot of poison ivy…. Melissa and I decided to take the short hike on Labor Day.

The trailhead starts in the Canyon Estates neighborhood on the east side of the Sandias and runs through the Sandia Wilderness. We walked through the typical piñon-oak-juniper vegetation where Western Scrub-Jays called harshly and flew overhead. The falls were only ½ mile from the parking lot and soon we found deciduous trees and lots of wild grapes. I noticed no poison ivy at the falls.

Trail through the typical vegetation on the mountain slopes. Notice the lone Ponderosa Pine (dark green tree in the back on the left) growing well below the usual elevation

The bedrock in this area of the Sandias is a Carboniferous limestone instead of the usual granite and metamorphic rock. As the stream here flowed over the steep slope of limestone, it redeposited the carbonate minerals as travertine, the same kind of water-deposited flowstone found in caves. Over time, the travertine grows out from the slope and the waterfall moves downstream. This process is the opposite than that of waterfalls that erode rock, like Niagra Falls, which move upstream over time.

The falls are pretty, but not very high

Close-up of the travertine falls

Melissa and I ate a small snack at the top of the falls along the stream. From where we sat, we could see birds and lizards coming to the water to drink. Scrub-Jays, a Steller’s Jay, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds got a drink, or more likely in the latter case, caught small insects flying above the stream. A small finch flew into a juniper and I briefly got a look at the crossed bill of a Red Crossbill before it flew off.

The trees below the falls must look beautiful in fall as a bright orange patch in the middle of evergreens.

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2 Responses to Travertine Falls in Hondo Canyon

  1. Mel says:

    I wonder if we’d see anything more interesting/different if we go now, since migration has picked up?

  2. abqbirding says:

    Fewer hummingbirds :( I don’t really know what kinds of birds winter in that habitat yet.

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