So where is Tree Spring, anyway?

Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
Tree Spring, after which Tree Spring Trail was named.


If you’ve hiked the Tree Spring Trail in the Sandia Mountains, you know there’s no spring anywhere along the route. As Mike Coltrin explains, the spring is a short distance downslope from the trailhead. “The trail’s name comes from a spring that was found flowing from beneath a large tree stump ... There remains some old stonework around the spring, probably built by the CCC in the 1930s.” Coltrin also provides coordinates for the spring, but doesn’t provide instructions on how to get to it. Not that it’s difficult to figure out.


On August 10, 2021 I decided to find the spring. The nearest non-hazardous parking spot appears to be the pullout at 35 deg. 11.536 min. N, 106 deg. 24.246 min. W. (If you’re headed uphill, it’s on the right). Even a low-slung car can use the pullout; as I walked away from my Forester, I saw a Ferrari pull off.


From the pullout, walk downhill to the left of the road (no need to be on the roadway) about 40 meters, then turn upslope, onto an old road bed. This closely parallels today’s highway and must be an old alignment of the same. Continue northeast along the old road bed. About 180 meters from your car, Tree Spring will be on your right. It’s an easy scramble down from the old roadbed to the spring. My own reading for the spring location is 35 deg. 11.613 min. N, 106 deg. 27.173 min. W.


Once there you’ll see a U-shaped wall that must have surrounded the original spring. (I agree with Coltrin that it looks like CCC work.) That exact spot was dry when I visited, but there was a small still pool nearby and a trickle of water on down the slope. I have to say this next thing: if for some silly reason you decide to drink the water, purify it first. By the time you retrace your steps to your car, you’ll have gone less than 400 meters.


Tree Spring, Sandia Mountains, Cibola National Forest, New Mexico
On the way back to my car, via the old road bed


Once I was back at the turnout, my curiosity got the better of me; I headed in the other direction, finding another segment of the old road bed. It seems that when the engineers rebuilt the hairpin turn at this point in the Crest Highway, they built the new turn outside the old one. Then they abandoned the old alignment, leaving a wide, graveled, gently climbing path through the trees. If you follow that route, you’ll pass a second, smaller bit of CCC-style stonework. About 35 deg. 11.627 min. N, 106 deg. 24.252 min. W, you’ll come to a fork in the path. Turn left, and about 25 meters later you’re back at the Crest Highway, opposite the Tree Springs trailhead. Keep straight and you’ll immediately find a lovely little meadow that’s almost a wetland. There’s a big patch of wild irises in the meadow, and I need to get back there in early summer when they’re in bloom.


On August 10 I retraced my steps from the meadow back to the pullout to finish my exploration, but here’s how you can do the same ramble after parking at the Tree Spring Trailhead. Walk up to the fee station, turn around, and find the small break in the trees directly across the road. After crossing the road, drop through the trees and you’ll be at the fork I just mentioned. The meadow with irises will be off to your left (it's worth the detour). The abandoned hairpin turn to Tree Spring will be to your right. Follow the hairpin down to the pullout, walk the short section next to the roadway, and hop up onto the old road bed for the final stroll to the spring. This route from the Tree Spring trailhead to its namesake spring is about 600 meters each way.