One short route is Mortendad Cave Trail, an out-and-back (1.6 miles round-trip) that takes you to an ancestral Puebloan site consisting of an old kiva set among a cluster of cave dwellings; the ceiling of the kiva cave is carved with very well-preserved petroglyphs. You can do the route year-round, and it’s easy enough for children.
In White Rock, the White Rock Rim Trail runs three miles along the cliff edge—you’ll have suburban tract homes to your back and a dizzying canyon out in front of you. The walk starts at Overlook Park; follow signs from Highway 4 at the first stoplight in town.
You can also take a strenuous hike into the gorge along the Red Dot Trail, which passes a few petroglyphs on its way down to the Rio Grande; ask at the White Rock visitors center for directions to the trailhead, which is at the back end of a subdivision.
Thanks to the canyon walls, White Rock is also popular with rock climbers, who most frequently head to The Overlook, a 65-foot basalt wall below Overlook Park. The Los Alamos Mountaineers (http://lamountaineers.org) organization maintains a very good website with detailed route guides and information on smaller area walls; the group also helps organize the annual Meltdown climbing competition in September.
A bit of a locals’ secret, Pajarito Mountain (505/662-5725, www.skipajarito.com, 9 a.m.– 4 p.m. Fri.–Sun. and holidays) offers good skiing and snowboarding cheap ($43 for a full day), with five lifts giving access to bunny slopes as well as double-black-diamond trails. The area is just a few miles northeast of Los Alamos, off Highway 501, and luckily escaped all damage from the Cerro Grande fire.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition