Church Rock

Distance2.44 mi
Elevation Gain262 ft
My Time1 hr 2 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownGallup
Food NearbyEl Rancho

Church Rock

The Church Rock trail was part of the Red Rock Park in the small town of Church Rock, New Mexico. I stumbled upon this by complete accident. As I was driving from Santa Fe to Arizona on the Great Southwestern Road Trip, I started to get tired and do that head nod thing and needed to pull over. Luckily I exited the highway and saw a sign for Red Rock park.

Now the Church Rock trail parking area is located next to the post office in Church Rock. I didn’t see much of a town other than post office and the park but the park was nice. When I got home I did some research and found out that Church Rock was the site of the largest Uranium spill in U.S. history back in 1979. So fair warning. No signs that I have any cool superpowers yet but I will keep you updated.

Getting Started

The Church Rock trail starts with a third of a mile jaunt across a flat dirt field. It looks like it may be a fairground or a gathering point of some sort. It is super easy and flat. The view from this walk through the field already gives you a nice view of the Church Rock and some of the painted walls of the park.

The Church Rock in the distance across a flat dirt field on the Church Rock Trail.

After you cross the field the trail becomes a bit more traditional with the exception that there is a lot of walking on rocks. After you cross the field it is another half mile to get to the main section of the loop. The signs on the trail really point to taking the trail in a clockwise direction to the point I didn’t even notice the other part of the loop until the way back. Here is some of the lower level trail. As you can see it is more walking on a large rock than a true trail.

A lower section on the Church Rock Trail is just a discolored section rock that you walk across.

The Loop

The loop was the most fascinating part of the hike to me. As I have mentioned in a lot of blogs I am pretty scared of heights and this loop tested that a bit. If you are not comfortable walking up rocks and in small cutouts this might not be the trail for you. Here is an example of some of the terrain you will have to deal with here.

Small foot holes leading up an almost vertical rock face on the Church Rock Trail.

Still with me or did the foot holes up the vertical rock face scare you off? As you come around the loop most of the trail is walking on these enormous rocks. There are 4 sections of these foot holed area’s that you must traverse to get to the top of the loop. Overall the loop will only gain a couple hundred of feet of elevation so it really isn’t bad it is just that almost all of it is steep steps like above.

The goal of the loop is to get to the top of the rocks. Once you do that the trail gets really nice. You will be walking across the flat rock tops following cairns around the loop.

The upper portion of the loop around the Church Rock trail.  You are above the canyon walking on flat rock tops following cairns.

On the top the views are amazing and the hike becomes pretty simple the toughest part is making it back down the other side of the trail. The descent gets a little steep at places with some 25% graded downhills.

The views from the top and the whole hike are pretty spectacular. It is like walking through the painted desert but actually being able to be up close.

And of course as you get closer to the namesake, Church Rock, comes clearer into view and is pretty magnificent.

Church Rock went from an unplanned stop to a really nice trail that I enjoyed a lot.

Elevation and Distance

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 2.44 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 262 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 6,943 feet. I was also moving for a total of 1 hour and 2 minutes.

Effort

This was an interesting trail in that it was a lot of walking on rocks. Sometimes you were walking up rock faces and other times you would be walking across the tops of giant boulders. The trail portion is pretty easy to manage though so not too much extra effort. Here is the step count from my Fitbit.

The step count from the Church Rock trail was 6,269 steps according to my Fitbit.

Terrain

Huge boulders and walking on rocks are a mainstay of this trail. In fact a lot of the more challenging portions of the hike are walking up makeshift staircases cut into solid rock. If you aren’t comfortable on rocks this might not be the hike for you. I would suggest a good pair of hiking shoes that can grip the bare rock.

Access

Church Rock is part of the Red Rock park located on I-40 as you get close to Gallup, New Mexico. It is really close to the highway which is why I made a quick stop as I was getting a bit tired on the drive to recharge the batteries. The parking area for this hike is right next to the post office building.

Wrapping up the Church Rock Trail

While I didn’t plan on stopping at Red Rock park and hiking the Church Rock Trail, I am really glad I did. The trail wasn’t very crowded and I was by myself for most of the hike. While it can get tricky walking up the rocks, the views you are rewarded with are pretty amazing.

This trail was almost like seeing the Painted Desert trails in Arizona but having a private tour to them. If you find yourself driving through western New Mexico, I would really suggest making a quick stop and enjoying this hike. I rated it as moderate mostly because of the rock walking. If you aren’t comfortable with that, this might not be the best trail for you. There is plenty to look at if you can’t make it to the top loop though so you should be able to enjoy parts at least.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to the interactive map page you can find here. If you have any suggestions for hikes or comments feel free to email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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