I hadn’t hiked Diablo Canyon in at least 15 years, but I remembered its sandy bottom and impressive basalt walls. Given the mild sprain I ended up with on my last hike, something flat with a lot of even ground sounded like a good chance to see how much I’d healed up. Fortunately, the ankle held up great and the weather turned out to be pretty nice for the entire hike despite some snow flurries in town. The full hike leads through the canyon and into a broad arroyo that takes you to the Rio Grande. If you hike all the way to the river and back, the hike will run you around 6 miles total, about 1/3 of that will be in the canyon proper.
Diablo Canyon is probably best as an early or late season hike for those who like to stay cool. In the sumer, it may be a good idea to get an early start and avoid the heat of the day. In either case, bringing plenty of water is always advisable. The canyon and arroyo beyond drain a large area, so its always a good idea to keep an eye on the weather around the canyon. Rain falling miles uphill can still result in a flashflood…all those boulders on the canyon floor didn’t roll around all by themselves!
Once you exit the steep walls of the canyon, the trail continues to follow the arroyo and the territory opens up for some beautiful views. At various points you can get a good look at Buckman Mesa (the same road leads you to both Diablo Canyon and the mesa) the White Rock Overlook and those with a keen eye and some knowledge of Geology can spot several distinct lava flows that created the basalt formations of the canyon. My Geology Prof. in college showed me all of the different flows and how to distinguish them…but the details have gotten a little hazy over the last 15 years!
Following the trail at this point is pretty easy, just stick to the main arroyo floor and you’ll be fine, but its always a good idea to bring a map for any area you are hiking. Its also a good idea to know how to read said map! After you reach the river and turn around, sticking to the main arroyo floor can get a little more complicated. On your way back, a number of arroyos intersect the one you’ve been hiking on from the left. While I suspect these will eventually intersect Buckman Road….they are more likely a good way to end up wandering all day and getting “confused” about where you are. Best to just avoid them. On your return, if in doubt, stick to the right but don’t start climbing anything. While you are hiking along the arroyo, keep a sharp eye out. A good rock hound can spot quite a variety of rocks and minerals!