Thursday, October 10, 2013

Best Laid Plans and Fall Colors

OK -  my plan was to hike everywhere I could to enjoy the fall colors. I was keeping an especial eye on lower Pipeline Road because there is potential for massive color in the luxuriant oak and aspen regrowth since the 2000 Cerro Grande fire. Thankfully, the area wasn't re-burnt in the 2011 Las Conchas conflagration.

I hiked lower Pipeline Road last week and and went back yesterday to see how the color was developing. Yesterday's hike featured blue skies, sunshine and light winds. I saw six other hikers with the same idea - get out in the beautiful fall weather and admire autumn colors.

Today, though, the wind blustered all day; it rained and even sleeted. Our ash tree, which was gloriously yellow, had a lot of leaves torn off and looks bedraggled. It's obvious from town that Pajarito Mountain had it's first snowfall of the season.

The temperatures have turned frigid tonight and the wind is rattling our screen door. Have all the fall colors blown away? We'll see tomorrow.

The photos below are from yesterday's Pipeline Road walk.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Grand Walk: Pajarito Mountain via Camp May

Today I did a grand walk up Pajarito Mountain. I've wanted to do this particular walk for several weeks but each morning, the mountain was wreathed in clouds and looked like it would rain. Today, there were blue skies overhead so I went for it! 

I started by going up the jeep road toward the Camp May saddle from Camp May Community Park. At the Valles Caldera National Preserve fence line, which bars all travel further west, there was a glistening pile of bear scat - quite copious! Maybe the bear was as frustrated as me by the fence and wished to show its disdain! From there, I followed a bicycle trail (maybe also called the Ma Bell ski trail) over to the Rim Run ski trail/jeep road which I took to the top of Rim Run, which is situated along the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area's westernmost boundary. While huffing and puffing uphill, I stopped often to enjoy the quintessential sound of autumn - elk bugling from below in the Preserve. 

At the top of Rim Run, I headed through the burnt woods to the south meadow on the back of Pajarito Mountain and worked my way over to the blue Yeamans memorial bench. Along the way, I heard a large animal crashing through the woods to escape me. 

From the Yeamans bench, I walked downhill to the trail west of the snow-making retention pond. The trail goes over the gravel berm at the back of the fenced pond. I could see deer prints in the mud.  The trail continued up to the Zero Road East jeep road at the back of the mountain. I took that road to just downhill from the 4 way intersection (at the antenna farm) where I decided to instead cut across the mountain, passing under Lone Spruce Lift, on a ski trail/jeep road. On the way to Mother Lift, I saw the merest beginning of aspen color, quite appropriately near Aspen Lift.  

Almost back to the Ski Lodge, I spotted two grouse. They saw me and very judiciously minced across a side road to hide in the tall grass. I had to laugh because it looked like they thought that if they walked slowly enough, they were invisible!

The whole hike is close to 5 miles (could be more, depending on how often my GPS unit "lost" the signal). The uphill parts, Camp May saddle and Rim Run, are very steep and rocky in places but there are plenty of splendid views to admire along the way. The first half of the hike goes through the burned area on the western side of the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area.

On the way to the south side meadow on Pajarito Mountain, these "purple daisies" (probably asters) lured me over. This is in the forest burned by Las Conchas wildfire, June 2011.

I hadn't noticed this memorial sign before. The tree it's attached to looks like a dead spruce.

The memorial sign and Ballance Bench.

Interesting cloud forming at top of Lone Spruce Lift.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rabbit Ridge Road Trek

Last week, I went by myself to check out Rabbit Ridge Road for a hiking group that I hoped to take there in August. I hiked all the way to the first felsenmeer (German for sea of rock) on top of Rabbit Ridge. The first 1/2 mile or so of the road is all right, if somewhat overgrown with aspen shoots. But the middle section of the road has taken a beating from the post-Las Conchas wildfire monsoon flooding and is quite rocky and rutted, A group of us hiked the road last year to the top of Rabbit Ridge and, to my eyes, the erosion damage has worsened this year. Even in the less eroded parts of the road, there is much vegetation overgrowth to wade through.

On my solitary hike, as I rounded corners and approached overgrown areas, I kept a patter going - some examples were, in a deep voice, "Yo, bear - I'm big and I'm bad!" and, in a lilting voice, "Mr. Bear, Mrs. Bear, Ms. Bear, Baby Bear and Bayer Aspirin!" I wasn't taking any chances at surprising a bear. Recently, a small, blond bear on the Cerro Grande Route ran fearlessly at us. I imagine the bear was unnerved by 9 hikers, standing enthralled, quietly watching as it foraged in the meadow. It's better to make noise to warn the bear you're there, especially if you're alone and have no companions to outrun! Well, whether because of my bear ditties or not, I encountered no bear - only saw a lone deer on top of Rabbit Ridge which made a rapid getaway from the crazed hiker chattering out loud!

When I got home, I left a message with the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) to ask what the long range plans are for Rabbit Ridge Road. I know they have their hands full in the aftermath of this year's Thompson Ridge wildfire but I am curious if the road will be abandoned entirely. Before the Las Conchas wildfire, it provided a beautiful walk to the top of Rabbit Ridge. In contrast to the early days of the Preserve when Rabbit Ridge Road was a paid hike, the VCNP now allows free access to the public on all the Rabbit Mountain area, which includes Rabbit Ridge, and it would be a shame if the road was not maintained in some manner.  There are very few parts of the Preserve that offer free access to the public and this is one of them and it would be sad to lose the road to neglect.

Rabbit Ridge Road is accessed from the Coyote Call trailhead. This is flooding damage in the Coyote Call meadow. Deep ruts and holes have been gouged by the force of the water runoff.

On top of Rabbit Ridge (that was quick!) - the burnt forest, courtesy of the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire, greets you. Good place to look for tracks in the bare spots. Saw elk and deer tracks.

View of my favorite peak, Redondo, from first felsenmeer. When I started the hike, around 10:30 am, the sky was practically cloudless.

On the way down, an overgrown area of Rabbit Ridge Road. The tall, green plants, sprouting small, yellow, composite flowers, look, from their rank growth, to be on steroids!

A section of rocky, rutted Rabbit Ridge Road. The fire denuded hillside above funnels rain runoff across the road. There is an even worse area, just downhill, which looks like a small canyon is forming across the width of the road.

This pastoral scene belies the dramatic events that shaped this landscape, both in the past and now - volcanism and wildfire. The brownish colored splotches on Redondo are burnt areas from this spring's Thompson Ridge wildfire. This is from the Coyote Call meadow, just above the Coyote Call trailhead.

After the hike, I sat by the side of NM4, outside of the Valles Caldera National Preserve's barbed wire fence, meant to keep people out. Wistfully looking north across the Valle Grande, I ate my lunch and drank deeply of the view.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Little Sorcerer Point

Reading Craig Martin's Los Alamos Place Names, 2nd Edition, I'm intrigued by mention that the Tewa Indians knew the end of Kwage Mesa (aka, Horse Mesa) as Little Sorcerer Point. This photo is taken from the end of the trail on Kwage Mesa. It overlooks the confluence of Bayo (left) and Pueblo (right) canyons. The unnaturally green vegetation in the Pueblo Canyon drainage is from treated runoff from the Los Alamos Wastewater Plant.

There are at least two Pueblo Indian Ruins visible in the photo. On a ridge to the left of the green vegetation, is a large, bare area. This is Big Otowi Ruins, now on
San Ildefonso Pueblo land (off-limits to recreationists). To the far right of the green vegetation and the road is a ridge with a much smaller bare area, Little Otowi Ruins, now protected by a fenced Department of Energy easement (also off-limits).

From the canyons below, the Tewa dwellers could look up at the point of Kwage Mesa, which they knew as Little Sorcerer Point. In my limited understanding, to the Pueblo Indians, sorcerers were powerful and did not always use their power for good. The intriguing part is that no one knows how the name was acquired. It is supposed to be an ancient name. (I wonder - was there a Big Sorcerer Point?) Now, every time when I go to the end of Kwage Mesa or see it from the Bayo or Pueblo canyons trails below, I study it and wonder how it got its name. It will remain a mystery!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Foggy One Morning - Crystal Clear Next

Hiked to Cañada Bonita meadow both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tuesday was a "misty, moisty morning" (that phrase from a Mother Goose rhyme that I loved as a child). We all enjoyed the moisture in the air and the lushness of the forest undergrowth on our way to the meadow.

On Wednesday, the moisture was gone and the sky above was crystal clear New Mexico blue! Different group but we enjoyed this day too!

Tuesday, June 18, Cañada Bonita Meadow

Wednesday, June 19, Cañada Bonita Meadow

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Coyote Call Wildflowers Surprised Us

Walked with senior group last Friday on Alamo Boundary Trail and Coyote Call Trail. Below  burnt hillside, along Coyote Call Trail, we were surprised to see wildflowers blooming. It's been a dry winter and spring. Along some trails and forest roads, the grass is mostly winter golden, deep into May. This spring, there have been far more moisture sucking winds than raindrops. Yet, the wildflowers are blooming below the charcoal stick forest. (And, yes, I've included dandelions!)

Red columbine - we saw lots

Dandelions - we were captivated

Clematis or virgin's bower - many had a "hanging garden" effect

Burnt hillside above Coyote Call Trail - young aspens are sprouting forth

More red columbine - striking a "shy" pose

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sad Treatment of FR181

Walked on FR181/American Spring Road today. Dismayed by scenes below:

First two photos are a little over two miles in from NM 4:
Pretty little meadow along FR181/American Spring Road. Now an unofficial mud fest  proving ground for vehicles.

Same meadow - wish these shell casings were wildflowers. They are scattered all about the meadow. The meadow is being used as a shooting range.

These photos are where Water Canyon crosses FR181, approximately 1.5 miles in from NM 4:
Another unofficial shooting range on FR181, right above Water Canyon Trail. This area has been severely damaged by post-Las Conchas wildfire flooding and is due to be repaired by the forest service. Just because it's damaged gives no one an excuse to further mistreat it. Four photos below give details of the scene (the numerous, scattered, brass shell casings are not pictured):

Cardboard target (not shown in photo above)
Spray painted rocks and discarded container


Another target 
Discarded paint containers?

Snowy Ponderosas

Wednesday morning, woke to snow-transformed world.

Snowy ponderosas along Los Alamos Mesa Trail

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mitchell Trail-Guaje Ridge Trail Quest

Hiking buddies and I keep scheduling this hike: go up the Mitchell Trail and down the Guaje Ridge Trail to Guaje Pines Cemetery.  So far,  we've not been able to do it because it snows (or threatens to) each time it's scheduled. (Daughter says keep scheduling it and we'll break the drought!!)  This past Monday, the weather seemed good enough that we actually attempted it. 

That morning, we optimistically left a car at Guaje Pines Cemetery and drove over to the Mitchell Trail trailhead and began hiking.  When we got to the top of the very steep Mitchell Trail, 1,500' up, and only encountered one slippery, snowy section, we were encouraged.  We were sure we'd finally succeed in completing the hike!

At the top, we intersected the Guaje Ridge Trail and began descending the north-facing trail.  The two other hikers forged bravely ahead, breaking trail through the snowy patches - some of which were 3' deep in spots. When we got to a dead end cliff, we reconnoitered and determined that the snowy trail continued downhill. Just to be sure, we took out our maps.  At some point, the weather had changed and the wind was blowing so hard, accompanied by light snow flurries, that reading the maps, let alone folding them back up, was frustrating.  Since none of us had been on the Guaje Ridge Trail in recent memory and we couldn't really see the trace of the trail as it continued in the distance, we turned around and retraced our steps back down the Mitchell Trail.    First, though, we had to go back uphill, plowing through the snow banks again, forging upward against the wind and tiny, swirling snow pellets. During this, we felt rather like we were in an epic battle against the weather that had once again foiled our plans!

Before the fires, I could see occasional, stunning glimpses of the mountains and canyons from the Guaje Ridge Trail. Now that most of the trees are sadly burnt, there is the compensation of being able to completely see the astoundingly beautiful and wild country all around!  I fell in love with the view of Caballo Mountain from the Guaje Ridge Trail!  We must go back!!

Bottom of Mitchell Trail in Rendija Canyon with view of Jemez Mountains to southwest
Along Mitchell Trail, dead standing trees - realm of the Harpies - shrieking wind and the trembling tree tops 
First false summit on Mitchell Trail, looking east 
Serpentine meanders of Mitchell Trail
Caballo Mountain above Guaje Canyon, looking northwest from Guaje Ridge Trail

A note:  The National Weather Service prediction was for winds of 15-20 mph. The day started out calm enough but the wind got really wild on the hike back. Since the Mitchell Trail goes through a burn area (courtesy of the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire), we were fortunate that no tree fell on our heads, leaving only our feet sticking out (like when Dorothy's house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz).

One hiker commented that the wind howling in the trees sounded like Harpies. I looked up Harpy on Wikipedia and generally speaking, they are despicable creatures and give women (and birds) a very bad name.  Hearing the screeching of the winds in the burn area Monday, I could appreciate this quote regarding Harpies:  "They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind."

The article has a quote from Dante's Inferno that talks of harpies as "...they caw their lamentations in the eerie trees."  One section of the Mitchell Trail goes perilously close to the dead, standing trees and it did sound like that and we were happy to pass by unharmed.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Little Bit of Green

Saw a little bit of green on today's walk on American Spring Road.  True, it's only evergreen but I've enjoyed watching these "baby" ponderosas "grow up" after the 2000 Cerro Grande fire.  Wonder if volunteers planted them here?  They escaped burning up in the 2011 Las Conchas fire. They are a hopeful sign.

American Spring Road is melting out.

Monday, February 18, 2013

"Lost" on Water Canyon Trail 281

Today, we walked up Water Canyon Trail 281 for the first time since the June 2011 Las Conchas wildfire. It looks so different - with less trees to block the view, you can see how rocky the south facing side of the canyon is and the canyon looks so much wider.

The canyon looked so different, in fact, that I thought, in the photo below, that I was approaching the meadow everyone calls Sawmill Meadow, below Red-tailed Hawk Point. Husband parked on a rock while I followed the obvious trail a little further up canyon, marveling at what I thought was a brand new hiking opportunity opened up by the wildfire.

Eventually, I realized I had mistaken the first (south) fork of Water Canyon for the main canyon channel. Truthfully, though, being in the throes of such a delusion is exciting!  I concocted in my mind a brand new landscape, which, when you think about it, is exactly what the wildfire did!
Approaching first (south) fork of Water Canyon 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rio Grande in Winter from White Rock Rim Trail

On Thursday, I hiked with the Townsite senior center hiking group.  Six of us walked part of the White Rock Rim Trail from Kimberly Lane to Overlook Park.  Very brisk temperatures - our leader didn't even wear a hat but the rest of us sure did!

The walk was a revelation: Since I stopped snowshoeing this winter, I thought all trails would be icy, muddy or both so I mostly confined myself to paved surfaces.  I was so wrong and will rectify the error of my ways and get out more on real trails!  We hiked early enough, starting at 9 am, that the trail surface was either snow-packed, but not icy, or plain, old terra firma (I so love terra firma!)