Dispatches Tagline
Pinos Altos Range

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Monday, July 15th, 2019: Hikes, Pinos Altos Range, Southwest New Mexico.

Five years ago, before I was crippled by joint problems, my cardio routine consisted of one or two 4-mile weekday hikes within 15 minutes of home, plus a 5-7 mile hike a half hour away on the weekend. But when I finally began recovering, it inspired me so much that I became a lot more ambitious, and it’s getting harder and harder to find hikes that challenge me – and don’t bore me.

So I’m driving farther now, even for the midweek hikes. Every other weekend I’ll drive an hour or two away, hoping to get into some canyons and ridges with exposed rock. Our lower-elevation pinyon-juniper-oak forests tend to get monotonous, as do the mixed-conifer-and-Gambel-oak forests at higher elevation.

But last weekend I’d done one of the farther hikes, so this weekend I was condemned to something closer to home. I decided to try a route I’d never done before, using part of the famous national trail system to get to the highest peak near town. I’d climbed that peak many times from the opposite direction, but the topo map for this alternate route showed numerous ups and downs that would give me even more cumulative elevation gain. And the trail would take me across the north face of the Twin Sisters, a distinctive formation on our local skyline.

Our monsoon still hadn’t really kicked in, but by hiking in mountains I had managed to get into some rain in two of my last three hikes. Today, however, the forecast gave only 20% chance of rain, which is generally hopeless, and there were only a few sparse clouds over the mountains and clear skies over open country. It was supposed to be a little cooler, with a high of 89, but by the time I found the trailhead it was sweltering. I passed several people on their way out, having sensibly started much earlier in the cool of the morning.

But I had an attitude about hiking in heat. Thirty years ago I’d accompanied wildlife biologists on field trips in the Mojave Desert, and in the middle of summer, with temperatures 10 degrees hotter than it ever gets here in New Mexico, we would start a hike at 11am and climb rugged mountains off-trail all day in full sun, only returning to camp after sunset. And just a few years ago I did a backpacking trip there involving strenuous climbing, in temperatures pushing 100 degrees. So I viewed our local heat as no impediment at all.

I was hoping for some shade, though. I’d studied Google satellite view and it looked like maybe two-thirds of the hike would be in pine forest, with maybe some sparse cover throughout the remainder. But the reality was disappointing.

A large proportion of the national trail turned out to utilize old forest roads, so there was a wide corridor where trees had been cleared, hence no shade. And the middle section of the trail traversed a rolling plateau with my most hated surface: embedded volcanic projectiles, roughly rounded and pitted rocks ranging from tennis ball to bowling ball size, embedded in hard clay. This is a common feature of our local mountains that I’ve learned to avoid whenever possible. The rocks can’t be cleared by trail workers, so all they do is remove the vegetation around them and call it a trail – and walking over this unevenly cobbled surface is slow, perilous, and hell on your feet and leg joints.

The trail began with a steep climb, and the lack of shade meant that I was drenched with sweat within a few minutes past the trailhead. Crossing the plateau was a true ordeal. I hadn’t been able to figure out how long this trail was before starting it – I hoped to reach the 9,000′ peak, but there was a possibility it might be too far for a day hike. And the first third of the trail turned out to be twice as long as expected. I was not optimistic, but I wanted to at least reach the Twin Sisters, about two-thirds of the way to the peak.

There was a small patch of dark clouds hanging over the peak, so I silently let myself hope for some weather. And by the time I was traversing the north face of the Sisters, clouds were providing periodic shade over the trail, and I started praying out loud. “Clouds!” I shouted. “Storm! Lightning! Thunder! Rain! Bring it on!”

Past the Sisters, the trail finally entered a continuous forest of tall pines that provided blessed shade. And thunder started cracking and rolling up ahead of me, on the far side of the mountains. I dug some snacks out of my pack for lunch and began hiking faster, eating enroute.

This forested part of the trail traversed the west side of a long, narrow canyon to the drainage at its head, then turned out the east side of the canyon to a switchback that began climbing to the peak. It was getting close to the time when I should turn back, in order to get back to town at a reasonable hour, but I was tantalizingly close to my original goal, the dark clouds moving over were energizing me, and I was moving fast. Just before I reached the point on the trail where I had turned back, months ago, coming from the other direction, little drops of rain started to fall. My prayers had been answered!

It was only a sparse rain at first, and most of the time these little rains are short-lived, so I kept climbing without donning my poncho. But within minutes it was raining harder and I suited up. I was climbing fast, and I was halfway up the switchbacks to the peak when a downpour began rattling the hood of my heavy rubberized poncho like machine gun fire. The lightning and thunder were getting close, with long echoes of thunder rolling out in all directions from the clouds directly above. We’re often sternly warned against hiking in thunderstorms, but I figured my rubberized poncho would protect me from lightning strikes. The rain was so loud on the poncho’s hood that I looked more closely around me, and suddenly realized there was hail mixed with the rain.

I had a vague idea of where I was, and had started to hope I might actually reach the peak, regardless of how late it might make my return. I was getting so close! But the storm had moved directly over me. The wind whipped the hail against me from all sides. My feet were drenched in my supposedly water-resistant Goretex boots, and I would have to hike all the way back in them. Even my shirt felt soaking wet, inside my poncho.

Being inside the storm was so exhilarating that I kept climbing, onto the last switchback before the peak. Then I noticed that the trail ahead had turned into a stream, a flood pouring down the mountain toward me. Hail was piling up around the bases of the rocks and pines. The lightning and thunder were continuous, all around. I finally gave up and turned around, and even then, I had to walk above the trail because it was all flooded. With the wind against my poncho, I felt a continuous flow of water into the tops of my boots, and I tried to hold the front and back of the poncho away from my legs, but the wind pushed it back. The temperature had dropped from the high 80s to the low 50s, maybe even the 40s, up here near 9,000′, and I was wearing a light, soaking wet shirt and shorts. I wasn’t really worried, because thunderstorms are short-lived and I still had snacks for energy and mobility to generate body heat, but I knew I was in for hours of discomfort.

The farther I walked, returning down the trail, the less violent the storm became, until it was just a gentle drizzle. But then the wind picked up, whipping the tall pines, just as I entered a burn area where there were dead trunks, snags, still standing. The trees and snags were creaking in the wind, and before long I encountered a big one that had just blown down across the trail ahead.

By the time I started back across the north face of the Sisters, the rain had stopped, but enough cloud cover remained to shade the trail and keep the temperatures down. My wet feet were getting really sore from picking my way over the volcanic cobbles, and I still had a few miles to go, so I popped a pain pill that gradually improved my attitude. As it turned out, when I got home and checked the official point-to-point mileage for the national trail, this was a 15-mile round trip hike, the longest I’d done in decades. And despite the wet feet, I was feeling better, nearing the end of the trail, than I had towards the end of some recent 10-mile hikes. The progress of my recovery seemed almost miraculous.

By the time I rounded the final peak and began to descend toward the trailhead, I could see the storm dumping a few miles to the west. My storm, the storm I’d prayed for and been blessed with!

No Comments

Burned Ridge

Monday, September 21st, 2020: Hikes, Nature, Pinos Altos Range, Plants, Southwest New Mexico, Wildfire.

I first started hiking the six-mile-long ridge north of town ten or twelve years ago, but only the first couple of miles – I wasn’t doing longer hikes back then. It was never one of my favorite hikes; there were higher peaks closer to town, there wasn’t much exposed rock, and the rare views through the forest up there merely showed more forested hills.

But during the past two years, as I started challenging myself, measuring and logging distance and elevation, I wondered what it would be like to hike the entire ridge. Maps showed something called a “lake” at the west end of the ridge, near the top, more than six miles from the trailhead on the highway. That made no sense – lakes don’t form near the tops of ridges, in this latitude, at that elevation, in the arid Southwest.

But the “lake” gave me a mystery to explore, and on contour maps I could see that the trail had enough ups and downs to give me a significant overall elevation gain, so in December 2018, I tried to hike the distance. I was just starting to build capacity and only made a little over five miles, frustratingly close, before I ran out of time, only five days from the shortest day of the year, and had to turn back.

Five months later I finally made it. The “lake” turned out to be a turbid stock pond excavated out of a small forested plateau and filled naturally by annual precipitation, permanently muddy due to electrically charged particles of clay in suspension. It didn’t invite you to take a dip, but it was sufficiently incongruous, up there in the Southwestern sky, that it made the fairly grueling, twelve-plus-mile roundtrip ridge hike worthwhile.

Like with all my repeated hikes, I came to know it in sections. The initial ascent up and across the eastern shoulders, past a broad exposure of unusual white rock to an old burn scar, colonized by dense ferns, that offered a view east toward the “moonscape” of a more recent wildfire around the peak of the range. The meandering traverse of the steep north slope, shaded and densely forested with fir, which always seemed damp no matter how dry the season was. The punishing climb to the high point of the ridge, actually a narrow, rocky, mile-long “plateau” of parklike pine forest. Then began a rollercoaster of steep ups and downs, in which pine forest alternated with rocky sections of agave and mountain mahogany, that lasted another couple of miles and ended at the pond.

I hiked it again in April of this year. Then in June, I was rushed to the hospital with severe back pain, and a few days later, lightning started a wildfire in one of the little canyons below the ridge. I first saw the smoke from a hill in town, a few blocks up my street. The fire quickly climbed to the ridge, and strangely, as far as I could tell from the wildfire website, spread east along the opposite slope, probably a trick of the wind. I was pretty dismayed, on top of the pain I was feeling. What would happen to this familiar habitat near home?

The fire jumped to the east end of the ridge, where the trail begins, and they closed the highway. It turned out to be closed for the next month, as firefighters surrounded the fire and barely kept it from crossing the road, where it would’ve had miles of unbroken forest fuel dotted with occupied cabins. The perimeter was still pretty big, and the fire kept running out onto secondary ridges. When I was able to hike again, I targeted peaks that would give me a closer view.

Finally they reopened the highway and I drove around the eastern edge of the fire. All access to the ridge was off limits, and helicopters were still filling up at roadside “pumpkins” and sailing off to make drops in remote drainages. Several miles past the ridge, I found a barely passable back road and eventually got a limited view. The entire north slope of the ridge, which was where the trail mostly traversed, seemed devastated. Based on recent experience, I doubted the trail would be usable any time soon. And that dense, humid forest, with its ferns, mosses, and wildflowers. Gone for decades, maybe forever.

Since my house fire, I’ve been driving at least an hour away for my Sunday hikes, but this weekend I just didn’t feel like driving. In addition to the burned ridge hike, there was another nearby possibility that I decided on. But since it was only about ten minutes farther to the ridge trailhead, I figured I would check on the slim chance that the burned trail might be open. I didn’t expect it to be clear of fallen trees or erosion from monsoon rains, but I’d take a quick look before returning to hike the other trail.

At the trailhead, I was surprised to see nothing but the usual post-fire warnings. I was so curious to see conditions in the forest, I hoisted my pack and set out.

At mid-morning it was cool, in the low 60s, with a forecast high in the low 70s – a perfect fall day for hiking. I knew from my earlier drive that the forest on this first section had burned patchily, with roughly half the trees killed. But they were still standing, and the trail was as clear as ever. The gentle slope at the beginning was gold with pine needles, but they were all needles that had been killed by the fire and were continuing to drop from limbs above.

As I climbed toward the shoulders of the ridge, I found logs that had been recently cut, and clear tread on the trail. I realized that during “mopup,” firefighters had used this trail to monitor the fire, hence they’d had to keep the trail open. I hadn’t thought of that, and it made me hopeful about the rest of the hike.

As usual, I was hoping to be the first, or one of the first, to hike this trail since the big event. There were only two human footprints preceding me since the last rain, a couple weeks ago: a big man and a small woman. In the first couple of miles, destruction was patchy. I was impressed to see trees whose vegetation had been killed almost to the top, but still retained a small crown of green. The slope of ferns had been completely burned off, but smaller ferns had sprouted over much of it.

There was a lot of green, but it was mostly new growth since the fire – annual wildflowers and thickets of fast-growing thorny locust. It wasn’t until two miles in that I hit a badly burned section of north slope. Whereas before, the trees still bore their dead needles or leaves, here they were only black skeletons. Every now and then I came upon a tree that had burned down to nearly nothing, or the empty tunnels left in the ground when even the roots of the tree are consumed. The soil had been burned off the steep slopes and loose sediment was washing downhill, cutting away sections of trail. I stubbed my toes, slipped, and stumbled over and over again, and fell a couple of times.

My favorite tree on this hike was the one on the high plateau that had lost its trunk and grown a new trunk from a lateral branch. I was afraid it’d burned, but on reaching the top I found it safe, only sixty feet from the edge of destruction. The ridgetop was like that in many places – a sharp line between total destruction and intact habitat.

Looking at slopes from a distance, I could see that the fire had made linear “runs” like long fingers of black up and down steep slopes. Thinking of the chemical and physical phenomena of fire it always seems strange to think of it as an active “thing” – something seemingly alive that can move across the landscape with a will of its own – whereas a physicist or chemist would view it as a series of discrete microscopic and macroscopic events and interactions between forces, particles, living and dead organic tissue, cells and structures. The fire is just the visible, tactile sensation of what’s going on invisibly. How can it be something big and continuous that moves across a landscape? But it does.

I found myself focusing in on the details – the varying effects of fire on different plants. Many gambel oaks looked like they were wearing their “fall foliage” – brown leaves – while actually their foliage had all been killed by fire that wasn’t intense enough to incinerate the leaves. These trees were re-sprouting from root stock around the base. The core blades of agaves mostly survived while the outer ring burned. Many trees seemed completely dead until you noticed a few surviving branchlets at the very top. I realized this had uniformly been a ground fire rather than a crown fire. In many places, the duff and organic matter in the soil had burned but the bark of the pines had barely been singed. In other places, slopes where the dominant vegetation had been mountain mahogany, everything was charred and skeletal and even the rocks were blackened.

There was much less shade after the fire, and I was surprised that it felt like the 80s up on the ridge top – far from the cool fall day I’d expected.

The footprints of the big man and the small woman ended on the high part of the ridge, less than four miles in. The well-maintained trail ended there, too – apparently even firefighters hadn’t gone any farther. But I knew the trail well even if it was invisible to others.

Eventually, moving in and out of burn scars and intact habitat, but always with evidence of spot fires that consumed isolated trees in the midst of green, I reached the plateau and the pond. The parklike forest around it was mostly intact. The water level was down, and individual small trees had burned right up to the edge.

I found a pistol, apparently left by a hunter, and a motion-sensor camera someone had set up on a tree trunk. The other access to this place is via a short hike up from a remote forest road – a lot more driving, a lot less walking.

I was sore all over, and the hike back was a real slog. But considering that I’d been hiking and working out much less during the past month, I felt in pretty good condition. Apparently I can take it easier in the future and still stay in shape.

I took the pistol back with me. I’ve used a fair variety of guns, ever since childhood, but this was a new model with a plastic stock. I couldn’t figure it out and even thought it might be an air gun at first. It was holstered, and I stashed it in my pack. At home I looked it up and found that it’s an expensive sidearm, highly rated for both target shooting and personal defense. I took it to the sheriff’s office the next morning. They seemed pretty freaked out, detaining me and checking my ID in the system while a senior deputy took the gun outside to check it for ammo. Then they let me go without any further fuss, after taking my cell number in case the owner was offering a reward.

I also found online that one other person had logged a hike on the ridge trail after the fire – ironically, the day before me – but he’d only gone four miles. The big male footprints were explained, and I kept my distinction of first to complete the trail since the fire.

No Comments

Autumn Leaves, Part 1

Monday, September 28th, 2020: Hikes, Pinos Altos Range, Southwest New Mexico.

While dealing with the aftermath of my house fire, I was only able to do one hike per week, and I was sure I would lose conditioning and capacity. Hence after I got settled into temporary housing, I was really stoked to resume the routine I’d built up to over the past two years: three hikes a week averaging 22 miles and 6,000′ cumulative elevation gain.

But after the first week it was clear that I hadn’t actually lost any capacity. And between hikes, it gradually occurred to me that I’d been paying for all that hiking with a lot of inflammation and pain, and the time I was spending icing my joints afterward. So I decided to cut back and drop one of my 5-mile midweek hikes.

Longer Than Expected

The Sunday after that decision, I was still overwhelmed with chores and I didn’t feel like driving to one of my favorite trails in the high country, so I picked a hike close to town that involved chaining together three trails and two 9,000′ peaks. It would be a long hike that I’d never actually completed before. The part I’d done, to the first peak, was 12 miles round trip, and I had it in my head that adding the second peak would increase it to 14 miles. I’d regularly been doing 13 mile hikes, so I didn’t see any problems.

The hike starts by climbing gently for two miles up a beautiful canyon, then it enters mixed conifer forest, and it stays in forest, climbing steadily, the rest of the way. It has few views and no prominent features, but the forest is really nice and the trail is easy most of the way because the forest hasn’t burned recently.

However, somewhere between the two peaks, I realized I’d underestimated. The round trip mileage was going to be 16, not 14. My body was going to be thrashed. Should I turn back early?

I was feeling good, so I went the whole distance – the longest hike I’ve done in 30 years. I rested for a half hour on the picnic table below the vacant fire lookout, and as I was packing to return, a bearded guy about my age appeared from the opposite direction, having hiked the much shorter trail I used to do on Sundays. He sat down nearby and had a snack, and eventually asked me where I was headed.

“Back the way I came,” I said. “Do you know the trails around here?”

“Well, sort of.”

“I came up Little Cherry Creek, do you know that?”


“It’s in a dip before you get to the Ben Lilly site. I take that to the CDT, to Black Peak, and then the spur trail from there. It’s about 8 miles one-way.”

“Well, the trail I hiked is really hard,” he said disgustedly.

“Yeah, I used to do that trail almost every week, before I started needing more distance.” I realized I was making him look pretty bad, so I added, “It’s a great trail, though, if you don’t have time for a longer hike.”

He looked away unhappily. I wished him a good day and set off on my 8-mile return hike.

As expected, I paid for it at the end, limping back to the car on a sore foot and a sore knee. But amazingly, since the trail was in such good shape, it only took me 6-1/2 hours to do 16 miles.

A pile of chores hit me during the following week, so I had no time for icing, and I skipped my midweek hike, figuring I’d done enough hiking for the week.

Next: Part 2


Another Easy Hike

Monday, August 9th, 2021: Hikes, Nature, Pinos Altos Range, Plants, Southwest New Mexico.

After last Sunday’s soggy, painful descent from a downpour and long drive through a major law enforcement operation, I needed an easy hike near home. My fallback involved three trails chained together: a 4-mile up a lush canyon, another 2 miles ascending a peak on the Continental Divide Trail, followed by a 2-mile ridge hike to another peak. Round-trip distance would be 16 miles, all of it on well-maintained trails, with accumulated elevation gain of 3,500′ – less than I normally aim for.

It’s close enough to town that I almost always encounter other hikers, most of them venturing no farther than the head of the initial canyon.

Our monsoon wildflowers were spectacular as usual – as I hiked, I catalogued the species I’d seen already and eagerly watched for new ones.

I passed two parties in the first two miles, but saw no one else until I was about halfway between the two peaks, up on the 9,000′ ridge. There I encountered a trail runner, an athletic guy now in his 40s whom I’d seen occasionally ever since I moved here. He used to be a technical mountain biker, and I was glad to see him off his machine and onto his feet.

At the second peak, I stopped only briefly. It was still early, I still had plenty of energy, and if I went straight back for the 16-mile round trip, I’d get home much earlier than usual. So I decided to add some mileage.

The best way to extend my hike seemed to be to return to the first peak and take the CDT farther north. I didn’t think it would add much elevation – it just snakes northeastward along a slightly lower ridge – but it goes through a burn scar so I should have some views over the landscape.

From the junction at the first peak, this unfamiliar section of trail traversed several hundred feet down an outlying ridge to a fire road. Much of it was on the edge of the burn scar and was overgrown with locust, but some shrubbier stretches had wild raspberries.

From the fire road, the trail enters a “moonscape” burn scar which has been taken over by shrubs and annuals, traversing the south side of a ridge, occasionally passing through surviving stands of pine and fir. I was planning to hike about two miles on this section of trail, so my final round-trip distance would be 20 miles. A lot of miles, but all of them on good trail. And later, back home, I would calculate that the ups and downs of this traverse would add 1,200′ of elevation to my hike, yielding a total of 4,700′ for the day – not too shabby!

Crossing the burn scar, every time I stopped I saw a dark cloud growing over the first peak, now a mile away on my right. Rain had not been forecast for today, but I knew that storms often form over the mountains even when it’s dry in town. In reality, during this monsoon, every time I hike, I get a storm.

The blister on my toe from last Sunday was still healing. I’d made a felt ring around it which had kept it from hurting so far, but as I watched the storm grow nearby, I realized that if my feet got wet again, the 10-mile hike back to my vehicle could become very painful.

I stopped after 45 minutes on the new trail – my measure of the two mile distance – and sure enough, shortly after I turned around, the storm hit me.

Rain poured down, lightning flashed and thunder crashed, and while the poncho kept my upper body and pack dry, my pants and boots were soon soaked. As always, I had spare socks, but I’d have to wait until the rain stopped to change. And it didn’t stop until 45 minutes later, when I was on my way down from the first peak.

By that point my toe was so bad every step felt like a nail driving into it, and my pants were so soaked it felt like I was carrying 5-pound weights on each leg. I had to pour the water out of each boot, and as in the past, used my spare bandannas to dry my feet and sponge water out of the boot linings.

I had spare felt in my pack and made another blister protector. But my pants and boots held so much residual water that after another mile of hiking the second pair of socks was soaked and my poor toe was on fire again. Now, after 15 miles of hiking, the chronic injury in the ball of my other foot had been triggered, so I was limping on two painful feet, and still had 5 miles and 2,000′ to descend. I had no recourse but to pop a pain pill. Like most of my monsoon hikes so far, this “easy” hike was turning into quite an ordeal.

Two miles farther along the pain in my toe was so bad I had to stop again, take off my boots, wring the water out of my second pair of socks, and apply a dry piece of felt to the toe. That enabled me to limp the remaining 3 miles to the vehicle – and fortunately from there it was only a 20 minute drive home!

No Comments

Conquered By Flowers

Monday, September 13th, 2021: Animals, Hikes, Nature, Pinos Altos Range, Plants, Southwest New Mexico.

The Hike

Needing another easy hike close to home, I decided on the 8-1/2-mile-one-way ridge trail a half hour’s drive north. I’d been hiking this trail for more than a decade, following it all the way to the isolated stock pond at the far end of the ridge several times in the past 3 years. Much of the forest burned last year, but the trail had been cleared after the fire and I expected no problems, especially since it’s one of our most popular trails. Today I figured I’d try hiking it all the way to the opposite trailhead at the bottom of the other end of the ridge, for some additional elevation gain on the way back. A fairly easy 17 mile out-and-back hike with about 4,000′ of accumulated elevation.

This trail mostly traverses the very steep north slope, which holds a lot of moisture even in dry years, so between spring and fall I expect pretty wildflowers in shady, moist pockets along the way.

The day started quite cool, but the afternoon high was forecast to reach 90. The climb to the ridge top was uneventful until about a mile in, when I met two younger women on their way down. One was my former massage therapist, someone I’d known ever since moving here. She said the trail ahead was overgrown with shoulder-high wildflowers – she’d tried to take a picture of her friend, and all that was visible was her head, floating on the flowers.

The climb was exposed enough to be hot, and as I began to sweat, the flies began to swarm, requiring my old trusty head net.

Not long after that, I reached the start of the long traverse, and found myself wishing, for the first time in years, that I’d dropped acid before this hike. After 15 years of hiking in our Southwest monsoon, on dozens of hikes in dozens of mountain ranges, I’d never seen anything like this ridge. The wildflowers were mind-boggling, and the pollinators were swarming. The only place I’ve seen more sphinx moths is in my beloved Mojave Desert, where they swarm by the thousands on blooming desert willows.

Most hikers, less driven than me, only follow this trail for the first 2 or 3 miles. Although the flowers were thick and indeed shoulder-high, the path through the flowers was fairly evident for the first two miles. But then it got harder.

Tread – ground that’s been walked on regularly – became scarcer and scarcer. I knew this trail like the palm of my hand, but since it was mostly hidden under the dense wildflowers, post-fire erosion and old postholes from equestrians made it hazardous. I fell again and again, and it became obvious that no one else had gone farther than two miles since the start of the monsoon in late June.

I found this strange, because in the past I’d usually found evidence of at least one intrepid hiker that walked the whole ridgeline. Then I remembered my former hiking buddy pointing out that I was the only local hiker she knew that hiked in “bad” weather – the hot days of summer, the storms of the monsoon, the snows of winter. Apparently everyone else avoids long hikes during monsoon season when they may be caught in a storm.

I chuckled, thinking about all the government and crowdsourced trail guides that list “best times to hike this trail” – usually spring or fall. I find it strange that people actually follow that kind of guidance, missing entire regimes of ecological wonder.

After the two mile point, the trail climbs very steeply to a long, narrow plateau, the high stretch of the ridge, where the forest mostly avoided destruction in last year’s fire. There, the tread is normally sparser, and I found an unbroken mass of wildflowers and no remaining tread. I had to rely on my visual memory, and pushing my way slowly through, with many false starts, I was somehow able to trace the route, finding the occasional cairn completely buried under the flowers. I was careful to trample the flowers as I went, otherwise I might’ve become completely lost on the way back.

But I was finally stumped, near the end of the narrow plateau where the trail becomes vague even without the overgrowth. I suddenly realized that in 2-1/2 hours I’d gone less than 4 miles, burning up 45 minutes just to cover the last half mile. Once again, this wonderful monsoon had ruined my plans. I turned around and laboriously retraced my steps, vowing to treat myself to a restaurant meal and a draft beer on my early return to town. One of the highlights of the descent from the plateau was a stumble over a hidden rock, immediately followed by a tall thorny locust grabbing my head net, so I had to scramble for footing to avoid falling and ripping the net.

The title of this Dispatch is adapted from the lyrics of one of my favorite original songs, “Fish in the River“, which nobody but me seems to like.

The Flowers

The Pollinators

No Comments

Next Page »