The hiking experience is greatly enhanced when driving time to the start of a hike is minimized. We live in a city that is surrounded by opportunities for many great day hikes and we have taken advantage of that in the 2 1/2 years we’ve lived here. But our hiking experience this week was extra special because we were able to do 2 10-mile hikes in a beautiful wilderness area and didn’t have to spend time driving either morning to start the hikes.
At the suggestion of our friends, Ken and Sue, who had been in the area before, we camped Monday and Tuesday at the Santa Barbara campground in the Carson National Forest, just north of the Pecos Wilderness. We shared a campsite with them both nights and they helped us plan a 10-mile hike Tuesday and another 10-mile hike Wednesday before we headed back to Albuquerque. They are experienced backpackers and their plan Wednesday was to head further into the wilderness for 3 days of backpacking.
Hiking in wilderness areas can be a challenge because it’s often difficult to find accurate and helpful information about the trails. That’s the experience that we had the first day. Our first challenge presented itself as soon as we walked to the trailhead from our campsite and realized that we were on the west side of the Rio Santa Barbara and the trail started on the east side with no bridge across the river. Most of the time this wouldn’t be an issue for hikers because the stream would be small enough to cross on logs or rocks. This happened to be one of those times when the stream was very full and it was not obvious where to cross. It took us about 30 minutes of going up and down along the banks of the stream before we found a way across.
The second major challenge of Tuesday’s hike was trying to reconcile trail signs with names and numbers and maps we had of the area. Our goal was a ridge called Ripley Point, about 5 miles east of the campground at an elevation of 11,800 feet. The campground was at 8,800 feet, which meant 3000 feet of elevation to climb in the 5 miles. After about 2 miles of hiking, we started up what looked like a connector trail on the maps and GPS but turned out to be a brutal bushwhack straight up for at least a mile through thick woods before we finally connected with a real trail.
The second day’s hike was an out-and-back following a trail along the West Fork of the Rio Santa Barbara. At least for me and Lee it was an out-and-back hike. For Ken and Sue it was the beginning of their 3-day backpacking trip into the Pecos Wilderness. We hiked together for the first 5 miles, enjoying the views of the canyon walls, the rushing stream, the many wildflowers, the shady woods and the green meadows and valleys. Then Lee and I bid adieu to our camping companions and headed back to camp while they continued up the trail.
Both days of hiking provided us with opportunities for viewing and photographing wildflowers, some of which were old favorites, others that we have yet to identify. Columbines are some of my favorite wildflowers. The Red Columbine is what I’m familiar with, but in the Pecos I got my first chance to see the Blue or Colorado Columbine. They were everywhere on the West Fork trail and I took countless photos because they were so beautiful. Of course, with only a phone camera I just couldn’t seem to get a photo that really captured the beauty. And that went for the scenery, as well. I suppose, in the future, another way to enhance the hiking experience might be to get more serious about photography. For now, I’ll use the photos I do have to enhance my memory of this wonderful experience until the next time I’m able to be out there enjoying God’s creation in person.