Ghosts in the Forest

Odd and amazing rock formations are one of the features we have come to appreciate in our hikes around New Mexico. Some, like those at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, are tourist attractions visited by many people, but others are hidden away in unexpected places. This week we visited some rock formations that are in the latter category.

About an hour from Albuquerque, in the Jemez Mountains, there is a Santa Fe National Forest campground at Paliza Canyon and several dirt roads and trails in and around the canyon. There aren’t any formal trails so we were glad to have our friend, Sue, and her GPS device along to guide us. We were on our way to visit the rock formations called The Goblin Colony.

By walking about a mile up the dirt road where we parked our car, we could have directly gotten to the formations, but to make it a longer hike, we first went along a wooded creek in the canyon. Then we ascended to a ridgeline viewpoint where we could look out over the canyon. After lunch we descended through a side canyon and approached the goblins from above, sneaking up on them from behind, you might say.

Other oddities are weird plants with weird names.  This pink stuff is a patch of Fetid Goosefoot.
Other oddities are weird plants with weird names. This pink stuff is a patch of Fetid Goosefoot.

Ridgeline viewpoint looking over Paliza Canyon.  Sandia Mountains in far distance.
Ridgeline viewpoint looking over Paliza Canyon. Sandia Mountains in far distance.
View from the rock ledge where we had our lunch.
View from the rock ledge where we had our lunch.
First sighting of the goblin rocks.
First sighting of the goblin rocks.
Closer view of the Goblin Rocks.
Closer view of the Goblin Rocks.
Lee is standing in front to give a sense of scale (the goblins didn't get him).
Lee is standing in front to give a sense of scale (the goblins didn’t get him).
These look like silent ghosts marching down the hill.
These look like silent ghosts marching down the hill.
This looks like a face.
This looks like a face.
How is that gray rock staying perched up there?
How is that gray rock staying perched up there?
This place was a maze of eroded rocks you could walk through--petrified version of a corn maze.
This place was a maze of eroded rocks you could walk through–petrified version of a corn maze.

As we approach the month of October and commercialized America begins to fill stores and advertisements with images of Halloween ghosts and goblins, we can say we have already enjoyed nature’s version of ghostly images.

Our Hike This Week

Our hike this week was one that we didn’t have much information about, on a trail that hadn’t been hiked by anyone we knew. Lee’s Santa Fe National Forest map of the Pecos Wilderness showed a trail leaving a campground along Hwy 63 at the point where the Rio Mora tributary joins the Pecos River. The campground appears to be used mostly by fisherman, and, as is usually the case in a wilderness area, there aren’t signs or maps in the area to show you where to find the trailhead.

From the map that we had, we knew that the trail would closely follow the Rio Mora for a mile or so, possibly crossing it more than once. At the point where Bear Creek joined the Rio Mora, the trail left the Rio Mora, crossed Bear Creek, and headed up a ridge. From the ridge we knew there would be some nice views and lots more trails, although with just a day hike, for us it would be a turnaround at some point and then coming back down the same way.

Our first challenge was trying to figure out where to cross the Rio Mora. We made a couple of mistakes, crossing at the wrong place and then having to recross when we encountered steep cliff banks. There was a pretty good flow in the river so you took your chances trying to find fallen logs or partially submerged rocks that would help you get across without a dunking in the river. When we finally got to the place that was an obvious crossing, it did have an area of shallow water, but I could see right away that without waterproof boots, the only way I was going to get across was to take off my boots and wade across. It was very painful walking on the rocks in bare feet and the water was numbingly cold but I made it across, as did everyone else. Fortunately, the crossing of Bear Creek was much easier and didn’t require taking off my boots.

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Rio Mora in the Pecos Wilderness

Hugging the rock cliffs along the Rio Mora. Not much of a trail.
Hugging the rock cliffs along the Rio Mora. Not much of a trail.
Wading across Rio Mora.
Wading across Rio Mora.
Not many wildflowers left, but here were a couple of nice coneflowers next to the stream.
Not many wildflowers left, but here were a couple of nice coneflowers next to the stream.

The other challenge on this hike was the climb up the ridge. There were very few switchbacks and it was a steeper ascent than what we had thought. A lot of loose rocks didn’t make it any easier. But, as always, once you get up and begin to see the views you know the climb was worth it. Because of time constraints we had to turn around before we got to the high meadow that we could see ahead of us through the trees. Most of the hiking in the Pecos Wilderness is best for backpackers because the trails are long and it’s a lot of driving to even get to a trailhead. Any time spent in the wilderness, though, is worth it and we certainly couldn’t have asked for a better day to be out hiking.

Starting up the steep ridge.
Starting up the steep ridge.

This wasn't the top--still more climbing ahead.
This wasn’t the top–still more climbing ahead.
Bear Creek is in the canyon below. The light green of the aspen trees on the slopes will be beautiful gold color in a couple of weeks.
Bear Creek is in the canyon below. The light green of the aspen trees on the slopes will be beautiful gold color in a couple of weeks.
View behind us, knowing the climb was worth it.
View behind us, knowing the climb was worth it.
Stands of aspen along the way.
Stands of aspen along the way.
Looking up through Ponderosa Pine canopy.
Looking up through Ponderosa Pine canopy.
Trail levels off on the ridge top.
Trail levels off on the ridge top.