And the threat of a rampaging bear couldn’t scare us off either.
As we drove into the Lincoln National Forest’s Oak Grove Campground yesterday afternoon we stopped to greet a couple of women walking along the road. I was surprised that the campground seemed to be deserted. As popular as the Ruidoso area is, I had been afraid we might not be able to find a camping spot. The women, who turned out to be local birders just out for the day, told us that we would soon meet the campground host who was on a mission to warn everyone about a hungry black bear that had been spotted several times roaming through the campground. They told us that they thought the host’s warning had scared off any potential campers.
But we weren’t scared off that easily. Twice that evening and again this morning we politely listened as the host lectured us about putting all food away and being cautious. Instead of all the bear alerts (we never did see any bears) we could have used a warning about the herd of “wild” horses that visited camp in the morning. A couple of them seemed to think that the food we had out on the picnic table was better than the lush grass they were munching in the meadows next to camp. But they were fun to watch. And things got interesting at one point when two of the stallions got into a fight over who should be leading the mares.
With no other campers around and no threat of rain it was a restful time at the campground. We were ready this morning to hit the trail and see some more of the White Mountain Wilderness. It was a beautiful day and an enjoyable 8-mile hike.
Today’s hike in the Apache Kid Wilderness was our second visit to this remote area in the San Mateo Mountains and the second time that we didn’t accomplish the hike that we set out to do. Which, by no means, detracted from our enjoyment of the hikes. Without a 4-wheel drive vehicle we often find on Forest Service roads that we have to change our planned itinerary.
We first attempted the 14-mile drive over rough Forest Road 225 in February. Our plan was to park at Springtime Campground where the Apache Kid Trail starts. We got within a mile or two of the campground before we had to turn around because the snow on the road was more than our car could safely navigate. On the way in we had passed the trailhead for the Indian Creek trail. Turning around, we drove to that trail for an enjoyable hike.
The third week in August we knew snow wouldn’t be an issue. Our plan this trip was to camp at Springtime Campground and then hike the Apache Kid Trail the next morning to the San Mateo Lookout. This isn’t snow season in New Mexico but it is monsoon season.
We got to camp Wednesday just in time to sit in our shelter and watch the rainstorm, accompanied with a good amount of hail. The rain stopped in time to fix dinner and take an evening walk. But then at bedtime it started to rain again. As we listened to the rain throughout the night we didn’t have to worry about getting wet. But we did worry about how wet the road was getting. There were some bad spots we remembered that could easily get impassable without 4-wheel drive. As dawn approached the rain had quit but it looked like it might start up again at any time.
We debated whether to immediately drive out or to take our chances on the weather and hike as planned. It was early enough that we decided to hike and then if the weather didn’t improve we could turn around. Sometimes it looked like the clouds were moving out but they never got far before moving back over the sun. As we climbed higher up the trail the views were impressive, even if somewhat lost in the cloud cover.
After hiking 3 miles we decided to turn around and leave the goal of reaching the lookout for another trip. Back on the dirt road it was evident that the previous night’s rain had eroded some new gullies but, fortunately, there weren’t any spots that our car couldn’t handle. I love the remoteness of the Apache Kid Wilderness, but to really do it justice we will have to have a different vehicle. Darn those renegade Apaches.
Summer seemed like a good season to plan a visit to Glacier National Park. We could combine it with stops to see family in Idaho and Montana, giving us a two-week escape from the summer heat of Albuquerque.
What we didn’t know about our planned travel time is that there are actually 6 seasons in that part of the country. We learned the 6 seasons from an old-timer in Salmon, Idaho–Winter, Mud, Spring, Summer, Smoke and Fall. The time we had picked was in the middle of Smoke season.
When we drove towards Glacier through the mountain pass east of Provo, Utah, and for the first time viewed the smokey haze that hung over the valley, I thought that there must be a forest fire somewhere in the area. But when I asked the clerk who checked us into our motel room, I was told that it was smoke drifting in from forest fires as far away as British Columbia, Canada. Throughout the week we learned of other fires in Montana, Idaho, and Washington. We never figured out the specifics of where the fires were and if/when they were brought under control. But every day for the next 11 days we were surrounded by the lingering effects of thousands of acres of forest land reduced to smoke and ash.
Smoke season may not have been the best time to visit Glacier, but the park scenery is so stunning that every hike we did was a new thrill, leaving us with no regrets about our week there. If I were to make a visit there again I think that I would do it in the fall. Smoke season, as well as the tourist season, should be over by then. The season for wildflowers would be over, too, so I’d have to convince Lee that it would be possible to enjoy the visit even without being able to collect hundreds of wildflower photos. And, speaking of photos, here is a link some of the Glacier photos that I collected.
It wasn’t until our third day in Glacier National Park that we finally got to see what charms this awesome park contains. We did hikes on our first two days here and saw some of the areas, but weather and wildfire season were not cooperating to allow us to view what we knew was here.
The first day we were on the west side of the park and the smoke-filled air that had been obscuring our views for days in Idaho and Montana refused to move out of our way. We hiked to a lookout tower and half of that hike was disappointing because it was through a forested area that had been burned over. In the afternoon we did a nice hike to Avalanche Lake.
That evening a storm system moved through, bringing rain and cooler air. The second day we left our motel early in the morning to drive through the park on the famous Going-to-the-Sun road. We could see some of the stunning scenery but the tops of the mountains were obscured in mist and fog. Traffic was so heavy that we didn’t dare stop to take pictures. When we got to the Visitor Center at the top it was an hour before it opened and the parking lot was full of cars already. Everything was lost in a sea of fog. We didn’t stick around but changed our hiking plans to do a couple of hikes lower down the mountain.
But today dawned bright and clear, just perfect for an 11-mile hike to view Grinnell Glacier. I couldn’t stop taking photos. It was so awesome compared to what we saw the first two days. So I’m not bothering to post any of the other pictures here so I can leave more room for the Grinnell Glacier hike–one to remember.
There’s no morning newspaper waiting for us on our doorstep when we are traveling. This morning we started the day with a different kind of newspaper. The photo above is Newspaper Rock in Canyonlands National Park. I thought I’d seen lots of petroglyphs in various places in New Mexico but I’ve certainly never seen that many on one rock. Even if we could have translated the language it would have been ancient news (Ha Ha).
Really, though, who cares about news when there are hiking trails waiting to be explored. This trip included just a one-day stop at Canyonlands so we couldn’t do a long hike. The ranger at the Needles Visitor Center suggested the Elephant Hill Trailhead where we could hike 3 miles to get good views of the Needles and then 3 miles back out.
We thought we had gotten an early start but when we arrived at the trailhead at 10:00am and the temperature was already 85 degrees I knew it was going to be a sweaty endeavor. I was wishing I had brought 3 water bottles, instead of 2. Fortunately, Lee was carrying an extra one. Before we got back to the car I had used all my water and was sharing some of his.
I had expected that since this is one of the popular National Parks there would be a lot of people, but it was relatively deserted. Maybe most people are smarter than we are and don’t hike in Canyonlands in August. It was 100 degrees when we got back to the car. I didn’t know my body could produce so much sweat. But we survived and it was worth it to enjoy the awesome red rock formations.