We were a party of five, setting off for another excursion into the beautiful backcountry surrounding Salmon, Idaho. My brother, my sister, and my sister’s friend were on horseback while Lee and I preferred walking. On our visit here last year I had attempted to join the horseback riders but that experience taught me that I am not a horseman. I much prefer to have my feet on the ground.
It was still early in the season for wildflowers but there were enough to keep Lee busy photographing and identifying every blossom tucked away in the brush and weeds. I was happy to hike along enjoying the sunshine and gorgeous scenery, periodically catching up to the three horsemen who were sharing horse stories as they sauntered up the trail.
Lee and I had been warned to check our clothing for ticks since we would be brushing up against the grass and sagebrush where the ticks would be waiting for fresh blood to walk by. Sure enough, when we stopped for lunch, I set my knapsack on a nearby log, untied the jacket I had tied around my waist, and there was a tick on the front of my shirt. The three riders were busy tying up their horses while Lee was a few paces away kneeling down to photograph a flower. As I called out to announce my find I thought I heard a faint rattle behind the log next to me. Lee was closest to me so I turned towards him, saying, “Listen! Do you hear a rattling sound?”. Just then I spotted the coiled up snake next to the log. You can guess the word that came out of my mouth then when I realized I was inches away from a rattlesnake!
Lee jumped up, camera at the ready, while the horsemen came running over, but by the time I was able to point them to the hollow log, Mr. Snake had slithered inside the log. All I saw then were his rattles disappearing behind him as he went into his hiding place. I wasn’t sure if I was exaggerating when I told everyone how big I thought the snake was because I hadn’t gotten a real good look at him. But I was pretty sure he was a big one.
I was happy to cautiously look around and find a snake-free place for my lunch spot while the rest of the group poked around at the hollow log hoping to get a glimpse of the snake. They finally gave up and settled down to eat lunch. We were all far enough away from the snake that eventually he must have decided it was safe to come back out and enjoy his sunbathing that I had so rudely interrupted. We were ready to pack up when one of the horses perked up with ears alert and eyes pointed in the direction of the snake log. The group (except for me) tiptoed over and there was Mr. Snake coiled up in plain sight. Lee was able to get a good picture and my snake sighting was confirmed. This was no baby snake.
I had heard about Ball Ranch, a section of BLM land less than an hour’s drive from town, that has areas to hike through, but I didn’t know much about it. Then last month I learned more about it from the latest edition of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque”. At a talk given by co-author, David Ryan, he said that it is one of his favorite places to hike because of a large area there that is covered with petrified wood. That captured my interest.
Getting there involves another one of those dreaded stretches of rough New Mexico dirt roads. In addition, since it is surrounded by Pueblo tribal lands, there is a locked gate at the entrance to the road that crosses tribal land to get to the BLM land. You have to go the BLM office in town and sign out a key for the time you plan to hike. Thanks to the information in the book, that was easily accomplished.
I also carried the book along on the hike, knowing that there wouldn’t be any established trails to follow. Many times on BLM hikes we get off track, even with specific directions and maps, but that didn’t happen this time.
The first part of the hike had us walking in an arroyo that was trampled down with hundreds of fresh hoof prints and obvious signs of the presence of a large horse herd. I thought at any moment we might round a bend and see some wild horses. No such luck.
But Lee did see some wildflowers to photograph and I enjoyed gazing at the many-layered, hardened mud walls of the arroyo.
Some spring wildflowers
When it came time to climb out of the arroyo for the side trip to view the petrified wood, we weren’t sure at first that we were in the right place. But then we started to see chunks of petrified wood scattered on the sandy hillsides around us. The more we looked the more excited I got. It is simply amazing to see so much petrified wood in one place.
A fun hike for viewing geology and flora, even without seeing any horses. Back at the BLM office the person at the desk said that there are more wild horses than the grazing can support. The BLM tries to round them up but they head off into the surrounding tribal lands where the BLM doesn’t have the authority to enter. Maybe next time we will see some horses.