View From The Top

Since we had been easy on ourselves for the other hikes we took this week, I thought it was time to do something a bit more challenging. Lee wasn’t too happy when I suggested Manzano Peak, but, being the good sport that he is, he went along with the plan.

It’s a good workout to get to the 10,000 foot peak, the highest point in the Manzano Mountains. The trail starts at 8,000 feet elevation and intersects the Crest Trail after 3 miles or so of uphill. From there it is about a mile of up and down along the Crest to get to the peak. It’s not the most scenic place to hike because much of the trail goes through a large area of forest that was burned during the disastrous Trigo Fire of April 2008.

We have done this hike twice before, November 2017 and November 2018. When I considered how different our lives are now than they were in November 2018, it was comforting to look around on the trail and over the vast forest and desert expanses to see that the beauty of the landscape does not change. Since it was spring this time, there definitely were some differences in the fresh green of the trees and in the plant life sprouting up along the trail.

We have had such a dry spring that there weren’t very many wildflowers, but there’s always something to surprise us. For example, we didn’t have too much further to go getting back to the bottom of the canyon, when we spotted a single columbine blossom hiding in the undergrowth. We see lots of those hiking in the Sandias, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen one in the Manzanos. Another surprise at the peak itself was to find numerous cactii in blossom of a variety that has become a favorite of mine. I think they are Simpson’s Hedgehog, but haven’t researched them in detail.

Obstacles are many on a hike, and often you feel tired and want to give up. But you keep going and before you know it you are there and the view is marvelous. Kind of like life, in general.

A boulder field that had to be crossed.
Struggling up yet another incline.
There’s the summit marker–finally!

View from the top.

Texas vs New Mexico

The Guadalupe Mountain Range, straddling the Texas/New Mexico state line, is home to two National Parks, one in each state. Carlsbad Caverns is the better known of the two, except if you are a Texan, in which case you might realize the importance of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Guadalupe Peak, at 8751 feet of elevation, is the highest point in Texas.

As loyal New Mexicans we might be inclined to favor Carlsbad Caverns, except that hiking up peaks and enjoying wilderness trails is more our style than a tour of underground caverns. Knowing that spring flowers should be making an appearance this week in the Guadalupes we set out for 2 days of hiking at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We knew campgrounds and visitor centers would be closed, but we were totally surprised when we got there to find out that all access, even to the trails, was forbidden.

To me, one of the puzzles in these COVID-19 times is how there can be so much inconsistency in rules and regulations. When we were turned away at Guadalupe Mountains all we had to do was drive north across the state line to Carlsbad Caverns, in the same mountain range, and there all trails were available for hiking. The same mountain range, the same National Park Service managing the two parks, but an entirely different reception. I thought New Mexico’s governor had been over restrictive in her rules, but I was sure counting my blessings that we were being allowed to hike. Neither day did we encounter anyone on the trails so no fear that we were spreading germs. Hooray for New Mexico.

Both of the hikes that we did were reached by driving past the entrance to the caverns on a road that led up into the southwestern face of the mountain range.  Each hike went up a side canyon towards the ridge of the mountains.

Tuesday’s hike up Yucca Canyon was the steepest one, starting at 4600 feet and ascending to 6000 feet in less than 2 miles. Once that elevation was reached the trail leveled off nicely on a long plateau that we hiked across for another mile or so before turning around.

Approaching saddle
Partway up canyon
Looking south Guadalupe Peak is visible in the distance.
Hiking along the plateau.

Wednesday’s hike up Slaughter Canyon had the opposite experience when it came to elevation. The first couple of miles were fairly level, easy walking except for the many ankle-twisting rocks in the arroyo bottom that the trail kept crossing in and out of. The steep ascent up to the ridge started at 4200 feet and went to 5700 feet, again in less than 2 miles.

The goal was to reach the trail junction at 3.5 miles. My GPS showed 3.75 miles when we turned around with no junction in sight.

Rocky footpath in one of the sections in the arroyo.
Turpentine Bush in bloom.

Look closely back down the trail to see Lee enjoying the view

Over the course of the two days, Lee must have taken over a hundred flower pictures. With his professional camera he can capture the most minute detail of the blossoms to show off their real beauty. When I try for flower photos with my phone camera they are a disappointment. I tend to be more drawn to the cactii and here are three favorites.

Ocotillo in bloom

Rainbow cactus
Yellow cactus–not sure of variety.