Nature never ceases to amaze me. We were hiking today in the Manzano Mountains, temperatures in the 40’s, clear skies and the usual, dry brown vegetation of mid-November. The trail had reached about 8200 feet in elevation on the shady side of a slope when I looked down at something white and shiny in a cluster on the ground. Closer examination revealed an intricate pattern of tiny, swirled sheets of ice wrapped around the stems and leaves of the plants. There were a number of different clusters all within a dozen feet of that one section of trail but nowhere else except that one spot. We had never seen anything like it and couldn’t imagine what weather phenomenon would have created these ice crystals in such a form.
A more familiar weather phenomenon that we experience in the Manzanos is the winds that can suddenly sweep through the canyons and whip over the top of the crest. We hadn’t expected winds today and certainly not the blast of cold that hit us after the first mile or so on the trail. Once we reached the crest we might have gone further on the Crest Trail and made a loop hike. But it was just too cold and windy and we hadn’t dressed appropriately. Turning around we headed for a place out of the wind where we could stop for lunch.
This New Canyon Trail was a new hike for us and one we will definitely have to do again. It climbs 1000 feet in 2 miles but the switchbacks keep it from being too strenuous. There are a number of burned areas as is typical in the Manzanos. On one slope in particular, though, we were heartened to see healthy reforestation taking place. The wonders of nature again as new growth springs up out of the ashes of a devastating wildfire.
While driving towards Grants last week on our way to hike in the Malpais, I looked east of the interstate at the imposing view of Mount Taylor and casually remarked to Lee that we hadn’t hiked up Mount Taylor in a long time and we should think about doing it soon. During the summer monsoon months it is too risky to be up there because it tends to draw the storm clouds like a magnet. There’s nothing quite as frightening as being on an exposed peak or ridge when a lightening storm is imminent. But since there has been so little rain this summer and no storms in the forecast for the coming weeks it would be safe. It wouldn’t be easy, though, and I didn’t expect Lee to jump at the opportunity to do the hike.
The only way I have ever hiked up there is from the west side of the mountain on the Gooseberry Springs Trail. It’s a challenging 3 miles of climb from 9,000 to 11,000 feet of elevation. Yesterday when Lee proposed that we hike Mount Taylor he suggested that instead of doing the Gooseberry Springs Trail from the west side that we drive around to the base of La Mosca Peak Lookout and hike up Mount Taylor from the east side. He had hiked there with friends last year and said it was much shorter to hike up that way. Forest Road 453 that leads to La Mosca Peak takes care of half of the elevation by getting you to the trailhead to start the hike at 10,000 feet. The trailhead is actually the other end of the Gooseberry Springs Trail as it goes up and over Mount Taylor. It seemed like cheating to me, but I was willing to go for any hike, and exploring a new area is always fun.
Forest Road 453 is notoriously bad and we didn’t know if our car could even make it to the trailhead. Lee had been with a group that was driving high clearance vehicles when he went there. But if we couldn’t drive all the way to the top that just meant part of our hiking time would be on the road, which wouldn’t be the first time we have had to do that. I am getting used to our jolting, jarring rides on unmaintained forest roads but I can’t say I enjoy it. The tower was in sight when we broke through the tree line but there was still a lot of winding road ahead. I was more than relieved when Lee pulled over and decided to park instead of continuing the rest of the way. We had been in the car over two hours and I was more than ready to get out and do some walking.
We were about half a mile short of the trailhead, which is in an open meadow area with La Mosca Peak on one side and Mount Taylor on the other side. The views from there were impressive and we hadn’t even gotten to the peak. Since I’d been to the top of Mount Taylor hiking from the other way I thought it wouldn’t be any big deal to see the views again, especially since we had gotten there by car. But I was amazed at how different things looked from that side.
It was easy downhill the half mile from the car to the trailhead but once on the trail it was quite a steep climb. Parts of the trail went through thick wooded areas, which then opened up to reveal the slopes and peaks in the distance. I was beginning to think the other way up Mount Taylor was easier but then in just a mile of uphill there we were coming up to the top of the peak.
We took a detour on the way down, following a rough dirt road that made a loop back to the trailhead and provided more views in the other direction. Rather than going back to the car from the trailhead we first walked up the road towards the lookout on La Mosca Peak. The wind came up and some threatening clouds began to form so we headed back to the car short of making the summit. As we drove back down Forest Road 453 the cloud actually produced hailstones and a spattering of rain. Once we got back down to the desert, though, there was no evidence of any rain.
I have this silly way of rating hikes by saying that if the drive takes longer than the actual hike then it’s not a desirable outing. This outing was about 4-1/2 hours of driving with 3-1/2 hours of hiking. The enjoyment of the new views, though, balanced out the rating, so I don’t have anything negative to say about the day. I’m just not sure I’d want to do it again.
This next link is for Aaron who likes exploring gravel roads. He would really like Forest Road 453.