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Mesa Penistaja

After viewing hundreds of photos last night from Mike Richie’s “San Juan Basin Badlands” presentation at the Native Plant Society meeting, it was obvious that today’s hike should be an exploration of one of the areas discussed in the presentation. Shortly after moving to Albuquerque, I went on a hike with the hiking club to Ceja Pelon, one of the 5 Nacimiento Badlands west of Cuba. Lee and I have considered exploring out there before on our own but without any established trails we didn’t know if we should attempt it.

Just recently, however, I discovered a phone app that allows me to load a GPX track on to a map and then follow the track–exactly the functionality that a handheld GPS device provides but no need for an extra gadget. The hiking club publishes their GPX tracks on their website so now we can use their tracks to guide us to new destinations.

For today’s hike we selected Mesa Penistaja, a 6.6-mile loop hike that promised interesting rock formations and lots of petrified wood. It certainly delivered on the petrified wood. Pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors were scattered throughout the arroyos and on top of the hillsides. The dominant flower in the grassy areas was the Mariposa Lily. I have never seen them in such abundance. Many were growing together in clusters, whereas usually they are just a single isolated plant.

The GPX track gave us a place to start the hike and a reassurance that we could find our way back through the maze of arroyos. We ended up only doing about half of the published hike before we veered off and created our own track. With so many things to look at we weren’t hiking very fast and, given how hot it was, we felt that 5 miles was enough to call it a day.

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Ponderosa Pine grow on the mesa tops.
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And some of them are fighting for their lives!
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Detail in petrified wood.
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A pile of petrified wood.
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Bleached white petrified wood in arroyo bottom.
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Looks like a regular log, but it’s petrified.
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A chunk of petrified wood that got left on top of eroded mud.
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Petrified log next to a dead branch.
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Close-up of Mariposa Lily.
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Cluster of Mariposa Lily.

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Another Idaho Horseback Adventure

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.

Sande and Booger, her recently purchased mustang. She has been riding him every day since she got him, doing a good job of training him.
3 riders heading up the trail.
The meadow where we stopped for lunch, close to the snake sighting.
My brother and sister (unlike me) are both excellent horsemen.
A tricky stream crossing without a horse. I wanted this photo because a butterfly had landed on Lee’s hat and was riding along.
The day before the snake adventure ride we had done a walk/ride in the sagebrush country at a lower elevation. Clint was on a different horse. Sande and her friend were on their mustangs.
Our walk at the lower elevations had an area of terrain that was like something we’d see in New Mexico.
And there were even cacti! Lots of these little guys that we don’t see in New Mexico–Simpson’s Hedgehog.

Ball Ranch

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.

Eye Has Not Seen

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard … The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

This morning as I read this verse it reminded me of our hike yesterday in the Quebradas Backcountry area east of Socorro, New Mexico. We enjoy hiking in this area because of the lonely, desert scenery and vast open spaces. But in the spring if your eyes are only looking in the distance you will miss a special beauty that is hiding in the dirt and rocks at your feet–spring wildflowers.

The thought of wildflowers for many people would bring to mind fields and valleys covered with a lush carpet of brightly colored blossoms. But living in a desert environment you learn to look for wildflowers with a different perspective. Plants here have a tough go of it in order to survive the dry climate. They cling to life in scattered spots where at first glance you would think that nothing could grow. But when you look closer their abundant beauty is simply astounding. And even more so with the contrast of the brown surrounding desert.

Bi-Color Mustard
Desert Chicory
Wild Onion
Bladderpod
Blackfoot Daisy
Feathered Dalea
Sundrops
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Expected desert dwellers–these are definitely not hidden from the eye.

My wildflower sightings were minimal compared to what Lee found and photographed. I walk right past a bit of vegetation thinking it’s not worth looking at but then when I turn around there is Lee on his knees pointing his camera into the barren ground taking a picture. With the advantage of his zoom lens, when he proudly shows me the photograph he’s taken, we both marvel at the delicate intricacy of a beautiful blossom God has tucked away in an insignificant plant.

A couple of photos of distance views in the Quebradas.

Sierra Ladrones Hike

Sierra Ladrones is Spanish for “thieves mountains” and is the name of the isolated, jagged peaks visible on the horizon south of Albuquerque. It is said that Navajo and Apache raiders had hideaways there and that thieves and outlaws could elude their pursuers in the rugged terrain.

Today most of the Sierra Ladrones is part of a BLM Wilderness Study Area. There are no established trails up to the peaks but they are so prominent as they rise up from the surrounding desert that you can easily see where you need to go. The challenge is trying to find a way to get close enough to the base of the mountains where you can start hiking.

The southeast side of the mountain is part of Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge and the public is allowed access on those roads only as part of a guided tour. Several years ago I had the opportunity to go on a group hike partway up the southeast side. The terrain was unbelievably rugged.  It’s one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done and we only got to a saddle where we could look down the north slope and also see the highest peak looming over us to the west.

Today we followed directions in the 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque book for a hike that starts from the northwest side of the Ladrones.  After leaving the interstate it took 45 minutes to drive over the very rough 18-mile dirt road that traverses the scrub desert and barren range lands to reach a long ridge that slopes off the mountain making possible a relatively gradual ascent up towards the peak.

It was an interesting limestone ridge to hike up.  There was always a view of the surrounding vast emptiness in all directions if you looked around and if you looked down at your feet there were multitudes of fossils embedded in the limestone.  We only went up about 3 miles before turning around. With no shade anywhere on the trail it isn’t a hike to do in the summer, but for a spring day it was perfect.  Fall would also be good and after having the summer to get in better shape maybe we would have enough energy to go further next time.

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Some spring color provided by the bladderpod.
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View to the west from the ridge.
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Peaks up ahead.
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Fossils.
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Cacti getting ready to bloom.

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Looking west off the ridge.
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As far as we got before turning around.
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Heading back down.

Another New Book

This blog post will again be endorsing a new book, but, unlike the previous post it endorses a hiking book. Seven years ago when we first moved to Albuquerque, one of our primary resources for learning about hikes in the area was the 2nd edition of Stephen Ausherman’s 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Albuquerque. The 3rd edition has just been published and we bought a copy as soon as we heard about it.

When we first started using the 2nd edition I set a goal of writing the date we did each hike on the description page of the hike. Once the novelty wore off and we began to find hikes using other resources I didn’t follow through with the goal. No matter, though, as the book continued to be a valuable resource.

As soon as Lee got the new edition he wanted to go through it and mark all the hikes that hadn’t been in the 2nd edition. To keep the number of hikes at 60, obviously some hikes from the 2nd edition were no longer in the 3rd. I balked at Lee’s idea of tearing pages out of the old book to stick into the new book. We’ll just have to keep both books for now.

Knowing that a spell of nice weather has arrived for this week, I used the new book to stir up some ideas for hiking. The hike we chose for today wasn’t a new one in the 3rd edition, although an option for a longer loop had been added. It was a new hike for us; one we knew about but hadn’t yet gotten around to doing.

It fit into our collection of hikes that cover a section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  These include two hikes that we did last summer and one on Labor Day.  Today’s section didn’t have spectacular scenery, especially since the loop back to the car had us walking on a dirt road for 2 miles.  If we were to do it again we would probably make it just an out and back on the CDT.

The CDT trailhead is at the base of a cluster of red hills known as Deadman Peaks.  After climbing the side of a ridge pointing south from the base of the peaks, the trail levels off as it follows the rim.  The main peak is to the left of the trail.  To the right, over the edge of the rim, are good views of Cabezon Peak south in the far distance.  Miles of emptiness stretch in all directions.  Hiking in such isolated places is, for me, one of the most enjoyable features of our New Mexico hikes.  We didn’t see another car or person once we turned off the main road onto the BLM road that leads to the trailhead.

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Approaching CDT trailhead at base of Deadman Peaks.
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One of the peaks.
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Looking south at Cabezon Peak in distance.
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Friendly New Mexico critter.
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A very rustic trail sign for the Continental Divide Trail.

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If You Want To Be Extraordinary

If you want to be extraordinary you have to stop being ordinary.

–Bernice Ende

Although I will share some photos from yesterday’s hike, this post will be somewhat different from the usual hike descriptions I write about.  Instead it’s going to be a description of a book I have been reading, Lady Long Rider: Alone Across America on Horseback by Bernice Ende.

A couple of weeks ago an announcement in the Albuquerque Journal caught my eye.  Bernice Ende, whom I’d never heard of, was going to be at the main library to talk about her experiences riding long distances across the country on horseback and then signing copies of her new book.  Something came up at the last minute and I was not able to attend the event.  But I was interested in learning more about this extraordinary woman.  After reading her website and the book description on Amazon, I knew that I wanted to get the book.

Yesterday as we drove out towards Grant to hike one of the trails in the El Malpais National Monument, I was reading Chapters 6 and 7 of the book.  These chapters describe incidents from Bernice’s 2nd long ride April 2006 to September 2007, when she rode a 5,000 mile loop, from Trego, Montana, east to Minnesota, south to New Mexico, west to California, north through Oregon and Washington and then back to Trego.

Chapter 6 took place at a cafe in the small Kansas town of Copeland.  The key point she made in this chapter was that you can meet extraordinary people in the most ordinary places and that any of us can be extraordinary if we just stop being ordinary.  I thought about how these adventures that she is living are a perfect example of someone getting out of the ordinary.  It inspired me to dream of the possibilities for extraordinary living around the corner of every new day, if we remind ourselves to look past what seems to be only an ordinary day.

Pie Town, New Mexico, was the setting for Chapter 7 and as we drove west from Albuquerque I was struck by the “coincidence” that this was the chapter I was reading.  If we were to keep driving on the road south of Grants, past where we were headed for our hike, we would reach Highway 60, the highway that goes through Pie Town.  I could picture exactly the part of New Mexico Bernice was describing in this chapter.

Although our New Mexico travels have included Highway 60 a number of times, the section of it that goes through Pie Town is still one we haven’t checked off our bucket list.  After reading Bernice’s descriptions of her time there, it has moved up the list as a destination for an enjoyable day trip from Albuquerque.  I’ll be sure to not go, though, in the winter because Bernice got stranded there for several days by a record breaking snowstorm.

It’s only an hour and a half drive from Albuquerque to our hike in El Malpais, but the weather in that part of the state can be quite different.  There was a lot more snow this winter than usual and we could still see evidence of it on the peaks surrounding the lava fields.  But the weather forecast yesterday called for 70 degrees in Albuquerque and it was close to that where we were hiking.

We did the Narrows Rim trail, which is an easy 8-mile out-and-back hike along the top of a sandstone cliff at the eastern edge of the lava fields.  The area is called the Narrows because it’s a point where the lava flowed up to the base of the sandstone cliffs, leaving just a narrow passageway between the cliffs and the lava.  This hike and a similar one at Sandstone Bluffs are favorites of mine.  The bluffs are beautiful colors, eroded into fascinating formations, and from the top of the bluffs the views out over the immense lava fields are spectacular.

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The weather for our hike was warm, but, unfortunately, as winter warms into spring in New Mexico we are faced with days of strong winds.  Along with the 70 degree forecast for Albuquerque yesterday came the forecast today of strong winds.  Those winds have arrived but it seems they were a day early where we were hiking out by Grants.  After lunch when we turned around to hike back along the ridge, the winds had picked up and it seemed at times like it would blow us right over.

This morning I was reading Chapter 12 of Bernice’s book that describes the winter camp she made in 2010 in eastern Montana.  The following paragraph seemed so appropriate for this windy day:

“The wild open Montana prairie invites a brutish, unforgiving wind, even encourages it–‘Come play, look at all this open space, do as you please,’ it says.  And the wind smiles, perhaps sneers, before roaring on and on and on across the playground of eastern Montana.  Of all the weather conditions I face, the most difficult, the most dangerous, is wind.  Curse it and you’ll be left to suffer in a sweltering of bugs and heat.  Welcome the wind and it will gladly freeze you or simply blow you off the face of the earth like an insignificant thought.” (page 124).

Bernice was describing winds of eastern Montana but I think it applies to New Mexico.  Get the book.  I’m sure you will find something that applies to your journey through life.