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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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.

Recipe for Beauty

Take plenty of New Mexico dirt and rocks, add copious amounts of sun and wind, sprinkle in a bit of moisture and then set aside. Find an isolated, totally desolate piece of land such as the Ojito Wilderness. Place your mixture somewhere in the middle and leave undisturbed for awhile.

On a quiet, late-winter day drive a dozen or so miles on a rough dirt road and find a place to park. You may or may not have a particular destination in mind for your hike, but as Lee and I have learned on our excursions into the Ojito Wilderness, it won’t be long before you begin to see the beauty that sun, wind and water has carved out of the landscape.

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I had fun finding rock formations that had “Windows”

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A rock with some interesting life form growing on it.

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One last photo that is a caution.  Yes, there is beauty in a place like the Ojito Wilderness, but you have to be careful driving on the rough roads.  Lee is a careful driver and, fortunately, we did not end up like this car.

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Trials or Trails?

This week’s quest to find a suitable area for a day hike led us to a familiar area of BLM land known as the San Ysidro Trials. I once thought it was a misspelling and was supposed to be San Ysidro Trails. But it’s “Trials” because a large section of it is used for recreational motorcyclists (aka ‘dirt bikes’) who want to test their expertise riding in and around the rocky arroyos in the area. Fortunately, during the times we have hiked there we haven’t encountered any of the roaring, noisy machines, although it’s obvious from their tracks that it is well used.

When we go there we like to walk past the trials area and get to a section of eroded sandstone that, even on a cloudy day, has colorful and interesting rock formations. As wet as the desert still is, we knew we probably would have to navigate through some muddy spots before we got to the rocks. But the parking area is right off a paved highway so we didn’t have to drive any muddy roads. In the spots where the trail got muddy we were able to pick our way through spots of grass along the trail.

This landmark lets us know we are crossing the arroyo in the right place. Look closely to see the “monkey face” rock.

Another reason we like hiking in this area is to check out the many tinajas. “Tinaja : a bedrock depression that fills with water during the summer monsoonal rains and when snowfall accumulates in the winter.” We’ve had a winter with snow accumulations and the tinajas didn’t disappoint. Here are a few of the interesting ones.

Quebradas Sediments

A few weeks ago when we did a hike in the Manzano Mountains I got carried away taking pictures of rocks along the trail. The wavy, layered metamorphic rocks that are abundant in the Manzanos look to me like beautiful pieces of artwork. I couldn’t resist posting some of my photos here.

Yesterday we were hiking in another area that compels me to take pictures of rocks. We were in the Quebradas, this time not an area of metamorphic rocks, but, instead, mostly sedimentary rocks. But sedimentary rocks form in layers, also, and with the fractures, folds and faults that occur on the earth’s surface many sedimentary rocks end up with fascinating shapes and patterns.

In addition to folding and faulting that reshapes the sediments, sometimes there are certain chemical processes that change the colors of the rocks in interesting ways. I don’t know all of the details, but in the laboratory of the geology class I recently completed, I remember the instructor explaining the round white dots in some reddish sandstones as places where a chemical impurity in the sandstone as it was being oxidized (changing it to the reddish color) would prevent the oxidation, leaving a white space around the impurity. There were many rocks in the Quebradas that had that feature and I photographed several samples.

Quebradas is a Spanish word meaning “breaks,” a rugged or rocky area. The BLM owns most of the land along the Quebradas Back Country Byway, a 24-mile dirt road east of Socorro that parallels I-25. There are 10 numbered stops, places along the way to park and observe various geologic features. Official hiking trails are nonexistent–you just wander anywhere in the vast emptiness that happens to capture your interest.

We parked at Stop 4, which is in the upper reaches of the Arroyo del Tajo. A nice hike that we have done before is to walk about 2-1/2 miles down the arroyo, observing the rocks (in Lee’s case observing the wildflowers, which are few and far between this time of year) and then rounding a corner to find yourself in this amazing slot canyon.

Walking out the other side leads to a nice ledge to stop and have lunch, which is what we did, before turning around and retracing our steps back to the car. Altogether an enjoyable winter hike.

Manzano Metamorphic

Some of my favorite rocks are metamorphic rocks that have been formed by intense heat and pressure into wavy patterns referred to as foliation or schistosity. One of the best places I know to find metamorphic rocks is in the Manzano Mountains. On two hikes that we took there recently I found myself continually stopping along the trail to take pictures of the rocks.

The map view shows the location of the two hikes. The red line is a hike up Trigo Canyon, which is on the west side of the mountains, about midway between the north and south end of the range. The blue line is the Kayser Mill Run trail, at the south end on the east side.

I’ve made two groups for the metamorphic rock photos that I took. The first group was taken on the Trigo Canyon hike and the second group was along the Kayser Mill Run trail. I hope that you will appreciate the fascinating artistry of God’s handiwork in creating these formations.

If you are viewing the page that shows the two groups in a gallery, please click on the individual photo to see a larger image.

Trigo Canyon

Kayser Mill Run

 

Enough Rocks Already


Even before our recent trip to Germany, I think I would have understood that “Verboten” meant I was forbidden from collecting any rocks in this area. So then how was it that I came home Saturday hauling a bucket of rocks up the stairs to our apartment? Well, one of the advantages of membership in the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Club is the opportunity to go on field trips such as this one that was a visit to a mining claim owned by a member of the club. With his permission and guidance our collecting was allowed.

A number of the group members elected to go on the guided tour of one of the underground workings.

I was more interested in exploring the geology of the area from above ground where there is plenty of fresh air, sunshine and blue sky. This was a part of New Mexico we had passed by on travels across the vast desert just north of White Sands Proving Grounds but we never had occasion to stop there. I couldn’t picture what the area would look like where we would be collecting minerals. It was several miles off the highway, jolting across rutted dirt roads, and as we approached I noticed a range of mountains ahead of us.

As I later learned, the Blanchard Mine is on the western flank of the Sierra Oscura Mountains, an area we never would have thought to explore for a hike because of its remoteness and proximity to White Sands Missile Range property. The base of the mining claim area is accessible without a high clearance vehicle, but the last 2 miles of road up the ridge required four-wheel drive and steel nerves on the narrow ledges. I parked my car at the base and rode up to the top in a more suitable vehicle with some other club members.

About halfway up. My car is down there at the bottom with several others.
An abandoned ore bin left from commercial mining days.
One of the collecting spots at the top.
A fluorite sample I collected.
Flourite crystals also form in cubic shapes.
Barite forms bladed crystals.
Imbedded black cubes are galena (lead).
The bluish green minerals are formed by weathering of copper but we didn’t know which of several it might be.

A little bit of everything from the collection.

The club member who owned the mine claim gave us an informative talk before we began collecting. I learned a lot about the history of mining in this area and about the geology. One of the most interesting facts was the difference between a patented and unpatented mining claim. If a mining claim is patented then the owner has deed to the land, as well as owning the mineral rights. Unpatented mining claims are usually located on land owned by the federal government. The owner of a patented claim can enforce “no trespassing” on the land, as opposed to this mine which was unpatented and located on BLM land. As the sign said, the public could be prevented from collecting on the site, but anyone could come out and explore the area. That’s good to know for the future when we might want to do some hiking instead of rock collecting. We have limited space in our apartment so I need to focus on enjoying hikes in wonderful, rocky New Mexico, instead of bringing home these irresistible specimens that I’m then struggling to find room for.