Life on the Range

One of the cover stories on the front page of this morning’s Albuquerque Journal caught my eye.  The picture showed a cowboy driving cattle across rangeland in the shadow of Cabezon Peak.  It was right in the area where we had hiked twice this week.  The subject of the article was a high school senior who is the son of one of the ranch owners whose cattle roam throughout the vast emptiness of the Rio Puerco Valley, one of my favorite hiking destinations.

Cabezon Peak in the distance.

I started thinking about what “Life on the Range” means to me and how different that is from what it means to others.  Because it is rare to see another human being when we are out there wandering through the eroded landscape, admiring weird rock formations and vistas that stretch for miles in every direction, I feel my spirit come alive with awe and admiration for the beautiful world that God created.  The hardworking high school senior featured in the news story says that for him, “cowboying is both his life and his way of life.”  He has college goals at present but eventually plans a life of ranching out here where he was raised.

Although we hike on public BLM land we often come across scattered groups of cows that stare at us with that look of suspicion wondering if we are going to herd them somewhere.  What is life for them on the range?  As brown and barren as the ground is, I can’t comprehend how they even survive in such “pasture.”  I was heartened in the article to read that one of the cowboy’s jobs is to dispense feed to the cattle in the form of scattered hay cubes.  So they do get fed somewhere out there.  Even so, what is their life, ultimately, except to, sooner than later, end up as a beef patty in someone’s Burger King Whopper.

And then there is the life of the poor, struggling “wildflowers” that Lee is anxious to photograph on our hikes now that spring is here.  He didn’t expect to see much on the hike yesterday and his expectations were fulfilled.  Even if a bit of greenery were to poke through the dry sand I’m sure one of those cows would eventually find it and gobble it up.

Plant life is transitory, cattle life is brief and human beings will also disappear from the landscape.  But the one enduring thing that will remain out there is the dirt and rocks.  I find such majesty and beauty in these tall, eroded spires. I’m grateful for agencies like the BLM who manage these public lands. The weather may eventually change the shape of the formations but as long as man and his machines can’t come in and interfere with the land those rocks will be there long after you and I leave this earth.

Our hike was following a track from the ASCHG web page but for lunch we went off the track and climbed a nearby rock ledge and ate in front of this “arch.” It made me wonder how long ago, if ever, another human being might have sat where we were sitting.
We found quite a bit of petrified wood on many of the slopes. How long before the dead wood laying there will become petrified wood? Most people think billions of years, but science has shown that with the right conditions, petrified wood can form quickly.

Happy Easter to everyone. He is risen and because of His resurrection we have hope that goes beyond this temporal life.

Highway to Heavenly Hiking

One of my favorite roads in New Mexico is US Highway 550 that runs from Bernalillo through Cuba and Farmington and on into Colorado.  I always look forward to the 20-mile stretch that starts about mile marker 25.  This is a section of the Rio Puerco valley that has been eroded into colorful red and yellow sandstone cliffs.  On the west side of the highway is the Ojito Wilderness, miles of a rugged desert landscape with Cabezon Peak beckoning in the far distance. Next to the highway on that side is a gypsum covered mesa that is a favorite of mountain bikers.  We have often hiked in that section of the Ojito, called the White Ridge Bike Trails.

The east side of the highway doesn’t have as many hiking opportunities, since it is close to the boundary of the Jemez Pueblo.  But veteran hikers at the Albuquerque Senior Centers Hiking Group (ASCHG) over the years have developed many off trail hikes on BLM land that can lead to explorations of unexpected places.  On our drives through the scenic section of 550 I always look at the geology on display on the west side of the highway.  I didn’t realize that on the east side, hidden behind scrubby hills and cow pastures, is a large mesa eroded into a jumble of canyons and sandstone formations.  The ASCHG website lists a 6.5-mile hike there called the Red Mesa East Loop hike.  We chose that yesterday as our hiking destination.

Lee had been on this hike a number of years ago with a group from the ASCHG but it was new to me.  Thankfully, the ASCHG posts a downloadable GPS file for all of their hikes.  We could have wandered around for hours and eventually found a way up the mesa but I feel more comfortable knowing I am on a track that won’t lead me to a cliff edge or into a dead end canyon.  As it was, we struggled several times trying to figure out exactly which ledge we were supposed to head for or at what point we were supposed to cross over one of the many canyons.  By the time we got back to the car we had hiked 7 miles and I was happy with the great workout and beautiful scenic views we had enjoyed.

I loved this view because it gave me a new perspective on Highway 550. Usually I’m just riding along in one of those cars down there gazing off to the left at the geology formed from the eroded cliffs. Cabezon Peak is the little bump in the far distance.
Leading the way.
It’s always surprising to me that there are so many Ponderosa Pines that grow in the canyons in the landscape that looks totally barren from the highway.
Across the highway is the White Ridge Bike Trails area. One of the trails, named Dragon’s Backbone, is visible as the squiggly white line on the ridge.
Looking southeast Sandia Mountains are visible on the horizon.
The geology is always fascinating.
Jumbles of conglomerate boulders in the bottom of the canyons are a testimony to large amounts of water that once rushed through here.