Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s–we all have special traditions that we celebrate this time of year. When children grow up and leave home and families are scattered far and wide many of our traditions are no longer meaningful. Then it’s time to think about creating new traditions.
I think I’m going to start a new tradition for me and Lee. Today was just one day short of being exactly a year ago that we hiked up Manzano Peak. As we hiked along I found myself pondering events of the past year. We have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is the fact that we are both healthy and strong enough to be doing this hike again. With 9 miles of hiking and a 2000-foot elevation gain on the way up it’s not an easy hike.
Observing a tradition once every year can be a milestone that allows us to measure changes over the course of the year. I thought about all that was different in our lives and what things had stayed the same. I remembered concerns I had last year that never materialized. There were obstacles and rough spots, but just like this hike, they were overcome as we moved along one step at a time.
I also looked for landmarks along the trail that I remembered from last year. One was this heart-shaped rock. It had tumbled a bit further down the slope but was still close enough to the trail that I spotted it. Lee moved it back close to the trail, in spite of my concern that someone might come along and remove it. I’ll look forward to seeing if it’s still there next year.
This year the weather was more sunny, but there were also some patches of snow at the higher elevations; whereas last year there hadn’t been any.
The left photo is last year’s hike and the right photo is this year. I’m looking forward to next year!
If it’s my turn to propose a hike for the day, I most likely will suggest an established trail that’s a good workout. I won’t be too concerned if it’s a hike we’ve done before. Lee, on the other hand, is always looking to explore new territory. And chances are we won’t even be on a trail.
I can work up lots of energy when I know what to expect for elevation and distance. But when I’m tagging along behind Lee as he follows his desire to see what’s around the next corner or over the next hill, I feel totally exhausted after just a short distance. Usually, though, by the time we finally get back to the car I will end up agreeing that it was a fun hike.
Today he wanted to show me a “bushwhack” hike that he had explored on his own last spring. Twice this summer we had tried to do it but were stopped by a road closure sign on the Forest Service road leading up the canyon where we needed to go. On the first attempt we wandered around on some abandoned dirt roads near there as a substitute hike. A month later we assumed the road would be open. When we found it still closed we drove to nearby San Pedro Parks and did a regular (my style) hike.
I wasn’t too happy when Lee proposed trying his bushwhack hike a third time. Especially when he said that if the road was still closed we would explore somewhere else in the area. But the weather was absolutely perfect today and if we were going to be outdoors then that was all I really needed to enjoy the day.
The road was open but we were surprised to find it snow-covered on the first stretch that was on the shady side of the canyon. The snow was long gone everywhere else, though, so it didn’t present a problem. After we parked the car Lee pointed to a ridge up towards the mountains and said that was the goal for the hike. Since there are no signs in the area and some of the roads aren’t even on maps, I’ve decided that this hike will now be called Lee’s Ridge. We made it to the top and back down and still had time to walk up another road that Lee wanted to check out.
I think I have solved one of my issues when it comes to “bushwhack” hikes. The shoes that I hike in are not high tops and I can’t find hiking pants with legs long enough to cover the tops of my shoes. As we walk through brush and brambles my socks get filled with stickers and it totally annoys me to have things poking and itching in my shoes as I hike. This time of year when everything is dried up is especially bad. So today before we left on the hike I asked Lee if he could find his old pair of gaiters that we had stashed away somewhere. It wasn’t that easy to figure out how to get them attached to my shoes and pant legs, but I think we got it figured out. I didn’t get any stickers in my socks today. The pair of gaiters is now in my backpack ready for our next bushwhack hike.
Our hike this week was one that we have done twice before. For some reason, we call it the “Red Dot Blue Dot” hike when the way that we’ve done it all three times is by starting at the Blue Dot trailhead, connecting to the River Trail, then the Red Dot trail, and finishing on the Canyon Rim trail. At least finishing on the Canyon Rim trail is the goal, but we didn’t manage that goal the first two times on the hike.
The hike leads down to the Rio Grande River at White Rock, NM, where the river cuts through a canyon lined by steep lava escarpments. A series of blue dots are painted on the black lava rocks to mark the trail as it descends into the canyon. At the bottom it connects to the River Trail and about 2 miles further along the River Trail it connects to the Red Dot Trail. This one climbs back out of the canyon over the lava escarpments and is marked with red dots painted on the rocks.
At the top of the canyon the trailhead for the Red Dot trail is on a side street in a subdivision of White Rock. It doesn’t directly connect to the Canyon Rim trail. Walking on the street is required and if you aren’t careful you miss the spot along the ditch where you get off the street and follow a path that leads to the Canyon Rim trail. There are many local neighborhood paths between the houses and it’s easy to miss the official trail. The first time we tried we added some extra walking trying to find the beginning, as well as at the end when we left the Canyon Rim trail too soon and went out of our way to get back to the car. The second time was a really long hike because we took a wrong turn almost as soon as we got on the Canyon Rim trail and then ended up walking back to the car through the town itself. The third time is a charm, though, and now we’ve finally figured out that tricky part at the end.
Below is a map that shows our 3 times on this hike. The purple line is the preferred way that we successfully accomplished on our third try. The blue overlaps the purple on the trip down to the river and back up but then shows how we had to walk through the subdivision. And the red line overlaps the purple except for a couple of extra side trips.
Sandstone Bluffs is like an out-and-back hike because the trail follows a line of narrow bluffs for several miles before turning around and heading back. But the fun part is that you have a choice of walking on top of the bluffs or walking through the desert at the base of the bluffs. Since the wind was rather chilly when we started we chose to start hiking at the bottom where we would be more protected from the wind.
The trail at the base is unofficial and the challenge of starting the hike that way is figuring out exactly where to climb down from the bluffs. We wandered back and forth along the edge and finally took a guess at what looked like the best way to get down. After we got home I researched a track of this hike from 2 years ago where we had done it the opposite way. I was surprised to see that we had picked the correct spot because it didn’t seem like it when we were slowly threading our way down the steep, rocky slope.
Which way down?
Starting the hike at the bottom.
Looking up at some of the bluffs.
Another interesting aspect of hiking at Sandstone Bluffs is the opportunity at many spots to find pottery shards left from the time when native peoples lived in the area. It’s against the law to take any of them, but we like to gather them together in one spot to make a nice arrangement for someone else who might be walking this way. A couple of examples:
There are some petroglyphs at the far end of the hike that we have seen on previous hikes here. But we weren’t sure exactly where they were and found out later we hadn’t walked quite far enough.
The next couple of photos are from a previous hike here. We did see the rock bridge on this hike but my picture of it wasn’t very good. And we didn’t get as close to the lava rocks as before and that is another thing that we like about hiking Sandstone Bluffs.
Actually, when I saw this sign I knew I was no longer lost, but had found my way back to the trail. And, considering the type of terrain I was hiking in, it’s probably not accurate to describe my experience of getting off the trail as being “lost.”
I had set off to hike the 9-1/2 mile Chupadera Wilderness National Recreation Trail, which I have hiked before. The first couple of miles traverses Chihuahuan desert scrub dominated by creosote bush and prickly pear cactii growing in loose, gravelly soil. Recent rains had caused the surface here to erode with multiple, small ruts weaving over and around the trail. Since this is a wilderness trail there are no trail markers. As I walked the first mile I was having difficulty figuring out if I was on a trail or on an eroded section of gravel.
When I finally spotted some rock cairns I thought all was well. Further along, the trail crossed under a power line and started heading down an old gravel road. What I failed to notice was that the trail and road overlapped for only a short distance. I kept walking on the road, eventually figuring out that there were no more rock cairns and that the road was curving back towards the parking area instead of heading west towards Chupadera Peak.
Once I realized I had lost the trail I had two choices–either backtrack to the last cairn I had seen or continue forward and see if I could reconnect to the trail. As I said, it’s hard to be truly lost in this terrain because the mountain is directly visible ahead to the west and if you get on a ridge the Rio Grande is visible behind to the east. Plus Interstate 25 bisects the trail about 2-1/2 miles from the parking lot.
When the trail gets to the Interstate there is a hiker tunnel that goes under the road. I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and by looking at the satellite imagery I was fairly certain I could see where the tunnel was. I decided to take the continuing forward option, leaving the gravel road and bushwhacking across the desert towards what I guessed would be the tunnel.
When I reached the fence line that separates the refuge from the highway, I wasn’t at the tunnel so I had to make a guess if I should follow the fence line north or south. Fortunately, I had correctly picked the tunnel on the satellite imagery. It showed the location was south of where I was and I didn’t have to walk much further before I found the tunnel. At that point I knew I was back on the trail–Whew!
Reaching the fence line and heading north along the fence to find the tunnel.
Heading into the Hiker Tunnel under Interstate 25.
Trail goes through canyon of red, volcanic rock.
Looking east after having climbed up and over the red rock area.
View towards north.
Made it to the top. Looking southeast.
The only wildlife I saw.
On the way back I figured out this is where I had missed the cairns going to the left, instead keeping on the road to the right.
Friday was another day spent making the connections to get on the several trains that would take us from Zurich, Switzerland, to Ilmenau, Germany. All went well and we arrived on time at Ilmenau station where we were greeted by my uncle and his wife. It was dark when we got there so we had to wait until the next morning to get a look at the area around the village of Manebach where my uncle had made reservations for us at a small hotel on the outskirts of the village.
Although Germany has many attractive villages, Manebach is special to our family. It is where my mother’s father was born and raised. My mother shared memories of the vacations she enjoyed as a child when her family would come from the city of Leipzig to visit her grandparents at their house in Manebach.
Manebach is in Thuringia Wald (“Wald” in German means “Forest”) and it is a popular destination for hiking. So, of course, our first day there was spent hiking one of the nearby trails.
The hike started by walking through the woods behind the hotel on a path to the village. In the middle of the village some stairs led up into the woods where we continued to climb the trail to the summit of Kickelhahn Mountain. There we found Kickelhahnturm (means Kickelhahn Tower), which required more climbing up the stairs inside the tower. It was all well worth it for the views and then for the refreshments that awaited us at the small cafe next to the tower.
Today, instead of hustling after 2 boys on scooters, we got our exercise by climbing up 2 of Zurich’s viewpoint attractions. The Uetliberg mountain is visible from the city and easily accessible by train or by walking from one of several tram stops. We chose the tram and walking option and enjoyed the steep but pleasant trail that climbed through the woods to the top of the ridge. After enjoying the view from the top, we walked further along the ridge for a hike back down on a different trail.
Another opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of Zurich is available within the city. The Grossmuenster church is a distinctive landmark with its double towers. One of the towers has a viewing platform that can be reached by climbing 187 steps (I counted them) up a winding staircase inside the tower.
After hiking and climbing stairs it felt good to sit by the lakeshore for a while to relax and watch the swans. Another beautiful day in Zurich.