Winter Sojourn

Deserts, mountains, forests or beaches–choose any one of these as a preference for a day hike and you will be able to find it in the San Diego area. And, best of all, when it’s the last week in January and cold everywhere else in the country, the weather here is sunny and in the 70’s. Rainy days are a possibility this time of the year but we were fortunate to have nice weather during our visit.

The day that we drove here from Yuma, we took a slight detour off the interstate to go through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In a previous visit to southern California we had been to the northern section of the park. The southern section is less populated and it was easy to find a place to take a short hike and bask in the desert sunshine.

IMG_20190125_101350235
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
IMG_20190125_105644633
Hike to a California Fan Palm Oasis.

IMG_20190125_104236936

IMG_20190125_110304749

Between Anza-Borrego and San Diego are the Laguna Mountains, which were a hiking destination for one of our days in San Diego.  As we drove on the Sunrise Highway that leads into the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, our first stop was an overlook with a view east towards Anza-Borrego.  It is also a point where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway.

IMG_20190128_093618373
Viewpoint from Laguna Mountains looking towards Anza-Borrego.

In addition to a 15-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Recreation Area map showed many other options for interconnecting loop trails to explore.
We picked out a section with the intention of hiking 5 or 6 miles to a “lake” and then maybe doing a short section on the Pacific Crest Trail. But we had problems following the map and the 5 or 6 miles turned into a 9-mile loop. By the time we got back to the car we were too tired to do any more trails.

IMG_20190128_132952483_HDR2
Hike in Laguna Mountains Recreation Area.
IMG_20190128_1143006532
Remnant of one of the lakes along the trail.
IMG_20190128_1109368152
Looking west through the haze from one of the ridges we could see downtown San Diego.
IMG_20190128_112228312
A bird called the acorn woodpecker drills holes in Ponderosa Pine trees to create granaries for storing food.

The day that we hiked at Los Penasquitos Canyon we found ourselves competing for the trails with the many mountain bikers, as everyone seemed to be out enjoying the warm weekend weather.

img_20190127_09305512296096883.jpg
Off the main trail at Los Penasquitos, but it did avoid mountain bikers.

Our San Diego experience wouldn’t be complete without some time at the beaches. We enjoyed viewing the steep cliffs at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
IMG_20190126_145535250IMG_20190126_145500088
For more of a hiking opportunity we spent an afternoon on the trails at Torrey Pines State Reserve.
IMG_20190129_135311691
IMG_20190129_135516828IMG_20190129_145050231IMG_20190129_1459238032
Then there was a morning spent at San Diego’s famous Balboa Park, a foggy walk another morning at Cabrillo Point and some afternoon strolls along the beaches to watch the surfers and sunbathers. With so much to see, there were sights that we missed, but I’m sure there will be other winters that we will come here as an escape from the cold.
50740868_830289710647868_6665519476496138240_o

Lost Dutchman

I’m really enjoying the Arizona sunshine, but, unfortunately, today’s hike was a bit much for Lee.

Just kidding. We both enjoyed our hike at Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains. Maybe this poor fellow is the lost Dutchman.

When we left Albuquerque yesterday morning it was in another round of scattered snow showers. I don’t think that storm amounted to much, but I know it’s not as warm and sunny there as it is here in Arizona.

Our stop in Phoenix is just for one day, as we continue on tomorrow for our San Diego destination. We haven’t been to Lost Dutchman before and it turned out to be a good choice for a day hike, not too far from the city. Of course, there were a lot more people on the trails than what we see in New Mexico. But there’s plenty of room to roam for both hikers and horseback riders.

Horse or Hike

When I told my sister, Sande, that we were planning to come for a visit to her ranch in Salmon, Idaho, she was excited at the prospect of taking us along on one of the backcountry horseback riding excursions that are her favorite recreation. Although Lee and I look forward to any opportunity to get into the mountains, we weren’t too sure we wanted to do it on horseback. But I was willing to give it a try and told her to go ahead and plan the outing.

My brother, Clint, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, is also enthusiastic about riding so he drove over to Salmon to join us. Sande has a friend, Arnie, who was willing to loan us some horses and suggested a trail that he thought we would all enjoy. With lunches packed, saddles and gear assembled and horses loaded in the trailers, the five of us set off for the mountains.

After miles of rattling and jolting over a rough forest road we finally got to the trailhead. We unloaded 3 horses from Arnie’s trailer and 2 horses from Sande’s. I would be riding Sugar (sounded sweet), Lee would be riding Penny and I can’t remember the name of Arnie’s horse or the one Clint would be riding. They all looked friendly and Arnie said Sugar and Penny would be gentle enough for us two New Mexico greenhorns.

Sugar is the Palomino, Penny is in the middle and Arnie’s horse is the one with the blaze.

Since this was going to be a trail ride, single file, one horse plodding along behind another, I had envisioned that I wouldn’t need to do anything except sit in the saddle and let the horse carry me up the mountain. As best I can remember, the extent of my experience with horses was as a kid riding bareback on a pony we owned. I can’t remember ever having sat high off the ground in a saddle on the back of a huge animal like this that was expecting me to manipulate a leather strap laying on it’s neck to tell it where I wanted it to go.

I barely got myself in the saddle before Sugar started heading off the trail into the woods. Clint hollered at me that I was supposed to be using the reins, but I hadn’t even yet figured out where they were. I fumbled around for them and got the horse headed in the right direction behind Clint’s horse. I was not prepared for the roughness of the trail and was soon convinced that Sugar was determined to step on the biggest, slipperiest rocks she could find. My feet were wedged into the stirrups, twisting my knees into a very uncomfortable position. I was gripping the saddlehorn in both hands, squeezing tight in the saddle with my legs and bracing my feet in the stirrups. But as the horse lurched up the steep, rocky trail I was sure that any minute I would slide off her back or worse yet the horse would slide off the edge of the cliff whenever we had to navigate a narrow ledge.

Lee handled Penny like a pro.
A section of the trail.

After about half an hour my knees were aching so badly that I gave up on using the stirrups and just let my feet dangle free. Then I felt even less secure on the slippery saddle as the trail got steeper and the horse stumbled over the rocks. I didn’t know how long we’d been riding or how much further we had to go but I was just about ready to ask Clint if we could stop for a minute so I could get off and use the bathroom. Suddenly, Sugar lurched to the left and smashed my leg up against a tree. That was it. I got off the horse, did my business in the trees and said that I would walk the rest of the way up.

Arnie was kind enough to lead my horse and I was finally free to make my way using my own two feet. As it turned out there was less than a mile to our destination. It was steep going and I was huffing and puffing to keep up with Clint’s horse but it was worth it to be on solid ground.

Lee on Penny, Sande in the background.
Arnie and Lee.
Alan Lake, our lunch destination.
Arnie, Sande and Clint enjoying the view.

We had a relaxing lunch next to Alan Lake and I mentally prepared myself for the ride back down. But then Arnie said he would walk down and Lee decided to do the same. So 3 of us walked and 2 rode. Walking down, the trail didn’t seem as rocky or steep as it had when I was on the horse. It turns out that the trail up to the lake was 4 miles with 2000 feet of elevation gain. It would have made a nice day hike, if you ask me. I think as long as I’m able to walk, I will be hiking up trails, not horseback riding.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Friends at various times have encouraged us to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. While it did sound interesting, it never seemed to fit in with our travel plans. That changed on this year’s visit to Salmon, Idaho. Normally, we would take 2 days for the 1000-mile drive from Albuquerque to Salmon, staying overnight in Price, Utah. But we took an extra half-day this time and drove a longer route that went through western Colorado.

There wouldn’t be a lot of extra time to spend along the way but we would be driving through a part of Colorado we hadn’t seen before. We made plans to spend Tuesday night in Montrose, CO, and Wednesday night in Rock Springs, WY. Wednesday would have some flexibility, as far as time to stop and look at some of the interesting places we knew were on the route.

It was the desk clerk at the motel in Montrose who suggested we check out Black Canyon of the Gunnison. She said the entrance was a 20-minute drive out on the highway east of town. Lee usually has scoped out ahead of time all the points of interest so I was surprised that he didn’t know we were that close. Even though we needed to head west out of town this morning, we decided to take the short detour to the east and check out the canyon. That turned out to be a good decision.

“Spectacular” is the one adjective that kept coming to mind as we drove along the South Rim Road, stopping at each of the 11 overlooks. Well, not quite, as we saw the time slipping by we did skip a couple of overlooks. This is definitely a place worth coming back to spend more time exploring. Especially since August is the height of fire season in the West. Like our trip to Glacier National Park last August the dramatic views of distant vistas that we should have been seeing were lost in a haze of smoke from a number of different wildfires.
park entrance

Lee is enjoying the view at the first lookout.

canyon 1

canyon3

canyon 2

Painted Wall, at 2300 feet, the highest wall in Colorado.
On the road north from Grand Junction we saw one of the fires that had been making all the smoke.

Anniversary Bonus

A last-minute plan to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with a two-day hiking excursion in the Sacramento Mountains turned out to have an added bonus.  We had an unexpected opportunity to once again intercept our favorite Celadon driver, this time on a Laredo to LA load he was hauling.

We were already on the road Tuesday, headed to Alamogordo, when Mike messaged the news that he would be coming through New Mexico. As usual, it was uncertain what his schedule would be–when he’d be passing through and how much time he could spare for a stop. But we told him to keep us posted and we would see if we could arrange a meet up.

As originally planned, we stayed overnight in Alamogordo and Wednesday morning headed up into the mountains to enjoy the beautiful spring day.

Anniversary selfie. Tunnel Vista stop on road to Cloudcroft.

After getting some maps and information at the ranger station in Cloudcroft, we decided to do an out-and-back hike on part of the Rim Trail. All of the years I lived in Alamogordo I don’t think I was even aware that there was such a trail. I think in those days I had too many other things to deal with.

First National Forest trail in NM to be a National Recreation Trail and I had never been on it!
Some aspen, but too early for leaves.
Douglas Fir are the big trees here, not the Ponderosa Pine we are used to.
View from Rim Trail of Sierra Blanca to the north.
View from Rim Trail looking east to Alamogordo and White Sands.

After the hike we drove further up the road to the Sunspot Solar Observatory. I do remember having gone there several times in the past. But now I was saddened to see how the place is virtually abandoned, its functions taken over by newer technologies. At least it is still possible to take a self-guided tour through the complex, reading information signs in front of the various buildings and telescopes. We finished our day with a stroll through the cute little mountain town of Cloudcroft. It seems to have gotten a few more tourist attractions from what I remembered, even an ice cream shop where we rewarded ourselves with a couple of scoops.

Shortly after getting back to Alamogordo we heard from Mike that he had made good progress that day driving across Texas. He would be able to meet us Thursday morning for breakfast in Las Cruces. So instead of spending a second night in Alamogordo, as we’d originally planned, we drove to Las Cruces and got a motel room off the interstate close to the truck stop he directed us to.

The sun hadn’t yet made it over the Organ Mountains this morning when he pulled off the interstate but I was there on the sidewalk waving and jumping up and down as the Celadon truck approached the intersection. We had almost an hour to visit over breakfast before he had to get back on the road.

Until we meet again!

Our original plan for today had been to do another hike in the Alamogordo area. But we did some replanning since we would be now be driving up I-25.  We decided to check out Elephant Butte Lake, a place we’ve never stopped at before in our travels. A Google query turned up a map for West Lakeshore Trail, which appears to be a fairly new development.  We couldn’t do the whole trail but picked a section that would give us a good view of the lake.  I was interested to read on the sign that this stretch of trail is part of the work-in-progress Rio Grande Trail that eventually will cross the length of New Mexico.


I was glad to be on this trail in March and not during the summer. Even though it’s a lakeside trail it really is desert hiking.

Des Moines, New Mexico

Until Mike’s phone call around midnight last night, I didn’t even know there was a place called Des Moines, NM. Yesterday afternoon we had made the 200-mile trip from Albuquerque to Raton, NM, with a plan to meet up with Mike as he was hauling a load from Dallas to Denver. After cutting northwest from Amarillo on Highway 64/87, his route would bring him through Raton. He hoped his schedule would allow him to spend some time in Raton, and, since we didn’t have anything scheduled for Monday, the meetup looked doable.

As the day progressed I kept in touch with Mike to see how things looked for him. It’s easy for us to plan a drive from Albuquerque to Raton with a reasonable estimate of our arrival time. It’s not that easy for a truck driver to figure out what time he will be in a particular place. Mike’s 14-hour clock started ticking yesterday in Dallas when he drove to the customer site at the scheduled time for getting his trailer loaded. If there were significant delays in that process he wouldn’t have enough time on his clock to make the 575 miles to Raton before having to shut down for the night.

The loading process went smoothly, but somewhere on the stretch from Wichita Falls to Amarillo a highway accident required a detour, slowing Mike down. We were already settled in our motel room in Raton by that time. Mike said he would still try to make Raton before he had to shut down, which would be sometime around midnight. I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep so I told him to call when he shut down, regardless of the time.

When my phone buzzed a little after midnight I wasn’t asleep and quickly opened the Map app on the phone to see how far he had gotten. And that’s where I saw Des Moines, the nearest named spot to the rest area where he was parked. It was less than 40 miles from Raton, which was good news for keeping to today’s plan of spending time with Mike.

When we met up with him at the rest area this morning he said he could hang out with us until 2 this afternoon, at which time he needed to be back at the truck to grab a couple of hours of sleep before making the drive to Denver. He’s scheduled for unloading at midnight tonight, another one of those crazy scheduling things that prevent truckers from having a normal life.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time touring Capulin Volcano National Monument. I’m currently taking a Geology class at our local community college and we just finished a chapter on volcanoes. There’s nothing like being in the field to help with the learning process.

Of course, the best part was spending time with Mike. I think of all the years he lived in Iowa and the special place in my heart for Des Moines, Iowa, because of the many summers doing the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Who could have imagined that one day Mike would be a long haul truck driver and we would be eating lunch at a restaurant in Des Moines, NM.

Capulin Volcano is the type of volcano known as a cinder cone.
Sierra Grande in the distance is a shield volcano.