Saturday, October 19, 2013

Horsing around

Yesterday I took a new friend on what is, for me, my favorite hike in this area.  It starts at the Caballo Riverside campground, crosses the Rio Grande (one small step for a man...),
through a fence, up a watercourse, then up a deer trail to the top of the bluff looming above the far side of the river.
From 160' up, you get a good view of the area.  I have found 10 routes up that bluff, some simply steep and rough, some downright dangerous that I have done once and will not attempt again.  In 4 years of going up there, I have never seen any animal life up there other than the occasional bird.

That changed yesterday. 

When we came up to the edge of the cliffs, two horses appeared.
The lighter colored one was smaller than I am used to.  I am taller than her.  I am guessing she was not fully grown.  The darker one was more the size I would expect.  Both looked to be in good shape - well nourished, smooth, clean coats and no signs of limping, just relaxed browsing on that high desert plateau.
What amazed us was how friendly they were, particularly the smaller one.  She came up to us, was petted, nuzzled my arm, gently tasted my camera, and they followed us as long as we stayed at the west edge.  As we headed east toward the trail down, they watched us go. 

Then, almost like magic, they had disappeared.  It was a very cool hike.

This, by the way, is how New Mexicans stay warm in winter...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Welcome Back

I am at Elephant Butte once again. 

In past years I have watched the lake level drop, and drop... and drop.  Last October, I got to this place, where I used to look across the lake at reflections of the far bluffs.  I saw a vast grassland instead.

Spending much of the summer in the San Juan mountains in Colorado, at and near the headwaters of the Rio Grande, I was rained on a lot.  Most of the rain was light, but some was heavier.  The river, when I saw it, was flowing strong and vibrant.  Looking at national weather information, later in the summer I saw that this part of New Mexico was getting a lot of rain.  Of course, the obvious expectation was that I would see water in the lake when I returned.

I was wrong.

The lake is as low as last year.  I spoke with a friend here and learned that over the summer, the lake had dropped 20 feet from when I had been here.  The storms that had come through created a lot of flooding, did a lot of road damage, and raised Elephant Butte Lake 20 feet, to where it had been.  Further south, Caballo Lake was filled.

So once again, I will look out over grassland rather than lake as the winter storms pass by.  It has its own beauty, and I am not complaining.  I AM worried for the people that live here and try to make a living from an area whose economy is based so strongly on this lake, for the agriculture that depends on lake waters that just aren't here, and for those downstream who are hoping for, and needing, water that simply isn't here.

My first hike revisited the Rock Canyon area.  I follow a drainage channel from the road to the edge of the lake.  Much new scouring was noticeable from the floods.  One formation, which I call Tuffy, The Tug Boat, was unchanged.  (OK, who remembers THAT Little Golden Book?)

There is one good result of the flooding.  Last year, I did several clean-up hikes in Rock Canyon, picking up bottles and cans and other trash left here by visitors.  This year I saw very little of that.  Presumably it has been washed downstream.

One thing has remained constant - the skies.  They welcomed me back with a most rewarding show.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Those bells, those bells...!

Not the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral, but the Maroon Bells.  Located about 9 miles southwest of Aspen, Colorado, are a pair of peaks called the Maroon Bells.  When the light is right (seldom, during my visit) the maroon color is pronounced.  Viewed from Maroon Lake, the jumping off point for most visitors, the bell shapes are clear.

For those willing to take a few steps, a trail leads around the lake, opening fresh perspectives with each step and with the ever-changing light.
Above the end of the lake, two trail systems exist.  The left takes you to the inflow,
(Watch the birdie...)
The trail to the right goes to Crater Lake.  It is a more challenging hike.  Along the way, there are views back to Maroon Lake.
At Crater Lake, the air was still and the colors seemed muted, almost pastel, perhaps due in part to the overcast sky.
The moment that REALLY draws photographers is early morning, looking for the color of the rising sun on those Maroon peaks.
I am now in New Mexico.  Five days after I left the Maroon Bells, all those soft green aspens in the valley below the Bells turned golden, and the Bells got a dusting of snow.  I need to figure a way to get back to Maroon Bells in the end of September rather than the middle.  Maybe next year...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Independence Pass

Route 82 in Colorado runs in a NW-SE orientation between Glenwood Springs and Route 24 south of Leadville.  Along the way, it passes through Aspen, providing the only way in and out of that town.  To the southeast of Aspen it begins to climb and in places, narrows to as little as 14 feet in width, with vertical cliffs to the left and vertical air to the right.  Vehicles longer than 35 feet are prohibited from using this part of the road.

Fortunately, my Forester is less than 35 feet long, and I went exploring.

The roadway rises through aspen and pine forests, reaching the Continental Divide at an altitude a bit above 12,000 feet.  Right there, right at the Divide, is a pond.  Looking across that pond to the northwest, it was as if the world just dropped away below me.
It was raining lightly when I was there.  I stood to the southeast of the pond, and wondered at the concept that the rain, falling on me, would make its way to the Atlantic while rain falling in the pond right in front of me would drain to the Pacific.

The water draining from that pond joined other watercourses, reaching a high alpine meadow alongside the highway, where the headwaters gave birth to the Roaring Fork River.
The river seems placid enough in that high meadow, but gravity will not be ignored.  As the river dropped, it cut its way into the bedrock to form the steep-walled canyon that gave the highway a way up the slopes.  Part way down, it passes over granite that resisted its cutting enough to form a series of waterfalls.
The water was cold, but not too cold for some.
Adventurous I may have been in younger days, but I don't know that I would have felt very comfortable swimming above some of those drops.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wild Rivers

Well, I am back in Colorado, but let me tell you where I have been. 

In northern New Mexico is a little town called Questa.  A few miles to the west is an area called Wild Rivers at the junction of the Red River and the Rio Grande.  This is what Google Earth says it looks like.
(The red arrow shows the start of one of the trails you will see later.)

This is what it looks like from the ground.

(Yep, that's my toes at the edge)
In general, the top area is high desert plateau.  The two rivers form steep-sided canyons.  Trails have been built leading down those canyon sides.  Looking down from above, the trails form a series of switchbacks.  I marked them with red to make them easier to see.
The hiking is, in general, challenging.  The trails drop steeply, with little or no shade.  Sometimes the edge is protected.
More often, the only protection is your balance.
The steepest points have steps to help a bit.
But the operative instruction is "Watch your step!"

And what goes down, must come up...  800' from the bottom to the top.  More than once, I gave water away to hikers who had not planned well.

The campsites were nice.  Most were set right at the edge of the canyon, affording beautiful vistas, and New Mexico skies are often rewarding.  The obvious view was toward the setting sun,
but looking the other way could also be impressive.
On three nights during my stay, thunderstorms rolled through, within 20 miles or less.  The second night, lightning was concentrated about 8 miles to the south, where I had a good view of the sky from my site.
What a great way to end the day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Waaay away in Colorado

It has been a while since I have had enough of a signal to be able to post.  I have been boondocking in the San Juan mountains in Colorado.  It has been a 3 week tour rather than a 3 hour tour, but I have had "no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe, as primitive as can be".  ... and I loved it.

That's the up side.  The down side is that I have had rain almost every day.  That meant marginal photography, not a lot of hiking, and a very muddy TOAD.

Anyway, here is a sampling of some of the areas I have been exploring.

My last post was from the Cimarron area.  From there, I headed south to Owl Creek Pass.  If you are a John Wayne/True Grit fan, this spot should look familiar.
This spire rises from the top of one of the peaks west of Ridgway.  It dominates the big views in the area, both from the east and the west.

Near where I stayed, the rock formations were impressive, and dynamic, changing by the moment with the light.  When those aspens turn gold in September, this must be glorious.
I headed south from Ridgway, driving through Ouray, up to Silverton.  Along the way, the road south out of Ouray is a long, uphill pull, winding, two narrow lanes, with no shoulder, no guide rail, and a looong way down if you drift off to the right (my left in this shot).
I bummed around South Mineral Creek near Silverton, meeting friends there and doing my best to ignore a pulled back muscle.  For most of my stay, rain clouds drifted through the trees on the sides of the peaks.  
The colors of the rock were dramatic, when the weather cleared enough to see them.
When I left Silverton, I swung south through Durango, then east and north to the Creede area.  There were three attractants - South Clear Creek Falls,

North Clear Creek Falls,

and the headwaters of the third longest river in the lower 48 - the Rio Grande.

But here's the thing - these places are HIGH.  That means the weather can change fast.  The above shot of the Rio Grande headwaters was shot late morning, with air temps in the high 60's.  Later that afternoon, I was hit with the first snow of the season.
Cool, huh?  This is as much snow as I saw all last winter in southern New Mexico.

So now I am in Chama, NM, with a few spots near here that I want to explore.  I will return to southern Colorado briefly in September, then back to New Mexico for the winter.  I want to thank my friend very publicly for pointing me to some great places in Colorado.  It has been a treat.