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Posts Tagged ‘Sandia Crest’

It’s been blazing hot in Albuquerque since the 4th of July. No rain, 100°+ days, 75° at night. There’s been no break for anything to cool down. The grapevines were wilted yellow and the leaves on the oak and hackberry looked drooped and dejected.

Friday we decided to try the east side of the Sandias where the temperatures promised to be cooler. At the Sulphur Springs picnic ground off the Crest Highway it was a much more pleasant 75° and overcast. We ate at a table beside the spring-fed stream and read, with some interest, notices that we were in cougar as well as bear country. The cougar face on the poster looked more like a cartoon rendition but the warning that there was an injured bear in the area struck a rather more serious note.

We took a quick tour around the wet grassy meadow from which the trail takes its name. At one time, it was a shallow rainwater catchment which directed water into an acequia and down the mountain to the villages below.

White Fir, Cut and Stacked © SR Euston

As we made our way up the trail we passed through a huge dead zone, with white fir skeletons silhouetted against the canyon wall, stark reminders of the bark beetle rampage. The Forest Service has been busy taking down dead trees and scores of neatly cut 12” thick rounds, some 2 feet across, were piled along either side of the trail. It was a ghostly, almost surreal “forest.”

At the Wilderness boundary cutting stopped, and somewhat farther along the forest again showed signs of undisturbed life. Besides box elder and maples, ponderosa lined the stream bed. And there was a wildflower bonanza:  Red penstemon, giant dried dandelion-like milkweed, beebalm, yarrow, rosy purple wild geranium, blue asters, giant yellow Cutleaf Coneflower,  Purple Whipple’s Penstemon, and blue, white and purple Jacob’s Ladder.

Cutleaf Coneflowers ©SR Euston

We returned cool and refreshed but as we came through Tijeras Pass the heat again hit us hard.

Finally Saturday the weather shifted. A torrential downpour sent 0.75” down in about an hour. By this morning at our house we’ve had 1.3” of rain from the storm.

At last the monsoons have begun.

Five Hundred Years of Forest Growth, Downed by Insect Damage © SR Euston

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Sunday promises to be clear, cool and breezy as we head for the Piedra Lisa Spring Trailhead. We’re not alone. The parking lot is close to full.

Piedra Lisa (it means smooth stone) is a fairly steep trail, gaining 1200’ in about two miles. This does not stop the large number of families we see as the trail begins but after about the first half mile we find we’ve got the trail to ourselves. On the lower trail, cholla are in magenta bloom. As we head up Juan Tabo Canyon two types of Prickly Pear are flowering, one low runners with yellow or apricot blooms, the other with larger pads, its edges studded with bright yellow blossoms. Higher up we reach piñon/juniper forest dotted with the occasional douglas-fir and white fir. Gambel oaks cast mottled shade; the Fendlerbush is almost done flowering. The smokelike seed banners of Mountain Mahogany wave in the breeze.  Scarlet Claret Cups bloom.

Farther on we get great views of granite formations on the Sandias’ western face—the Shield, Needle, Prow and the UNM Spire, and panoramic views west toward the city. The trail itself reflects its Sandia geology, pulverized weathered sandy granite overlaying a smooth granite base. Heading up is slippery, coming down is treacherously slippery.

In a flash of color we spot a Western Tanager in the tree tops—almost tropical with its red head, yellow breast and black wings with white wing bars. He and his less showy olive-colored mate eat insects in a dead piñon. As birds often seem to do, he approaches and sits in direct sun, as though to encourage a positive ID.

At a snack break we watch red breasted nuthatches work their way down the tree trunks, snatching whatever little morsels they can find.

Winded but at the top close to the trail’s halfway point, we reach the Rincon Ridge. From the ridge we have a spectacular northeast view toward Placitas, where the trail ends at its northern terminus, after plunging down steeply into Del Agua Canyon and into the sandy box canyon below.

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Today we take one of Albuquerque’s premiere Sandia spring hikes: up Domingo Baca Canyon.

Just beyond our city’s eastern foothills open space, we pass through a serpentine gate (designed to keep out mountain bikers and horse back riders) onto US Forest Service land, and about a half mile later, enter a designated Wilderness Area.

Giant Granite Boulders © SR Euston

(BTW: How many other cities of over half a million people have wilderness area just a few short miles away from downtown?)

The Baca Canyon trail begins across dry pinon/juniper hills where the spring wildflowers are on full display: glorious orangey Indian Paintbrush, purple-blue Penstemon, red-orange Claret Cup and yellow-green Prickly Pear cactus, white tassel-topped Beargrass and giant purple-tinged, whitish bell-flowered soapweed Yucca. Occasionally we spot a rare Plains Larkspur, its maroon spurred flowers lining a leafless stalk. All this amidst clumps of silvery squirreltail grass, interspersed with carpets of bright yellow Perky Sue.

Canyon Stream © SR Euston

Canyon Stream © SR Euston

Turning northeast across a landscape of great granite boulders, we head into the canyon proper and are enveloped in the lush green coolness of box elder, oak and cottonwood, a sure sign of water. Another half mile and we begin to hear a brook’s gurgling movement. We spend the next mile or so crisscrossing its banks. Fendlerbush is covered with white four-petaled blooms. Mexican squawroot, popularly known as bear corn, sticks up like cobs from under the canyon’s pines .  There’s even the bright spring green of poison ivy.

Domingo Baca Canyon is also known as TWA Canyon, in remembrance of a 1955 plane crash in its dense forest. All 16 passengers perished. We’ve heard that wreckage remains scattered up a narrow side canyon, including the tail bearing the plane’s ID number. We’ve never attempted to find it. The trail is unmarked, unmaintained and rugged. And it seems somehow a ghoulish place to hike. Besides it’s spring.

Like every other source in a water-starved desert, by June the creek likely will be intermittent mud to bone dry. So although this unnamed flow would barely be noticed elsewhere, it’s an ephemeral sight worth hiking to for us.

And a sure sign it’s spring in New Mexico again.

10,000' Sandia Crest from Baca Trail © SR Euston

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Today it’s windy here. That means it’s springtime in the Land of Enchantment.

Spring Wind in Cottonwoods © SR Euston

Our weather radio cautions high profile vehicles to hold on tight through Tijeras Pass and we’re all supposed to be ready for blowing dust and “unexpected airborne objects” like WalMart bags and Burger King wrappers and plastic Adirondack chairs.

Today’s forecasts are particularly dire. We’ve reached the “red flag warning” stage for fire danger. The humidity is low  (a dry 11%), the southern gusts are coming in at just under 50 mph (drier) and there hasn’t been rain since late April. Driest.

But this year it has been windier. April 28-29 they predicted 75 – 85 mph gusts. At Sandia Peak behind my house a 99 mph gust was reported. At the airport, we got to 63 mph.

weather journal jottings © SR Euston

In our home, we take our weather seriously. While most people seem marginally aware–“Hot enough for ya?”–to us, weather is the subject of over twenty years of observation and record keeping. My husband received his first rain gauge at age eight.  Each morning as we sip our coffee we listen to the weather radio where we’re brought up to date on New Mexico highs and lows, current conditions and short and long term forecasts.

And then there’s our favorite, the “forecast discussion.” Mostly it’s a lackluster presentation, understandable for our rarely changing sunny days. But there is one weatherwriter who likes to jazz it up.  He/she’s occasionally droll and is known to use unusual turns of the phrase. For this latest bout of wind, here’s the story: “it appears that critical fire weather conditions will be but a distant memory Thursday through Sunday as the pattern becomes dominated by moisture sloshing back and forth….” For more great Albuquerque weather info check out http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=NWS&issuedby=ABQ&product=AFD&format=CI&version=1&glossary=1

Backyard Peach Blossoms © SR Euston

So, just like springtime peach blossoms and daisies, this too will pass. In another few weeks it’ll be hot, with thunderstorms. And I bet, as usual, just as the Sweet 100s planted earlier this week flower, we’ll have one of those five minute tomato-destroying hailstorms New Mexico famous for.

Spring Wildflowers Eastern NM © SR Euston

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Sandia Gold

Sandia Gold

You know it’s autumn in New Mexico when you find yourself standing in a grocery store parking lot next to a rotating wire mesh barrel, watching the new chile crop turn from bright green to charred black as it roasts. You can see the gas-fired heat waves shimmering up into the deep blue October sky.  And oh that aroma! Some folks may go for the cinnamon in a baking apple pie, but as for me, I’ll take that pungent, unforgettable autumn scent of roasting chile any day.

But then, after all, I am a New Mexican. A daughter of the American West. Oh not by birth but definitely by choice. As Emma Brown points out in a profile of Annie Proulx in High Country News:  “Proulx moved to Wyoming from Vermont in 1994 and right away went about challenging the notion that you can’t know the West — or write about it — unless you were born and raised here.” As Proulx herself continues, “… the stories just are there because the place dictates what happens.” (For this entire fascinating interview go to : April 13, 2009 issue of High Country News at www.hcn.org)

I know I’m no Annie Proulx but I do know I’ve loved my thirty years living and exploring the West. From its great open emptiness of basin and range, to Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles, from saguaros to sagebrush, from broken glass strewn roadsides to pristine glacial lakes, from my desert’s annual eight inch rainfall to my southern Oregon coast wintertime cottage’s 75…where do I begin to tell you all about it?

Right here. On an aspen-viewing hike to Sandia Crest, the mountain rampart that holds Albuquerque, my hometown of choice, in its hand.  From above, looking down into an inaccessible canyon, waves of yellow gold autumn leaves mixed with the green of those not quite yet ready to give up their chlorophyll, the scene is as breathtaking this Wednesday as it has been for myriad October hikes past.

So come. Join me as we Wander West. Let me show you around my Home on the Range.

PHOTO ESSAY:  SOUTHWEST AUTUMN

Magdalena Backroad

Magdalena Backroad

Autumn Wetland

Autumn Wetland

Sycamore Bronze - Gila Country

Sycamore Bronze - Gila Country

Chamisa Dunes

Chamisa Dunes

Rio Grande Cottonwood

Rio Grande Cottonwood

October in Deming, NM

October in Deming, NM

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