Category Archives: my soul

The Wilderness of My Soul. Where I find myself.

More from before (photos from the unnamed wilderness)

OK, I did name the wilderness in the photos themselves. These newest photos are the oldest. (I know, it sounds wrong, but it’s true.) We took a trip to the unnamed wilderness in June with friends Melissa and Lew. We camped in a campground, instead of the jack-camping we did in August. Follow the link for all photos (14 from June plus the previously posted 60 from August).

pale wild iris Western Tanager gray jay (not to be confused with a Clark's nutcracker) a snake in a stream (much smaller than it may seem)

all photos

A place too magnificent to share

We camped in a magical place. We were just below 10,000 feet altitude among huge aspen on the edge of a wildflower meadow at a wilderness trailhead for 6 days. We hiked down a steep trail into broad canyons with meandering trout streams. We hiked up to open fields with vast views. We hiked straight out through dense aspen among elk. Most of that time, we were alone.

why we love New Mexico
On our way to heaven.

where the camper takes us
Our truck gets us there and our camper keeps us comfortable.

a trail through the aspen
These aspen are young, but we saw many old giants.

Indian paintbrush in front of aspen
The wildflowers were past peak but still wonderful.

Merri in her happy place
Merri in her happy place.

This place isn’t really a secret. Two months ago, a dozen tents occupied our future campsite. (Tent campers have damaged many of the trees. You bastards!) On that hike, we met people coming and going on the trail. This time, not so much. Maybe it was the weather, which was hotter than we expected, though we enjoyed the little rain we got. I’m sure this place is completely different in hunting season and when the snowmobiles arrive. Our biggest disappointment was the surprising frequency of air traffic noise. Wilderness advocates should sue the federal government to demand quiet airspace, at least at times, around these sacred spaces.

More photos (and the location).

This forest doesn’t know it’s dead

Every summer, we camp in Colorado. Even in a drought, Colorado is colder, wetter, and greener than New Mexico. This year, we camped by streams four nights in a row in dense vegetation. However, we returned a week earlier than we had planned. Why?

We encountered a plague of a billion caterpillars that have stripped entire hillsides of aspens. These horror movie wannabes fell from the trees so loudly it sounded like rain. After they fall, they crawl everywhere and climb anything, including you, if you pause too long. We could not walk without crushing many with each step. We crossed a stream choked with thousands, every rock coated, countless floating downstream on the ride of a lifetime. It was obscenic: at once nauseating and mesmerizing.

Except for one male western tanager, we saw few birds. Either these caterpillars taste bad or the birds are afraid they will be the ones eaten. Birding was a bust except for the ubiquitous robins and the invisible warblers. In fact, we didn’t see any wildlife other than prairie dogs, chipmunks, golden mantled ground squirrels — nothing but rodents, not a single deer or elk.

There was a highlight: thousands of yellow swallowtails. They flitted among many lovely wildflowers and gathered in mud wallows by the road. We’ve never seen so many swallowtails. If they are related to the plague of caterpillars, huzzah for the caterpillars. (I don’t think they are connected.)

The wind in Albuquerque has been particularly ferocious this year. We lucked out in missing one horrible night while we were gone. However, I’ve never known Colorado to be so relentlessly windy. The wind blew hard all day long. Such a wind usually presages a change in weather and an approaching storm, but we never saw a cloud, just haze from fires. It was eerie.

We got a camper, in part, to shut out unpleasant neighbors in campgrounds and to be able to move quickly or stay in dispersed campsites away from the herd of fools. Although we found a sweet little campground that was unoccupied except for the opposite end, we saw much evidence of the quality of humanity this area normally attracts. People couldn’t bother to cross the road to an outhouse, preferring to defecate on the surface of the ground between their campsite and a stream, not bothering to cover said feces with anything other than a mound of toilet paper that soon blew hither and yon. This happened more than once in more than one campsite. There was trash everywhere — not as bad as Idaho, mind you, but bad enough.

And the height of folly? Two dolts pushing over a 50 foot tall living aspen for firewood. My hope is that it crushed their bus-sized RV. Yes, with wildfires raging over the next hill, every camper but us insisted on a fire from early morning until leaving it unattended as they staggered off to bed. They pulled down live limbs. They chopped like woodpeckers. They were the envy of the caterpillars.

As we drove away from this obscure narrow canyon with just two campgrounds of 10 and 7.5 sites, respectively, the weekend traffic was pouring in. People were setting up the largest tents and canopies I’ve ever seen in the woods. Campsites had 4 or 5 vehicles, countless people. It was gonna be a good ole rowdy family-funtime up deathtrap hallow until the shootin’ starts. Fittingly, we passed 3 huge trucks unloading cattle. We looked from the cows to the people and back again. We could no longer tell them apart.

Why I changed my mind to favor paving the north road into Chaco

I’ve driven to Chaco Canyon, the Anasazi heartland in northwest New Mexico, every year for nearly 30 years, sometimes more than once per year. I have driven in and out every available route, including the long-since closed old north road that wound down past Casa Chiquita. Overall, I prefer to drive in from the south via Grants and Milan (at least, until Peabody Energy destroyed that area). I like the old south road in, as rugged as it can be. In contrast, the new south road via Pueblo Pintado is out of the way, connecting to the north road before the worst of that stretch. When I come in via the south, I go out north along the road that may be the major route for travelers.

If you haven’t been to Chaco, there is much you may not be able to fully imagine. It’s remote. It’s largely desolate. It’s well-worth almost any journey. Like many of the Chaco faithful, I have opposed paving the final stretch of the north road. I felt this is a pilgrimage and need not be easy. I was surprised after all these year to change my mind about this.

[from my journal at the time]

I made coffee and ate lunch of cheese and crackers. I dropped the camper roof and stowed everything. By 12:15pm, I was ready to roll.

And roll, I did. When I left pavement at the park boundary, the entire vehicle shook violently. Suddenly, the dash was beeping and flashing. It was only the alarm for the passenger seat belt, set off by the weight of my gear and the shaking. I slowed to 15mph for much of the next 15 miles — do the math. During that stretch, I reconsidered the issue of whether to pave the road in. I think the old South road should remain wild and primitive, but now, I think the north road should be paved. Why should every person who visits Chaco have a miserable trip in and out again? That’s not a right of passage, that’s abuse. If the real concern is a flood of visitors, then regulate the size of vehicles or the number of passengers entering Chaco at one time. Limit touring companies, if they become an issue. Why should we all suffer time and again? So long as I can chose to suffer and enjoy the old South Road now and then. …

It’s weird to go from foot pace to 65 miles per hour in such a short time. To go from a teeth jarring road to smooth asphalt. To accelerate into the modern world from the ancient and ageless.

The old south road should never be closed nor improved. Never. But, I’m ready for pavement to the north, back to the place we came from.

Visit my Chaco page for more text and photos.

Black Canyon Campground near Santa Fe, NM

We camped near Santa Fe in a great little campground near the bottom of the ski basin road. Black Canyon CG has paved sites with great separation, clean outhouses, no hook-ups. It’s barely an hour from Albuquerque and near 8500 feet. There is a good trail out out of the campground and another to Hyde Park CG. There were lots of birds, lots of hummingbirds, even one magnificent hummingbird (twice the size of more common hummingbirds). See 20 photos.

our camper rig in site #14

hanging out at camp


Black Canyon Park Service webpage

CG details, site map, and reservations

Birds and more in Alameda Bosque, north of Albuquerque, New Mexico

We visit the area around Alameda frequently. There is a large free parking area just southeast of the bridge. This area is the northern end of the miles-long Paseo del Bosque bike trail through the bosque. Within an easy walk are the old bridge, now closed to cars but used by walkers, cyclists, and equestrians, as well as unpaved trails radiating east, south, and north along both sides of the river. In fact, there are multiple levels of trails along the acequias and closer to the riverbank. What a fabulous area to hike, especially early in the day. (The shade is great but may not be cool enough by late afternoon, even in late spring.)

Birds are an an added bonus to the other natural beauty of the area, which includes wonderful views of the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande river,

On our most recent hike, we saw blue grosbeaks and summer tanagers, among other birds. On previous occasions, we’ve seen hawks galore, as well as porcupines and a camel.