One of my favorite stretches of the CDT near home is a forested section of the trail, cutting just under a ridgeline at about 6400 feet elevation. It’s my go-to place when the temperature encourages hiking in the shade. The trail dips and rises – on the dips, it passes through pinion and juniper and crosses erosion streamlets, and on the rises, Ponderosa pines dominate. A gentle place, a refuge from the busier sections on nearby Gomez Peak and 80 Mountain. The dog and I walk a couple of miles each way at a leashed-dog pace.
Last week, I looked for Spring. Little signs. Tiny blooms and grass. Signs were there, but not in abundance; not yet. There was plenty to entertain a dog’s nose. And grab her ears’ attention, for that matter. Nothing that I ever saw, but she knew “they” were out there.
I noticed a White-breasted Nuthatch, an “ass-up” bird as my Ornithology Prof called it. The Nuthatch was shopping up a pine tree trunk, gleaning among the crevices in the Ponderosa bark. My eye followed the bird, past the bird, up the trunk and higher into the early Spring blue sky, where a Red-tailed Hawk was also shopping for dinner, soaring in circles, eyes down. The dog was sniffing a chipmunk hole so I had a moment to watch the sun firing the red tail as the hawk moved between me and the light.
The clouds on this day were herringbone and cross-hatch. They moved and morphed into jelly fish and mares’ tails. A full sky and a good camera would have made this photographer happy. As it was, it was lovely to check out the clouds at each break in the overstory.
I had plenty of incentive to look up and around. Normally I would be watching the ground, noticing the tracks left by neighbors who passed recently: mule deer, fox, dog, bicycle, horse, once a mountain lion. But now, the trail is crossed, edged, saddled with the destructive tracks of cattle. This section has been pristine till now. This is Forest Service land, and cattle leasing competes with recreational uses. Now, there is a leaseholder who has moved cattle into this section. Seeing the impact of those animals’ passing, even understanding the mission of multiple use, makes me sad and discouraged. It’s hard to be poetic about cow tracks.
Later in the week, and on a cooler, windy day, dog, husband and I went south to another section of CDT, off the appropriately named Gold Gulch Rd. This is another favorite section, mostly thanks to the incredible views from the open trail at an elevation over 6300 feet.
Husband hikes at a different pace and with a different attention than me. He’s not leashed to dog who waits for no human – except when smells dictate pauses. He fell further behind than usual, so after waiting for a few minutes for his hat to top the rise, dog and I went back down the trail. He was alternately bending over scratching in the dust of the trail, and standing up staring at his hand. Caught up, he held out a bit of gold. Not enough to start a gold rush, but enough to give us a little rush of discovery. Would have been nice if it were big enough to pay the mortgage.
The land is covered by mostly bear grass, scrub and pinion/juniper, it’s more exposed, and Spring is making more of an appearance. One of the many forms of locoweed is in bloom and tiny yellow sprigs are popping. This is not an area where we get the glorious wildflowers that are stunning hikers across the Southwest, but at 25 miles from home, I’ll take what is offered.
The dog’s nose perked and dragged us both off trail about 50 feet. I caught her just before she buried her teeth into the scavenged remains of a javalina, officially known as a collard peccary. No bear here, no wolves, possibly a mountain lion kill shared afterward by coyotes. More likely a hunter took this animal, stripped it of meat and dignity, and left its bones, hide and head to the sun and wind. I know hardcore trackers might bag the head with incisors intact, take it home and clean it, saving the skull. I was satisfied with a few pictures and an observation documented on iNaturalist.
Here, we are within 50 miles of the southernmost end of the CDT. From the rises, we stare at Big Hatchet Mountain, the mountains of the borderlands, the Floridas. To the east, the blue haze of the Organ Mountains; Cookes Peak stands alone; to the west, glimpses of the Peloncillos. Years ago on a little mountain in my home state, I saw a family with a young son come up the trail to the edge of the rock and look over the farmland 900 feet or so below. He turned in excitement to cry, “Hey mom hey dad. We’re bigger than the world.” Exactly the way I feel up here!