A Muddy Butt and A Diamondback

The Gila River-2

Gila River through the Bird Area (2016)

The recent rains made for expectations of good tracks on the river’s edges.  We headed for the Gila River’s Bird Area, books and rulers tucked into backpacks.  Along with us came the dog.  I wasn’t certain whether one energetic dog would have the patience for three humans standing around staring at the ground for minutes at a time, but she did need the exercise.

The river was running really high and some of the edges were under water.  There was one wash and several spits that were above the water line; they had been flushed by run-off and were rain-slick with mud.  Since the light rain the previous evening, critters large and small had been dashing and dancing around, leaving a plethora of foot prints behind.  The dog added tracks of her own, fortunately not overwriting the tracks we were most interested in deciphering.

As a highlight, we found absolute evidence of the resurgence of beaver on this stretch of the Gila River.  We’ve seen the beavers’ signature tree stumps, chewed to points.  And there’s a beaver dam under construction just a mile or so downriver from where we were exploring. But here, we found tracks – impressed in the mud just since last night.  Our “take” for the morning: beaver; two different skunk species—hog-nosed and striped; raccoon; great blue heron; spotted sandpiper; and squirrel. We might have found more, but for time and a dog’s tolerance.  We documented and submitted all but the sandpiper and squirrel to iNaturalist to become part of the scientific database.

The only downside  was when my backside went down into the mud.muddy butt Gila River bird area 10-26-18.ed

The next day took me in the opposite direction, down into the Chihuahuan Desert and in the shadow of Cookes Peak. We went to explore the remains of Ft Cummings, one of a string of forts originally built through the southwest along the Butterfield Stage line and set at critical water sources.  These same forts were later instrumental in, first causing and as a result, defending against the Apaches in the 11-year Apache wars.

There’s not much left of Ft Cummings: a few bits of adobe wall; a cemetery hill whose occupants have since been moved; parts of the stone structure that was the stagecoach stop; and a springhouse that is not only still in use but has been brought into the 21st century by the addition of solar panels to pump out water for the cattle that are grazed on this piece of desert.

Stopped in the old corral area, where we thought to sit on the walls, water ourselves and have a bite of lunch.  I wandered to the end of one wall to look for a seat in the shade under the only tree tall enough to cast any.  There was already somebody stretched out.  With due respect, I allowed as how he (or she) had first rights to the spot.  Nonetheless, he (or she) decided to remove him (or her)self into hiding until we interlopers stopped staring, left the corral and a snake’s peace was restored.

rattlesnake - Ft Cummings

The earth is flat — until it’s not!

We cross a saddle in a ridge from the trailhead and pass into the Gila Wilderness. Lying before us is almost three miles of flat mesa.  Walking across that wide meadow of grasses and wildflowers, we follow a narrow trail, pitted by mule and horse feet, rocky and muddy thanks to impact of monsoonal drenching.  The views are expansive from the slight rises, and intimate in the dips. I can tell we are approaching the edge of nothing when I start seeing, instead of the trunks of Ponderosa, the crowns.  Through the crowns, a blue haze of air. The trail tends away obliquely, making me wonder how far this mesa goes and when it will drop away from under my feet.

Old Truck on Aeroplane MesaWilderness isn’t empty, not of people and not of things.  To the right of the trail, silhouetted against the sky is a relic: a 40’s era truck driven out to the edge of the world and abandoned, fodder for curious hikers’ wonder and speculation.

Then we are there, where the flat becomes vertical. Approximately 1500 feet of rocky switchback trail lies between mesa and river bottom.  Meadow and Gila River.2.edThere’s an overlook where we see our destination, a river-side meadow specked with the white kitchen tent secluded under a clutch of pines. The scary aspect of the view is that we have to get down there. As we pick our way among the trail rubble, we hear the mules coming with our weight of tents and bags.  The outfitter calls down to us, “Move to the downhill side.  Mules spook if a critter is above them.  Is that you behind a bush? Move out where the mules can see you.”  I step down and out of the way, and watch the outfit step on by us, more surefooted than I am, for sure.  Then, we work our way on down to level ground, off the sun-exposed cliff-side and into the shade.

Our first night around the campfire and under the Milky Way.  There’s a flicker on the far horizon that isn’t city-generated.  By mid-night, planets, stars and campfire are overwhelmed by a strong storm cell that parks overhead for the next several hours.  Lightning flashes my tent-sides bright, and thunder rolls overhead and on down the valley.  The storm is centered right overhead and the ground vibrates under my sleeping mats.  What’s to do except lie awake and in awe.  Saturday morning, we stand under the kitchen tent, sharing storm stories, drinking cup after cup of coffee and looking anxiously for spots of clearing overhead.  Suddenly, Lightning-struck tree.1

WHAMBOOM — a lightning strike about a football-field distance away.  We all duck and, on straightening, see the smoke and steam rising from a single pine tree on the edge of the woods at the far side of the meadow.  It still stands, but has been split in two and its roots boiled up out of the ground around it.  Splinters scatter on the newly-bared earth.  I’m not sure any of us have ever been that close a witness to the power of lightning’s electric impact.  Over the course of the morning, we go in ones and twos over to look at the result: at the split tree, the splinters, the upheaved earth and the scorched ground scar.

It’s late summer and in the meadow, along the river edges and under the pines, the earth explodes in bloom.  We count perhaps two dozen species of wildflowers, all native because how else would they be, out here in the wild.  Purple, orange, blue and more blue, seemingly a dozen shades of yellow, we wade hip-deep in color.

A diversion is suggested: a hike up river a mile or so to see a beaver dam.  Beaver are coming back on the Gila; they are cutting trees, dragging them distances and lacing them across the river to catch up and slow down the flow.  We find the dam stretching across most of the river’s width.  A cheerful rush of water through the branches, a pond held up behind and extended wetlands.  While we stand on the edge, a ripple surfaces and crosses the pond.

The day comes to leave the magic meadow retreat.  Roll the sleeping bag and mats, drop and pack a dew-wet tent, sort my day-pack to its lightest possible weight and sip a last cup of camp coffee.  Slowlyslowly climb up the cliff from river to mesa; take a last look over the edge at the kitchen tent, to be broken down by the outfitter the next day; face forward the long trail across flat earth and over the ridge to the trailhead.Down from the Saddle

There are additional images on my flickr page, linked below.

Favorite trail tales

 

Little Cherry Creek RdLittle Cherry Creek Road, Gila National Forest, early on a hot Sunday morning.  Third hike in as many weeks on this rough little two-track north of Pinos Altos.  It’s a good place to bring the dog, a good place to bird, a good place to find water in the right seasons and critters in any season.  I start at appx 6500′ elevation.  At a mile I’m over 6800′ and if I walk up the track to the intersection of track and trail, I’ve topped 7800′ — a 1300′ gain in a little less than two miles. It’s not a tough hike, though, despite the gain: gradual up with plenty to distract from any climbing discomfort.

 

Hoodoos define the walls of the canyon at the low end; they lean over the creek bed and crowd the oak, ash and other  deciduous trees.  Slabs of rock dip toward the track, laced with green lichens and, sometimes, desert varnish; shelves and overhangs provide cover and crevices for critters to shelter and burrow.

Ponderosa candles and spiderweb.6-10-18

Ponderosa candles and spiderweb

Another couple hundred yards up the track and Ponderosa  pines come to dominate the hillsides, still mixed with Gambels Oak.  The understory is a mix of green shrubs like gooseberry, elderberry, sumac, many of which are fruit- or berry-bearing.  Wildflowers can be plentiful, though not so much this year, thanks to the drought.

At 7,000′, the Ponderosa are mixed with fir on the hillsides that pinch the creek and track.

On this day as on my last two hikes up Little Cherry Creek Rd, Pumpkin pulls right and left — she’s kept on lead — running her nose on the ground gathering every scent of human, domestic and wild footprint.  A very brave chipmunk dashes across the road, tail straight at 12:00, right under the dog’s nose.  Can I blame the dog for her lunge at the critter and efforts to follow it over the side of the hill into the weeds?  And I know that when we come back down, the dog will remember exactly where that chipmunk disappeared over the edge; she’ll stop once more to strain to the chase.

I pished up a pair of Red Faced Warblers.  They darted among the pine branches to points right over my head, pishing being a very seductive sound, where they peered down at me.  I’m told that the warblers have moved down-mountain from the fire a few miles further north and a few hundred feet higher in elevation.  Normally, there are a few warblers along this track; now with the fire, there is an abundance.

I don’t know whether to count myself lucky: probably so, since I had Pumpkin with me.  Reports of a sow black bear with two cubs have come from two friends who have hiked that area in the same time frame as my forays.  In one encounter, the sow tried to move her cubs off in a different direction, but one curious cub headed straight for the human.  Mom grunted something comparable to “come back here right this minute” and the cub did turn and run back.  On the same day that I was just there with my dog, another friend and his wife, higher up the trails from me, unexpectedly confronted the bear and cubs.  This time, one cub ran straight up a tree.  Same little rebel?  I wonder.  Mom got very agitated, communicating warning to my friends by bouncing and huffing. They backed slowly, with a can of bear spray at the ready.  I always wish it was me that saw the critters; I usually just find their tracks and scat.  Pumpkin is a hunter with a strong instinct.  I know how she reacts to chipmunks and rabbits, even lizards.  I don’t think I want to find out how she would react to Momma bear or babies.

So I will satisfy myself with “encounters” like this:Puffball.6-10-18

 

Chocolate, Mole and Mezcal, Oh my!

 

We were picked up outside our hotel early in the morning for an all-day adventure called Traditions Cuisine.  Antonio and Ana were our hosts for the day, shortly to become friends and fellow-adventurers.  First stop was Teotitlan del Valle, about 45 minutes from downtown Oaxaca.  And first stop in the village was the village market, held once a week and a center for all things food, crafts and household goods.  Among the produce, we found the makings of Caldo Xóchitl con Flor de Calabaza or Squash Blossom Soup, which uses the blossoms, stems, leaves and squash of the plant, with a few chiles to spice things up.

juxtaposition of centuriesWhile in the village of Teotitlan, we paid a quick visit to the village church. What stood out was the incorporation of an old section of a Zapotec building or wall into the wall of the church.  The Spanish were resourceful — or terribly destructive — when it came to reusing materials from pre-Spanish buildings and walls to build their churches and administrative buildings.

We were invited into a private home to see–and participate in–how chocolate is made, starting with roasting the cacao beans on a traditional wood stove, although stove is something of a misnomer.  It is an open wood fire in a brick enclosure with a wide terracotta plate on which the beans are stirred until they darken and crack. Once “shelled,” the cacao beans, with added cinnamon, are crushed on a metate until the resulting paste is graced with a couple handfuls of raw sugar.  Fresh chocolate is mixed with hot water for a sweet drink; the rest is dried into small blocks. At home now, I’m shaving my chocolate blocks onto my morning oatmeal!

Hot chocolate was just an appetizer for mole and lunch.  Dahlia has built an outdoor kitchen where she cooks for her extended family and for those of us she hosts for mole negro demonstration and mole-covered chicken lunch.  Mole much anticipated since I have been making my own version of mole for awhile.  Oy, did I have a lot to learn about making traditional mole.

Mole - Roasting chiles and tomatoes for mole negro

First, I’ll need to build myself one of those open fire stoves and obtain a large terracotta cooking tray.  Next, a metate and mano.  While many of my ingredients showed up in Dahlia’s mole, my results come nowhere close using an electric stove, oven broiler and immersion blender.  At least I brought home the requisite Mexican chocolate, which proved to be a more minor player in Dahlia’s mole negro than in my own.

I think what surprised me more than anything during Traditions Cuisine was learning that these women, and women like them throughout Oaxaca, cook on these open fires, using metates and manos on an everyday basis.  Most do not have or do not often use , indoor kitchens with stoves of either gas or electric, both being quite expensive.

The day ended with parts a and b for mezcal.

I had not tasted mezcal prior landing in Oaxaca, the drink not being a bar familiar on the East coast, nor a dinner companion for any of my friends in New Mexico.  At a Oaxaca restaurant earlier in the week, I “kissed” a shot as instructed; one doesn’t throw back a shot of mezcal. Part a was a stop at a distiller of mezcal. We saw each step, from the pit where the agave hearts are roasted, to the grinding pit where a big stone is hauled around by one-horse power to crush the roasted piñas, to the fermentation barrel to the still.  Not sure that the Mexicans call it a still, but if you’re from the South, it’s a still!  The longer the resulting mezcal is aged, the smoother it is; and of course the type of agave used to distill into mezcal makes a difference as well.

Tasting mescal at an agave farm

Part b was a tour of a family-owned agave farm and nursery.  This farm is pretty young and since agave plants don’t mature for seven or more years, this farmer has a few years of patience and loving attention ahead of him.  But he has been harvesting agave on another family farm in the hills, and a relative doing the distilling, so we were treated to another tasting.  After some debate on how to get an unmarked bottle of clear liquid through TSA at aiport security points, I bought a bottle to bring home.

We balanced our day of living Mexican culture and cuisine with a trip to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit the archaeological site of Mitla ( Lyobaa to the Zapotec people), which was the main religious center for the Zapotec, pre-Spanish.  Many of the walls and buildings stand on ancient platforms, all constructed with rock that fit together so perfectly, no cementing was needed.  The Spanish, who arrived in the 1520s, deconstructed many of the walls and repurposed the stone into their chapels and church buildings.   Under the overhangs that protected the original Zapotec walls from rain, the cochineal-based painting is still visible, outlining the stonework symbols and including faces and fantastic figures.

The rest of our week was spent in Oaxaca city, eating, people-watching and enjoying the daily entertainment on the Zocalo.

Scamps with Tails

I kneeled (knelt?) down to get a better camera angle on the little guy scooting up the bamboo post.  Next thing I heard was a lot of giggling from behind me and, glancing over my shoulder, saw the attendant grabbing a long prehensile tail and pulling.   Some little scamp had jumped up on my fanny pack and was unzipping one of the pockets!  If he’d been successful, he would surely have enjoyed my emergency-snack LaraBar!  There’s no doubt that those little fingers would have had the snack wrapper torn open in no time.

The Guadalajara Zoo is on par with the zoo I grew up visiting: Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington DC.  It is a smaller version of the San Diego Zoo, with trains to zip you from one end of the zoo to the other and an overhead SkyZoo, a cable ride with gondolas.  A highlight for me was the walk-through enclosure that housed a dozen nimble-fingered monkeys, neighbored by another walk-through enclosure that was home to an extended family of lemurs.  The day we visited was unusually warm so many of the animals were lulled by the heat to somnolence.  But not these little monkeys.

Guadalajara, like most of catholic Latin America, has a number of interesting and stunning cathedrals or temples as they are sometimes called.  A second highlight for us was the Expiatory Temple or Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento, listed on TripAdvisor as the #1 must-visit.  Truly an amazing and breath-taking architectural achievement.

The Guadalajara Cathedral is on the main square in Guadalajara Centro; it also houses, in what may have been the monastery, a museum of sacred art.  Up a final set of stairs and opening from a small gallery dedicated to primitive art of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a door leads to the roof of the cathedral overlooking Centro from the pigeons’ viewpoint as well as a perspective from the foot of the smaller dome and steeple.

I stopped at a busy fruit and vegetable market to buy local fruit. Mangoes were fat as cantaloupes, the berries were picked not 1/2 hour away, and pineapples were fragrantly beckoning, and all at amazingly low prices compared to what we pay here for raspberries, blueberries and, lord knows, for fresh pineapple.  I couldn’t figure out the system, couldn’t read the signs and couldn’t ask for help.  All was in Spanish, of course.  I tentatively stepped up, caught the eye of one of the vendors, and pointed at what I wanted.  I can at least say uno and dos.  The vendor bagged my choices but instead of handing the bags to me to go pay, she gave me instead a little slip of paper with a stamped number.  I stepped to a window on the side of the market; or I should say I stepped into the crowd at the window on the side.  There seemed to be two lines and everyone but me knew which line to be in.  One and then another and then two more people noted my stamped number and tried to point me in the right direction — all in Spanish, of course.  Somehow just by the energy of their helpfulness, I ended up in the right line, got to the window and handed over my number.  That cashier retrieved my bag and told me what I owed; need I say…in Spanish, of course.  Previous experience led me to proffer a large bill and gratefully receive my change with my purchases.

Mangoes

I’m not complaining that many on the street and in the markets did not speak English, or very little.  I’ve traveled enough to know that English is not a forgone assumption and Americans shouldn’t expect that everyone should speak as we do, even though many American tourists do expect just that.  I was reminded that, before heading south of the border, I didn’t spend enough time  brushing up on my elementary Spanish from years-gone-by Adult Ed classes. And people everywhere — on the street, in the stores, at the markets — are willing to help and forgive if we at least have a set of basic phrases, mostly “Please” and “Thank You.” Plus, I know the Point and Pray method of cross cultural communication! Mi Español no es mui bien; lo siento, solo Englais.

Vibrant and Thriving on Lake Chapala, Mexico

Walking the dogs.Ajijic

Walking on the malecon, Ajijic

Fly into Guadalajara and take a 30 minute taxi ride for $420 MX pesos to towns that live alongside Lake Chapala: Chapala and Ajijic.  Find a little boutique hotel or rent a temporary home, don sturdy walking shoes and a wide-brimmed hat and start exploring.  Lakeside on the malecons is for people watching. Ajijic’s malecon is one of two town centers where everyone, local families and expats alike, get out to stroll, dog-walk, picnic and play.  Chapala makes room on its malecon for a couple of carnival-type rides and any number of vendors.  The town squares are shaded with huge trees, circled with cafes and graced with classic Spanish churches and chapels.

The lake is for fishing.  People with pop-bottle hand-lines hang off the end of the piers and walkways or fling nets from waist-deep. but they are clearly outfished by the egrets, herons and pelicans that stand on lake edge, pilings and boat rails or skim the lake surface with deep bills.

Ajijic, with its large expat community, is artistic and yummy.  Street art hints at the art, crafts and unique clothing waiting inside the gallery doors.  There are over 100 restaurants with cuisines representing most of the wider world, including Thai, Sushi, Italian and Spanish.

Finally, there’s nothing like ambling through the golden hour and sitting lakeside to watch the sun set over the water and the Sierra Madres.

On the Zocalo of Oaxaca, MX

Oaxaca Puppets.1 First came the puppets, 2 stories tall, marching down the street.  Under, around and behind them came bands of brass and drums.  Swirling among the bands and the puppet carriers were the youth and sponsors, dressed in their cultural finest.  This festival honored the youth from the Zapotec and Mixtec villages and communities of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.  Soon, the Zocalo was brim full of color and flash.

Oaxaca Celebration Announcements were made, hands were clapped and everyone settled down for an afternoon of performances.  Lo siento, but I don’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t understand what was said.  I could only enjoy and save through my lens, the afternoon of music, slapstick and dance.

There was a slapstick comedy based on a children’s tale, with an evil witch complete with magical powers–  Oaxaca Slapstick Performer There were dancers on the plaza —

The festival went on well into the evening.  We had to leave early the next morning for home; we went to sleep to the sounds of pounding feet on the Zocalo stage just beyond the doors of our hotel.

Tell me what! Tell me who! and tell me how!

Here’s where the big cat sat for a few minutes watching; how small a sign for so large an animal.  See these digs on the edge of the road? This is where that cat bounded down, rear feet sliding down the mounded dirt, digging divots in the soft substrate, front feet barely landing before the cat was across the road.  Look around. There are cat tracks in the duff between the “sit” and the bound.  There are other cats’ tracks on the other side of the road and trailing into the bush.  Make up our own stories about what these animals were doing together: play? Mating dances?

javalina hair - hunter-killed

Javalina hair

Who’s hair is this, left in piles along the edge of another little road?  And what to make of that black, odd-shaped pile of something?  A javalina met its end here and was gutted out.  The questions are: how and by what?  and where is the rest of the critter? Follow the disturbed leaves and soil up and across the road, under the bush, across the stream bed and over under that oak.  Not hard to see – if you know what to look for. And the question remains: what killed this animal?  If a mt lion had made this kill, it would have look like this: [scatter/scrabble/draganddisappear].  If coyotes had killed the javalina, this is how things would look: [dragdrag/gnaw/scatter].  That’s not what happened here.  This javalina was killed by a hunter over there, gutted, skinned and probably stripped of best parts of meat. Here are the tell-tale signs: knife marks.  Coyotes probably dragged what was left here and chewed on the rib ends.

deer lay

White Tail Deer lay

There were many more opportunities during the weekend to sus out tracks, to tangle with strides and pace, to dance left or right foot and front or back, to read that the rabbit leaped away or where the deer rested in the sand. Gopher mounds versus javalina rootings. A branch chewed off by small teeth and scrapes on branches by young antlers.

 

Stories upon stories told by tracks and scats and sign.  Learn to read the sign to read the stories.  Look around.  Expand my view.  Go from ground level, nose a few inches above the soil, to circling the sign, to searching the surrounding landscape to get the bigger picture.

This is what I learned in an advanced tracking workshop.  I thought I knew a little bit about tracking – emphasis on “a little bit.”  I spent a weekend getting tested and evaluated.  Whether I passed or not wasn’t my concern (I did), and how I would manage without my tracking book (that was the hardest constraint to master).   What I learned was, first: what I don’t know.  Then to listen, watch, absorb, sort and remember.

Casey- racoon track morphology

Racoon on the Gila

When the rain comes…

Jay on Oak.2-17-18

Scrub Jay on Scrub Oak

Here in the ecological intersection between high desert, pinion-juniper and coniferous forests, sitting on the Continental Divide, people speak of “moisture.”  As in: “we sure need some moisture, it’s so dry.”  We welcome any kind of moisture–rain, snow, heavy fog.  Well, perhaps not fog, since it does nothing more than wet the leaves and leave garlands of itself girdling the mountains.  When it rains, this is the only place I know where we all run OUTSIDE to stand under the falling drops, faces tilted upward.

Golden Oak.2-17-18When the rain comes in late winter-early spring, the gray or scrub oaks turn golden brown and begin to drop their leaves. Gray/scrub oaks do not shed in the fall like  respectable deciduous trees in the East. Oak leaves hang on green until a little spring rain triggers the growth cycle of new buds, causing the old leaves to color, dry and fall away.  When we moved here, I learned quickly how both flora and fauna are rain-dependent; both time their reproduction cycles to the season most likely to provide moisture and food to sustain the next generation.

Grasses after rain.2-17-18There is a feast of colors when the rain comes. Rain intensifies colors in amazing ways.  Maybe that’s true everywhere and I just never noticed before.  Dry fields of grass just look like…well, grass!  Various shades of tan.  Nothing particularly exciting on the color palate.  After a couple of days of gentle rain, grasses show true colors of gold, gray, gray-green, and most particularly, red.

 

Wet lichen.2-17-18

 

 

Complementing the rainbow of grasses, wet lichens become emerald jewels against the rough bark of pinion trees and branches.

 

 

 

Fragrance of juniper.2-17-18The rain frees a fragrance that is unique to the Southwest.  You catch it the moment you step outside anytime there’s been enough of a sprinkle to wet the leaves.  After a steady farmer’s rain,  the air is sharply saturated.  Follow your nose to a halo of scent.  If it were visible, it would be a shimmering ether; even not visible it permeates the atmosphere, intoxicating.  More than ozone, here, it is literally the smell of rain: the Juniper tree.

 

 

 

 

With this rain event, we have received an average across the area of 2 inches, a hopeful sign where we worry about the threat of summer wild fires.  I stand outside and soak in the moisture; I walk and look and breathe.

 

On Twin Sisters Creek

Twin Sisters_

Twin Sisters in the background

Three people striding along, hiking poles marking their yards.  Two helmeted men pass on mountain bikes, as I pull Pumpkin off to the side.  Greetings exchanged, I recognize one of the riders: Happy Sunday, we smile.  Pumpkin insists on a bit of a gopher hunt, off in the grass.  Something over there is unseen but smelled, heard; she stops on point, ears forward.  C’mon, Pumpkin, here’up, pup.  At the intersection of trails, here is a couple with a small canine, pick-up-able.  “Which way are you going? I’ll take that way.” A jogger with her dog,  on leash but curious.  She pauses and the dogs’ noses touch briefly; a bit of Labrador in both, hers black, mine mahogany.  Another mountain biker, slowly negotiating the narrow trail through the grasses and across the stony stream bed.  Move Pumpkin into the weeds on the side and receive a grateful nod.  She’s off again on a nose-hunt.  Pushing through the grass, snuffling, stopping to sneeze out the dust.  Through two gates and a couple of miles down the trail, we come to our turn-around point.

Target Practice.Ft BayardThis old metal frame is another bit of  Fort Bayard history.  According to my historian friend from our Tuesday hiking group, this frame was in the service of target practice for the Buffalo Soldiers.  Behind the frame is a bit of hill embedded with wooden boards that served as the backstop for the balls that pierced either the targets or with poorer aim, the metal frame itself.

On our way back to the trailhead, we are passed by yet two more bikers, these with a dog off leash, panting along in pace with them.  The dog hesitates slightly at sight of Pumpkin but keeps moving in response to the demand of the bikers.

We encounter a hiker unfamiliar with this trail.  Once I’ve told him where the trail goes and where it intersects with trails more familiar, we chat for several minutes.  Knees, hips and legs — an organ recital typical of folks our age; a touch on politics, just enough to admit that he is Libertarian and tends to avoid political discussions (altho he brought it up) and an avowed tree-hugger (me, since he mentioned having a few as friends).  Actually I just wanted to make sure he knew what specific topics to avoid as he avoided the general topic of politics.  3.7 miles later, we were back at the truck, sharing a granola bar.

It was a beautiful Sunday as so many of our days are, here in the high desert of the Southwest.  It was a good day to be on a trail along a creek lined with magnificent old cottonwoods, with the Twin Sisters in the distance in one direction, and the Stars and Stripes flying over the veterans cemetery, visible just over the ridge, on the grounds of the old fort.  Our public lands.  We are healthier, physically, emotionally, spiritually because those lands exist, because we can hike them, hunt them, bike them, bird them.  It’s a fact!

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Barry Hardy, Syncretist

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