Autumn is unwrapping her colors in Saddle Rock Canyon. Willow and Walnut are beginning to glow, just a little bit. Soon they will be in full golden glory. Cottonwood hasn’t started her costume change yet, but when she does, her heart-shaped leaves will glitter in the breeze like gold coins. Poison Ivy somehow manages to change each of her three leaves a different shade such that her tangled vines hanging from rock cliff are a panoply of red and orange. A brilliant red dress of a vine creeps up the granite face–she’s one of the first, along with Ivy, to go scarlet in September. Jewels of tuna now adorn Prickly Pear, giving me dreams of jelly and syrup.
Saddle Rock is a riparian canyon, protected for restoration, on the edge of the Gila National Forest just outside Silver City. It’s popular for hikers, birders, trackers, photographers and just plain-ol’ ooglers because it’s close, though it requires a steady driving hand and high clearance to get through the sandy track back into the canyon area. It’s neighbors are Goat Canyon (tho I’ve never seen goat one in there, just cows), Tuff Canyon, called so by my hiking group because of the fascinating tuff formations, and a network of other intersecting canyons, arroyos and slots.
Saddle Rock and its neighbors are a few of the gems in the Gila. Our 3-million-acre National Forest is not under the same threat of abuse as other National Monuments both in New Mexico and the rest of the country–land and sea. Yet, hiking, birding, tracking, photographing and just oogling our Forest gems reminds me how precious all our public lands are and how critical they are to the health and wealth of the larger environment, thus to our own benefit. And it seems that millions of Americans agree with me; all except the US Secretary of the Interior. Willow and Walnut, Cottonwood and Poison Ivy, and Prickly Pear can enchant us with their autumn displays; they depend upon us to speak up on their behalf.