Ups and Downs

CDTrail over Goat Canyon.1-30-18

I don’t like “up” very much. To be honest, it depends on how much “up” there is, and whether “up” is complemented by “flat” and “down.”  Too much “up” pushes my breathing and burns my thighs.  Working against me on “up”:  I grew up at sea level; I never hiked much until moving to 6,000 feet; I’m not 40 anymore.

It was another Tuesday, another foray into the Gila National Forest with the “Tuesday Group.”  Our hero route suggestion-er proposed Goat Canyon, a favorite of his, and frequented by us individually and as a group.  It lies next to Saddle Rock Canyon, and a canyon over from Black Hawk, and so on.  These Gila hills are only hills because of the canyons that define and divide them!

A Forest Service road climbs out of Goat Canyon up to a ridge threaded by the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  While ones of us (often me) frequently request not too much “up,”  this morning we were more interested in sun, given that it was about 19 degrees at 8 am.  Off we went to Saddle Rock, and up Goat Canyon we headed.  The canyon itself is  beautiful, approaching “slot” width in places, heavily trafficked by cow and atv, and bounded and strewn with the amazing variety of rock that makes up the skeleton of the Gila mountains.  Still shadowed, the canyon air was chill and, chilled, we set a fast pace.

We reached the Forest Service road and started up.  Oh no.  Really “up.”  I kept hoping that every turn would bring us to “flat” or even, maybe, a little “down” where I could catch my breath.  Every turn opened up more “up.”  Shortly, I was the last of the line, with another hiker graciously keeping me company, despite my breathy assurances that he could go ahead and I’d catch up.

It’s a truism about hiking groups:  the faster ones stop to wait for the slower.  By the time the slower ones catch up and want to rest a minute, the faster have rested and set off at pace again.

We finally reached the end of “up” and the crossing of the CDT. Turning up the trail, we moved through native rock gardens, little groves of oak and pinion, and shouldered the hills on trails wide enough for one pair of feet.  But the views…oh, the views.  This is why I keep breathing through “up”–because my senses and soul expand with the views.  With the space and blue and clouds and distant mountains.

We who live snuggled up to the Gila National Forest are fortunate.  Our Forest, with its three Wildernesses, its cliff dwellings, forests, plains, rivers, elk, mountain lion, wolves, is not under threat of shrinkage, of undoing.  But there are other public lands that are.

Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall led a group of 18 Democratic senators in introducing Senate Bill S. 2354 to enhance protections for national monuments against the Trump administration’s unprecedented attacks on public lands. The America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States (ANTIQUITIES) Act of 2018 reinforces Congress’ intent in the Antiquities Act of 1906: only Congress has the authority to modify a national monument designation.
If you are a public lands advocate — or simply a public lands user — this is a Bill to love.  More importantly, it’s a bill to support.  19 Senators will not be force enough to get this through.  But 51 would be.  If you have a moment, think views and trails and critters.  Think future and preservation and protection and national heritage.  Write you Senator today to thank him/her for support or encourage him/her to think “up.”




A dragonfly. A circle. A hand and other signs carved into rock millennia ago by the Mimbres people.  The Dragonfly Trail is one trail among many on the edge of the Gila National Forest, part of the Elk Preserve and edging Ft Bayard.  Three miles from the edge of town, five from my driveway.  Miles to walk, think, study, meditate, and encounter.

We just got a new dog.  ‘Bout time, I say, having watched our last die of stroke and lethal injectionPumpkin in May of 2017.  This is Pumpkin, a 3 year old female.  She was listed by Albuquerque Animal Shelter as a Chocolate Lab mix, and mix she is indeed, right down to her natural bob tail.  For the nonce, she’s a little scraped up from a scrap with her former home-mate, another female dog with whom she didn’t get along.  It was the fight that determined her surrender and our fortunate adoption.  We knew she had to be ours, because…well…our last three Labs have been named after food groups.  Blackberry. Black Pepper.  Nutmeg.  So when I saw her listed as Pumpkin, her fate and ours were pre-determined. At three, though, she has rather more energy than Nutmeg had at 15.  And I did say that I needed the motivation to hike more often.  So on day 2 of her residency here, we headed for Dragonfly Trail and her introduction to the wilder side of her life-to-come.

Over the course of about three hours, Pumpkin had near encounters with several other dogs, whose owners graciously put them on leash or took them off trail so that we could pass, unmolested and unmolesting.  She also discovered the remains of a deer: backbone and ribs with one leg attached.  Not sure if the deer met its demise from four-legged or two-legged hunters, but Pumpkin found the bones interesting.

I’m assuming that she lived a city life before coming to us.  Now, she has a world, not just of deer, but of coyote, fox, bobcat and the occasional mountain lion and bear to discover. Oh, and rattlesnakes.

What riches our public lands, like the Gila National Forest and Dragonfly Trail, provide: an immersion in natural systems, a meditation of colors and sounds, a chronicling of human presence.  And great places to take a new dog.


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