Manzanita Refuge

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Montana. Wisconsin.  Oregon.  Alberta. Saskatchewan. Just some of the license plates on the cars and motor homes in the private RV park where we stopped for a night in Yuma, AZ.  These snow birds migrated for the winter to the warmer climes of the desert.

Snow birds crowded the Fry’s Wholesale Food, pushing carts down unfamiliar isles with bemused expressions.

Two hours west of the crowds and noise and busy-ness of an urban area and 4,000 feet in elevation gain, we tucked ourselves back among the Manzanita and Oak in Cuyamaca State Park.

This state park adjoins the Cuyamaca Wilderness Area, a California wilderness set-aside, which in turn adjoins the Cleveland National Forest.  Miles and hectares of wildlands, some open to exploring by 4 wheels and much only open to 2 feet.  Our campground was on the edge between wheels and feet.

For Thanksgiving week, when schools in San Diego Country are out, the campground was about half occupied.  We almost had the place to ourselves.  And in fact, our campsite, sited on the edge of the campground in a grove of Manzanita, was isolated enough that we were visited in the middle of one night by a mountain lion and a bobcat.  I know because I found their fur-filled scat within 75 feet of our RV.  Mentioned the evidence to a park ranger and he said they know of a juvenile lion hanging around the area.  Given the cottontail bunny that visited us several times in camp, and the amount of fur in the scat, I’d say the lion, and the bobcat for that matter, have a full buffet without bothering us two-leggeds.

The hike up Pine Ridge trail offered great views into the Wilderness Area. water course Down in the valley, there was a water course lined with golden-leafed water-loving trees, paralleled by a fire road.  The mountainsides were pine-covered with polka-dots of yellow where the occasional oak tree caught fire in the afternoon sun.

The pines are Coulter Pines, a relative of the Ponderosa Pines that cover the mountains of New Mexico.

I have no argument with the snow birds whose 40 foot motor homes crowd the plentiful RV resorts; that’s a lifestyle they choose and enjoy.  Mine is of a different calling. Wildlands, mountain lions and their scat, pine trees, silence: that’s mine.

For folks like me, our public lands are critical to our health and well-being; public lands managed by local, state and federal agencies but belonging to all of us. These are sacred lands, deserving of our awe and protection.  Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are – in your kitchen at home or camped under a Coulter Pine.  #publiclandsworthprotecting .

Traveling Silver on a Persian Carpet

Colorado Mountain Fall

I have a dear friend who is a wonderful artist.  Many of her canvases use as background, patterns from a Persian carpet: colorful and vibrant context for birds, plants, animals and dreams.

The Mountain State of Colorado, this month, is a Persian carpet of color.  We didn’t plan on coming to CO to leaf-peep; we had  plans for a pilgrimage to a favorite Bears Ears destination and Colorado happened to be between us and Valley of the Gods.

We struck gold as soon as we reached the base of the Rockies, well north of Ghost Ranch.  Went from O’Keefe’s soft, rounded and abstract hills of lavender, peach and butterscotch to Colorado’s toothy peaks, foothills and fields of marigold, rust, and garnet.

Stopping at Mancos State Park, we settled into a camp site surrounded by oaks of many colors.  I never imagined that oaks could clothe themselves in such a variety of bronze, gold and rust-red.  And yet, here they were:  three oak scrubs just outside our camper window were dressed in three different warm hues. Quaking Aspens adorned the mountain sides and alpines meadows, uniformly brilliant, sparkling in the sunny breeze.

We weren’t alone in the campground.  Slow walks around the almost-empty loop of sites provided interactions with our 4-legged community.

The trees blaze with the passion of autumnal formal dress.  Grasses blush red at their bases and burn brighter yellow toward the tops of their stems.  Even cattails are burnished.  A feast of colors.  A Persian carpet of patterns.

 

Fall-ing in Saddle Rock Canyon

Saddle Rock Canyon, September 2017

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.

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