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

 

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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