Tag Archives: fire

Hiking the Gila: Trees

Alligator Juniper tree

Hard to tell in this photo, but this is a HUGE tree!

I love trees! Shouldn’t we all? I mean, come on, they give us oxygen to live! When I was a kid, I loved to climb up into their branches. I even swung out of a tree with a garden hose once and had to get xrayed for a possible collar-bone fracture. It turned out it was just a bad bruise. I never swung out of a tree again after that day! I have climbed up into their branches again and again though.

Twisted Alligator Juniper with Aaron in the photo for scale!

Twisted Alligator Juniper with Aaron in the photo for scale!

Aaron and I went for a hike in the Gila Wilderness this past Sunday. We went back to Rocky Canyon since we didn’t make it far on the trail the last time. Actually, last time, we took a split in the trail to see a cave. This time, we hiked the main Rocky Canyon trail and I must say, the name is a bit misleading! The trail only stays in the canyon for about a half mile before climbing several hundred, possibly a thousand, feet up and out of the canyon. The trail then follows the ridge top for quite some time. We ended our hike after about 2 1/2 miles, at Brannon Park.

Alligator Juniper. This side shows the twisted trunk better

Alligator Juniper. This side shows the twisted trunk better

While on the ridge top, we encountered a massive grove of Alligator Juniper trees. Alligator Junipers get their name from the texture of their bark. It looks like the skin of an alligator. These specific trees have always fascinated me. They are usually old and twisted. This grove was OLD. The trees were HUGE!

Not sure what type of tree this one is, but I love it!

Not sure what type of tree this one is, but I love it!

One in particular was very twisted. It looked as if a giant had spun it from the top, the trunk had several parts to it and they were all twisted around each other. Even the branches were twisted. I wonder what causes this? My guess is the wind, but if anyone knows for sure, let me know!

Charred remains of a Ponderosa Pine. That must have been a big fire!

Charred remains of a Ponderosa Pine. That must have been a big fire!

It was quite obvious when we left the grove of Juniper trees. It was almost like a line had been drawn and the Junipers were separated from another grove of Ponderosa Pines. Brannon Park is where the pine trees lived and the park was at a lower elevation from the ridge top where the Junipers were. We came into the park as we came down the hill.

Alligator Juniper

Alligator Juniper

In Brannon Park where we stopped for our lunch break, there was a muddy stream bed that was drying out. Just enough water remained for the dogs to get a drink. As we sat eating we noticed there was a flock of Bushtits congregating around the dwindling water supply. We heard the squawk of a hawk, but never saw it. We don’t get to see much wildlife when we hike, thanks to the dogs. I guess that could be a good or bad thing!

I am so grateful to now live in southern New Mexico! It was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day! Hearing about blizzards in other parts of the country, I’ll take a sunny end of November day anytime!

Series: Living in the “Land of Enchantment” (New Mexico) Bandelier

Looking up one of the several ladders at Bandelier National Monument

Looking up one of the several ladders at Bandelier National Monument

This series came about after a realization I came to a few years ago. I grew up in Southern New Mexico and now live in Albuquerque in Central New Mexico. I live in a state that is a very popular tourist destination. I am blessed to live in a place people dream of visiting someday. I live, as an artist, in a place artists have been drawn to for centuries for the quality of light, the gorgeous natural landscape, awe inspiring sunsets, great outdoor opportunities and I could go on and on.

Growing up I didn’t see New Mexico in this romantic way, in fact, I had dreams of eventually leaving. I left three times before I realized how much I loved it here.

When I returned to New Mexico the final time, we moved to Albuquerque, the largest city in the state. We’ve been here ever since (16 years) and I have come to really love my home state.

Part of the reason for this love is the many road trips we’ve taken to explore our state over the past 20 years. New Mexico has millions of acres of National Forests, National Parks and Monuments, State Parks and Wilderness areas, thousands of miles of hiking/biking trails, several ski areas, ruins from past civilizations, modern cities filled with numerous art galleries and museums and did I mention those sunsets!?

Ironically, many people in modern day America don’t realize New Mexico is one of the 50 states. It’s an ongoing local joke. New Mexico became the 47th state on January 6, 1912.

Rocky Mountain landscape with cloudy sky at Bandelier National Monument

Rocky Landscape in Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier is just outside Los Alamos, New Mexico. From the National Park Service website; “Bandelier National Monument protects over 33,000 acres of rugged but beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as evidence of a human presence here going back over 11,000 years.  Petroglyphs, dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, and standing masonry walls pay tribute to the early days of a culture that still survives in the surrounding communities.”

Carved wall of rock, petroglyph carvings and holes

Carved wall of rock, petroglyph carvings and holes

It’s been almost 7 years since we visited Bandelier National Monument. The photos in this post were taken then. Sadly, in June 2011, over 60% of the park was burned in the Los Conchas fire and then later, heavy rains caused flood waters that tore through the Frijoles Canyon and Bandelier National Monument. Many parts of New Mexico were burned by massive forest fires and then flooded during that time over several years of drought conditions.

Deer running in front of Bandelier cliff dwelling ruins

Deer are everywhere in New Mexico!

It will be years before these burn scars are covered with new growth, but it doesn’t take long for new growth to start. Looking back at photos from trips we’ve taken over the years, it’s difficult to forget all the favorite places that were changed by fire and flood over the last decade. Luckily for New Mexico, we’ve since had several years of good precipitation. The fire danger never goes away completely in the high desert mountains. After living here most of my life, it’s something you learn to live with as it’s the forest’s way of regenerating herself. Change is constant in the wilderness.

Frijoles Canyon from the cliff dwellings above at Bandelier National Monument

Looking down into the Frijoles Canyon from the Cliff dwellings

On a brighter note, I’m happy to have these photos and memories of the way Bandelier looked before the fire and I imagine eventually you won’t be able to tell there was a fire there at all.

Cave Kiva and ladder in the Bandelier National Monument Ciff dwellings

This is me at the top of the ladder to the “Cave Kiva”. Ladders were how the ancestral pueblo peoples accessed their cliff dwellings.

On this trip, we were playing tour guide to a friend who was visiting from California. We hiked the Main Loop trail up to the cliff dwellings and climbed all the ladders, even the super long, high ladder! It’s such an amazing place to visit, I always feel like I can sense the spirits of the Ancestral Pueblo people who once made this place their home. These special New Mexico spots have always felt sacred to me. They are sacred to most native New Mexicans.

Climbing the long ladder up to the kiva entrance. Not for people afraid of heights!

Climbing the long ladder up to the kiva entrance. Not for people afraid of heights!

When you visit, make sure you have comfortable clothes and shoes. Always, always, always bring plenty of water, a hat and suncreen, especially in the summer!

Kiva entrance in a cave at the top of the long ladder

Kiva entrance in a cave at the top of the long ladder