Tracking the Elusive Glimmer in the Sandia Mountains
I still think the most plausible explanation for why someone hikes in wilderness, is the primeval connection, our ancient subconscious recognition of past lives spent there, 150.000 years Homo Sapiens lived in the wilds, and and even further back, really.
Then, there is the matter of the Great Spirit in all his guises and names, the Great Life Spirit —- they say one is closer to God in the mountains, well, one is certainly closer to the sun, I try never to forget to apply SPF55 (all of us southwesterners have skin cancer removal scars) Even as I chuckle at the guy hawking sunscreen telling us that in New Mexico the higher elevation brings us closer to the Sun —- Well, the Sun is a jillion miles away, I’m not sure a few thousand extra feet matters one way or another, dood.
It’s also less complicated up there, tracking the elusive hours.
There is also the meditative quality, in that, walking such rocky & precarious trails concentrates the mind into near-total absorption, any outside thoughts could leave you vulnerable —- Cuidado con arboles que pueden caer de repente (watch for falling trees) —- Walking such cuidado is ultimately relaxing.
Also, inasmuch as I’m ever that “plugged in” one is completely cut off in the wilderness (I carry an old flip phone for Janet’s sake, she worries I might need call for Evac, which could happen, there has been times . . .) Middle of nowhere and when I’ve left the phone on, that beeping coming from my backpack is weird —- I hike by my wits, I never use those apps for maps or checking the stock market —- Unconnected to the Hive Mind (altho, I can’t claim a complete superior virtue along these lines as it’s not uncommon for me to ask someone passing by on trail WHERE IN FOOLS GOLD AM I? And in the back country everybody’s good helpful people, who have pity for the old guy unconnected to the Drone Queen, they all use this app called > All Trails) Call it heroic, but hiking by one’s wits is so much more interesting (to me) —- You stand up on a ridge top and read the mountains and canyons and get out yr Tarot cards and the I Ching (I jest).
A few years ago I had Janet with me and at the trailhead parking a frantic lady who had been running around to the various other hikers & bikers hysterically yelling “THERE’S RATTLESNAKES UP THERE! BEEEEEEEE CAREFULLLLLLL! I SAW IT, A RATTLESNAKE!” I was raised polite so I didn’t laugh in her face, asked Where? “AT THE DAM DON’T GO THERE, THERE’S RATTLESNAKES” she sussed I wasn’t overly concerned and turned and rushed off yelling at a car that just arrived —- I imagine her to this day, telling her grandchildren about those dangerous savage mountains. —- Photo is April 17, 2021 the old dam (maybe circa 1900? I havent been able to find out) is at the very bottom of frame down in the Narrows of Embudo Canyon, it was 37-degrees that day, and that’s South Sandia Peak —- I’m on Embudo Horse Bypass Trail (created to bypass the dam & Narrows that horses wouldnt be able to negotiate) at this point it is a ridge trail —- Hokku below from my Shirtpocket Notes:
Crow mocking me as I disentangle Jumping Cholla clamped onto my shoelace Deer waiting for grass to sprout —- Early Spring
Lunch at 6,760 feet —- that’s Earl Grey tea in that bottle (tea don’t taste good in
plastic) —- Here’s trail notes from that day: April 17, 2021 Embudo Horse Bypass
Having a burrito & nuts & tangerine
tea —- out of the wind —- Perfect view of South Peak and the clouds crawling
over it and snow up there —- flurries like crazy little butterflies
This burrito good, very good —- Lately, I’ve been making my own: diced pork
cooked in iron skillet with copious onions and a little garlic and green chile sauce and
my home-made salsa and pinto beans added later
Kept in fridge until day of hike, I twist up two thin ones (I’m on a diet) with
cheese —- warm them in the convection oven, wrap in wax paper (I found
that wrapping in foil made them soggy)
Good stuff, I could eat ten!
These dates always make me think of ancient Persia
12:30 I have never seen so much deer poop —- One thing I like about cold-weather-hiking is you don’t sweat very much, and I am completely button’d up to the neck — I joined Embudo Canyon Trail about 20 minutes ago and continued up trail a half mile or so and at the Chamisa meadow I jumped off trail and went south up a draw that I’ve had lunch many times in the arroyo under pinyon overhang and boulder, but now going further than I have before, following, you guessed it: deer trails —- flurries have stopped, but not the wind
12:50 Three Hokku & a Burrito One must resign oneself to the wind if you want to hike in these mountains
If I was more attuned I could feel the deer watching —– The shadows have ears
Forgiven it says 18-inch letters, white paint, on back window of macho big-tire pick-up truck I followed on Central driving up here to mountain hideout—- FORGIVEN with the “I” made into a cross on Calvary and Jesus
1:00 To live in Albuquerque One must resign themselves to the sound of the Air Force engines roaring —- You get used to it, altho, up here on this mountain redoubt the sound stands more in relief, luckily it doesn’t last long, in fact, it’s more interesting than annoying (unless, I guess if you live near Kirtland AFB)
Embudo Canyon Horse Bypass Trail —- April 17, 2021 —- my notes say it was quite windy and chilly on that exposed ridge —- This trail rejoins the main trail eventually and it was much warmer down there
Early afternoon —- Embudito Canyon —- September 4, 2021 photos by Mark Weber
Self-portrait February 26, 2021 —- You absolutely need wear UV eye protection in these mountains —- I’m a photographer and I kinda hate having anything between what I’m seeing and what I want to expose on film, a couple summers ago I went for months without eye protection up here and developed floaters, scared me, but they healed, thankfully —- And see that shirt, you need be careful wearing cotton as it absorbs moisture and a sudden downturn in temperature and you become one of the 5-10 who die in these mountains every year due to hypothermia and/or falling off a cliff —- Best to wear nylon (my pants are nylon and I love them) —- See Diana Helmuth’s chapter How To Not Get Killed By Your Jeans in her smart book HOW TO SUFFER OUTSIDE: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking & Backpacking (2021) —- After 40 years of hiking a person like me probably doesn’t need such a book, but as I thumbed it at the little book nook at REI I just loved her take on things (she wasn’t even born when I started my wilderness treks in the San Gabriel Mountains)
February 28, 2020
Turbinella Oak displaying its schizophrenia, having hybridized with a Gray Oak which is an evergreen oak, whereas Turbinella are largely deciduous —- There are four type of Oak in the Sandia Mountains —- photo February 2021
This is as far as you can go on the outflow side of Juan Tabo Canyon on the northern end of the Sandias —- photo March 15, 2021
I called this The Memorial Georgia O’Keeffe Ancient Juniper —- On trail to Sandia Eye —- Sunday March 28, 2021 —- probably 200 years old maybe more
Gambel Oak (deciduous) September 28, 2020
“You gotta problem with ‘rugged individualism’ brother?” —- That’s me and my Old Faithful Truck early Sept 28, 2020 —- I say that because I read a caption in a book catalogue the other day that took a swipe at “rugged individualism,” at first I was hoping that I don’t represent myself in that manner, then re-thinking that, I hope I DO represent myself in that tough-as-nails way, I know I’m lucky to still have the health to climb these mountains, but I also recognize I’m a little proud of myself, too —- One of my many failings —- Ah well, I see that photo was a year & two days ago and I was already wearing winter gear —- I was up there yesterday in a teeshirt, yikes, things are warming up
I’m reminded of the opening scenes of the movie LONELY ARE THE BRAVE (1962) when the Brave Cowboy and his horse Whisky relax in the shade of a juniper on the outskirts of Albuquerque and watch a jet stream across the sky —- This photo is Quaking Aspen in Sept 2020 —- I’m up around 8500 feet in this —- These mountains are the star of that movie, by the way (the novel is THE BRAVE COWBOY by Ed Abbey)
Lucky shot —- I have long since given up on shooting butterflies, by the time I’ve changed lenses they are long gone —- I must have just shot wide (w/ 50mm) like a drunk in a cowboy movie to get this one, a California Sister, who are found in the lower canyons and stick close to their larval food the Gambel Oak —- Gambel Oak are found all the way up to 10,600 feet in the Sandias —- This is that crazy day I went up Fletcher Trail, I’ll tell you about some other time, well, the day wasn’t “crazy,” that trail is nuts and I won’t be revisiting it anytime soon —- photo late afternoon August 31, 2020
View from Sandia Man Cave east and up Las Huertas Canyon —- July 30, 2021 —- WHAT IT WAS LIKE THEN? The caves are high up the cliff in the layers of limestone that caps the Sandias, this canyon at the northern shoulder of the mountains, the limestone at the lower hinge of uplift, three-thousand feet lower than the 10,000-foot layer of sandstone & limestone that faces the Rio —- Judging from the alluvial evidence there has certainly been years were torrential rain and flash floods that tore through the canyons cataclysmically, even so, I doubt the lay of the land and trees and scrub were much different then than now 10,000 years ago when a small clan took residence in the cliffside caves, plenty of water in the creek, bison and mammoth bones found in the cave of beasts out of the Ice Ages —- Two things hit you: the clan must have required the safety of this remote redoubt, so far up canyon, so distanced from the animals they hunted —- When humans first ventured into this river valley they would have pitched camp near the Rio, only later, as more people arrived did it become necessary to protect themselves in hideaways, the clan not big enough for the safety of communal pueblos, yet —- The second thing is I suspect entry to the caves came from above via ropes —- Thirdly, the Oak were their lifeline, acorns have been the salvation for mankind for eons —- They left their handprints on the walls of the cave knowing we’d see them someday
Inside Sandia Man Cave —- July 30, 2021 —- It had rained the night before
I remember sitting in backseat, age 12 or so, my Baptist grandmother on one of her periodic visits down from Fresno, we’re driving across the wide savanna below the foothills of my San Gabriel Mountains where I grew up and climbed every nook & cranny & crevice, her husband Ross (my actual grandfather killed 1940 when a drunk driver slammed his truck in Oregon, my Mom was only 7 —- I still have the coins that were in his pocket that fateful day) Ross, who drove a cement truck, at the wheel, pointing across what John Muir called “The Beefields of Southern California,” and says: “Someday they’ll clear all this out and develop it, and put in streets and nice houses” (This word “develop” has haunted me my whole life — I wouldn’t call Ross prescient, but indeed, that’s what happen’d —- too painful for me) At that age I already knew I had a different idea than Ross about such things, I usually avoided both of them ——– Many years later, Janet & I are riding that sight-seeing steam-puffing narrow-gauge railroad, the Cumbres & Toltec train through northern New Mexico mountains, chugging through a sublime green valley with a winding stream, a guy in seat in front of us says to his kids & wife: “Someday they’ll straighten this river out and put in homes and shopping malls, it’ll be very nice, then” Just like artist and friend Annabush in Taos said to me last weekend: “We’re doomed” —- Boggles the mind: “straighten this river out”?
Rare to be these days in places on Earth that have not been walked upon by man
Trackless wilderness Isolated chasm catamount draw A cleft between two rock crags Pellucid sky Terra incognita A plateau strewn with boulders A deep swale below The shadows arboreal This phantom canyon found on no map Wheels within wheels Withdrawal Lightning-struck conifers crowbranch You take it slow, alert The breeze is quiet
There are times in my life When I had dreamed of living remote A little cabin in the woods But, I’ve made my peace with Babylon I’d get bored so far away from my friends I could be like those seasonal hunters Upstream from Babylon in the woodlands Headwaters of the Euphrates floating their game down to the city by order of the king
Tracking the Elusive Corridor
A mirage Out of which something arises Or, everything, really The Wu, as the old Chinese hermits had it, perpetually and ever-generative, all Things, these flowers Come from the Great Life Spirit
This is a low-lying plant, the Red-whisker Clammyweed, grows to about 3 feet, spends all it’s time in the lower elevations along arroyos —- (this is Embudito Canyon) —- One day I was cutting across a field of underbrush, swept against one of these that had dried pods it rustled like a rattlesnake —- I jumped about ten feet, I think I left my shoes on the ground
That’s South Sandia Peak —- I’ve been all over these mountains but have never been on top of South Peak, but, I have aspirations ————- There’s a bear gnawing on the torn off leg of one of the shortpants hikers, his neon green shoe still attached, a little ways away a trendy Indiana Jones safari hat, but no torso that I can see from up here, probably the coyotes took some, and a cougar dragged off the rest —- It’s that time of year when wildlife are fattening up for winter and noobs are on the menu (only noobies would wear shortpants —- dead give-away) Always glad to see them out here, and apparently so is the bear —- Good to see them getting exercise, also they’re a good decoy for the cougar lurking about —- The phantom bear asks for a toothpick, I toss one down ——– I’m never worried these mountains will become over-run, they’re just too desolate and cactus-bitten —- I hear Arches has become another bumper-traffic Yellowstone and Yosemite, a throng (glad I ventured there 30 years ago) —- photo September 15, 2021 way up top of Three Gun Springs, I guess my broken little toe was agreeable that day
This is what it all could look like one day —- Dead pinon trees on Oso Ridge Trail with northern Sandia Mountains & clouds —- October 2, 2021
This is top end of Pino Canyon and that’s Gambel Oak in foreground and the monarch of our forests in the Southwest, the Ponderosa, which wasn’t affected by whatever killed those Douglas-Fir, the entire slope here is dead Doug-fir, painful to see —- Probably bark beetle infestation when not enough water (drought) and trees can’t produce enough sap to eject the beetles, or it could be a type of moth, all from climate change —- SOMETHING has got to change, brothers & sisters — I’m haunted by the vision of National Park Ranger sobbing on TV last night (29sept2021) standing in midst of dead Sequoia of California’s megafires as climate change swarms us —- Dr Christy Brigham, wearing her Ranger uniform, tears rolling, environmental scientist and crusader to save these ancient Sequoia who are only found in the High Sierras, nowhere else in the world —- 31%-42% of the large Sequoia died in the Castle Fire (2020) that’s 7,500-10,600 precious Sequoia that have succumbed —- Sequoia naturally withstand periodic and necessary fire but these have been firestorms that launch into the crowns and without evergreen to absorb sun for photosynthesis our brethren the trees are goners —- Just think: all the years of your life and your great-great-grandparents these trees were quite happily alive . . . .
Jab #2 (Pfizer) on March 27, 2021 —- I asked Vanessa if I could snap this while she gave me my fix, she said, of course —- Now I’m vaxxed to the maxx, having both the vital vaccination as well as “natural immunity” due to Covid-19 infection Janet and I had back in Nov-Dec (before vaccinations were discover’d for this rampant disease) —- I spend most of my days solo in the mountains, which is kind of a cool way to wait out the Safety Lockdown, and everybody I meet on trail (in the backwoods, that is, not so much in the first mile) is following protocols, everybody, which is revealing in itself, we stand ten feet apart with masks as we share trail intel