Part 3 is continued hiking of the White Mountains Wilderness Crest Trail and summiting Nogal Peak plus visiting springs, exploring natural history and, everyone's favorite: losing our trail and backtracking!
To review, the White Mountains Wilderness is part of the Sacramento Mountains and is about 50,000 acres within the 1.1 million acre Lincoln National Forest with the highest peak of Sierra Blanca at 11,973 feet above sea level (the summit of Sierra Blanca is actually just inside the Mescalerao Apache reservation and requires a permit to access).
As Jennifer noted in previous related posts, this range is typified by relatively high precipitation and relatively cool temperatures. As people who pay attention to obscure things such as soil - this is exciting. Very generally speaking, cool and moist is one way to get thick, dark topsoil. Another way is dominance of grasses. This area has both but it's a bit of an chicken-and-egg question: which came first, the grassland or the thick topsoil? People that study this stuff could have a week-long conference on the subject and leave in disagreement so I (Steve) will give my opinion, just for fun. I think it's a bit of both! In any event, it's cool to be on the top of a 10,000 foot mountain pass in New Mexico (commonly known to be "dry") and be walking through a lush grassland and along a trail that, where eroded, reveals thick dark topsoil up to one's knees. This is the stuff of eastern tall grass prairie fame. The take-home: learn as much as you can then prepare to be surprised!
Back to the scenery. We found a sweet base-camp on a narrow ridge that jutted out from the range westward towards the Tularosa Basin with views of lower foothills, the basin, lava flows, the San Andreas Mountains and, just beyond that, the famous Rio Grande rift valley that splits New Mexico down the middle and was a conduit for territorial explorers to reach and found the second oldest city in the U.S., Santa Fe, in 1607.
Our base-camp was amist the junipers on the narrow grassy ridge (near the center of the pic):
Preparing for a cool night by absorbing the last splendid rays of sun for the day:
Feet need warmth too!:
A final bit of time to contemplate our fortune for being able to be out here:
The next morning we ate breakfast while enjoying views to the west and...
...to the east, into the interior of the wilderness.
We also got lucky and saw elk and heard their "bugling":
Our destination for today: Nogal Peak.
A short distance into today's hike brought us to a spring that was not flowing at a high rate so we explored around a bit for something better but, having found none, decided to...
....make a tiny rock dam and allow the trickle of water to impound to the extent that we could filter from it. "Necessity is the mother of invention," they say.
Soon we had splendid views of Nogal Peak. At just under 10,000 feet, it would get us high enough to take in expansive views of the region, we hoped.
Our route took us through whimsicle copses of oak...
...ever-upwards, we were rewarded with expansive views to the east...
...and motivating glimpses of our quest:
By the time we'd reached the top of Nogal Peak, more clouds were quickly forming but we were able to take in a 360 degree panorama of epic SW US scenery.
We didn't want to leave...never do...but we had to because we don't belong here, except to visit.
But we were happy to find cool plants at every turn (Apache plume here)...
...take in wonderful views of earth and sky....
...break for tea!...
...observe nature's relationships....
...experience fall colors...
...and feel the gratification of a goal achieved and the intense exercise we got for free!
On our last day we had a grand plan to take a "short-cut" and see some different county. Well, as you might suspect, that got us quite a bit more unanticipated exercise not only from hiking back and forth looking for obscured trails but, after giving that up, back-tracking back up to the Crest Trail and hiking all the the back the way we came, including the 6 miles down Three Rivers Canyon. These things happen!
It did give us the opportunity so see some things we'd missed (due to clouds) on the way in:
The exceedingly pleasant rounded, grass-covered peaks, ridges and valleys that typify this range...
...and iconic groves of conifer and aspen...
This sort of experience gives us much opportunity to be grateful for our health and ability to physically visit such great natural places and also for the vision of those who conceived of protected wilderness and those who care for it on our behalf.
Our little 3.5-acre nature sanctuary just benefited from the addition of 12 River Birch and 25 Winterberry Holly - two of our favorite woodies that will grow appreciably in our lifetime and provide abundant food to wildlife. Just a few days ago, mid-30s and light snow made for a good planting day,
but who knew it would also make for suitable weather for a moth to fly around? I marveled at this cold blooded, delicate creature that didn't mind the cool breeze or cloudy sky and actually found the ability to fly and, in fact, seemed to be purposefully flying from here to there and around again. Wow. I think this moth is one of the Operophtera.
According to Kent McFarland of the Audubon Guides: "Flying and crawling in the cold was probably a great adaptation to a powerful natural selection force, predation. By late October a large percentage of insectivorous birds have migrated south and bats have migrated or hibernated for the winter. With fewer predators comes great success."
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Handy Steve salvaged windows from a dumpster-destined-four-season-room and installed three so far in our green barn. He trimmed them out in salvaged barn wood and wow, the improvement is dramatic!
He is also creating us a space to propagate wildflowers illuminated by all this new light. It's brilliantly bright! The space is so enjoyable to work in and will be even more cozy once we install the salvaged wood stove sitting off in the corner. The amount of stuff available for free and in perfectly good condition is everywhere, if you just want to look. It's a fun game and so good for the planet.
We are working on organizing this space so that we can put all those pots in the boxes to use! We collected an entire bin of wildflower seeds this summer and fall that we are propagating for planting and for sale.
We want to stay away from peat since it's mined from bogs (destroys wetlands) and are giving potting soil with coir (from coconut husks) a go.
It looks like something is happening here, doesn't it? (Expect much more on that particular topic in future posts!)
Here's what is planted so far. There are many, many, many more to go. The nice thing about propagating wildflower seeds is that they are adapted to this climate and all they need is to set outside so they will stratify in their own preferred ways. A certain period of rain, freezing and thawing enables seeds to break dormancy when the conditions favor growing in the spring. Easy!