Joined: Apr 2010
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, Rocky Mountains, USA
Woke up around 6:00am, but laid there drowsy, until 7. Got out of the tent to a warm, clear morning. Got the coffee water going and began to dress and take down the tent. Was on SR 117, heading South, thru El Malpais and the lava flows by 8:30am.
Picked up dirt CR 41 and rode it South for 30 miles toward Pie Town, NM.
About 10 miles down CR 41 I came up on a man and woman who were trekking along the dirt heading North. CR 41 here is part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and they had already come many miles North from the US/ Mexico border. CR 41 to Pie Town, NM was smooth, dry, hard and fast. As I pulled into Pie Town, a big old vulture sat on a stop sign right to me. It was something right out of a million Western movies and cartoons. He just sat there trying to figure out if I was dead or alive. They always wait patiently for you to die, they never waste energy trying to kill you. I pulled out my camera and he still didn’t move, but as I swung the camera up to get him in the viewfinder screen, he flew away. I guess he realized I was still alive and he had wasted his time waiting for me to start to stink.
Now Pie Town, NM has a few other residents and a few places to eat. It’s a famous stop on the CDT, but there is no gas. You have to get fuel in Quemado, NM to the West on Hwy 60 or go East on Hwy 60 to Datil, NM. I could have continued South on dirt out of Pie Town, NM, but I wanted to be prudent and chose to go to Datil, NM, 20 miles away East on Hwy 60, to fuel up. Besides I love the Plains of San Agustin and wanted to ride in it again.
The Plains of San Agustin stretch flat for many square miles. It makes great range land for cattle and pronghorn antelope. There are only a few, widely separated ranch houses and mountains surround it. There is no light pollution or EM radiation and other towns are far away. That’s why your federal tax dollars paid to build the Very Large Array Radio telescope there so astronomers could listen to the stars, galaxies and supernovas light years away. The VLA takes up just a small corner of the Plains of San Agustin. I used Hwy 12 that travels down the West side of it SW towards Reserve, NM. I came on a herd of antelope that were near the fence lines. Here are some pics…
A couple of hundred yards on down the road, I came up on a buck antelope standing right on the shoulder of the road. Now pronghorns don’t like to jump over fences. It’s strange since they could easily do so. But if they had their ‘druthers, they would prefer to go under a barbed wire fence if they can. So since this buck was next to the pavement and in between the two fence lines on either side of the road, he had a problem and he knew it! He took off running away from me down the road. I was right behind him and he was easily doing 40 mph. They’re fast! He was looking around for a place to dive under the fence. Most times there is a ditch or arroyo or they dig out a place they can get under, but not on the flats of the Plains of San Agustin. Things were happening too fast for me to get out my camera. Finally after about ¼ mile of running straight down the pavement, he just turned “stage left” and tried to duck under the second wire of a 3-wire fence. Now a pronghorn doe might have made it with some natural grace, but this big old buck had some tall antlers. So when he hit the fence line, he got his front legs and snout in between the bottom and middle wires but his antlers hit the middle wire and bent his neck back pretty good. That one hurt! He kept pushing though and as I passed him he got his antlers and the rest of his big body thru the barb wire fence. He was okay and running back onto the Plains of San Agustin when I left him. It reminded me of film clips of people running thru barbed wire fences to escape East Berlin in the early 60’s. It hurt to watch them hit the wire and you realized just how badly they each wanted to be free.
Just further down the road, there was a dead antelope on the shoulder, road kill I guess. A flock of ravens and one Golden eagle were picking the carcass apart. They didn’t even look up as I drove by.
I rode on….across the Continental Divide again and down into the San Francisco River drainage, and into Reserve, NM. I had lunch there and got water and fuel, then headed SE out of town on CR 435 into the Gila National Forest, headed for Snow Lake, 55 miles away, up in the high country.
CR 435/FR 141 is paved out of Reserve for 25 twisty miles or so and then it turns into a good, graveled, forest road for the next 30 miles to Snow Lake. I saw elk, but no people as I climbed higher. In the distance to the West, across the state border with AZ, I saw the tall smoke plume of the forest fire I had smelled the night before. It was huge and sent billowing dark clouds of smoke into the air.
I’d ridden there in the White Mountains before, along Hwy 191 (formerly Hwy. 666, The Devil’s Hwy.). You have to try it sometime. 1,200 turns in 100 miles of twisty mountain road, south of Alpine, AZ. However, after this monster fire, the views will be much different for a few years.
I rode on…Snow Lake is at 7,500’ and is beautiful. It is situated in a lovely large bowl, with open park land and tall pines all around. The “Dipping Vat” campground is next to the lake and the fee is $5.00 per night for a tent site. There is potable running water, picnic tables, fire pits, BBQ’s and bear proof garbage bins. The bathrooms have toilet paper and are clean. The good Forest Service people have even stacked firewood near each campsite. But there are no open fires allowed right now. The lake is a “no wake” lake and has a concrete boat ramp, trout fishing and a small earthen dam at one end. It was 52 road miles from Reserve, NM and is right on the boundary line with the Gila Wilderness Area. No one else was there…perfect!
I set up the tent and went for a hike around the lake. There is a trail head in the SE corner of the campground and heads for the dam. It connects to FT 141 down to Gilita Creek and the Middle fork of the Gila River.
Along the trail, I kicked up two ruffed grouse, who shot up like they were fired out of a cannon, whirring and chirping, up the hill. They know which direction is tougher for you to follow.
When I got to the dam face, I turned down the foot trail along the Gilita Creek.
The creek is a “Special Restriction” fishing stream designated by NM Game and Fish. I saw small movements along the far creek bank and realized ducklings were rushing to hide under their mallard mother. Their mother stayed very still in the weeds while I walked up slowly trying to get a picture of them, but they were well camouflaged just a few feet away. Here are the pics…
What a great place to be a duckling, narrow hidden canyon, small gentle stream, lots of water bugs, moss and algae to dabble in, willows, weeds and a mother’s downy feathers to hide in…Don’t worry babies, I won’t hurt you. But your mother is right, you have to hide. As I turn away from her and her brood, the mallard shoots upward and tries to make me chase her and forget about eating her tiny ducks. No worries. I continue to walk away back towards the dam. But there are dangerous babies here. Just a few steps away, a foot long baby snake is on the foot trail, already hunting in the warm, late afternoon sun. When he feels me or smells me, he quickly tries to hide, but only gets his head underneath a rock, where he thinks as long as his head is beneath a rock he can’t be seen. Here’s a pic…
I walk back to camp and start to write in the sun. Make dinner, eat, clean up and then walk back down to the lake . It’s around 7:00pm and I know animals will be moving. Right on cue, in the distance, a female elk walks like a ghost out of the cover of the pines and down to the water’s edge for the last drink of the day. She’s careful, slow, vigilant, head high, sniffing for danger. I watched her and tried to get a pic with the telephoto. Then from another direction, comes a young man, out of the trees. He’s another CDT trekker, with a backpack, big water container and long trekking poles. He’s headed North in the late light. It’s one thing to ride the CDT on a moto, quite another to do it on a bicycle or even unicycle. But to walk the Rocky Mountains is the trip of a lifetime. He hikes by me and says nothing. There’s no need. We both know…
I watch, as the elk and the young man, both walk away and disappear back into the trees…
I stayed down by the lake as the sun set. Hunters came out and began to work along the edges of things. The trout in the lake worked the edge of water and air, swallowing mosquitos and other bugs working their side of the liquid world. An owl flew by beginning his nightly patrol along the edge of the water and ground. Overhead night swallows and bats danced and ate a late dinner in mid-flight, while the clouds turned pink, then blue, then grey. I stood on the edge of the earth and waited for the stars.