Shallow Thoughts : tags : hiking
Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.
Sun, 22 Mar 2020
The idea of blogging the alphabet came from a conversation during a
hike in Nambe Badlands. It's beautiful a hike that we don't do very often,
about 40 minutes from Los Alamos.
"Badlands" is a term for any sort of soft, dry, eroded terrain:
a place of mostly dirt and loosely consolodated sandstone, where the
terrain erodes into a maze of rounded hills, steep gullies and arroyos,
with occasional pillars where harder rocks emerge.
Badlands are often fairly colorful due to the mixture of different
rock and soil types. Arizona's Painted Desert, with its stripes of
red, white and green, is a famous example. The colors around
Nambe and the rest of the Española valley is more subtle:
mostly reds, tans, yellows with a few bright white veins running through.
One thing you get in the badlands is views. In the image at left, we're
looking southwest past the "barrancas" of Pojoaque. You can see the
Pajarito plateau -- the line of white buildings is part of LANL,
fairly near my house in White Rock -- and beyond it, the Jemez mountains,
Out of the photo behind us are the Sangre de Cristos, running
up toward Taos and eventually Colorado.
The badlands themselves are interesting too. They're mostly Santa Fe
Group sediments, eroded primarily from the Sangres with a little
contribution from the Jemez.
In this area, there's a prominent white layer running through.
Since it's harder than the dirt on either side of it, it tends to make
a "white rim" reminiscent of the famous Canyonlands White Rim, but of
course the rock itself is very different. This white rim, while
harder than the normal badlands dirt, is still relatively
soft, flaky; it erodes to a powder anywhere where it's exposed.
Geology books don't cover this area, but as best I can determine,
from papers online, the white layer is probably an ash layer
that's part of the Skull Ridge group of the Tesuque formation
(those are all finer gradations of the Santa Fe Group).
There are four white ash layers, probably erupted from 13-16 million
years ago (estimates vary quite a bit, but middle Miocene), possibly
So although the white ash is volcanic, it's apparently quite a bit
older than most of the Jemez and comes from somewhere else entirely.
It's hard to be sure: I wish geological papers included better maps.
In the one Field Geology class I had the opportunity to take,
we spent most of our time making maps, and I suspect maps are a
big part of what most professional geologists do; but somehow,
the geology papers online seem remarkably lacking in maps.
We climbed up to a high lookout for lunch, during which Charlie, our
best birder, was scanning with binoculars and discovered an owl
sitting in the tower across from our lunch spot.
Alas, due to coronavirus "social distancing" concerns,
she couldn't pass her binoculars around,
but I was able to see the owl, just barely, with the
little monocular I keep in my pack. After some debate over its
size, and scrutinizing the photos (not good enough to be worth sharing)
afterward, Charlie concluded (and I agree) it was a great horned owl.
Badlands exploring is fun; aside from spectacular views, there are
always interesting hoodooes and other rock formations to inspect.
We did a relatively easy 5.5-mile loop, but there are plenty of other
trails in the badlands that I'd like to explore some day.
A few relevant papers I found:
- Alluvial-slope deposition of the Skull Ridge Member of the TesuqueFormation, Española Basin, New Mexico (Kuhle, Smith)
- Stratigraphy of the Santa Fe Group, New Mexico (Galusha, Blick)
- A PALEONTOLOGICAL SURVEY OF A PART OF THE TESUQUE FORMATION NEAR CHIMAYÓ, NEW MEXICO, AND A SUMMARY OF THE BIOSTRATIGRAPHY OF THE POJOAQUE MEMBER (MIDDLE MIOCENE, LATE BARSTOVIAN) (Aby, Morgan, Koning)
- Geomorphology of Espanola Basin (Kelley)
[ 12:02 Mar 22, 2020
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Mon, 17 Feb 2020
We've had some wild weather recently. Two weeks ago,
our weekly hiking group was sscheduled to go on a hike in sunny White
Rock that Dave and I had proposed, a few miles from home.
Then the night before the hike, we got our heaviest snowstorm of the
year so far.
Sounded like a great opportunity
to test those new ice spikes (for shoes) I'd ordered on eBay.
We went down Lion Cave Canyon, around the mesa and up Water Canyon,
then climbed up to the top of the mesa and went out to the end to a
lunch spot with a panoramic view of Water Canyon and the Sangre de Cristos.
Then back across the narrow neck of the mesa.
The temperature was just about perfect for hiking with the sun and the snow.
The ice spikes worked perfectly -- the snow wasn't deep
enough to need snowshoes, but there were plenty of places where it
would have been slippery without the spikes.
We also had fun speculating on the cause of the "snow bumps" that
formed around the grama grass stems.
Now, two weeks later, most of the snow is gone and it's a beautiful day
with a high of 60.
We headed out for a short exploration in Pueblo Canyon, looking for
the old airport that some folks in the R/C flying club thought might
make a good flying site.
Some clouds moved in while we were walking, making for dramatic views
of the cliffs. I just never get tired of the way the changing light
plays on the mesas and canyons.
We didn't find the old airport -- more exploration needed! --
but we did find the new connector to the Tent Rocks Trail,
where the Youth Conservation Corps has been busy with trailwork in Pueblo
And we explored the remains of an old road -- below Anderson Overlook:
possibly the original horse/mule road that they used in the Ranch
School days before the Manhattan Project.
Another beautiful day in Los Alamos.
[ 19:58 Feb 17, 2020
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Sun, 13 Jan 2019
And the snow continues to fall. We got a break of a few days, but
today it's snowed fairly steadily all day, adding another
-- I don't know, maybe four inches? Snow is hard to measure because
it piles up so unevenly, two inches here, eight there.
The hiking group I'm in went snowshoeing up in the Jemez last week -- lovely!
The shrubs that managed to stick up above the snow all wore coats
of ice, which fell by afternoon, littering the snow around them with
an extra coat of glitter.
And it was lovely here too, with a thick blanket of snow over everything.
(I need to get some snowshoes of my own, to make it easier to explore
the yard when conditions get like this, otherwise the snow would be
thigh-deep in places. For the hike last week, I borrowed a pair.)
And, of course, there's the never-ending fascination of watching
icicles, snow glaciers moving down the roof, and, this time, huge
curving icicles growing downward above the den deck. They hung more
than four feet below the roof before they finally separated and
fell with a huge THUMP!, leaving a three-foot-high pile
of snow that poor Dave had to shovel (I helped with shoveling
at first, until I slipped and sprained my wrist; it's improving,
but not enough that I can shovel ice yet).
Images of the snowstorm and the showshoe hike:
Snowstorms in January 2019.
[ 16:00 Jan 13, 2019
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Thu, 05 Apr 2018
A week ago I got back from a trip to the Chiricahua mountains of
southern Arizona, specifically Cave Creek on the eastern side of the range.
The trip was theoretically a hiking trip, but it was also for birding
and wildlife watching -- southern Arizona is near the Mexican border
and gets a lot of birds and other animals not seen in the rest of the
US -- and an excuse to visit a friend who lives near there.
Although it's close enough that it could be driven in one fairly long
day, we took a roundabout 2-day route so we could explore some other
areas along the way that we'd been curious about.
First, we wanted to take a look at the White Mesa Bike Trails
northwest of Albuquerque, near the Ojito Wilderness. We'll be back at
some point with bikes, but we wanted to get a general idea of the
country and terrain. The Ojito, too, looks like it might be worth
a hiking trip, though it's rather poorly signed: we saw several kiosks
with maps where the "YOU ARE HERE" was clearly completely misplaced.
Still, how can you not want to go back to a place where the two main
trails are named Seismosaurus and Hoodoo?
The route past the Ojito also led past Cabezon Peak, a volcanic neck
we've seen from a long distance away and wanted to see closer. It's
apparently possible to climb it but we're told the top part is fairly
technical, more than just a hike.
Finally, we went up and over Mt Taylor, something we've been meaning
to do for many years. You can drive fairly close to the top, but
this being late spring, there was still snow on the upper part of
the road and our Rav4's tires weren't up to the challenge. We'll
go back some time and hike all the way to the top.
We spent the night in Grants, then the following day, headed down
through El Malpais, stopping briefly at the beautiful Sandstone Overlook,
then down through the Datil and Mogollon area. We wanted to take a
look at a trail called the Catwalk, but when we got there, it was
cold, blustery, and starting to rain and sleet. So we didn't hike the
Catwalk this time, but at least we got a look at the beginning of it,
then continued down through Silver City and thence to I-10,
where just short of the Arizona border we were amused by the
Shave dust storm signs about which I already wrote.
At Cave Creek
Cave Creek Ranch, in Portal, AZ,
turned out to be a lovely place to stay, especially
for anyone interested in wildlife. I saw several "life birds" and
mammals, plus quite a few more that I'd seen at some point but had
never had the opportunity to photograph. Even had we not been hiking,
just hanging around the ranch watching the critters was a lot of fun.
They charge $5 for people who aren't staying there to come and sit in
the feeder area; I'm not sure how strictly they enforce it, but given
how much they must spend on feed, it would be nice to help support them.
The bird everyone was looking for was the Elegant Trogon. Supposedly
one had been seen recently along the creekbed, and we all wanted to
They also had a nifty suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing a dry
(this year) arroyo over on another part of the property. I guess I was
so busy watching the critters that I never went wandering around, and
I would have missed the bridge entirely had Dave not pointed it out
to me on the last day.
The only big hike I did was the Burro Trail to Horseshoe Pass, about
10 miles and maybe 1800 feet of climbing. It started with a long hike
up the creek, during which everybody had eyes and ears trained on the
sycamores (we were told the trogon favored sycamores). No trogon.
But it was a pretty hike, and once we finally started climbing out of
the creekbed there were great views of the soaring cliffs above Cave
Creek Canyon. Dave opted to skip the upper part of the trail to the
saddle; I went, but have to admit that it was mostly just more of the
same, with a lot of scrambling and a few difficult and exposed traverses.
At the time I thought it was worth it, but by the time we'd slogged
all the way back to the cars I was doubting that.
On the second day the group went over the Chiricahuas to Chiricahua
National Monument, on the other side. Forest road 42 is closed in
winter, but we'd been told that it was open now since the winter had
been such a dry one, and it wasn't a particularly technical road,
certainly easy in the Rav4. But we had plans to visit our friend over
at the base of the next mountain range west, so we just made a quick
visit to the monument, did a quick hike around the nature trail and
Back with the group at Cave Creek on Thursday, we opted for a shorter,
more relaxed hike in the canyon to Ash Spring rather than the brutal
ascent to Silver Peak. In the canyon, maybe we'd see the trogon!
Nope, no trogon. But it was a very pleasant hike, with our first
horned lizard ("horny toad") spotting of the year, a couple of other
lizards, and some lovely views.
We'd been making a lot of trogon jokes over the past few days, as we
saw visitor after visitor trudging away muttering about not having
seen one. "They should rename the town of Portal to Trogon, AZ." "They
should rename that B&B Trogon's Roost Bed and Breakfast." Finally,
at the end of Thursday's hike, we stopped in at the local ranger
station, where among other things (like admiring their caged gila
monster) we asked about trogon sightings. Turns out the last one to be
seen had been in November. A local thought maybe she'd heard one in
January. Whoever had relayed the rumor that one had been seen recently
was being wildly optimistic.
Fortunately, I'm not a die-hard birder and I didn't go there
specifically for the trogon. I saw lots of good birds and some mammals
I'd never seen before
list), like a coatimundi (I didn't realize those ever came up to
the US) and a herd (pack? flock?) of javalinas. And white-tailed deer
-- easterners will laugh, but those aren't common anywhere I've lived
(mule deer are the rule in California and Northern New Mexico). Plus
some good hikes with great views, and a nice visit with our friend. It
was a good trip.
On the way home, again we took two days for the opportunity to visit
some places we hadn't seen. First, Cloudcroft, NM: a place we'd heard
a lot about because a lot of astronomers retire there. It's high in
the mountains and quite lovely, with lots of hiking trails in the
surrounding national forest. Worth a visit some time.
From Cloudcroft we traveled through the Mescalero Apache reservation,
which was unexpectedly beautiful, mountainous and wooded and dotted
with nicely kept houses and ranches, to Ruidoso, a nice little town
where we spent the night.
Our last stop, Saturday morning, was Lincoln, site of the Lincoln
County War (think Billy the Kid). The whole tiny town is set up as a
tourist attraction, with old historic buildings ... that were all
closed. Because why would any tourists be about on a beautiful
Saturday in spring? There were two tiny museums, one at each end of
town, which were open, and one of them tried to entice us into paying
the entrance fee by assuring us that the ticket was good for all the
sites in town. Might have worked, if we hadn't already walked the
length of the town peering into windows of all the closed sites. Too
bad -- some of them looked interesting, particularly the general store.
But we enjoyed our stroll through the town, and we got a giggle out of
the tourist town being closed on Saturday -- their approach to tourism
seems about as effective as Los Alamos'.
Photos from the trip are at
Cave Creek and the Chiricahuas.
[ 10:04 Apr 05, 2018
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Sun, 23 Jul 2017
This week's hike was to Nambé Lake, high in the Sangre de Cristos
above Santa Fe.
It's a gorgeous spot, a clear, shallow mountain lake surrounded by
steep rocky slopes up to Lake Peak and Santa Fe Baldy. I assume it's a
glacial cirque, though I can't seem to find any confirmation of that
There's a raucous local population of grey jays,
fearless and curious. One of my hiking companions suggested
they'd take food from my hand if I offered. I broke off a bit of my
sandwich and offered it, and sure enough, a jay flew right over.
Eventually we had three or four of them hanging around our lunch spot.
The rocky slopes are home to pikas, but they're shy and seldom seen.
We did see a couple of marmots in the rocks, and I caught a brief
glimpse of a small, squirrel-sized head that looked more grey than
brown like I'd expect from a rock squirrel. Was it a pika? I'll never know.
We also saw some great flowers. Photos:
Lake Grey Jays.
[ 09:55 Jul 23, 2017
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Mon, 19 Sep 2016
Saturday, a friend led a group hike for the nature center from the
Caja del Rio down to the Rio Grande.
The Caja (literally "box", referring to the depth of White Rock
Canyon) is an area of national forest land west of Santa Fe, just
across the river from Bandelier and White Rock. Getting there involves
a lot of driving: first to Santa Fe, then out along increasingly dicey
dirt roads until the road looks too daunting and it's time to get out
From where we stopped, it was only about a six mile hike, but the
climb out is about 1100 feet and the day was unexpectedly hot and
sunny (a mixed blessing: if it had been rainy, our Rav4 might have
gotten stuck in mud on the way out). So it was a notable hike.
But well worth it: the views of Frijoles Canyon (in Bandelier)
were spectacular. We could see the lower Bandelier Falls, which I've
never seen before, since Bandelier's Falls Trail washed out below
the upper falls the summer before we moved here. Dave was convinced
he could see the upper falls too, but no one else was convinced,
though we could definitely see the red wall of the
in the canyon just below the upper falls.
We had lunch in a little grassy thicket by the Rio Grande, and we even
saw a few little frogs, well camouflaged against the dirt: you could
even see how their darker brown spots imitated the pebbles in the
sand, and we wouldn't have had a chance of spotting them if they
hadn't hopped. I believe these were canyon treefrogs (Hyla
arenicolor). It's always nice to see frogs -- they're not as
common as they used to be. We've heard canyon treefrogs at home
a few times on rainy evenings: they make a
strange ratcheting noise which I managed to record on my digital camera.
Of course, at noon on the Rio the frogs weren't making any noise:
just hanging around looking cute.
Sunday we drove around the Pojoaque Valley following their art
tour, then after coming home I worked on setting up a new sandblaster
to help with making my own art. The hardest and least fun part of
welded art is cleaning the metal of rust and paint, so it's exciting
to finally have a sandblaster to help with odd-shaped pieces like chains.
Then tonight was a flower walk in Pajarito Canyon, which is bursting
at the seams with flowers, especially purple aster, goldeneye,
Hooker's evening primrose and bahia. Now I'll sign off so I can catalog
my flower photos before I forget what's what.
[ 20:17 Sep 19, 2016
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Fri, 29 Apr 2016
I haven't posted in a while. Partly I was busy preparing for, enjoying,
then recovering from, a hiking trip to the Vermillion Cliffs,
on the Colorado River near the Arizona/Utah border.
We had no internet access there (no wi-fi at the hotel, and no data
on the cellphone). But we had some great hikes, and I saw my first
California Condors (they have a site where they release captive-bred
Photos (from the hikes, not the condors, which were too far away):
I've also been having fun welding more critters, including a
roadrunner, a puppy and a rattlesnake.
I'm learning how to weld small items,
like nail legs on spark plug dragonflies and scorpions, which tend
to melt at the MIG welder's lowest setting.
New Mexico's weather is being charmingly erratic (which is fairly usual):
we went for a hike exploring some unmapped cavate ruins, shivering in
the cold wind and occasionally getting lightly snowed upon. Then the
next day was a gloriously sunny hike out Deer Trap Mesa with clear
long-distance views of the mountains and mesas in all directions.
Today we had
-- someone recently introduced me to that term for what Dave
and I have been calling "snail" or "how" since it's a combination of
snow and hail, soft balls of hail like tiny snowballs. They turned the
back yard white for ten or fifteen minutes, but then the sun came out
for a bit and melted all the little snowballs.
But since it looks like much of today will be cloudy, it's a perfect
day to use up that leftover pork roast and fill the house with good
smells by making a batch of slow-cooker green chile posole.
[ 12:28 Apr 29, 2016
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