Friday, May 23, 2008

Backpacking in the Bandelier Wilderness

We were on the road again about 4:30am Monday, headed west through Fort Worth, then northwest through Wichita Falls and Amarillo; west to Tucumcari (still not much there except some low rent motels, but nicer than before); northwest into wide open New Mexico through Las Vegas with the snow-topped Sangre de Cristo Mountains off into the distance; into Santa Fe (a Wild Oats/Whole Foods right on the highway for a nice place to stop for whatever) and then north and west to Bandelier. Along the way along old Route 66, along the train tracks headed out west we saw wild turkeys, camels, pronghorn antelope, hawks …

Keep on rollin’
Just a mile to go,
Keep on rollin’, my old buddy,
You’re movin’ much too slow

Leavin’ Texas
Fourth day of July
Sun so hot, clouds so low
The eagles filled the sky.

Catch the Detroit Lightning
Out of Santa Fe
The Great Northern out of Cheyenne
From sea to shining sea


Jeff said that going to a rest home is probably about like being in prison or the Marine Corps. There’ll be people and things you don’t like, but you just gotta learn to deal with it because nobody’s getting out until they do their time – which in a rest home is usually 3-6 years before they carry you out the back.

Got into Bandelier around 5pm and went first to the ranger station to work out our route, then to Juniper Campground (drive-in campsites) where we set up our tent and grilled sausages for dinner (with salad from Wild Oats, bread from home, water). We pitched the tent without a fly, so it was a cool, open night. Up at 7am, had cereal with milk from the ice chest, broke camp fast, and drove to the ranger station to leave the car and hit the trail up Frijoles Canyon. Photo: Cliff dwellings

The first mile or so of the trail was paved – and took us to the Anasazi Indian (ancestors of the Pueblo Indians) cliff dwellings along and in the cliffs on the northeast side of the canyon. We spent an hour or so in the caves, structures, and ruins there and then on up the shady trail through Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine alongside and back and forth across the mountain stream running cold and clear through the canyon. The canyon walls were 200-300 feet high, with the NE side having vertical to overhanging rock and most of the SW side steep rocky scrub, though there were places with walls on both sides, and sometimes within a 100 feet of one another. There were ferns (some maidenhair), horsetails, violets, columbines, lady’s slippers, what looked like strawberries in first bloom, and other wet woodland plants all along the trail. There was one place where a spring flowed across the trail and into the stream and there was a clump of iris in full bloom in the mud beside the trail. Photo: Jeff on the trail

The walk was only slightly uphill, but we were tired and glad to get to a good campsite around 2pm in “Zone F” on the NE side of the stream (there were many good sites on the SW side of the stream) (6-7 miles). I guess we were feeling the effects of age and the 7000 foot altitude. We pitched the tent on the thick carpet of pine needles among tall Ponderosa pines at the base of the cliff. We fixed the main meal of the day by around 3pm – freezer bag homemade dehydrated chili, cheese, crackers, and water. We used a cat food can stove and denatured alcohol to cook and it worked just fine. Jeff took a nap in the tent and I walked up to the bottom of the cliff amongst the rocks and found a shady spot where I wrote for awhile, then dozed. I went back down to the campsite and we talked for awhile, had an energy bar for a snack and turned in as soon as it was dark. Photo: Stream

In the morning we had FB oatmeal with apples and pecans, and coffee. We talked about the route and decided to take an easier loop than originally planned – the new route was shorter and had less up/downhill. This decision lightened my mind quite a bit. We continued up the canyon and at the Upper Crossing headed up the Mesa del Rito. It was a good hump up switchbacks to the top of the mesa. We walked about a mile back to the SE above the canyon and stopped around 2pm (~4 miles). There were junipers and then Ponderosa pines and we found a great campsite slightly below the top of the mesa. The site was among huge Ponderosas, completely level and soft with pine needles. We pitched the tent without the fly and fixed the main meal – FB mashed potatoes, Spam, rosemary, butter, cheese, and bread. We’ve had several single serving packets of Spam around since the last trip to Asia. On the packets is written, “Just rip and tear your way to crazy tasty town”. Okey dokey. Photo: Cougar scat

Jeff took a nap and I walked to the edge of the mesa to write. I watched a hawk ride the wind high above the canyon and then the wind got bigger and bigger and the hawk was gone and I dozed, leaning against a Ponderosa with the wind blowing over me. We hung out by the tent, talking and then to sleep as soon as the sun went down.

Around midnight I awoke with rain on my face. We got the fly on in less than a minute (fortunately we’d already set rocks ready to anchor the fly). We slept well with the rain pattering on the roof of our tent like a little cave. Thanks to the decision to shorten the route, we had no need to get up at any particular time. The rain let up around 9am and we fixed FB oatmeal with dried mango and pecans, and coffee. Moments before we finished it began raining again and we laid up in the tent for another hour or so. Photo: Campsite on Mesa del Rito

As soon as the rain slacked off, we broke camp and headed down the trail at a Captain Kappleman pace (he was the C Company Commander and always set a fierce pace). It rained some, hailed (little pellets) some, and there was a little thunder – the reason for the fast pace. We were glad to get well off the mesa. By then were so close to the ranger station we decided to not pitch (a wet) camp and walked on out down the side of the canyon (where we realized how extensive the ruins are as we walked above them on the opposite side of the canyon) and back to the car (~5 miles).

It was a good trip, easy hiking, not as harsh a desert environment as Big Bend. While we were in the wilderness area we saw eight other people. We saw summer tanagers, robin red breasts (with brighter colors and sharper markings than what we usually see in Dallas), several different hawks, flickers, canyon wrens, wily old crows, vultures, and many others. We saw mule deer, squirrels, lizards, one snake, and clear blue skies, clouds, rain, hail, and rare beauty. Photo: CK cooking, 1st afternoon on the trail. Stove is inside the foil windscreen on the right.

Some lessons learned: New pack from REI and trekking poles good. Homemade dehydrated food much better (and cheaper) than bought. 5-7 miles in about 5 hours is about right for Jeff and me.

More photos are on WorldisRound

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Great shots, I would love to take some time off of work and make these kind of trips, just you a few friends and mother nature.
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