From my campsite at Oliver Lee State Park, I walked all the way, and into, the Lincoln National Forest. The trail went up a mountain. Or a hill. Now in retrospect, I think it was a hill. When I got to the top, I could begin to see the rest of the mountain. Now, I only went up about four hundred and fifty feet- if I ever make it to the end of the trail (just over five miles, compared to the half mile I went today,) the trail climbs another three thousand feet or so to the top of the Sacramento Mountains.
I’ve been saying (lately) that I would do these big walks every other day, yet what else am I going to do tomorrow? Wake and walk I think. Every step of this hill today was a challenge- every single step. There were parts were I wondered where ever the trail even was? Check the pictures.. I’m not sure what I expected.. except maybe a nice even’ish gravel path, neatly lined in rocks. I suppose after the lower trail into the canyon the other day, I should have known better.
And I did- maybe not level gravel paths, yet I expected more.. more path. Large parts of the ‘trail’ were nothing but slick bedrock tilted down the slope, littered with smaller rocks fallen down over the ages. Three or four ‘switchbacks’ helps take the slope out of the grade, yet just adds more distance to cover. Once I made it to the ‘top’ (of the hill I could see,) it did even out a little- for about fifty feet, then the path just starts climbing up the next hill.
Along the way up I passed several hikers on their way down. First, an old man with a cane wearing a Navy Veteran hat. We chatted for a minute, wear he mentioned he’s been walking the trail and trying to keep it clean for years. He asked if I had seen the bike riders. Bicyclist? I asked. Yes, three of them went by him faster than he could tell them there is no bike riding on the State Park portion of the trail. I was in disbelief- I still can’t imagine someone riding a bike on this trail- and certainly not as speed!
The next was a young couple- maybe late twenties- that came through trucking. I was having a breathing conniption though out my climb, and as they passed, the lady bid me well with a “enjoy your hike!”, as if I was not laboring through death to climb this mountain.
Last I saw a solo young man with a single wooden pole as his hiking stick. We also stopped to chat for a moment (seems he was happy to take a break as well.) He really talked up how cool the old cabin was (the remains of Frenchie’s Line Cabin.) I hope to make it that far up the trail. He seemed more than fit enough and I asked if he had gone all the way to the end of the trail. Only three miles in he said, then quickly added he’s on his way over to Gila National Forest. I have a feeling that the last mile is a challenge even for the fit.
Of course the best part was as soon as I saw the fence line and the sign post to mark my entrance to the forest- and the end of my walk for today. Well, except I now I to walk down the mountain. As hard as the climb up was (not a hike when you have to use your hands, my definition,) it was not nearly as bad as the way down.
I remember the first time I went upstairs in my house last year. One flight of steps, I climbed, I crawled, I struggled for almost an hour to get up those steps, just to see my own bedroom for the first time in six months. I remember I had packed my backpack and brought it with me, my phone and a urinal if I recall, as well as a nicotine vape I’m sure, and some water. I wasn’t sure if I could get up there, and if I did, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get back down.
Today was kind of the same, I knew I would need a break at the top, and I absolutely brought plenty of water with me (well, a half gallon) and my camera. I walked back from the fence line to a good seat I had seen, a chair sized square boulder in the middle of the path- a boulder that was the path that I had to climb over on my hands and knees just a few minutes before. I’m not sure how long I sat and rested, yet I had nothing else to do. Gladly, I had great cell signal up there, so I took the opportunity to make a few posts on social media for those that don’t read this blog. Other than the sun (and an absolute lack of shade on the trail,) it was nice to just sit up there, watch the view, and smoke my (tobacco) pipe.
Of course, after a while, I was still at the top. I’m not sure what the final motivation was to move again, yet I should have taken another ten minutes. The walk down was hard, very hard. Even with the trek poles to help with my balance, each step down with my left foot was another adventure, wondering if my ankle would hold or roll. I managed to make it down with just one small tumble, good to know my PLF reaction speed is back too. What could have been much worse, was just a small twist to a seated position that I wasn’t expecting.
Down to the bottom I took another break inside the visitor center (I’d done the same on the way up from my campsite,) and continued chatting with the female ranger on duty (also today I was informed they’re not rangers, no badges/gun, they just work for the State Park.) From earlier, she knew I was heading up the trail and I’d been gone almost two hours, so when I saw her again, the natural question was how far I went.
I smiled and told her proudly I walked all the way to the national forest and then humbly added, or just a half mile. She smiled and told me to secret. Just tell people you hiked the Dog Canyon Trail, no one really asks how much. Ha, okay, yet I’m still going to try to hike it all. Oddly, in our conversation, I just had to ask if she knew Randy Bates – the Texas park ranger that had first told me about the New Mexico Annual Camper Pass program. And she did! They used to work together at another park before coming here. Small World.
Back to my new campsite, as I had to pack and move this morning, I know have several neighbors. The pair right next to me (Tom and Amy, a couple with maybe a decade on me,) are pretty friendly and Amy is certainly chatty. Oddly, I seem out of practice. We talked about the trails, and Amy told me about something she’d been tipped off on: a secret pool. Apparently, the picnic table is not the end of the ‘trail’ into the canyon. Or wait, it is the end of the official trail.. yet, that is not as far as you can go.
From the picnic table, I’m told to look for the big rock (this in an area with rocks the size of RV’s,) with a tree on top – and walk towards the tree. About half way to the tree, I’ll see a narrow path to my right which will take me another fifty feet or so to a desert oasis, I’m told. The dripping creek that I saw on the trail is the overflow from the pool up the trail. Tom is adventurous (says Amy,) and jumped right in, where being more reserved she just put her feet in from the edge.
Tomorrow, I might go for a walk into the canyon wearing my swim shorts (if not tomorrow, soon!) Or, and most likely.. to celebrate Easter, I think I’m going to walk back up the mountain, except instead of following the trail to the right at the top, there is a spur trail that goes up another thirty or forty feet and away from the forest. From my campsite with my looking glass I’ve seen there is a cave at the top of the the mountain.. I want to go see.. to see that tomorrow the cave will be empty.
Okay, I’ve kept religiously quiet this Lent and even now during Holy Week, yet tomorrow is Easter and it is now already past sunset and the Vigil Mass tonight.. He has Risen. It has been a good season, perhaps one of my best yet. Kinda freaked me out when I left Brantley Lake and counted how many days I’d stayed there in it’s desert solitude. Or how on my last day I was graced with a photo of that fast little lizzard, maybe not a God moment to anyone else. Yet I know that lizard spotted me and held still long enough for me to go get my good camera from the tarp tent and come back- and still held still to let me take two pictures of him.
For my experience of Brantley Lake, everything was very austere; yet that photo of resting lizard – that was an extra thing. Maybe a small thing, yet in my month of observing those lizards, it was supernatural thing.
Time to rest.