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Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Color Returns to the Mountains

Sunday, May 17th, 2020: Black Range, Hikes, Hillsboro, Southwest New Mexico.

Returning to the wilderness area around a 10,000′ peak, where the snow is finally gone and color has finally returned!

I chose this hike because it was going to be a hot day and I hoped it would be cooler up there. It’s also a north-south ridge and tends to be windy – I would turn a bend in the trail and literally go from calm and sweating in the 80s to a wind chill in the 50s, instantaneously. I had to hold onto my hat several times.

This is a fairly remote hike, but popular with city people driving from Las Cruces and El Paso. Most people are focused on reaching the fire lookout compound on the peak, partly because it used to be occupied by local celebrity author Philip Connors; I couldn’t care less about Connors and am much more interested in the wildlife. I skip the fire lookout and continue down the crest trail on the back side of the peak to a remote saddle, around which there are still some big old-growth trees that survived the 2013 fire.

I was hoping to explore more of the crest trail, but north of the saddle, it was completely obliterated by a big blowdown of mature conifers. I will be surprised if the Forest Service ever restores the trail system around here. The trails themselves, like the fire lookout, are simply aspects of more than a century of failed practices. A microcosm of our entire society.

On the back side of the peak, trying to climb over a fallen tree trunk, I lost my balance and fell backward, grabbing a locust seedling by mistake. My hand was pierced by its long thorns, but miraculously, didn’t bleed. Hiking back to the trailhead in a heavy wind, I noticed a beautiful butterfly darting around my legs. It suddenly dashed under my heel just as I put my weight down, and was crippled.

Driving down through the foothills, where the speed limit increases and I was forced off the road a few weeks earlier by a reckless driver, I watched carefully as vehicles emerged one by one from the blind curves ahead of me. Nearly all of them were driving too fast and cut the curves, crossing the double yellow line into my lane, and I leaned on my horn again and again – something which is strictly taboo in rural southwest New Mexico. I was relieved to get home safe, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor butterfly.

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