Hot Enough for Ya?

“Be careful…It’s hot out there” I said. “Oh, but it’s a dry heat” she replied with a laugh. That’s true enough. It sits at 104 degrees with a whopping 4 percent humidity. When I moved here from the Midwest I thought that humidity that low was lethal. Our body is made up of water, right? Don’t we need about 60% humidity to live? Well, apparently not.

 I remember Missouri days of 112 degrees and humidity of 80-90 percent. There are no words to describe that heat. Just the stupid question: “Hot enough for ya?”  Even squirrels were falling out of trees. Birds sat with their beaks open…panting. Some people were dying in front of their TVs.

 In the old days, long before AC, people would drag their beds out into the night. Residential boulevards in St. Louis — the ones with grassy center parkways — were nightly campgrounds. If you were lucky you had an elevated sleeping porch. If you were really lucky it was screened to keep out the mosquitos. The mosquito-borne St. Louis Encephalitis made its appearance in the 1930s as if the heat wasn’t enough.

It gets hot here in the high and dry New Mexico desert but the record is a wimpy 107 from a few years ago. The low humidity can trick you into thinking it’s not too hot. With a breeze and some shade, you might not feel so hot. You don’t sweat. The dryness sucks away any moisture. You must drink water and lots of it. The intense sun light, at over 5,000 feet will toast almost anything not in the shade. After a few years here I took a trip up the road to Colorado Springs and began sweating for the first time in years — I had forgotten what that was like. Later that year I spent the first week of September in St. Louis for a family reunion. I was moist, to say the least. I recall my Aunt and Uncle coming to visit us in St. Louis during the summer from California and listening to them complain and carry on about the heat. We didn’t know what they were complaining about — isn’t this normal everywhere in summer?  No.

So, yes, it is a dry heat…but it is still hot.  June is our hottest month and people will sometimes escape to cooler climates. I went to Steamboat Springs for a week and just got back. Tulips are blooming there and daffodils. It was in the low 50s in the morning and topped out in the 70s most days. When I was driving home my car’s AC died…I had been having trouble with it and it went belly up south of Fairplay. By the time I got south of Alamosa I could see the smoke.  The Jemez Mountains were burning again. I wonder, sometimes, how there can be anything left to burn but driving up through the mountains you can see that there is plenty of fuel left. The Jemez Mountains, about 45 minutes north of Albuquerque, are too popular for their own good. People go there to cool off and camp on hot weekends or to picnic. They build campfires and then walk off and leave them. On a recent weekend, the Forest Service had to douse thirty abandoned campfires. What kind of an idiot walks away from a campfire in a dry and hot forest? The current fire, the one I could see thirty miles into Colorado, burned a little less than 2,000 acres (so far, it is still burning) and was started by an abandoned campfire. There is no excuse for that. The cost has reached $1.7 million to fight that fire. 

Stay cool. Have a cold beer or some lemonade. Put out your campfire.


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Discovering Places: San Ysidro Trails


I took a couple hours and went out to San Ysidro Trails, a BLM public use area about thirty miles from where I live. This was my first visit although I’ve gone past it many times.  The area is just west of the town of San Ysidro  (NM) on highway 550. There is a sign and a small parking lot. The gate is locked so you need to request a key if you want to bike or do any off-road vehicle exploration. Check with the area rules on how to get the key and what is allowed. Take plenty of water.


The area is located just to the south of the Jemez and Naciamento Mountains and bumps up against the Jemez Pueblo lands to the north. The highway is the south edge and across the highway is the Rio Salada, White Mesa and the Ojito Wilderness.  The trails area has two small canyons and there is usually some permanent water pools in the deeper recesses. I visited in early May and there was a surprising amount of water in the canyon…it is probably drier later in the year. That much water means there is wildlife in the area and there were plenty of tracks but in the middle of the day I didn’t see much. I heard a few things moving through the Junipers and sage but didn’t actually see anything. There were hawks circling in the distance, some songbirds and what I assume was some type of large grouse that took off in a frenzy when I got too close.


The name “trails” is deceiving because there are no real developed trails but there are lots of faint trails going off in random directions.  The place is mostly sand and a little broken cobble with some significant sandstone (?) outcrops and canyon walls. Actually the geology seems puzzling. I saw sandstone and what looks like shale but also lots of igneous rocks scattered around including some obsidian. The Jemez Mountains are volcanic and there is a lot of solidified volcanic ash (Tuff) so I may be mistaking the tuff for sandstone.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI only had a couple hours so I started off following the footprints of some other recent visitors up one of the random trails. At first, on the macro level there isn’t a great deal to see: mostly junipers, sage, cholla cactus and prickly pear scattered on slightly rolling sand hills. The interest is in the details — there is a wide variety of broken stone mixed in with the sand and a variety of blooming wildflowers. There is a lot of cow poop but no cows. When there are cattle in the area I guess they are responsible for the random trails.

The high cliffs are across the highway

It takes a little bit of walking to get away from the highway sounds but eventually you are out of range and in an interesting desert landscape. This is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert at about 5,600 feet in elevation. Keep your eyes open, this is rattlesnake country. You will also see some interesting stuff if you pay attention. I saw a small white horned lizard (AKA horned toad) no larger than a cricket. I didn’t know they came that small. He easily blended in to the sand and rock pebbles.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKeep walking in a roughly northeast direction and you will eventually arrive at the western canyon.  As far as I know they have no other names beside West and East canyons.  On the way I passed something I guess was an adobe shelter of some type – now just dirt mounds with a little wood and sheet metal mixed in. There also are a few old forgotten fences with rusted and broken barbed wire. There are gaps in the fences if you follow the animal and hiker trails.


The (west) canyon was a major departure from the sand and gravel. Intermittent rock walls are maybe fifty foot high at the most and there is a lot of tumbled down boulders. The canyon floor is lush green grass. I was running out of time so I just stayed at the western canyon. The eastern canyon is reported to be more impressive and is a slot canyon in a few places. I saw some hedgehog cactus growing in the canyon which is a departure from the usual cholla and prickly pear.



Heading back to the car is a little tricky unless you marked your route. If you just head south you will eventually get to the highway some distance east of the parking area.  I need to make a full day of it and get over to the east canyon on my next trip.



Jemez River – Fall Colors


The Jemez River flows out of the Jemez Mountains past Jemez Springs and the ruined Jemez Mission (1622) through the Jemez Pueblo lands on its way to join the Rio Grande. I spend as much time up there as I can — it’s not far from my house and the drive is enjoyable. Every part of our country has some expression of  beautiful fall colors but here, in a desert environment, we rely on the cottonwoods for the annual show. There are some aspen groves here and there up in the mountains or the high meadows but the cottonwoods are the big performers.


We are pretty liberal with the title “river” around here. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve been here two years and my way of looking at it, so far, is if the stream has water in it all year long, and maybe some fish, its a river. If it has water most of the time but might go dry once or twice, it’s a creek. If it is dry most of the year and might have water briefly once in a while after big rains, it’s an arroyo. We seem to have more arroyos than anything else.

The Jemez is a nice little river with some trout but on the day I visited it was running very muddy due to some big rains and the runoff from the fire-damaged mountain slopes way upstream.


The canyon is pretty any time of year and is a very historic area. The local Jemez pueblo Indians have lived here for centuries after a long migration down from the Mesa Verde area many generations ago. The Spanish showed up in the 1600s and built, or more likely had the Indians build, the massive stone mission church and complex in the middle of Gisewa Pueblo, in 1622. The mission church and supporting buildings are in ruins now, surrounded by the ruins of the old pueblo. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish out for a while but when they returned in the 1690s the Jemez people were not happy to see them and there was some hard fighting and reprisals. Walatowa, the current pueblo town, sits next to the Jemez River. The visitor center offers a good deal of information and history of the area.


This is all volcanic geology in the Jemez Mountains and much of the bare rock is consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). There are numerous hot springs and the remains of one of the largest super volcanoes in North America, the Valles Caldera. There is still a lot of heat down below.

One wouldn’t know about the history or geology of the place just looking at the beautiful fall colors. On some weekends the road is clogged with folks taking pictures. One really must get out of the car to enjoy and experience the colors. Walking among the trees gives a very special perspective. I was there on Halloween day and some of the forest was a little bit spooky.


This is a “Bosque” forest…growing up on either side of a stream. The soil is deep on the valley floor and the place is well watered.


Rather than me running my mouth, so to speak, I’ll just post some pictures. I encourage you to visit the area any time but especially near the end of October.




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Rio Guadalupe Canyon – Jemez Mountains

I love going into the Jemez Mountains any time of the year but especially in the Autumn. We had a pretty day this weekend with a forecast of several days of rain on the way so I took myself up into the Jemez for an afternoon. I was not disappointed. I took a left off of highway 4 past the Jemez Pueblo and headed up Rio Guadalupe Canyon. The red-rock cliffs and the deep gorge are the first hints of what lies ahead. It is a small and narrow road, and it becomes narrower and one-lane as you continue up the canyon. This is a few weeks before Halloween and the few houses you encounter are decked out in seasonal decorations. Halloween in these parts is often eclipsed by Dia de Los Muertos so sometimes you have to look twice to see what the decorations are for. Kids would have quite a hike to go door-to-door for trick or treating around here.

The Rio Guadalupe is a small trickle of a river that flows into the Jemez River. Both would qualify as creeks almost anywhere else but this is desert country and we stretch the definition a little. By the looks of the canyon there must be a lot of water moving through here sometimes.







The Rio Guadalupe Canyon is very pretty but rather remote and not so easy to find unless you are looking for the Gilman Tunnels. These hard-rock tunnels have a long history and once carried a rail line before surrendering to the current narrow paved road.  You might have seen the Gilman Tunnels if you saw Russell Crowe’s fairly recent version of “3:10 to Yuma” (2007). There was a scene involving railroad workers building a rail line through a tunnel. Gilman Tunnels served as the location for those shots.

There are trout in the Rio Guadalupe but I haven’t fished there. It doesn’t look too easy getting down to the water but there are a few wide spots on the road where fishermen park and climb down to the water. I saw a few spots were access appeared to be easier so maybe I’ll try it someday.







Climbing up out of the canyon, the paved road gives out but the gravel road is well tended and actually wide enough for cars to pass. There are a number of campsites and spots for horse trail rides — just wide spots  and a few clearings. There were several campers enjoying the October weekend. Fall colors here do not conform to anyone’s schedule. You see it when you see it. The hillsides are colorful in some places but not others – the microclimates reign more than calendars.







Some of this is open range for cattle and I’ve come across some fall cattle drives before on some of these roads as they move the herds out of the mountains. The cattle have right of way and fifty head of cattle can pretty much take possession of the road….they move in small groups, not what you see on TV westerns.  The cowboys…often cow-old-men…keep things under control. We must have missed a cattle drive by about an hour but came up on workers loading cattle trucks for the ride out of the mountains….well played, cows, you get to ride.









The road climbs over a divide and down into the San Antonio Creek drainage. The Jemez Mountains are all volcanic in origin. Valles Caldera is just a couple miles to the north and much of what you see as rock outcrops is consolidated volcanic ash – tuff — ejected as the volcanoes erupted many eons ago. The place is still influenced by fire as there are frequent forest fires up in the Jemez Mountains.

It is common to see blackened stumps and scorched timber covering some of the peaks.  The Aspens seem to fare better after a fire. From what I’ve seen it looks like the Aspens are among the first trees to come back. I think I read that Aspen groves are really one large organism with the individual trees being connected underground in a network of roots. That may be a way to survive when disaster strikes.







There will be snow up here in a few weeks and the roads will largely be off limits until spring. If I’m going to fish these small streams I need to get back up here in a hurry.

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