Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico (May 2009) IX

New Mexico's champion alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana)
Fort Bayard

On our second last day in New Mexico (May 21), we were somewhat at a loss for things to do because the sky was threatening rain and we didn't want to drive a long distance yet again. I thought about hiking to hot springs along the San Francisco River, but that was an hour's drive northwest on good roads, an indeterminate distance on a dirt road, and then a two mile walk to a location about which I wasn't exactly sure. Too much trouble. So, we decided to go to Ft. Bayard, about 15 miles east of Silver City, for a hike.

Ft. Bayard is an old cavalry fort that was established to fight the Apaches. Later, it became the locus for copper mining operations in the area, all of which have now been shut down or suspended. Then, the fort buildings were converted to a hospital, the current incarnation of the fort. Just south of the hospital complex, the entrance drive enters the Gila National Forest, and provides access to a set of trails in the foothills of the Black Mountains. We decided on a 5.5 mile circuit, including a side trail to New Mexico's champion alligator juniper tree (Juniperus deppeana).

The hike was easy up to the tree, crossing grasslands and low swells on a broad plain. The tree itself is growing alongside a brook in a copse of oak woodland, and it's mighty impressive. Because the prior day had been rainy, and because the day we visited was cloudy and drizzly, there were some nice opportunities for interesting photographs. We also came across numerous clumps of a parasitic plant at the base of the oaks that I couldn't identify on the spot but later determined to be bear corn (a.k.a. squaw root or cancer-root) (Conopholis americana), a member of the Orobanchaceae, or broom-rape family, all the members of which are parasitic.
Bear corn (a.k.a. squaw root or cancer-root) (Conopholis americana)

A fallen tree near the alligator juniper

Half-wet oaks arching over Sullivan Brook

From the juniper grove, we continued the circuit, climbing up into the hills on a deteriorating trail. Eventually, we reached the crest of the hill and passed through a gate in a barbed wire fence. The hike was downhill from there, in every sense of the word. Certainly, we began to descend vertically, but the fence was in place to keep cattle out of the area of the juniper grove. Though we never saw any cattle, their evidence was everywhere, from overgrazed pasture, cowpies too numerous to count, and a badly eroded and severely churned-up trail. The second half of the walk was unpleasant.

Near trail's end, Ft. Bayard, NM

We finally came out of the hills onto the plain again where there were several huge open growing sycamore trees. Our timing was perfect, because it began to rain just as we returned to our car.


The next day, we checked out of Bear Mountain Lodge and headed back to Albuquerque for our flight home the next morning. En route we drove through the incredibly scenic Iron Creek canyon, but it was raining and we didn't have a chance to stop. The drive to Albuquerque took 5:15, including a stop for a quick lunch along the way.

We checked into our motel near the intersection of I-25 and I-40, then headed over to Old Town to do some final shopping. The store where we had bout some great fetishes in the past was no longer there, but my wife bought an unusual Navajo ring in another store.

At 5:00, we headed back to the motel and got dressed for an early dinner at Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro. Our prix fix meals ($29.00 each) were superb, from appetizer to dessert.

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