Spent a few days in Los Alamos after the disastrous first stint. Returned to Silver City and drove deep into a different part of the Gila and spent 4 days at the Willow Creek campground (1 hour to turnoff, then 1 hour over very windy and bumpy dirt roads...saw a wild turkey). It was odd, after 12 days camping in wilderness, to be sleeping in a campground. Especially with that random little kid that kept wandering through our campsite and wading in the creek when we were trying to filter water. He was interesting. His family was parked in the slot across from ours, with the tent pitched 2 feet from the side of their huge red truck. There is a burn ban on. Not only did they have a fire, but they went out into the woods with saws and cut down live branches to feed it. While they were gone, they put their food in a “bear bag” for wildlife protection...this was a regular black garbage bag, suspended at chest level fromn a branch, right over the picnic table.
We surveyed the first day in national forest turf, which was not good because it turned out that the land that had supposedly not burned for a hundred years (a potential control site) had very obviously been thinned many years before. We spent the next 3 days surveying in wilderness....oh my heavens, it was wonderful. Our little 4-person team cut through those plots like a scalpel. We did 2 plots the first day (and 2 tree-only plots to account for thick pole stands), 4 on the second (a record...and we got back to camp at 4:30!), and 2 (and 2 tree-only) on the day we left. It was wonderful. We actually accomplished work. It sounds like bragging, but I think a lot of it was when we switched to a system that I thought would be more efficient. Instead of having 1 person on fuels, 2 on vegetation, and 1 just floating around until they have a free partner to do trees, we have 1 on fuels, 1 on vegetation, and 2 on trees (trees really need two people), and can then do all three tasks at once, and whoever finishes first can do the little teensy things at the end, like marking and pictures. It’s slashed the time we take to do these. JOY.
Saw elk and deer almost every day, and many birds (lots of pygmy nuthatches, northern flickers, and ruby-crowned kinglets). We were up on Iron Creek Mesa, which was a hike through near-montane up to ponderosa forest. It was a tough hike, but gratifying to see how it became easier with every day. Several times, we passed by Iron Creek Lake...a large pond at the height of the mesa in a thick clearing, ringed with trees. It was amazingly beautiful; as if the tall grass had just melted towards the center of the meadow into a soft green mirror.
Drake was beside herself with joy at leaving the Econo-Lodge.
We drove out two days ago. I had (and still have) mysterious rashes and blisters all over my body for some reason, especially on my hands and arms. I don’t know what they’re from, but they’re painful. Tyler and I spent a night in the Econo-Lodge, then rented a car yesterday (Wednesday) and drove to...Carlsbad Caverns.
The drive was about 5 hours, and took us through El Paso, TX, which is wretchedly ugly. That may have been my first time in Texas. We drove straight to the Caverns, stopping only for fuel, and ran into the visitor’s center about 15 minutes after the walk down into the cave via Natural Entrance was supposed to officially close (the alternative was the elevator straight down into the main chamber (Big Room), but you miss out on the mile-and-a-half walk down into the natural opening of the cave, and miss a lot of the formations...plus, you miss the transition, and a lot of the beauty.
They let us sneak in.
The walk down was amazing. The entrance, sunk deeply into the ground, is HUGE, and cave swallows (Hirundinidae) flew about in dizzying darts. I’m not sure what to say about the walk...it was long, dark, and utterly entrancing. The air was cool and moist, and I felt so small. There were boulders the size of schools that had fallen from the walls, and all sorts of neat cave formations. The bottom of the cave had a gift shop and restaurant (>disapproval<), but we took the long walk around the Big Room (a few more hours) and saw all sorts of wonderful formations that defy description, which is hard for a journal. I loved the utter stillness of the cave, and the soft draperies and pools left behind by hundreds of thousands of years of water motion. One grotto was draped in gentle white folds that reminded Tyler of a slot canyon, and me of something I can’t quite remember.
We took the elevator up...750 feet up...and then milled about the bookstore for a while until heading back to the cave entrance at 7:30 for the bat flight. There’s an amphitheater there, where we watched cave swallows and listened to the program until all of a sudden, the bats came OUT. The mouth of the cave is sunken, so the bats have to fly out in an upward counter-clockwise spiral before disappearing into the night in long streamers. We watched them for an hour, and they still kept coming. There’s over 100,000 of them, evidently. I especially liked how the main focus of the program was the bats...not tourism. There were many rules designed for bat safety and they were very strictly enforced (quiet, no flash photography, no hanging over the entrance). I highly approve.
Tyler and I had pasta that night at a restaurant called the Velvet Garter, which features a very large painting of a naked lady in the bar, and got up this morning to head back here...but this time looping up north and stopping to play on the dunes at White Sands. It was very sandy, and very white, and I liked it very much...although I did pull a sloppy somersault at one point and really hurt my arm. Clumsy.
Saw a stealth bomber.
Drove back to Silver City, checked in at the hotel, got some produce at the Co-Op, turned the car in, and started organizing meals for the next trip. We’ll be packed in, so we’ll take stuff to Wendel tomorrow and camp at the trailhead to get an early start the next morning. We’ll be in for 8 full days, not counting the hikes in and out, then come out and hopefully get some time off.
Miss you all.