Hiking Santa Fe’s Winsor Trail to Raven Ridge

Last week we enjoyed our first proper hike of the summer—Winsor Trail to Raven Ridge.

Lake Peak in the Santa Fe National Forest in early June.

The view from Raven Ridge. Spectacular! The snowcapped mountain is Lake Peak. That cirque below the mountain is the location of Nambe Lake. Deception Peak is on the right, hidden behind the ridge and other mountains.

Every time we’ve started this trail, the weather has turned and forced us to go back at Raven Ridge. Summer wildflowers were already starting to bloom along the lower part of the trail, so we really wanted to try make it up to Deception Peak.

Big snowbanks covered the trail a few minutes after we turned onto the fenceline trail leading to Raven Ridge. Conditions remained easily hikable, so we remained hopeful.

Once we got to Raven Ridge, however, the snow got much deeper, obscuring the trail. We climbed a couple of hundred yards before turning back. The snow was just too deep. Trying to pick our way through the snowbanks caused us to move further and further to our left, off of the ridge, and towards the steep cliffs. So we went back to the lookout point and enjoyed an early peanut butter sandwich, while the dogs went crazy over a hamburger and brown rice snack I had made for them. A little sunshine sketching, and then we headed back downhill to the car.

New Mexico native wildflower white marsh-marigold seen on Winsor Trail in the Santa Fe National Forest.

White marsh-marigold (Caltha leptosepala) lined the banks of the creek near the trailhead.

That afternoon, the mountains got rain and thundershowers, so turning around when we did was a good idea!

Summer hiking advice: dangerous trail conditions

Keep going or head back down? Always be ready to turn around if the conditions are wrong!

Some weather safety tips for summer hiking in the mountains:

  • Check the weather forecast the night before and morning of your hike.
  • Check the notice board at the trail head (if there is one) for any special weather conditions and warnings—wind advisories, flood watches, etc.
  • Use the weather forecast and advisories to shape your plans for the hike. Be ready for wind, rain, even snow, depending on the location.
  • Bring extra clothing layers, including a raincoat and fleece.
  • Take food and water, for yourself and your dogs, if they come along.
  • Bring a good map, or a GPS device (NOT your phone!) and look at it in difficult trail conditions to make sure you’re still on the trail and not drifting away.
  • Be aware while hiking through snow or other ground conditions that could force you off the trail and onto dangerous terrain.
  • Keep an eye on the sky! Are those clouds getting darker?
  • If rain is starting to move in, get down off that mountain fast! Thunderstorms are often more violent in the mountains, get to shelter.
  • Be flexible! Just because you didn’t get to the mountain top because of bad weather doesn’t mean you failed. Enjoy the hike and the trail along the way. Being stubborn about “goals” in the mountains can result in injury or death.

What outdoor excursions have you got planned for June?

The Native Tree Project

Mature piñon pine tree, Pinus edulis, on the banks of a small arroyo in the high desert of New Mexico.

This piñon pine near my home will be the model for a 2-year portfolio project.

As part of the RBGE Distance Diploma in Botanical Illustration, I need to document the life of a native or historic tree for 2 years.

Choosing a tree was surprisingly difficult. I was very enamored of the heirloom varieties of apple, pear and apricot trees that were planted throughout the Four Corners states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the Randall Davey Audubon Center here in Santa Fe has such an old orchard dating back to the 1890s, and I talked with them about using one of their trees in exchange for a lecture or exhibit to help with their programming. Unfortunately, their orchard doesn’t always bear fruit every year due to the extreme climate at the top of Canyon Road. I couldn’t find another tree of the same variety to serve as an understudy if the star couldn’t perform, so the search continued.

A horse chestnut on Canyon Road at the Santa Fe Historical Foundation’s HQ, El Zaguan, caught my eye. The last survivor of an historical garden and chestnut grove dating to the 1850s, this imposing specimen is a beautiful anomaly in this desert city. The foundation’s office staff gave me the impression that the foundation was not going to work hard to save the tree if its health began to fail as, “it had already lived past its normal lifespan.” So the hunt continued.

The aspen grove located in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also intrigued me. Aspens are like grass: essentially a large, single, clone organism. This particular grove is perhaps one of the largest in North America. Even though this grove is just across town, getting there entails a 45-minute drive–in good weather. I’ll need to be able to check on the tree’s status at least weekly, and more frequently at key lifecycle points, so this was rather inconvenient.

Finally, I realized the answer was in front of my eyes. The piñon pine, or Pinus edulis, is the state tree of New Mexico. It also grows all over the high desert around my exurban house in an environment described as piñon-juniper woodlands. It’s an important food source for animals and humans. Individual trees have beautiful forms, sculpted by wind and weather. Existential drama comes from an epidemic onslaught of an insect pest.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me more about this icon of the Southwest!

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!

Join the Audubon Society Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend, Feb. 13-16, 2015!

Your backyard bird feeder is an easy spot for counting the birds in your neighborhood. Photo courtesy of the Wrenaissance Man.

This weekend, February 13–16, is the American Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count, and you are invited to join in the fun! You don’t need to be a professional ornithologist or even a geeky, hard-core birder to participate. Simply spend 15 minutes this weekend counting and identifying the birds in your backyard, local park, or other favorite outdoor spot and upload the results to the project website.

Last year, 19,363 lists were submitted, with more than 2 million birds of 2,754 species counted during the big weekend. The GBBC website provides instructions on how to make a count list, a dynamic map of submissions made during the weekend, more maps showing the birds seen by region and species, and a very helpful “tricky ID” page to help tell the difference between species that look almost the same (like red finches).

You don’t even have to be a big outdoorsman to participate! If you have a bird feeder set up outside your window, simply take 15 minutes at feeding time to count the birds showing up to eat. This is an easy and accessible way to take part if the weather isn’t cooperating, or if you’re a shut-in.

This weekend is a great opportunity to introduce your children or grandchildren to the nature that surrounds us all every day. I hope you’ll join me!

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