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?

It’s National Wildflower Week!

Three yellow cactus flowers in New Mexico to celebrate National Wildflower Week

Wildflower season is in full swing, so be sure to get out there and enjoy the colors and scents!

May 2-8 is National Wildflower Week! I only found out yesterday, thanks to a scan of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Instagram feed. (blush). It does make for a nice kick-off to the 2016 Wildflower Wednesday season, 😉 .

Here are some great botanical gardens, arboretums, and nature centers offering events and programs to celebrate:

The dates for National Wildflower Week vary by geographic climate band, so you may want to check with some of your local arboretums and gardens to see what’s going on in your area.

How will you enjoy your local wildflowers this week?

Book of the Month Club: Land of Enchantment Wildflowers

Executive Summary: 3/5  Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest), by Willa F. Finley and LaShara J. Nieland is an informative and beautifully produced book, but impractical for use while hiking. Editing and organization makes it harder to find specific flowers than necessary.

There are affiliate links in this post. As with all reviews on this blog, I purchased the item with my own money, for my own use, without any sponsorship.

 Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest), by Willa F. Finley and LaShara J. Nieland has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years now. This field guide to New Mexico wildflowers features more than 200 plants, all photographed by the authors, with details of their blossoms, leaves and seedpods.

There are 456 color photographs, plus information about traditional uses; toxins; etymology of both common and scientific names; usage in landscaping and gardening; and interactions with livestock, wildlife and insects. The book is written in a clear and engaging prose style.

This guidebook is beautifully produced, with accurate color reproduction. For a trade paperback, it is fairly compact and lightweight–just shy of 9″ x 5 1/2″ x 1″ and 1 lb, 11.5 oz (780g). Personally, if I’m doing a serious wildflower hike, with sketchbook, drawing tools and camera in tow, on top of my water, weather and dog gear, that nearly 2 pounds of paper weighs too much and takes up too much volume in my daypack to be useful. And if I’m doing a fast and light dayhike, I’m not going to be making any lengthy stops to peruse a guidebook.

Land of Enchantment Wildflowers organizes the flowers by color, rather than botanical family. This seems like a helpful way to categorize different species, especially for a novice wildflower enthusiast, but it’s not as useful as you might think. For one thing, not everyone sees colors the same way. Also, flowers can have slight color variations in certain locations.

Plants that are in the same family have more in common with each other than they do with plants that have the same color flower, but are totally different in their shape, preferred locations, pollinators, etc, etc. It’s the same reason most bird guides are organized by general family–a crow and a raven are very similar in what they eat and how they move, but a blackbird is a songbird, with totally different needs and behaviors. Yet all three birds are black!

Another problem with the book is the way the photographs are selected and arranged. The photos are all of the plants in full bloom. There are no photos of young plants, seed pods, etc. Wildflowers only bloom for a short period each year, so knowing how they look “out of season” is important!

The authors have placed photos of very closely related flowers together under one species entry heading, but the labeling as to which (sub) species is which can be confusing, or missing.

Finally, the photos are all literally postage-stamp size. Not very comfortable viewing for those of us with aging eyes!

We keep a selection of New Mexico books in our guest room for guests to enjoy while visiting us. Land of Enchantment Wildflowers has a definite place on the bookshelf. As a field guide, it’s a little too heavy and the photos are too confusing to take along for most dayhikes. I still prefer to snap photos with my phone camera, then use the databases at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center to make a positive ID.

The authors also wrote the guide, Lone Star Wildflowers: A Guide to Texas Flowering Plants (Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest).

 

 

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