I took today off work and had a me day. The morning started off with a nature walk in Soledad canyon (at around a 3 mile loop and less than a 1,000ft of elevation gain, I don’t count it as an actual hike). Even if I don’t come up here as often as I once did, today was sublime reminder to appreciate the fact that this marvelous place is only a ten minute drive from my house in Las Cruces. It feels a world away from the second largest city in New Mexico, despite being less than 10 miles out of town. Because it was Thursday morning, I had the canyon to myself for most of the time.
Soledad Canyon is no longer the realm of a historical ranching family or White Sands Missile Range and is now a BLM day use area for non-motorized recreation within OMDPNM.
The Organ Mountains manage to not look particularly special from Las Cruces, but they transform once you get close. I went up about 8am this morning when it was a perfect 50 degrees outside.
These boots always brings back memories. I had these my entire time in the Marine Corps (actually I had a few other pairs too, but these were one of the issued pairs from basic training and the ones I wore the majority of the time through my tenure in the boy scouts). They’ve been resoled three times, and are probably about ready for a fourth, and have had many pairs of insoles, but I’ll wear these until they fall apart. Thirteen years later, I’m pretty sure I’ll never own another pair of boots that are as perfectly worn-in to my feet as these are.
This fall has been the wettest one I’ve ever seen in Southern NM, and the flora shows it. That anything native is flowering this time of year is pretty much unheard of, and this is the thickest I’ve ever seen the grass.
This canyon caught fire six or seven years ago, and there are still some charred reminders around. The other side of the Organ Mountains is White Sands Missile Range, and on the other side Soledad Canyon specifically is actually an impact range for artillery. It also happen to be even prettier. Only the US military would decided the better side of the mountains is the one to use as an artillery impact range... Every once in awhile the Army lights the canyon on fire and manages to let it get through to the West side of the canyon. The fire was stopped only a few hundred yards shy the beginnings of the rich people area just outside of Las Cruces with bigly houses on a couple of acres of land each.
Water! There are some springs in the Canyon that normally have little more than a slight trickle much further up. I’ve never seen surface water this far down when it wasn’t actively raining.
At the end of the canyon, you get to an old dam and this waterfall. Again, this is rather special for here. It never looks like this. There is normally only a small trickle of water running, when it isn’t completely dry.
I’ve eaten lunch sitting on that rock more than once, but not today.
The Las Cruces version of slick rock.
That yucca stalk will make a fantastic starting point for a walking stick once it falls off later this winter.
As you go back down the canyon, there is side loop that takes you to an old rock house. It would’ve been a marvelous place to wake up every day. Sadly, more of the rock walls have collapsed since I last visited it a year or two ago.
Walking back down brings an entirely different take on the canyon and gives some good views of the Mesilla Valley in the distance.
Once back at the truck, I took a drive north from here up Baylor Canyon road along the face of the Organ Mountains. It gave me an opportunity to check out newly the chip sealed surface, recently upgraded from being a dirt road.
Cows in the distance! You bet I moo’d at them. Actually, the cows bring up an interesting comparison of a few pictures I took up there. The picture above and below are representative of what much of Southern NM looks like today.
I love steak as much as the next guy, but this area is good reminder that there is an environmental
and political cost for heavily subsidized ranching on public lands our American love of beef. Much of Southern NM was actually a (dry) grassland prior to the Spanish introduction of cattle and subsequent four hundred years of overgrazing. To put on my historian hat, this particular area of Southern NM has only been grazed for around two hundred years. To be fair to the cows, sheep and goats were also grazed heavily in this area later in the 1880's and 1890's, and areas where goats grazed are particularly notable. In places in the Organs where certain canyons today become impenetrable thickets of creosote and mesquite that require a machete to get through, there is a strong historical likely hood that someone (like Pat Garrett) once grazed goats there.
The two pictures below give an idea of what Southern NM once looked like. This particular patch of Soledad Canyon hasn’t been grazed since the 1950's and 1960's (when the federal government began seizing land from ranchers for the permanent establishment of the missile range and proving grounds instead of merely leasing it). Roughly 50 years of not being grazed has done wonders. That fire I mentioned six or seven years ago has actually helped the grass. It burned a lot of mesquite and creosote, added some nutrients to the soil and seems to have given the native grasses a chance to come back.
After my nature walk and drive, I found my way to the best coffee shop in town for a well earned cup of coffee and cherry danish. For the afternoon, I saw First Man. I don’t get out to see movies in theaters all that often. It was good. Highly recommenced.