Monthly Archives: October 2018

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 6: The Unicorn Wood

Our original plan for Day 6 was to hike to Williams Lake far above Taos. It was supposed to be a sunny day with temps in the 60’s, but the morning dawned cold, foggy, and overcast with snow still spitting fitfully from the sky. The mountains behind our cabin had a dusting of snow, and I knew that above treeline it would be more than a dusting. We were not prepared for winter hiking, and the goats would have frozen on the long drive to the trailhead so we changed our plans. We decided to try one of the other trails within walking distance of our cabin. This one was called “Canoncita Trail” and sounded easy and fairly scenic in the description we found in our cabin. With the cold weather, we didn’t plan a long hike and thought we would be back before lunchtime so we did not bother to saddle the goats.

The trail wandered along a creek in a wooded canyon, crossing back and forth many times as we climbed.

This hanging tree amused me. I wonder how long it had been suspended like that?

The goats enjoyed the zen circle.

Huge, imposing rock towers rose up behind the trees.

The creek was low, but it was beautiful. Crystal clear water tumbled down endless little cataracts, over ancient logs and mossy rocks. Golden aspen leaves looked like pirate treasure.

The trees got bigger as we climbed. Many of the aspens had carvings reaching back decades.

The canyon walls closed in as we gained altitude, and the temperature began to drop noticeably. There was more snow on the ground and we had to be careful not to slip at creek crossings.

Even without the sun to ignite them, the blazing aspens set the forest on fire.

We came around a bend in the trail and stopped in our tracks. The air tingled. It was a Unicorn Wood.

I’ve never before been privileged to see this many freshly fallen aspen leaves on snow and I know I shall never forget it.

We found squirrel tracks, but nothing else was astir. The woods were still and silent. The aspens gave way to a dark spruce forest, and solemn gray boulders lined the trail.

Finn found a stone throne and immediately claimed it. How lordly he looks!

If Sputnik wanted to hide, this would have been the perfect place. If he’d gone off among the evergreens I would never have found him again!

Pieces of eight.

Though the aspens were fewer, they were perhaps more dramatic against the dark spruce and fir.

The day was getting cold and the snow was getting deeper. Our shoes were wet and our noses chilly. Phil and I had no idea how far we’d hiked, but it was long past lunchtime and we were hungry and our legs were tired. Nevertheless, the enchanted wood drew us on as if casting a spell. We made up our minds to head back when we reached the next creek crossing. When we finally got there, the forest tempted us to keep going, but we resisted the enchantment and did not cross. We stood on the bank and watched the water gurgling over rocks and logs. Finn took the opportunity to snuggle up to Phil for some loves.

Fresh snowflakes began to fall, settling on Finn’s black back, and we knew it was time to head down. The most beautiful forest quickly loses its magic in a snowstorm!

But it doesn’t lose all of its magic. I stopped to catch snowflakes.

We turned a corner in the narrow canyon and found sunshine for the first time all day.

It was late afternoon and we were all hungry when we got back to the cabin. Finn and Sputnik gorged themselves on fallen apples.

Next morning we packed up and headed home to Rye. This was our coldest goat vacation so far, but we still found adventure and beauty on the trail. I would not trade that last hike for anything. It may be one of my favorites ever. Photos can’t come close to doing it justice and I will never forget it.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 5: Exploring Taos

Day 5 was kind of a dud–cold, windy, rainy, and spitting snow. We tethered the goats in the yard to graze for a couple of hours in the morning and then I bedded their trailer down deep in clean straw and gave them fresh hay so we could get them under shelter just in time for the nasty weather to blow in around 10:30. Phil and I took off to explore the area without goats. We drove up to Tres Piedres and saw the Earthship visitors center where we paid too much to see a model Earthship home. But we bought a book about harvesting rainwater which might come in handy for us one of these days.

Then we went to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge and walked across so we could spit off it. It was a very high bridge. The gorge was beautiful. But we were puzzled by the lack of parking. You could park on the limited shoulder on either side of the bridge. Or you could park at the visitors center. But there was no access from the visitors center to the bridge without hiking cross-country and climbing over a guardrail. It was very strange because the bridge had wide walking paths and observation balconies on both sides. And we didn’t understand this sign on the visitors center bathroom at all!

After lunch we visited a couple of museums and a wonderful rock shop. The rock shop was the highlight of the day. They had many beautiful mineral specimens, and Phil bought a bag of mineral spheres to add to his marble collection.

We let the goats out in the yard when we got back and they amused themselves at the apple tree.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 4: Of Thrones and Fountains

Day 4 dawned clear and cold. It would be our last day of sunshine on this trip, and the temperature was predicted to stay cold. We originally planned to hike up to Williams Lake at the base of Wheeler Peak–New Mexico’s highest mountain. But that would have required a fairly long drive with the goats in the cold, open truck bed. There was a chance of warmer temperatures on Wednesday, so we put off the Williams Lake hike and I did a little research to find a better cold weather trail closer to Taos. I discovered Devisadero Loop Trail on the south side of Taos (where the sunshine was happening that day), and reviews said most of the trail was on the sunny side of the mountain. This sounded like a win to me! I love loop trails, and this one was about 6 miles long–perfect for two people still recovering from Friday’s hike to Wheeler, and from the previous day’s steep terrain.

The trail skirted the peak of a mountain overlooking Taos and offered stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains along most of the way. The reviews had been correct about the sunshine. Despite the cold temperatures, the sun hit this mountainside hard enough in the morning that I was able to hike in a T-shirt for the first part of the day.

Sputnik’s fluffy, warm hindquarters made a great resting spot. There was even a good pad of fat on that broad back of his!

Sometimes a bit of vandalism adds character to a place.

We were greeted by a series of three stone thrones at the top of the mountain. It was a perfect place to eat lunch, but I had to tie up the goats because people with dogs kept coming over the crest and we didn’t want any accidents or surprises.

According to the man who took this photo for us, the thrones were much bigger and more impressive until the Forest Service decided to intervene. In the name of “Leave No Trace”, the government decided to tear down the thrones, monuments, and other rock art at the top of the mountain. Naturally, the citizens came and put it back up, but apparently it does not live up to its former glory. The local who took the photo didn’t think much of the Forest Service any more.

We had equally good views on the hike back down.

I just love the shape of Finn’s horns.

We still had daylight left after the Devisadero Loop, and several trails started from the same parking area. So we explored the river bottom across the road from the Devisadero Loop for a while. We didn’t go far because we only wanted to see the leaves. The cottonwoods and willows were at peak color and their leaves carpeted the trail. Unfortunately the light was a little off and none of my photos came out very well, but it was a particularly relaxing and enjoyable little jaunt through golden, sun-dappled woods.

We finished hiking in mid-afternoon and there was one more thing I wanted to see. I’d read about the broken-down Ponce de Leon hot springs south of Taos and I wanted to see them. Reviews were mixed. One said the trail to it was closed. Another said the springs were silted in and choked with cattails and probably hadn’t been used in years. But other reviews said it was a wonderful, secluded little spot and showed photos of beautiful, clear pools–the remains of what once was a small resort built in the 1920’s and abandoned in the 1960’s.

It took a bit of looking, but we found a rough parking lot at the top of a narrow dirt road. It was full of broken glass and the road across the way was barred with a metal gate. Signs next to the gate indicated that the trail and springs were closed to vehicle traffic and were being managed by the Taos Pueblo Indian tribe. The signs were all shot up. It was an easy mile hike down to the springs and we had to go through a couple of gates.

When we got there we were greeted by a large silted-in pool filled with cattails just like the one-star review stated. No swimming to be done here! Too bad. It looked like a really nice pool at one time.

But a short hike up the hill and around some willows revealed the hidden spring. Apparently our one-star reviewer was not a very ambitious explorer. I dipped a finger in the water, expecting it to be too cool to tempt us in on such a cold day.

But I was pleasantly surprised! The water was not hot, but it felt wonderfully warm compared to the chilly air. The sun came from behind a cloud, showing wisps of steam hovering over the surface. Phil and I changed into our swimsuits and jumped in. It was not deep–only about 3 feet–but it was a delicious temperature on a 50-degree afternoon.

The goats had carried our swimsuits and towels down for us, but they had no desire to try the water for themselves (and it would have been bad manners to allow goats in the pool even if they wanted a dip). I tied them to a willow tree along the bank and they kept themselves very amused by trimming the foliage.

The water was some of the clearest I have ever seen. There was no sulfur smell–only pure, delicious, crystal-clear spring water running over a sand and gravel bottom through which you could feel the heat radiating up between your toes. It was good enough to drink, and Phil and I both had a sip from the cataract that tumbled into the pool.

Getting in was wonderful, but getting out was cold! We waited until the sun peeked from behind the clouds for a few minutes, and then hurried over to our towels and into our dry clothes. Finn got to carry my wet swimsuit back to the truck. I’m glad no one else was at the springs because I really didn’t want to hike back in my wet bathing suit, and there was nowhere convenient to change clothes except right by the side of the pool. I’m just not one of those “clothing optional” people even though this is a “clothing optional” pool.

I hope Ponce de Leon Springs is never “rediscovered” because it’s a gorgeous little gem just as it is. It provided the perfect end to a wonderful day.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 3: The Cave and the Overlook

The ultimate destination for our goat vacation was Taos, NM. We rented a nice cabin through AirBnB which turned out to be perfect for bringing our goats. It was in a farming area with cows in the pasture next door, and there was enough area in our yard to tether the goats out when we weren’t hiking. The cottonwood trees were shedding their leaves and had lost some branches in the wind, so Finn and Sputnik were very pleased with their surroundings. It turned out there were also several different hiking trails within walking distance of our cabin!

Phil and I were still sore and tired from our long trek to Wheeler and back, so we decided to take it easy on our first day in Taos. We chose one of the trails up the road from our cabin which was described as having a waterfall and a cave. Well, the waterfall had dried up but the shallow cave was still there.

Finn the showoff decided to do some exploring higher up where the rest of us were afraid to go.

Sputnik says, “What are you doing up there? Are you crazy??”

He got pretty high!

Both goats enjoyed watching me crawl clumsily back down the rock. “She’s an idiot. Why doesn’t she just jump?”

Meanwhile, Finn somehow got himself turned around on that narrow ledge and climbed catlike down the face of the cliff. That boy is going to give me a heart attack one of these days!

Sputnik says, “Are you done showing us how awesome you are, Finn?”

The “waterfall” hike was so short that we decided to explore another trail. We ended up on the old Lucero Peak trail, which looks like it is barely used any more and hasn’t been maintained in a couple of decades. So much for our plan to “take it easy”! This was a very steep trail and it never relented! It appeared to be well-worn at one time, but logs have fallen across it in many places now. Luckily that does not stop goats!

We had a nice view of Taos on our way up.

The trail eventually petered out and we scrambled up a very steep, rocky slope with slippery dirt footing toward a rock outcropping where I thought we might have a good lookout. Here’s me looking out very nobly with my miniature packgoat looking out in the background. How did he suddenly get so small?

Phil looks out at a thunderstorm brewing over a distant mountain peak.

Finn looks out and then looks back.

And Sputnik says, “I’m tired of looking out. I want something to eat.”

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 2: Getting There is Half the Fun

The morning after our big hike to Wheeler, we finally got a good view of the place we were staying. I’d driven through Cottonwood Cove many times over the years when traveling to and from my hometown of Lake City, but I’d never stopped. It’s a beautiful little spot nestled down in a narrow notch between big cliffs known as “Wagon Wheel Gap”. I love staying in places like this with our goats because there are nice places to walk and for them to browse.

We had a leisurely drive from Wagon Wheel Gap to Taos. We took the longer scenic route through Chama, NM and stopped in Carson NF between Chama and Tres Piedras to do a little exploring.

I’ve never seen an aspen tree like this before. Its trunk was burnt black and knobbly and it split into several trees further up–common in evergreens, but not so much in aspens. It obviously had been struck by lightning but lived.

Not more than 25 feet away there was another lightning-struck aspen. This one was not so lucky.

We discovered a weather station back in the woods. It had obviously gone through several technological generations. This thing was fascinating. I’m sure it has something to do with measuring wind, but have no idea how it works.

Love the color of these aspens.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 1: Wheeler

We left home late Thursday afternoon October 4th because our first stop was not very far–only about a 3 1/2 hour drive. Our destination was Wagon Wheel Gap, situated between South Fork and Creede, CO. Our cabins were only a mile from Pool Table Road, which would take us to our trailhead next morning. I was on a quest. Not only did I want to see Wheeler Geologic Area again (I hadn’t been there since 2004), but I was scouting for a potential spot for a future North American Packgoat Association Rendezvous. In that sense, I was disappointed. The area was not as ideal as I’d remembered, and pine beetles have made it temporarily even less suitable until the dead trees fall and the new ones can attain some height. But it was a perfect day for a hike.

The morning was clear but cold. We started off at 8:00 in the morning, and that was almost too early because our road was still in shadow at that hour. It was 12 miles from our cabin to the trailhead and the goats had to ride in the open truck bed with no sun to warm them. Luckily the 11-mile Pool Table Road had recently been graded. When I was there fourteen years before, it was a very slow, bumpy ride because of the terrible washboards. We parked where the 2-wheel-drive road ended. From there, you can 4-wheel to Wheeler, but it’s a very slow, very rough 14-mile drive. The hiking trail is only 7 miles by comparison, and by all accounts it’s easier and takes less time to walk.

Phil and I had a lot of miles to cover, so we kept up a pretty brisk pace. It was seven miles to the Wheeler area, but another mile to actually get to the formation, and more distance still if we wanted to walk around on it. The first few miles of our hike were frosty. We were mostly in the trees and the sun was also mostly blocked by a high ridge. It’s around 10:00 in this photo but there’s still frost on the ground.

Around noon, we came in sight of Wheeler Geologic Area. This was Colorado’s first National Monument, declared by Teddy Roosevelt himself in 1908. Wheeler was a far more popular tourist destination 100 years ago than it is today. It was known as the “Bryce Canyon of Colorado” and was the most popular tourist attraction in the state after Pike’s Peak. Now a century later, very few people have heard of it and even fewer have ever seen it.

And here we are on this bizarre formation of petrified and eroded volcanic ash. It’s very difficult to describe because it rises out of the trees like an incongruous scar. In Utah, the land changes gradually to the point where you almost of expect this kind of thing around any corner. But not here, emerging out of a spruce forest in Colorado. Like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, you look at Wheeler and think to yourself that it just shouldn’t be there. And it certainly shouldn’t be that big.

I love this giant stone torch.

Phil and I had just enough time to climb to the top of the formation, but not enough time to walk the 2-mile trail around it.

I loved this hollowed-out stump on the way up.

It looks like a moonscape on top. I’d love to see this in the moonlight someday.

Balanced rock!

And before we wrap up this adventure, I must insert this blast from the past. Cuzco accompanied us on our trip to Wheeler in 2004. This was back when he still had two horns.

I was a lot skinnier and my hat was not yet faded.

I loved the colors in the woods. Dead trees are eerily fascinating with their weird, twisted bare branches. And then there are the new ones bursting up all around with their thick foliage and rich, green color. It’s as if they’re trying their best to make up for the ones that died.

Although it was long, the trail was not steep. A good stretch of it ran through an alpine meadow. We saw lots of elk tracks, and for an hour we heard so much bugling from the surrounding woods we thought maybe there was a national elk convention happening that day. But we never saw an actual elk.

There was one last golden aspen that caught the fading light at the end of day and turned it to fire. Had we been there a week earlier, the entire hillside would have been aflame.

Our trek ended right about sunset, and we arrived at our cabin close to dark. We were exhausted and our legs ached, but it was a wonderful day. We’d hiked a round trip of at least 16 miles with enough time in there to take some photos, eat lunch, and enjoy the scenery. What a wonderful place!