Be forewarned ... this is long and has lotsa pictures.
Today was the day for the trip to the top of the mountains, the very mountains that are endangered by the ugly mine. I had a friend, one of the artists from the Gallery, Linda, who was so instrumental at the auction Saturday, with me. You don't go into areas like this alone. Neither of us had been to the top and have been looking forward to it. Remember, they are going to close all roads leading into the national forests on Thursday. Tomorrow the wind will be very high, not a good thing for this kind of trip. It would be easy to be caught up in wind gusts and have the vehicle taken out of control, and even a split second is too much on roads such as this.
This is driving to the mountains. The Capitan Gap, the area where the little cub with singed paws was found clinging to a tree and would become known as Smokey Bear, is almost directly in front of us. The range to the left is the area that is threatened to be marred by the mines. We are heading to the top of the range to the right.
A closer picture of the mountains that are at risk.
We went into the Gap, around to the other side of the hill, and then began winding up a very steep, very rocky, very narrow road. It would bring us back to this side, the south side, of the mountain near the crest. It was a slow climb, and even with the 4WD engaged, it was a challenge. But slow and easy, it was OK.
As we rounded the hill, coming back to the south side of the hill, I stopped at a place that was slightly level. We got out of the car to admire the view. Will you take a gander at this....
If you enlarge the next picture, you can see the road that brought us to the Gap. It will show up as a very small, white, wandering line down there in the valley far, far below. If you follow it until it disappears in that small ridge, imagine that it meets the highway on the other side. Turn right on that highway and about three or four miles and you'll be in town. While it is enlarged, look to the right side of the picture, and you can barely see the Village of Capitan.
There are many, many scars left from a wildfire on these mountains a few years back. In June, 2004, more than 44,000 acres burned. The area is rebounding, but as you know, it is a slow process. We are now four years past that fire, and as you peruse these pictures you will be able to see part of that. I took only a couple pictures of the worst areas, but it is impossible to not see it as you drive through this wilderness. This one shows the road we are traveling at one of the "better," smoother parts. The mountains in the background are the Sierra Blancas, where I live in the foothills.
A look up the road ahead of us.
When we got out at another stop, we found tracks. This was a bird of some kind. Don't know what, but it is big. It was about four or five inches across. I'm guessing perhaps a big vulture/buzzard or something of that size.
A few feet away is another print. This one is hooved, and from the size, I'm pretty sure it is an elk.
A look at the sky through the trees. You can see the light outline of the Sierra Blanca range if you look carefully. It was very hazy today.
But it is reassuring to see this .... a new little pine tree coming up at the foot of a dead aspen.
A stand of aspens.
An old stump, burned out in an interesting pattern.
This tree was burned and apparently stood for a while. You can see the inner wood of the trunk isn't weathered, so I probably fell this year.
Another of those hopeful pictures. This green was peeking out from between two very dead giant trees.
Some of last year's wildflowers, still beautiful in their dried form. I so wanted to bring some of these home to put in vases, but not from a protected area like this. Beside it would rob the next visitor to the area of the pleasure I had in seeing it.
Another dried flower....
Even the lichen on this log was burned to ash.
As often as we saw the burned skeletons of trees, we also saw lush, green trees, very much alive.
I just thought this was an interesting tree!
Another wildflower in the grasses that are beginning to green.
And looking up at the sky while standing in the trees was an awesome sight.
BTW, if you scroll to the bottom of these pictures, then reverse and scroll upward, it give the sensation of being pulled up toward the sky! Very cool!
Trees have to work to live in this rocky country. These mountains, part of the mother range, aren't called the "Rocky Mountains" for nuttin'! The trunk of this tree is off to the left, and what is in the foreground to the right are roots. When the tree toppled, the roots were so tightly wrapped around the rocks and packed clay that it brought the sub-terrain with it. Some of the roots appear to be growing right through the rocks. I'm sure there were cracks that enabled the roots to push their way through to whatever vestige of soil was there.
This is a trail that we walked up for probably a half mile or so. Linda actually walked farther up the trail, but I stayed to take pix of flora of all kinds.
Through this burned carcass of a small tree, you can see the grass turning green. We wondered why it seemed so green up here when it is dry in the valley. Then I realized that every morning when I get up, I look across the valley to these mountains, and most of those mornings, clouds are resting on the top. So they are getting moisture from heavy dew, if nothing else.
Bark on a couple sturdy trees. I'm pretty sure they are aspen, Linda wondered about birch. There are no leaves on them yet, so it's just our best guesses.
Another of the dried wildflowers.
Moss nestled in the Y of this stump.
I like seeing the wee little green leaves in the foreground, giving promise to the burned trees in the background.
As we descended, I paused to take a picture of this, a whole mountainside burned out and barren. Very little regrowth in this area. :'(
And as we neared the end of the road down, guess what we saw? This is on the north side of the mountain in a shaded area, possibly a creek bed. It's very dirty and grey, but it is .... s.n.o.w!!! It was in the 70s here today, and even on the top of the mountain, we were comfortable in short shirtsleeves. Amazing!
Back in town we had a late lunch, and I dropped Linda at her home. Then, as I drove home, I had to stop and take a few shots of the clouds which were totally breathtaking!
What a day! I can hardly wait for rain so they will lift the travel ban, allowing us to return for another look. We will leave earlier in the day, take something to eat, and stay much longer, drive much farther, walk in the trails more, and come home as awed as is possible. Anyone wanna come along??? :D
Oh, lawdy, Life is (amazingly and eternally) beautiful!!!!