Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hiking in Ojito WildernessIt's been a while since I posted, so I thought I'd share some pictures that I took on a walk out at Ojito Wilderness yesterday so you can come along with me too. I always take dozens of photos every time I go out anywhere, but sadly, almost none of them make it into this blog. I'll try to remedy that in the future. Generally, given a choice of things to do, I tend to want to spend them in the studio. Creating a blog post takes me most of a work day.

I've been walking in Ojito for over 15 years, way back when it was just a Wilderness Study Area rather than a full-blown wilderness. It's a fairly small area, about 25 miles northwest of us in northwest New Mexico, just at the edge of the Colorado Plateau. But Zia Pueblo land and public lands surround it, and it feels very remote. I took the first image above as I set out from the parking area, and it gives you a good idea of the kind of terrain that's out there: mesas with desert scrub, juniper and pinon, and cholla cactus on the flats. Remember that you can enlarge these pictures by clicking on them, and truly see the details of the place.

Here's a really nice cluster of hedgehog cactus I found on the flats. Maybe Claret Cup, or another variety. I'd have to see it blooming in the spring to know for sure.

One of the things I love about wilderness areas (as opposed to national parks, etc.) is that I can walk anywhere I damn well please. No signs or park nazis ready to pounce and hand out tickets for Walking Where You Shouldn't (this actually happened to me at Chaco once). So anyway I was wandering around looking at things and found this pinon leaking sap out of one side. I hope it's not bark beetles, but the shimmery sap was fascinating.

Junipers are my favorite trees, partly because of the beautiful forms they create while growing in this harsh climate. This one had bent over at about hip-height and had actually twisted around itself. I wonder why? Many years ago, someone had cut a limb off of it for firewood on the other side. I wonder if that had an effect on it taking the shape that it did.

A secret alcove found while exploring a small rock outcrop.

Making my way northward along the east side of the mesa, I came across this tiny patch of badlands. I love the colors and shapes of badlands; these had greenish, rust red and parchment-colored layers of clay.

Not far beyond I discovered a small community of hoodoos and Ponderosa pines. I always feel like I'm in the company of spirits when with hoodoos. There is another area of Ojito that I call the Sanctuary which is similar to this one, but much larger and it takes a longer hike to reach. So I will call this one the Little Sanctuary.

The light was perfect, even though the air was a bit hazy. There was a very light breeze but the sun was warm for the time of year. What I love most about these hikes is the silence. Just the wind in the trees, the occasional raven or jet high above. Silence is necessary for my well-being, but I find when I'm out on a walk like this, my thoughts can start running in infernal loops. So I try to think music rather than words; most of the time it helps.

I do sense presences around me as well, if I can shut down the mental chatter. The plants and earth formations are beings themselves. This area had the feeling of being a community of strong, distinct individuals, all centered around this beautiful large Ponderosa who felt like the leader of the clan.

This and other local pockets of Ponderosas are relict populations, left over from the cooler and wetter Ice Age a few years back, and they are growing at a lower altitude than most Ponderosas in the region. In Ojito they seem to prefer these sandy areas with the yellow-white hoodoos.

One way that you can identify a Ponderosa is by getting right up against a crevice in the bark with your nose and breathing in. It will smell just like vanilla.

This was taken from the shade of that Ponderosa, looking back toward the southeast. This hoodoo was like the fat auntie of the tribe.

Another view of Auntie, looking up at her caprock. The harder layer of caprock over a softer layer of sandstone prevents the soft material from eroding away, which is why they have such wonderful shapes. That, and because they're presences in the land. Do they dance together in the moonlight when no one is watching?

Another member of the hoodoo clan. I admit that I tend to take too many pictures and that this can get in the way of just being in the here and now with the land. But I see so much beauty here everywhere I turn, and forget it so easily after I get home. Hoodoos especially are photogenic. They change dramatically from every angle.

I sat for a while under the big Ponderosa and made a watercolor sketch of this smaller one nearby. There were tiny rodent bones scattered around, probably the remains of an owl's dinner, perfectly bleached by the sun. The shade was deliciously cool, and the wind in the pine needles sounded like forever.

The trail climbed around the side of the mesa to the north and west. This is the view from a ledge on the north edge, looking northwest. The Sanctuary that I was talking about earlier is spread out just below the highest mesa on the horizon over there. Cabezon peak, a huge volcanic plug, can be seen over the horizon on the left. We can also see it from our house, 60 miles away.

I went along a little further to this rock outcrop before turning back. Cabezon is framed between the small juniper and pinyon. Out beyond Cabezon about 50 miles away is Chaco Canyon.

Just a few feet away was the weathered remnant of a juniper. In the distance to the northeast, stormclouds were building over the Jemez range. They've had terrible floods up there since the monsoon rains washed out the huge area burned by the Las Conchas fire last summer. Jemez Pueblo is beyond the long red ridge on the right, and Route 550 heads toward Cuba, Chaco and the Four Corners along the side of the range on the left.

Desert sculpture. Another part of the same tree. Nothing evokes the Southwest like weathered juniper.

There was another smaller tree skeleton nearby. Likely these were struck and killed by lightning since they are on an exposed corner of a ledge. The velvety golden-brown balls in the center of the image are resin from the dead tree. You see these everywhere under dead trees, and I have guessed that they were formed when the trees burned and the heated sap came out in large globules. These were still soft on the inside, but they will harden over time and last for many years. If some is placed on burning charcoal, it makes the most exquisite incense, not unlike copal, but warmer and more balsamic.

Another stunted Ponderosa looks like it's in the process of walking off somewhere. The soft sand has eroded out from under the roots over the years.

I never try to speed through when on a hike. I always meander along, examining everything. Sometimes you don't see things at all until you sit down on the ground. Near the walking Ponderosa I found these two very well-formed rhomboid calcite crystals.

On the return, the light had shifted and I took a few more images of the hoodoo clan at the Little Sanctuary.

Going back by the trail instead of lower down, I came upon this area of golden and white sandstone formations in the slanting afternoon sunlight. One of the best things about Ojito is that there is a tremendous variety of variation in the terrain and I always see something new.

It was a sculpture garden in stone, clay and sand.

The trail homeward. Beyond the mesa on the horizon, another blue ridge can be seen very faintly through the haze: the Sandia mountains, near my home.

Until next time...


Angela Bell said...

These are great photos and I love to see this wild dry land which is so different from my green country here in Cornwall! I find that scenery stunning! all the best Angela

Dawn said...

Thank you, Angela. This is my true home, although my dad is British. It is very beautiful, especially when you take the time to look. I'm glad to share it with those who can't be here themselves. Best to you also,

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful wild area. Love your pics and the way you embody the environment in your wonderful jewelry ;)

Dawn said...

Thanks, Tara--yes, my jewelry is my way of honoring and staying connected with the land.

Burlap Budda said...

Hi Dawn,
Well, that was a weird trip I took! I went to Fanciful Devices blog, which then took me to Shipwreck Dandy's blog, which took me to Quisnam blog, which took me to you! And I am a big fan of your work, but I read your whole blog without realizing it was THE Desert Talismans and Dawn!! Yeah!All my heros in one night!
Love seeing the desert, I do miss it so sometimes. California is...a lot of sameness. And the land, plant, weather do not change too drasticly...
Anyway, HI!! Nice to "see" you again!!
Burlap Budda