Monday, September 12, 2011

Trail 41- Skull Springs Canyon, Lincoln National Forest

I got ready in the dark on Sunday morning. I was tagging along with my friend Matt and his dad on their deer hunt. They picked me up at my campsite at about 6:20. The original plan was to go to Littleton Canyon near Bonito Lake,but they wanted to drive up the Tanbark Road(FR108) to look around. We quickly spotted three deer along a fence line where the forest borders an open field. They quickly spotted us too and off they went. Hindsight tells me it probably wasn't a good idea just to stop the truck in the road and stare-they're probably getting more than a little wary of that particular technique.Perhaps it would be better to drive past them aways and calmly park.Who knows?
    Matt and I went in pursuit on foot up the hill,while his dad parked the truck . We met some friendly dogs,but the deer, of course, were long gone. Sitting quietly eating a Kashi bar amidst the droppings of the deer we had spotted, I began to take inventory of the morning. It was cool,probably in the 50's. The clouds hung low on the hillside as if we were in the Great Smokies. A dampness, a mist was in the air,but drops were not falling,nor, strangely enough, did it seem like it was going to rain.But I could tell the clouds weren't going to lift anytime soon. It could be any hour of the day I thought. A kind of day that was rare in New Mexico even in the high country. We met up with Matt's dad and decided to continue up the trail/road we found him on. It was Trail 41- Skull Springs Canyon( a delightfully ominous name suited to the gloomy weather), which like almost all the trails in this area tops out at the White Mountains Crest Trail.
   We walked along very quietly first in the pines and then in the oaks. I saw some movement in a small,level clearing ahead. Four deer were browsing. Matt looked through the binoculars. Three were does. One was a very young buck-whose antlers had not forked and was not legal. One deer was such a dark brown-it looked like a small elk from a distance. We inched closer. One moved off,but three remained. We inched closer and closer.There was no way to tell if there was a larger buck in the vicinity,so we kept our slow approach. We never saw them run. Even when we were very close, we thought they had lain down in the tall vegetation. They had just vanished. Although we stayed quiet as we continued up the trail,looking at the many wildlife trails,listening to the ravens, we knew when we met some other hunters coming down the trail,that the hunt was turning into more of hike.We continued up,now hiking in the cloud with visibility severely limited.There had been bear scat all along the trail and I kept thinking we would encounter one coming out of the mist.Stands of oaks took on otherworldly look as if they were about to float away or had just settled down en masse on the hillside.Myriad spider webs sagged and glistened with wetness.
   When we reached the top,which seemed to take much longer than it should have, the wind was blowing a gale and temperature dropped about 20 degrees. I put on my jacket,ate some Fritos and an apple. We looked at the signage,took some pictures with Matt's phone( our only camera unfortunately) and then quickly descended.On the way back down we investigated the gathering of ravens and vultures to find an elk carcass- most of the meat was already gone but it probably wasn't more than a few days old.We saw no other deer or other animals for that matter on the way down. Unlike us maybe they had more sense and bedded down in weather like this. Still, I was glad I came. There's something to be missed when one gets too weather averse. I know I would have never chosen to going out hiking in a cloud.There's too many perfect blue sky days here New Mexico to feel like you ever have to.But I was somewhere else today.

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