Friday afternoon, we went out driving, looking for fall color. We turned down Benson Ridge Road (FR 223) about 6 miles south of Cloudcroft on NM 6563 ( Sunspot Highway). We had been out here once before, driving slowly with some friends in their four wheel drive through snow, trying to find the perfect Christmas Tree. In just a short ways, right across the road from an old gravel pit, we found what we were looking for: beautiful stands of aspen at the peak of their autumn color. We got out and took many photos and then drove on. We passed several trails and roads that branch off on either side, finally turning around a short way past the upper trail head for the Lucas Canyon Trail (FT 251) where we had hiked this summer. There were many nice aspens, and also many frustrating places where thick stands of the gold tinged with red populus tremuloides could be glimpsed through the evergreens with no way to get a good photograph, except perhaps to climb up one of the pesky conifers.
I was in the midst of not getting the shot I wanted when I felt the first large raindrops. I ran to the truck and got back just in time to be safely sheltered from a hail storm. The temperature dropped almost 20 degrees. Thunder clapped. The hail turned to heavy rain. We drove back to the paved road, passing a few spots where the hail stones fell thickly enough to look like a dusting of snow.
This is popular area. The Forest Service rates most of trail use here as heavy, and the vast majority of that use is motorized. Still, riding around on a weekday, even one right before a long weekend, there were only few other trucks out driving around, and one motorcyclist. I thought about doing an off trail hike in Dark Canyon( one of the major canyons that flow down from this high ridge) as our hike for Saturday, but decided it would have wait for another time.