This is the time of year when a multitude of flowers begin to bloom. They sprout down mountainsides, trail along the banks of streams, spring up in fields of tall grasses, and follow hikers along the sides of trails. From tiny specks yet to reach maturity to full blossoms full of sunlight and bright colors. Starting now till the end of summer each flower will have its own particular life span; some will start and finish in days others in weeks. Many of them are yet to bloom and wait for the full sun of summer. With a macro lens in my pack, Luna and I set out to capture this broad spectrum of color that spreads throughout the Pecos Wilderness.
Our first hike took us from Panchuleta Creek on a 3 day excursion up to Pecos Baldy. It was early summer; snow banks were patchy and could be seen at the higher elevations. I began at just below 10,000 feet elevation where the irises were plentiful and in full bloom. Their purple leaves glowing with the early summer sun provided us a warm and heartfelt greeting. The small irises that were about to bloom intrigued me the most. Seeing their tiny purple blooms reaching upwards and struggling to spread their leaves out was a process that captivated me. We would stop frequently throughout the day to try and capture some of this beauty. The trail is deserted, this is too early in the season for most hikers, and the drifts of snow and chill in the air are still keeping most hikers away. We move further up the trail, the creeks are running hard and fast, the snow melt is at its peak; the water frothy and crystal clear, bright white flowers line the banks as Luna stops for a refreshing sip. I spot some columbine and spurred lupine. The columbine are some of my favorites. Their leaves are bright orange that spin into a long thin stalk. They grow in small clusters. I think with the right light they would show their form beautifully as a black and white print.
Pecos Baldy is actually 2 mountains joined by a saddle. The tallest being about 12,600 feet. This would be our destination but I don’t want to get there in one day, it’s a bit too far at 10 miles or so and I’m unsure how much snow I will encounter. The forest of pines is dense with a slight chill in the shadowed air. The spots of sunlight offer some warmth and passing through them I search for more flowers. A small flower that looks similar to a penstimon is in bloom but its leaves are blue. I’m beginning to think the names don’t matter that much. It’s the color and the intricate design that attracts me. I’m fortunate that Luna never seems to mind my frequent stops. She sniffs something bright and orange; I believe she enjoys this beauty as much as I.
A few miles into the trail we cross a broad creek. The log crossing is 20 feet, the water running fast and clear. I straddle the log slowly, enjoying the sun reflecting off the colored boulders the spread across the stream bed. The water and sunlight highlight their bright earthy tones. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. After about 7 miles the sun is drifting over the horizon. A small meadow with partial sun filtering down attracts my attention. Flat and green with fresh flowing water nearby makes for happy campers. The days are longer, the night chill is beginning to dissipate and it becomes easier to stay outside the tent for longer periods. I tuck my mat pad into a camping chair and sit quietly watching the sun light turn the sky and mountains shades of gold and yellow. The light fades, the wind is still and the day’s warmth lingers while we tuck in for the night.
As the morning light begins to warm the tent we break camp and head for the summit of Pecos Baldy. As the trail winds through the forest the snow drifts begin to crisscross our path. The trail fades under banks of snow 2 or 3 feet tall. Crusted on top with dust from the wind and tiny specks of dried pine needles I puzzle out our route. Fortunately I brought along a pair of short gaiters. Putting them on I realize that the drifts might appear crusty on top but that doesn’t mean I won’t sink to my thighs. Using GPS and map I head for the summit and what appears to be a goat trail that breaks from the main trail and heads up. I attempt to go around as many of these drifts as possible but there are some I have to cross. The trail becomes apparent as we begin our ascent. It turns to switchbacks up the side of the mountain. I begin to see the summit as well as the glorious peaks of Truchas not far in the distance. Then below me lies Pecos Baldy Lake. I climb for an hour and about 100 feet from the top I face a wall of snow. I stop and enjoy the grandeur. Walking around the side I’m careful to avoid the snow drifts for fear of sliding. The flowers are sparse this high up, it will be at least another month before they begin to bloom. We linger briefly then head down to the lake. Camping is plentiful near the lake at the base of these peaks. We settle in for the remainder of the afternoon. I’m longing for the warmer summer months that are quickly approaching so that once again I can reach the heights of Truchas Peak. Soon, I tell Luna we’ll be up there.
A few weeks later Luna and I headed once again to Rio Quemada falls. It took a full 10 hours of day hiking to reach the same saddle I was on last year that joins with Truchas Peaks and overlooks Truchas lakes. The falls I passed were flowing strong and fast, the water flying in droplets of sunlight and spreading to flowers and greenery on all sides. The wildflowers were bountiful; I’m surprised I made it as far as I did. Spectacles of light and color surrounded us.
About the author:
For years now I have travelled these trails of northern New Mexico’s wilderness areas. Up and down mountains, across streams, and through meadows of wildflowers. There is a serenity and beauty here that is breathtaking. In some small way I hope that I have imparted some of this beauty and serenity to others.
Luna (my dog) and I will continue our journeys. If you happen to see us on the trail don’t hesitate to stop and chat.
Originally published on santafe.com.