A yearly trek to the northern New Mexico mountains encounters warmer temperatures and a reflection on the ethical use of firearms when confronted with dangerous and rude behavior, leading to a conclusion that visits to some national forests become occasions for redoubt construction in a search for solitude in modern times.
Preparation for Upper Llano Camping Delayed
Our vacation this summer has been postponed several times. Fanny, our youngest mare, injured her leg and I had to make sure she was healing before heading outdoors in northern New Mexico. Once she was on the mend, we packed the F-250 with group-camping gear, tied a diamond hitch about the tarp and drove to the Upper Llano area near Penasco and pitched camp along the Rio Santa Barbara (latitude 36.08556, longitude -105.60833).
We had looked at eighteen acres of land bordering the Carson National Forest several years ago near Llano. An acequia bordered the parcel we came close to purchasing, but in the end we decided to wait a few more years and look again. We were not in the market for land this summer, but wanted cooler ambient temperatures for a few days, relief from Texas July weather.
Basically, near Upper Llano, we have experienced cooler temperatures, especially in the mornings. Our camp site is at 8,500 ft. amidst spruce, fir, aspen and ponderosa, a sub-alpine zone. Temperatures during the day in the mountains have been about 83 deg. F., and at night, probably in the lower 40s.
Hiking into Pecos Wilderness
Brenda and I hiked into the Pecos Wilderness for three miles and admired the fern and sub-alpine flora. My first hike into the northern Pecos Wilderness occurred in 1968, and much remains the same, perhaps an increase in vegetative cover and I think the aspens are much, much higher.
What Would Teddy Roosevelt Think? Or Gifford Pinchot?
The U. S. Forest Service, however, turned campground management over to a private concessionary, Scenic Canyons Recreational Services Inc. , Hyrum, Utah. The daily fee is fifteen dollars for an improved site, although one may camp off the grid, porting water and digging latrines. Since the Forest Service has Stage 1 Fire Restriction, no fires are permitted outside the developed park campground, one would be reduced to precooked meals (1). Not an attractive choice.
We decided to pitch camp within the developed area. We stayed for four nights and days.
I saw no U.S. Forest Rangers in pickups or horse packing into Carson or Pecos Wilderness. When I first started coming up to the Upper Llano forests and Carson in the 1960s, I would at least see in the established campgrounds, a forest ranger in a pickup once a day, sometimes twice. And, back in the forest or wilderness area, I would come across a ranger every few days or so. By the longest of shots, I am not given to the idea that a gendarme on every trail is necessary, but to see none in four days and nights, is not good.
Reflection on Personal Security
My idea of security is that a person is in charge of their own safety and protection first, then call in the law when the dust settles or the event indicates the odds are mightily against you. By those lights, I have learned basic defense skills and also pack pistols and rifles when necessary. I offer absolutely no apologies for doing so. I was reared with firearms and they have provided protection from poisonous and rabid critters and, on one occasion, food for my family’s table when resources were scarce. Above these reasons, however, is protection against invaders and aggressors — man. (On two occasions in my family, firearms were used for personal protection. Fortunately, I have never had to use them. Several years ago, two miles down our county road in Texas, three people were killed in a crime of revenge.)
I pack pistols on every camping trip. This trip, the hog legs were a .357 magnum Colt revolver and a .45 cal. Colt semi-automatic.
I did not carry them with me when we hiked up into the wilderness for a short, three-mile hike. It was a leisurely hike and we were close to the main trails and no reports of trouble had been rumored among the local campers. We hiked, took photographs and returned to base camp.
Yesterday, July 16, we broke camp, hummingbirds whirling about us, and drove down the High Road from Taos to Santa Fe, the Upper Llano left behind, reluctantly.
Trouble in the Back Country
Today, I pick up The Santa Fe New Mexican and the headline is: “Hikers Report Trouble on Trails.”
The summary of the article was that a man was attacked by a mountain biker on a trail in the Santa Fe National Forest when he complained that the biker needed to leash his dog after the dog twice charged after him, his wife and their leashed dogs. The biker hit him several times and threw him down the hill, stating he was going to teach him some trail manners. The second incident was up in the Pecos Wilderness (south of the Truchas Peaks where we hiked) where horsemen fired a pistol and made rude remarks to female backpackers. They were drunk. Pistols are not always peacemakers.
So much for solitude.
A Partial Solution to Violence in the Back Country
Who can stop such incidents? It’s an imperfect world and there will always be some ruffians about, but the lack of U. S. Forest Rangers on the trails and campgrounds establishes a context of free-for-all and uninhibited behavior. Ethics and codes exist outside of federal and state regulations and that assures in most cases a chance to enjoy nature, wild and free. I saw more respect for the rules on the trail and while encamped in Carson than I saw disrespect. Men and women are generally given to cooperation rather than competition and confrontation. The U. S. Forest Service, however, needs more rangers in order to establish a presence of authority so incidents like those reported in The Santa Fe New Mexican can be reduced.
I will continue to hike and encamp as usual with all our equipment.
Next post: dining from the Pecos Wilderness to Santa Fe and follies in between.
1. On July 9, 2010, the Taos District of Carson National Forest released a bulletin that the Stage 1 Restriction had been lifted because of predicted moisture and monsoon season. I did not know this until today, July 17, 2010, as my last contact with the Taos District was on July 7.