Upper Llano Redoubt


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.

Brenda and Rio Santa Barbara

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.

Tenting at Rio Santa Barbara

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.


Filed under Adventure

11 responses to “Upper Llano Redoubt

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Upper Llano Redoubt « Sage to Meadow -- Topsy.com

  2. Isn’t it hotter this year? 83 degrees at 8K foot elevation is pretty hot! Really nice pictures, Jack, and I appreciate the juxtaposition of the accosting with your observation of no federal personnel. I remember hearing reports of Forest Service folks being disgusted with cuts and philosophical changes that happened 6-8 years ago.

    • Yes, much hotter. Locals up at Penasco and Llano agreed it is much warmer. They were having prescribed burn near Penasco. The fire restriction has been lifted up there. The budget cuts and philosophical changes are just terrible. Our nation seems to be in the hands of cruel people.

  3. With this imperfect world I needed your reminder when I am out and about photographing, that I need to be extra careful of my surroundings. What happened to the good old days?

    Jack, check for the email I sent you….


    • Evangeline: Yes, I think you probably need to be extra careful these days. I sent you an email back a few minutes ago. I’m on a cranky laptop with slow software. Good old days? I think they are gone, but there still does exist patches of green and wild and free out there, out here. Uncommon, but they are around. That road from Penasco to Rodarte, then back up to the Upper Llano, Santa Barbara area still has some old, old qualities about it. That’s why I like it. Old corrals, adobe, penitente culture.

  4. The times, they are a changing…..and not for the better, it seems. There was a time, when hiking just about anywhere, one could feel safe and secure, knowing those you encountered were out there for the same reason, love of the outdoors, first and foremost. A mountain biker attacking a hiker, with wife and dogs present. I’m sitting here, shaking my head in disgust.

    On a higher note, it sounds like you’re having fun and you’re in SF. That’s good. Have a great time with what remains.

    • Yes, disgust. Yes, the higher note is that we are recuperating in SF. The altitude is not bothering me as much this year as last. Still, we are dog tired — no offense to any canine intended.

      Hope all is well with you in that beautiful garden and land of yours.

  5. Ruth Karbach

    Last year my generous friend loaned me her home in the mountains of southern Colorado. Solitude to commune with nature after a tough 20 months dealing with terminal illness of my beloved and grief with his death was the solace I needed. Alerts about armed robberty on trails in the last couple of years were discouraging to hiking as a single female; but my two Shelties came to the rescue. We traveled many a trail during our week of “Rocky Mountain High” and meet some interesting people and critters. Unprecedented in forty years of hiking state and national forest was being nearly hit by a mountain bike as I was helping my dogs up a four foot vertical embankment to get off the trail . The two teen riders did not slow, move over or stop after I had to throw myself onto the embankment to avoid an accident. My husband was a naturalist at a nature center and refuge which prohibited this kind of traffic because of environmental damage, and Fort Worth supplies park rangers to patrol the largest city owned nature refuge in the Continental U. S. People unfamiliar with nature do destructive and unthinking things sometimes endangering animals and themselves. With the present economy we are seeing more neglect and underfunding of the quality of life services such as libraries, parks and the arts. To me, this is the time when these services and talents are most needed. During the great depression greater wisdom in government caused a flowering of public arts, building of park structures and funding by local businesses and individuals of book purchases for libraries. Have we become too urban, too materialistic, too self-centered a people interested in immediate gratification? I hope not.

  6. Mankind hasn’t changed all that much in the last five thousand years and protecting what you love and cherish will probably be a personal responsibility for the next five thousand years as well. I’m thankful that Jefferson and Madison understood this so well and planned for our future.

    On a lighter note, those are some wonderful shots you’ve taken Jack. I look forward to reading more about your journey in New Mexico.


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