Category Archives: Adventure

Norman Clyde and Life on Mountain Trails

Norman Clyde taught, read, guided mountain climbs and rescues.  “Norman Clyde still guided parties into the Sierra into the 1960s, when he was in his seventies. In the 1950s and 1960s, he lived by himself at the old Baker ranch-house on Baker Creek near Big Pine. Because he was trained in the classics, Norman Clyde loved to read books in Latin and Greek. At the Baker ranch-house, Clyde had thousands of rare classical books. At age 80, he was still sleeping outside the ranch-house on a mattress and sleeping bag, as long as it was fair weather.”

The above photograph on the cover of the magazine, Climbing, I have kept since a friend of mine, Mark Garlin, gave me the magazine in 1972.  Norman Clyde died later that year, December, 1972, at the age of 87.  I have kept the magazine at my ready shelf since that time because of my love of climbing mountains and the presence of strength and fortitude in Clyde’s face and posture.  Despite age, he has tools of his love and trade beside him:  rope, ice axe, and rucksack.

When I have climbed mountains by way of trail and path, not rope nor ice axe, I have met young and old, educated and not, rich and poor, and men and women who love the outdoors and the challenge of a good climb.  Without fail, those that are on the trail take an interest in the columbine and rushing waters and all the conifers in high country.  Oh, the trees: ponderosa pine, spruce, juniper, pinion.  There is learning in the austere mountain trail that is both external and internal.  In the external, one sees and usually identifies geological formations, the topography, the magpies and jays, and the trees.  Internally, the lessons run deep and are formative, even in old age.

Norman Clyde in the photograph above was in his eighties.  The perseverance in his climbing is found off the slopes in building strawbale compounds (as my good friend, Jimmy Henley, was doing at the time of his death in his seventies), performing the arts, climbing trees as a trimmer, and pursuing goals in getting a degree.  If ever you think you are too old, think of Norman Clyde on the front cover, the mountains behind and the tools of his adventure about him.  Clyde will climb until his body fails.

As I wrote, I keep Clyde’s photograph on my ready shelf.  If he can climb at his age, I can hike and build fence and mountaineer at my age.  As I climb in the high country, three questions arise:  What am I doing here?  What should I do?  And, how do I know?  The answers are simple and complex.  I am hiking.  I am hiking.  I know I am hiking in this moment at my pace, walking among the trees, hearing birds, seeing and hearing rushing waters, touching ground, seeing the sky as I meet others on the trail.  Those are my three answers.  In a sense, those are everyone’s answers.  Until our bodies fail.   Norman Clyde, front cover, Norma Clyde, front cover….

*******

Photograph of Norman Clyde by David Hiser.

Quote in first paragraph from Wikipedia, “Norman Clyde,” accessed Aug. 23, 2016.

The three questions in the last paragraph are derivative from my course in philosophy at University of Texas at Austin, 1961.  On the Philosophy Department’s website page (at least a couple of years ago) those questions were posed in a slightly different way.

I climbed with Mark Garlin, my friend who gave me the magazine.  He lectured at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s on climbing and survival in the mountains.

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Juniper, Recollections 1966-1990, Recollections 1990-

Cloud portal to the coast

Thundershowers on either side of Interstate 20 west of Cisco, Texas, May 2012

Last Friday, May 11, 2012, I drove to Abilene for commencement at Cisco College where I instruct.  West of Cisco, on Interstate 20, I saw this cloud portal — at least that is what I call it.  I sped between the two thundershowers.  A few drops fell on my car.  The first couple of weeks in May is a time of showers and cool temperatures in west Texas.  That is not always true, for this time last year, I was busy writing about wildfires in my area.

I have a friend at Cisco College that teaches English and he traveled to the Oregon coast last year, staying near Seal Rock and Newport, soaking in cool temperatures and consuming seafood and local white wines.  He talks about moving to Oregon, selling his ranch and settling in the cooler climes.  I think about the higher altitudes of northern New Mexico around Truchas and Taos that have sharp winters and cool nights during the summer.

We both will probably stay put: he in Santa Anna, me in Mingus, for there are mild winters and days in May where thundershowers bring out the Cut-leaf Daisy, Fire Whorls, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Dandelions in brilliant colors while horses and cattle graze in lush Spring fields of gramma and bluestem.  I should like, however, to go to the Newport and Depoe Bay area of Oregon where my friend says, ‘There is a resident pod of whales for ten months out of the year about the coast.  You can see them surface and dive, surface and dive.’

I want to see that scene some day.  The cloud portal in the photograph above opens to the west, towards the Pacific, towards the whale.  And away from home.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

Depoe Bay was added as an additional site my friend visited.  It is a central location for beautiful scenery and whales.  The boating outing in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ was filmed in the area.

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Filed under Adventure, Rain, Taos, Weather, Wildfire

Critters and tomato juice

Two burrows along Salt Creek bank.

Along the banks of Salt Creek that divides my pastures into two sections, I find burrows of armadillo, skunk and other critters.  Back at the barn, below the ranch house during the night, various critters slide under the wall railings and scour for grain that falls through feed bins.  When I walk the dogs in the early morning — about 5:00 a.m. — I scan the trail for tail of skunk so as to avert a stinky collision of critter and dog.  When my dogs are sprayed by the effective skunk, I wash them in tomato juice.  That has not happened in thirty years as I have successfully intercepted the fight — at least thus far.

Successful remedy for partially washing skunk from dog.

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Field notes 3/22/2011 — diamondback and monarch

Winds sustained at 22 m.p.h.  Highway travel to Abilene slowed.

Yeller, our Aussie-Lab mix dog, sat in the hallway in front of the glass door leading to the outside porch.  He growls deeply, the deepest and most sustained growl I have ever heard from him.  I go to the front door, thinking Yeller has alerted us to a strange dog or our resident lizard that comes across the front porch.  Yeller growls deeper.  On the porch, I see a four-foot rattlesnake slithering next to the closed glass door, six inches from his nose.

The glass door separates Yeller and us from the rattlesnake.  Brenda gets Yeller and Lottie, our Schnauzer, away from the door and takes them into another room, away from what must happen.  I grab the Remington 12 gauge and run around to the front door and dispatch the snake quickly, angling the shot to prevent blowback.  We are unnerved since no rattlesnakes — other snakes have been left alone — have been seen around our house since we moved here in 2003.

I must make sure the grass is cut about the house and piles of brush are placed at a distance away from the yard.  We have become complacent and need to sharpen our senses.

Later this afternoon, I see a lone monarch butterfly sitting on our wild verbena in the front field, a hundred-feet away from the front porch event a hour before, feasting on nectar, gently folding and unfolding the wings.

I am not sure what to make of monarchs, diamondbacks, dogs and all of this that comes across my field.  I am saddened and must do what needs to be done to be safe and live.  This day, March 22, 2011, has been filled with many things I do not understand.

* * *

 

[From Backpacker, June 2000.]  Sure, carrying a hiking stick makes me look like a rugged mountain man, but it also helps me in more pedestrian ways. By easing the load on my knees and shoulders, it helps me chew up big miles, plus I can tiptoe across loose rocks, slippery logs, and rushing streams without a wobble. Here’s how to create your own personalized staff.

1. Search your local forest for a downed branch that’s stout, straight, and preferably, blemish-free (no obvious cracks or big knotholes). The stick should reach your armpit and measure 1 to 2 inches in diameter.

2. Remove twigs with a pocketknife and strip the bark if you want. Round off sharp points or level knobs with a plane or file. Hold the stick as though you’re hiking (your elbow should form a right angle) to figure out where your grip will be– 2 to 3 inches below the top. Customize the grip by cutting shallow grooves for your fingers like those on a steering wheel. Just above the grip area, drill a 1/4-inch hole for a wrist loop. Smooth the surface of the stick first with coarse, then fine, sandpaper.To remove residual sawdust, wipe the stick with a rag dipped in paint thinner.

3. Decorate the stick with carvings, wood burnings, paintings, emblems or bear bells. If the wood is still green, place it in a warm, dry location to cure for at least 2 weeks, and rotate it often to prevent bowing.

4. Apply two coats of wood stain, allowing each coat to dry overnight, to give the stick a darker, richer hue. Then apply three coats of clear urethane varnish to seal the wood and prevent rot. Allow each coat of varnish to dry overnight. Sand the stick lightly with very fine sandpaper or steel wool after each coat.

5. Thread a 2-foot piece of rawhide lace or heavy cord through the hole. Adjust the length of the loop to fit your wrist, tie the ends in a big knot to secure the loop, then trim the ends as necessary.

Wood is a fickle creature, so remember that hiking sticks are born as much as they are made. –Jonathan Dorn

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Notes:

“Making Your Own Walking Stick,” Backpacker magazine, June 2000.

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Filed under Adventure, Diamondback Rattlesnake, Field Log

Sandhills, Lilly and clumsy me

Left knee with icebag

Given the fact it’s a Saturday and most people want a calm and relaxing — well, maybe some activity — after a hectic week, the last thing a person needs to see is a knee with icebag.   My apologies, readers, but here it is or rather up there is the knee.

I was chasing Sandhill cranes most of the day to photograph them.  It was Wednesday and I divided my time between working on Blackboard (I teach five online classes of history) and going into the field of 53 acres of Flying Hat Ranch (FHR).  As my posts indicate from Wednesday, I was hearing but not seeing the elusive, high-flying bird.  It was a good day and I got work done, issues resolved on Blackboard and shot a number of photos for fieldwork.

I found and marked with an engineer’s flag several lithic tools in the field.  But every time! I heard the Sandhills, the camera was either in the truck or at the house.  Besides, until late afternoon, I didn’t see any.

Brenda comes home from work and I am walking back to the ranch house from the barn and I hear the Sandhills and look above me and what to my wondering eyes should appear but about 300 Sandhills, in at least two V-formations.  Beautiful and they were calling.

So, I broke into a sprint.  On my first or second spring up the lane, something popped or snapped in my leg.  I skipped, not sprinted, to the house and got the camera, but the cranes had their throttles to the wall and I missed the shots with the camera.  But I did see them.

My leg hurt and in the middle of the night, at two o’clock, I woke up in pain and by Thursday morning, I could barely walk.  I went to Fort Worth to the clinic and they sent me to Harris Methodist hospital for x-rays.  The P.A. told me I might be looking at an orthopedic surgeon!  Or rather, he would be looking at me with a scalpel in hand.

As it turned out, Friday I learned (after icebags and pain pills) that nothing was broken or torn, but it was arthritis!  Good news?  Bad news?  How in the dickens can arthritis bring me down to jumping on one leg from bed to bathroom, for crying out loud?  I don’t know, but next Wednesday I have an appointment with my Primary Physician for a yearly checkup and in addition to him invading my body cavity without mercy, he will enlighten me on the knee.

Brenda is taking care of the dogs and Star.  I’m looking at walking canes on the web.  Ever Google “canes”?  Well, live long enough, you will.  There are all sorts of canes.  Canes that fold, canes that have stupid heads on them, curved canes, canes with swords and even canes with risque girls painted along the stem and nose (there’s a whole glossary of cane nomenclature).  I’ve not picked my cane.  I have some nice looking cedar staves down along the barn I may craft upon and develop an Etsy Shop for homemade canes.

Lilly, the good old girl that we had to put down in January, had osteoarthritis too, and in the left knee really bad.  But, you know what?  She got up with a struggle and ate and walked and even pranced in the snow despite her knee.  She’s taught me a lesson about arthritis among many I’ll eventually churn out on Sage to Meadow.  I’m up and I’ll be in class Tuesday.  Star will be fed — I’ll do it slowly.  I’ll continue to contemplate canes.  If my knee continues to be painful, I’ll have to hire a person to do some seasonal work.  I’ll do a jig in the snow.

Frankly, if I had to hurt myself, I’m glad I was chasing Sandhills rather than tripping over the cat.  And, if I had to learn a lesson about dealing with the pain, who better to be my teacher than Lilly?  When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  She did and doesn’t even know it.

Enough of this!  Now, where’s that pain killer I used to give Lilly?  Oh, yes, it’s in the tack room next to the saddles.

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Filed under Adventure, Lilly, Sandhill Crane

Cedar post traction

The weather remains cold, down to 12 degrees last night and up to 21 degrees at 3:00 p.m.  I do like Winter.

Since Tuesday, we have stayed put in the ranch house, burning pinion in the fireplace during the day, lowering the thermostat to 65 degrees in cooperation with emergency power issues in Texas.  The temperature is not expected to go above freezing until Saturday and another snowfall descends this evening.

Schools closed.  Our mail carrier, Jeannie Chisolm, told us this morning that the roads are treacherous on her route that encompasses county roads in Erath and Palo Pinto Counties.

I needed to make a mercy run to Interstate 20, five miles away, for supplies.  First, I had to put weight in back of the F-250.  The old “two-bales-of-hay-watered-down-and-frozen” ploy was not feasible.  Too cold and I didn’t want the hassle of clean up next week.  As a second option, I decided to load the F-250 with cedar posts in order to weigh the rear end down.  Actually, the wood used for fence posts is not cedar, but juniper.  The colloquial is “cedar,” however, and I’m not about to go to the “cedar” yard and ask for “juniper” posts — might result in fisticuffs about definition of terms. But, back to loading cedar.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.  First, I broke the ice around the barn doors with a flat shovel in order to drive the DX-55 Case-Farmall into the pasture where I stored the posts.  After the tractor warmed up, I loaded two big stacks of cedars into the front-end loader, sweeping some snow off the posts and observed Meadow Larks nearby, scratching for seed where the posts had rested.  I drove up the hill to the house.  I used a rubber hammer to dislodge the goose-neck ball from the bed of the pickup, as it had become frozen after the rain Monday evening.  I use the rubber hammer and vise-grips frequently in these times.

I dumped — very carefully — two loads of 6 to 9 inch cedar posts into the bed of the F-250, raising the front-end loader above the bed of the pickup and away from the back window.  I estimated the load to be about 800 pounds, sufficient to give traction on ice for the pickup.  I test drove the 250 up and down the lane.  Two loads seemed sufficient — it was.

Between our place and the interstate, a pickup had overturned and at least ten off-road events in the bar ditch had occurred.  Trucks on the interstate traveled in one lane at 15-20 m.p.h.  We bought our few supplies and came back to the house on the road with two inches of ice beneath several inches of snow.  The clerk at the Exxon station stated that the local propane dealer had run out of propane and his trucks could not resupply until the roads cleared.  There was no milk for sale — all sold out.

Back at the house, we settle in.  I give Star a loaf of hay to tide him over till supper.  Lottie our Schnauzer jumps up on the fireplace bench to warm herself after we relight the fire.  I look out and see cedar posts in the F-250 and I know in an emergency we can make the Palo Pinto Rural Health Clinic (PPRHC) in Gordon with cedar posts as weight in the back for traction.

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Filed under Adventure, Cedar, Flying Hat Ranch, Juniper

Snow and ice at Flying Hat

White-crowned Sparrows, Flying Hat, Texas, February 2011

Two nights ago, early Tuesday morning at 12:30 a.m., a rain storm followed by sleet and snow descended on our ranch. The wind blew, gusts to 50 m.p.h., and the temperature reached 10 degrees this morning.  Yesterday, I used the Case Farmall DX-55 tractor to pull our F-250 out of the lane that intersects County Road 114.  Beneath a snow of four inches, two inches of ice held fast to the ground and the F-250, being a two-wheeled drive, could not gain traction in the lane.  Brenda backed up the F-250 while I pulled with the Farmall.  We parked the pickup close enough to the electrical circuit at the house so that if necessary we could warm the engine with its electrical plug.

Yesterday, our rural mail carrier, Jeannie Chisolm, posted mail throughout her route using a four-wheeled drive Jeep.  I called her this morning for road conditions and she told me she became stuck one time yesterday as she delivered the last three mailboxes on her route.  She made it back to her home at 8:00 p.m. last night.  The road between Flying Hat and Interstate 20 is only passable with four-wheel vehicles or those with chains.

Star munches on hay and grain in the stable and I crunched some horse feed and threw it on the ground so White-crowned Sparrows could peck and fill themselves.

The State of Texas has declared a power emergency and seven-million people will begin to experience rolling blackouts to prevent an overload of the grid.  We have experienced no blackouts, but our Internet Provider, centered in Fort Worth, Texas, goes down infrequently.

Weather forecasts indicate below freezing temperatures through Friday at noon.  We have lowered our thermostat to 65 degrees and switched unnecessary electrical appliances to the OFF position.  We have a week’s supply of firewood stacked in the shed and oakwood windfall in the grove.

* * *

Additional comment:  We had a blackout at 11:25 a.m. for about forty minutes.

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Pronghorn sunbursts

N. Scott Momaday

One morning on the high plains of Wyoming I saw several pronghorns in the distance.  They were moving very slowly at an angle away from me, and they were almost invisible in the tall brown and yellow grass.  They ambled along in their own wilderness dimension of time, as if no notion of flight could ever come upon them.  But I remembered once having seen a frightened buck on the run, how the white rosette of its rump seemed to hang for the smallest fraction of time at the top of each frantic bound — like a succession of sunbursts against the purple hills.

— N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain, p. 19.

* * *

In the early seventies, between Clayton and Springer, New Mexico, Charles Fairweather and I drove fast to the Sangre de Cristos for our yearly getaway with several other friends who had already made camp.  We came up out of the roadbed onto a small hill and to the right, off the highway about 200 feet, were several pronghorn.  Charles quickly stopped the car and pulled out his deer rifle.  Charles, I said, let the pronghorn be.  Besides, it would be poaching if you shot him.  He was a good man, but impulsive at times.  He re-sheathed his weapon without a word and drove on to camp.

* * *

Between Snyder and Post, Texas, large ranches abound.  On one ranch, the Covered S, I saw pronghorn graze five years ago.  In the last four years, with the placement of wind mills for power and an extensive clearing of brush, I see no pronghorn.  They grazed in pastures on either side of highway.  This holiday, as we traveled to Lubbock, I looked intently onto the eastern pasture of the Covered S, hoping to see white rump in brown and yellow grass.  I saw none on either day we passed the Covered S.  I counted plenty of oil wells, but no antelope.

* * *

In the Journals of Lewis and Clark, they reported that antelope would rub themselves against sagebrush in order to perfume themselves.

* * *

Pronghorn at Red Rock, Idaho (J. Purdue photographer)

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Sagebrush

Stranded on a winter night in the Jemez Mountains

Road map of the Bandelier-Jemez area, New Mexico

One snowy and cold winter night in the 1980s, I was stranded on a forest road adjacent to New Mexico State Highway 4, between Los Alamos and Jemez Pueblo.  I drove a 1976 Chevrolet short-bed pickup with a two bunk camper.  The pickup was desert tan and the camper green with off-white stripes.  Not a flashy pickup, but neither was it an Eddie R. V. (National Lampoon Christmas Vacation).

I defined myself as a broad-gauge field researcher, taking notes on terrain, Native American culture and the interaction of Anglo, Spanish and Indian sub-cultures.  I kept a good set of notes and used them in class and at the desk when I wrote.  (Those notes are in filing cabinets in the barn today.  It’s 20 deg. F. this morning and I’m not fetching notes.  I’ll retrieve them later this year.)

On this particular trip to New Mexico in the 1980s, I had spent one night in Taos in the maid’s quarters at the Sagebrush and I was headed south to the Jemez Pueblo to spend the night at their campground and then on to Socorro and warmer climes the next day.  (A camper could pull into the campground at night and pay the next morning.)  It was around New Year or Christmas and snow had fallen in the higher elevations.   New Mexico State Highway 4, from Bandelier to the Jemez Pueblo, had an elevation of 8,000 feet and the snow had been partially snowplowed from the roadway, but neither forest roads nor pull outs had been cleared of snow and ice.

It was late in the evening, about 9:30 p.m., when I began to ascend the Jemez range.  As I left Los Alamos, I believed if I drove carefully I could safely go over the mountains and down to the pueblo.  My pickup was a two-wheeled drive with off-road tires and I had driven in snow and mud for many years in New Mexico and Texas.  When I reached the top of the Jemez range, I pulled into a picnic area that had not been cleared.  At first, I did not see a slight slope downhill, but when I noticed it, I immediately stopped and put my pickup in reverse to pull back out on the highway, about 150 feet from my position.  I backed up fifty feet and the traction gave way, tires spinning.  I was stranded and it was 10:30 p.m.

Snow was falling and no cars had come by on the road.  I wasn’t about to wander onto the road at night to flag down assistance.  Who would stop in the middle of the night for some guy up on the mountain and a pickup hidden among the conifers, nowhere to be seen?  Nobody would stop.  I decided to wait until daylight to flag for assistance.  I got out of the pickup, turned away from the road and walked down into the forest.

What a moment, I thought.  I may be stranded until morning, but the quiet of late evening and starry sky made me appreciate my predicament.  Only in this isolation, no trucks or cars passing, did I hear and see the forest and sky.  The stars were much brighter than on the Texas plains and they seemed to flash and glitter.  Wind blew through the trees sharply and the older pines creaked and groaned.  As the wind coursed, its sound was basso, baritone, not sharp tenor, but deep tones, earthy.

Even now, twenty-years-plus later, I slip into a reverie, reflective of that moment:  I have on my Eddie Bauer green parka, waterproof hiking boots with bright-red gaiters to the knees, snow pants, toboggan cap and ski gloves.  I walk farther down into the forest and stand transfixed in the snow for five minutes or so.  I realize I am experiencing one of the keenest moments of time, space and nature in my life.  And, it all comes about because of my carelessness.  The wind passing through the trees sounds lonely, yet comforting.  The stars faraway, yet close.  Alone without human company, I feel a family.

Well, enough of an Emersonian Drop’s Pond moment, I thought.  I have to get to sleep.  I walked back to the pickup and climbed into the camper.  I had several bedrolls.  My warmest bedroll was a blue mummy-type, goose down, that I would sleep in.  I spread the other bedrolls and a couple of old family quilts on the floor of the camper, stripped to my long underwear, got into the bedroll and pulled on my toboggan cap, tightened the mummy bag and promptly began to contemplate my fate.

I had no fear of freezing to death.  I was embarrassed for getting stranded.  Really embarrassed.  I could die of embarrassment.  Here I was on top of the Jemez in a two-wheel drive pickup.  I really didn’t want to hear from anybody that I should’ve had a four-wheel drive or chains.  Yeah, I should’ve, but I don’t.  But in order to get out of this jam, I would have to listen to the criticism.  Small price to pay, I thought, to have someone pull me out.  I drifted off to sleep, awakening a couple of times before morning light to the sound of high wind through the trees.  I slept warmly and awoke refreshed.

When it was fully sunup, I stood beside the highway.  I had heard one or two trucks during the night, but none since sunrise.  The weather news on the radio was good — no squalls or fronts approaching.  After twenty minutes, a man in a jeep came by with a winch on the front bumper.  I waved him down politely.  He stopped and I asked for just a pull out to the edge of the highway.  “Well, sure,” he said.

I waited for the inevitable why don’t you have four-wheel?  Chains?

Those words did not come.  He drove the jeep down close to my Chevy, hooked the winch on the pickup and pulled me back up to level ground where I had traction, taking all of three minutes.  Unhooking the winch, I reached for my billfold to give him a couple of dollars and thanked him appropriately.  He refused to take any money, saying, “It’s no trouble, glad I could help you.  Take care.”  And, with that, he drove on down the mountain without throwing criticism in my direction.  I was as grateful for his understanding as I was the pull out.

I pitched my Chevy into second gear and came down the Jemez, heading south to warmer climes, remembering the sound of wind through the trees and shining stars on the mountain as well as the kindness of a stranger with few words.

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Notes:

I wrote notes on this adventure the next day.  The notes are in the filing cabinet in the barn.  Still.

In writing this post, between paragraph one and two, I wrote a couple of hundred words about eating and lodging in New Mexico in association with this adventure, but deleted it.  I saved it for another day.

I looked for a photograph of snow on the Jemez, but could not find any to insert.

I do carry chains in bad weather these days.  But, they are cumbersome to take on and off, depending on the terrain.  Solutions include having a four-wheel-drive truck, have two spare tires with chains already placed so that you change tires out or stay by the fire.  Tour another day.

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“From the Stone Wall” by Wildramblings

Far away from the Southwest, this nature writer describes a day in the New England woods, not so far different from our treks and hunts among the mesquite, cholla and oak.  Wildramblings is a blog worthy of putting on your roll.  Click the link below and relish fine writing.

From the Stone Wall | Wildramblings.

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Filed under Adventure, Life in Balance