Date: Sep 26, 2009 11:23 AM
The confluence of the Rio Grande and Red River is at the Wild Rivers Recreation Area where this report originates. The confluence I mentioned earlier on the Low Road to Taos report was actually the Rio Grande and Rio Pueblo confluence.
I also meant to tell you in my last report about all the small black tarantulas that kept crossing the dirt road we took out to Manby Springs. We passed seven in one mile. That was before the weather changed. These little guys knew all about it and were on their way to make new burrows for themselves as they prepared to settle down for the winter.
We are already hunkered down in full winter mode now as we head out for the Wild Rivers Recreation Area on BLM land. We are sleeping on the bottom bunk and lining the interior with the Indian blankets to keep in the warmth from two big candles, an oil lamp, the occasional Coleman heater, and my favorite – a hot water bottle. I carry it around like a baby, call it the “baby” and just am amazed how warm and cozy it makes me feel. I love it.
We have driven about thirty miles from Taos, off the main road, through lots of small communities that seem to be living a much more hard-scrabble life than their counterparts in glamorous downtown Taos. The clouds get bigger, grayer, and more daunting as we head further and further away.
The Montoso campsite is along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. The mountains are dark and vast in the background. There is a second gorge beyond our horizon where the Red River is making its way through its own steep canyon walls, heading toward the Rio Grande. It rains on us that night and a subdued atmosphere greets us as we set out on our hike.
We had to walk to the Junta Trail from the van through a path of decimated pines. By the time we got to the gorge overlook there was some sun peeking out of the clouds. We were well suited up, complete with gloves, sweaters, neck scarves, and sporting two walking sticks.
Here two ecological worlds collide at the Junta. High above on the rim where we camp we see grasslands below the big mountain peaks, along with sagebrush, juniper and pinyon trees. Far down below in the shadows at the bottom of the gorge there are towering ponderosa pine, small springs, and lush riparian vegetation. All lay there in shadow most of the day because the canyon walls are so high.
I can't imagine how far it is from the bottom of that gorge where the river runs to the top of those snow capped mountain peaks that greeted us this morning. It is a 1.2 mile hike down to the confluence. The trail is rated “difficult” and it is. We set out on a rocky switch back trail, had to climb down one ladder, take a long series of metal steps clinging to the rock face, then follow the continuous switch back rocky path down to a flatland. The BLM has made a valiant effort to hold back the relentless law of gravity that erodes the steep rock walls, taking out old trails, and necessitating new ones. At the bottom four trails converged into a cross, where we picked up the Junta trail, .4 miles further down an easy dirt path.
Unlike so many other places we have constantly encountered other hikers here, mostly fishermen with their rods in hand. Two couples came by us with ski poles, or I guess hiking poles. I took our two wooden walking sticks and made myself a hiking stick outfit and was amazed how much easier it was to maneauver and traverse across the rocks.
Despite how intimidating the trail looked and how distant the confluence, we made it there in 30 minutes or less. The hiking sticks I think added to the speed. Joe is a billy goat and scampers over rocks. I was definitely going slower than he was before I started using the two sticks.
There were only big boulders where the two rivers came together, no shoreline. The Rio Grande is the larger of the two rivers, neither one of them really daunting, yet the slope of the land and the big rocks created a friction and conflict so strong that a marvelous roar fills your ears and the water is smashing and gushing over stones, with the light dancing through the droplets of water. I found a relatively flat rock, took up a comfortable yoga position and just willed all that raw energy into my own body.
Later with great dexterity we made two sandwiches on our knees; there was no surface to maneuver with. We munched avocado, pepperoni, and cheese sandwiches while we watched the nearby man fishing for trout. Two women sat on rocks keeping him company. The sun went in and out and long logs of gray clouds still dominated the sky.
When Joe pointed out to me the ridge we had to hike back to I was shocked by how far away it looked and figured it would take all afternoon to get there. However surprisingly enough we were back withing an hour and fifteen minutes.
The most devastating shock of this hike is the destruction created by the pine bark beetles. We camped in the bone yard of pine tree skeletons. In my estimation in places a third of the trees are destroyed. Their carcasses so massive in number that it would be impossible to remove them, or burn them, and they devastate the landscape with their blackened limbs like burnt fingers scratching towards deliverance. But there is none.