I love the outdoors. There is nothing better than getting outside, enjoying fresh air, and exploring nature. While I have the Beartooth Mountains here in my backyard, not all of my explorations take place here. Sometimes, they are further away than many people might even expect. You see, my friend Justin lives in El Paso, Texas. Every year I go down to visit him; then we head off on a grand adventure. Since there is not a whole lot to do in Texas near El Paso, we generally go into New Mexico and explore the mountains in that state. This past Labor Day 2013, we headed into the Sierra Blanca range for a nice hike along the Three Rivers trail.
If you know anything about the area, you know that it is dry and hot. It’s a desert after all. So while the flatlands are miserable and living conditions are terrible (although as can be seen by the petroglyphs people have been making their home in the area for thousands of years), the mountains rise up and the climate rapidly changes. Driving into the Three Rivers Valley you come out the desert. The trailhead, where our campground was located, is at the foothills of the mountains. Still hot, but the juniper trees are rising up. Just a few miles away there is nothing but sage and yucca plants. Where we spent the night there were plenty of 20 foot tall alligator junipers, as well as running water a mere quarter mile from where we pitched our tent. After a night around the fire burning dead yucca stalks and fighting off tarantulas (ok there was only one and he only came out of his hole once; still gross) we turned in. Rising early, we started our hike into the White Mountain Wilderness.
The guidebook warned of bears in the area. Of course being from Montana I knew that these New Mexico black bears were no big deal. In fact, if we even saw one it would most likely be running away from us. Starting along the trail I quickly saw signs of the bears. Every 40 feet or so there was more bear scat right in the middle of the trail. While most of it looked pretty old, there were some that had been dropped in the last few days. But the scat was no distraction from the amazing scenery changing before us.
As we hiked further along the trail, the alligator junipers quickly gave way to huge pine trees. For several miles the trail followed closely to the creek giving us opportunities to pause and soak our feet, eat lunch, and admire the views. Despite being mere miles from the barren New Mexico desert, this hike was riddled with undergrowth, leafy bushes, tall pine trees, and wildflowers. The higher the elevation, the lusher the landscape became.
Toward the end of our hike the creek dwindled away and disappeared under ground. Actually the spring that fed the creek was somewhere nearby, but the grass was so thick that it would have been hard to find. We stuck to the trail and continued until we reached a bowl signifying we were at the end of Three Rivers Canyon. The view from the bottom was incredible. Before us lay a huge field of green grass that covered several acres.
The hike through the grassy bowl wasn’t hard, but after already hiking several miles, and being nearly 8,000 feet up, it felt rather intense. Luckily we switchbacked our way through the bowl coming to the saddle at the “top” of the mountains in no time. Ok, there was a lot more elevation we could have scaled but at this point we had met our goal, reached our destination. We found a lone pine that overlooked the valleys below, and we plopped down to have a snack. Since I am an introvert by nature, and an archaeologist by schooling, I am constantly ignoring other people and scanning the ground to see what I can find. This time it paid off in discovering my best friend from the trip.
After our snack we decided to high tail it back down the mountain. I have no idea what that phrase is really supposed to mean, but we hustled and made it down in about a quarter of the time it took to get up. We soaked up the scenery, and since the entire hike is uphill on the way in, hence downhill on the way out, it was really quite easy to just cruise along at slightly more than a walk, but a little less than a jog. Near the trailhead we stopped and soaked our feet in the stream one last time before the water disappeared under ground giving way to the hot desert. Making our way back to the vehicle Justin and I high-fived each other for another hike well done and settled in for the couple hour drive back to the borderland.