HIGH PLACES

Wildflowers, Hissing Squirrels

Deep in the Gila National Forest

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It took us some time to get used to this new normal, but I hope by now we’ve all come to accept these circumstances and move on. Personally, hiking has given me a sense of normalcy these days – even if just for a few precious hours. Out in nature it’s easier to forget all negative aspects of life.

In the hot summer months we venture to higher altitude as usual. Recently we drove up into the Gila National Forest, just a few miles past Emory Pass Vista on highway 152 to the west. At the Railroad Canyon campground we parked and headed north. The trail – the only one out there – can be recommended to anyone. It is fairly flat and not too rocky. Since it’s out and back, you go as far as you wish. To make it interesting, the trail crosses the creek multiple times. In late June this wasn’t a problem, the water ran sparsely, but that can change with the coming monsoon. We carried water shoes but never took them out of the backpack.

The wildflowers were in full bloom and a delight to see. Orange sneezeweed, purple and beardlip penstemon, meadow anemone, scarlet cinquefoil. (Sigh! I get carried away with wild flowers. Aren’t some of their names a hoot?)

The trail splits after a mile and a half, the left leading being the Upper Gallinas Trail and the right continuing as Railroad Canyon. The name is misleading, I cannot imagine a railroad ever going through here, but maybe logs were cut here for a railroad elsewhere. There are definitely a lot of pine trees here. The 2013 Silver Fire ravaged through the canyon, but the vegetation is returning, many shrub oak and other small trees are covering the slopes amidst the tall black sentinels that were burnt pines.

We turned around after roughly 2.5 miles, even at this altitude the temperatures climbed into the eighties in June. The trail goes on for more than 18 miles – in case you are planning a longer trip.

On our return we took a short break at what must have been one squirrel’s favorite lunch spot. This little guy literally hissed at us from his perch up in a tree. The sound was somewhere between a sneeze and a yappy little dog bark. But he meant business. After a good laugh and some photos we left his property and headed back to our car.

The only other hikers we encountered were a larger family unit, the youngsters up ahead. We could hear them from a distance, discussing the special powers of Emperor Palpatine in the middle of the canyon (he is a bad guy in “Star Wars”).

If you plan to go, it is recommended to call the ranger station in Truth of Consequences (Black Range Ranger District, Tel. 575-894-6677) beforehand. The ranger gave me some heads up on the effects of the Mims Lake fire in that region and other useful information. They would also know about the water flow in the creek.

We were warned about poison ivy and therefore wore long pants, but we only encountered one single poison ivy plant. Wear sunscreen and take enough water. And then get out there and have fun. Nature can work wonders on depressive moods.

Of German origin, Gabriele Teich has called Las Cruces her home for more than 20 years — and loved every minute of it, hiking the mountains in the immediate surrounding area and all over this beautiful state.