Today was my day to solo hike after Ric’s hike to Guadalupe Peak yesterday. I felt sufficiently rested and this hike promised to be less strenuous and yet still interesting. I don’t always need a challenging hike to a peak to be happy. In fact, I love to hike at a naturalist’s slow pace… seeing as much of the macro and micro world as possible. That is just not possible on a long, steep hike because you have to “get the job done” before nightfall. I had been feeling a little frustrated after two days of hikes where I had to blow by all the fossil wonders at my feet. Not today…
I started the trail a few minutes before nine. Within the first ten minutes I was faced with one of those ambiguous “wash crossings” and sure enough I wound up trucking down the wash much farther than I had to. Once I realized my error, I cut right angle to the wash and found the trail quickly. The real Foothills Trail was much more pleasant to walk on than the wash (that’s my tired feet talking) and I would have made good time if I hadn’t been fossil hunting with my camera. National Park rules state that you can’t take any rocks from the park. That’s fine with me, as we don’t have any spare room in the RV for rocks! A photographic collection doesn’t take up much room unless you count megabytes. The fun will be trying to figure out what these fossils are (don’t ask me – I don’t know…yet). So here is what the actual Foothills Trail looked like shortly after I found it:
By 11:00 am I had reached the Frijole Ranch, which is the start of the Smith and Manzanita Springs Trails. The Frijole Ranch itself is an historical site, but it wasn’t open today. I walked around outside and was impressed with the spring house, which covered the spring, and the irrigation system from the spring to the orchard, where pear trees were sustained by the water.
I was also much impressed by this example of frontier simplicity and ingenuity in the design of this simple gate latch:
After having lunch at the picnic table area near the ranch I proceeded down the Smith Springs Trail. I had decided before hand that if I reached the ranch before noon I would do this extra loop trail that connects to the Frijole Trail to bring me back to the Pine Springs Campground. Not too far down this trail I came to the Manzanita Spring Pool. Long ago the ranchers dammed the spring to create the pool.
From there, the trail turns back into a foot path and gains elevation through the foothills, heading toward “Nipple Mountain”
(which is named for very obvious reasons)
I kept gaining elevation and the terrain became a bit more rugged, but the effort was rewarded when I reached Smith Spring.
It is hard to describe how stunning it is to come upon a desert spring… there was little warning except that you could see damp ground in places, and there was increased green vegetation. I guess I was expecting little more than a seep, and was truly surprised to hear the trickle of falling water as I approached. The spring was gorgeous! A cascade of water coming down the backdrop of rock ledge into a clear pool of water. The water flowed from the pool, creating a small stream meandering downhill.
After leaving the spring, the trail led gradually higher and higher along the hills and afforded a sweeping vista of the land below. Going up and down and in and out of small washes and canyons along the way.
As I came more into the open,the wind, which had been quite strong all morning, became even more intense. It was a constant struggle to keep my hat from blowing away. The trail descended into fields of grass and juniper whipping in the wind. Soon I reached the trail marker for the Frijole Trail. After taking a brief snack and pack break I hit the Frijole Trail which would bring me over ridges and washes to Bear Canyon. Near Bear Canyon I spied one of the best fossils of the day… I am going out on a limb and calling this ammonoid. (I’ll correct the blog later if it isn’t true.) You can clearly see the separated chambers in this cross-sectioned fossil:
Shortly after I also found several awesome fossils along this trail. The fossil shells are very easy to see…and they have lots of interesting friends as well…
I don’t know what this one is – it reminds me of a giant paramecium… but it may be an ammonoid on edge:
I’m not sure what this is either – but it looks a lot like a sponge… just not very soft anymore…
Sorry about the lack of a ruler or object for scale. That is something I definitely will add to my backpack for my next journey into the natural world!
As the afternoon began to wane I spied this mule deer (one of three) grazing high on the side of a hill. We have seen (and photographed) many mule deer here. They are not often hunted, and so just hold their ground and look as us with curiosity.
As El Capitan peak appeared over a hill, I knew I was nearing the end of my hike. Just a few more miles to go…
It was a perfect day, and I am so thankful to be able to engage with nature and continue to try to learn.
Life is good.