We woke up early to change locations and hike on a very brisk New Mexico morning. We’d had enough of the sparse trees and sand that our gorge spot offered. The mountains were calling. So we packed up and hit the road towards the Ski Valley area. Where some bigger mountains slumber and the trees rise high. While driving thata way, we saw the sunrise. It was bright and stunning over the range of mountains in front of us. Until this point, I hadn’t seen the big guys here; the mountains that stretch above tree line and are capped with snow.
We found ourselves surrounded by mountains, driving down a bumpy forest service road. Our mission for the morning was to trail run/hike to Lost Lake. An alpine lake sitting at about 11,580ft, right at the base of a pretty mountain. It was said to be about a 10.5 mile out and back. I was so excited to hit the trail and had such a hard time believing that the elevations here get so high. Silly me. Endlessly surprised by New Mexico!
This was a very wet forest. Creeks, waterfalls, moss and old growth. As we gained, there was a good amount of patchy snow cover. Both of us were in the process of breaking in some new running shoes, which gave us the opportunity to take it a little easier and soak in all the beautiful views.
There is something so wild about this area. It is way less trafficked than even the most hidden treasures in other western states. We didn’t see a single person on our way to Lost Lake. We didn’t hear anything other than creaking and groaning trees; the tiniest sounds of crunching snow under paw. Because there most certainly were animals all around us. We tracked foxes, coyotes and lynx. The prints they left behind were clear and precise in the snow. We could see them coming and going, and imagined why. Was this coyote after a rabbit? Did that lynx get a chipmunk? Do these animals know we’re here? The answer is probably yes, almost always. This wilderness is also a large part of bear country. We didn’t spot any bear tracks, but we are not amazing trackers. With how many prints we followed, I’m sure a Mr. Bear was in that mix somewhere.
It was very cold out. This may have been the only time I’ve ever left my thin gloves on for the entirety of an activity. I think because of how wet this landscape is, the chill goes to the bone. I do not envy hunters that explore these forests.
But running kept us pretty warm and the new sights were motivational.
As per usual, we found some time to play. These trees are massive and there was no way I would be able to hike here and not at least attempt to climb one. Because they’re the perfect climbing trees. Branches spaced perfectly. Thick enough to hold a bunch of weight. Ideal limbs. I didn’t get very high before deciding it was probably a bad idea to shimmy my way up in the middle of a new wilderness. I’ve definitely gotten myself in some trouble climbing trees before. And while I still cannot resist, I have learned to rein in my excitement.
In a short amount of time, we found ourselves just about at tree line. On a slope that was steep and narrow. The clouds were building not too far off, adding an ominous vibe to the mountains surrounding us. Also adding a little bit more chilly wind. Because there wasn’t enough already!
Before we knew it, we were on tundra. That crunchy, pebbly, brushy ground I adore so much. We dipped into a basin and that’s when we spotted our goal: Lost Lake!
It was vibrant green and blue. The tundra plants were yellow and red. There was snow on the ground and clouds in the sky. All in all it was a magical sort of place. And then... WIND. Harsh, brutal and freezing wind. It had to have been blowing at 45+mph. I haven’t been in such a windy spot for a while. It was windier than Longs Peak, the Badlands wilderness during a massive storm, the boulderfield during a hail storm or... most other highly windy places I’ve been. It took Jon and I off guard and we had quite a laugh about it as we quickly gobbled up our celebration Clif Bars, tightened our laces and adjusted our layers. I went with the sexy hood-up-pull-those-strings-tight look. While Jon opted for the wind beanie. We put our packs back on and hit the trail! It was all downhill from there. Literally :)
We set up our camp near the spot below. A beautiful creek bustling with life and a beautiful melody. Bivy appreciated the creek most of all, as he loves to stomp in the water and mean-mug birds that bathe in it. We had plenty of shade in this spot and a glorious few trees to hang our hammock. I quickly got to reading and relaxing. Jon started chopping wood and building a fire. Our camp styles are super different. I love to chill, he loves to work.
The following morning brought us to the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness, a section of Carson National Forest near our camp. This was a special hike, because this was Jon’s first experience with New Mexico. He had been there a few years ago with a buddy, as a part of a road trip they took. Since Jon and I met, he’d told me about this hike and the rad spot him and his friend camped. So it was pretty neat to be able to experience this place with him.
And wow was it lovely! This hike consisted of a long and steep incline, which opened up into a vast open field surrounded by low peaks, with views of much larger peaks. Simply stunning. And some of the largest pine trees I’ve ever seen. Also stunning.
The fall color was magnificent and the trees were tall. One can so easily picture bears and coyotes making this wilderness home. In the moment, I compared this area to a mix of the Black Elk Wilderness in South Dakota and the smaller mountains of Estes Park, Colorado.
It’s a simple and lovely wilderness. It’s got the enchanted forest vibe along with the creepy “what is watching me” sort of feel. It’s easy to feel small here.
Unlike the previous day, this day was sunny. No clouds, just blue skies. There was a light cool breeze. Contrasted with the bright sunshine and higher elevation, it was perfect.
We took some time here to enjoy the serene views; a trickling creek, Wheeler Peak, birds jumping from tree to tree and best of all, just us. And our puppy. Dirty and happy and at peace. Sitting in a mountain meadow, pleased as can be by life. By the simple things in this world that create such positivity, vitality and inner calm. The trees rustled gently and the grasses made hushed rusting noises that soothe the soul.
We popped back on trail, happy to be descending at a quick pace. Excited to return to camp and explore our lovely landscape. We had oatmeal and peanut butter waiting for us. And that my friends, is fucking wonderful after a day on trail. But you know that!
New Mexico. It’s a beautiful state. Or at least, this part of it is. It’s wild and massive. It’s desert and it’s mountains. It’s rushing water and packed with wildlife.
I was so surprised by almost everything I experienced here. And I cannot wait to get back there in the future. Luckily, it’s a very short drive with pretty views along the way.
If you’ve experienced the wilderness of NM, what are your favorite spots? Any hikes you strongly recommend? I’d love to know- shoot me a message or leave a comment.