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The view of Bull Of The Woods Mountain from Bull Of The Woods Yurt
Photo credit: —Evan Belknap

Snow caves

~Evan Belknap

I got the job, this last month, of leading two trips of international eighteen-year -olds up to Bull Of The Woods Yurt for three days each. There seems to be a yurt theme this winter. The first trip was in late January after the heavy snowstorms, and the trees were cloaked in snow and frost. We broke trail in ten-degree weather under blue skies, and the psyche was high. We were a lot of boys on the trip, and a few girls, mostly rambunctious, gung-ho teenagers ready for a big adventure. The trail is only two miles, but it took hours in the deep snow, and by the time we arrived, noses dripped and glowed, and a few proud thin facial hairs had frosted over.

We packed twenty-three people into the ten-person yurt, exploded gear everywhere, and made hot chocolate with big pats of butter. Already, it was late afternoon and temperatures were dropping. We warmed up a bit and then got to work setting up tents outside and mounding snow for the next night’s quinzees. Soon, out shoveling in the dark, it dropped below zero degrees—prediction for the night was negative ten—and we went in for dinner.

Dinner was calamitous, loud, claustrophobic, and, conversely, sweat lodge-like. I found a small nook behind one of the bunk beds to eat my bowl of macaroni and hide. Soon, most of them went out to their tents, and I found a cool spot on the floor of the yurt and stretched out.

The next day, we spent most of our time hollowing out our quinzees—  tunneling into the mounds of snow and carving igloo-like carapaces, complete with candle niches and snow gargoyles.

When it was time to sleep again, outside in the cold, I told them all about how I had slept in a snow cave once, when I was eighteen, and that it was the coldest night of my life. “But that’s because I did it wrong,” I said, which is how I’ve learned most things in my life. When I had tried, I dug for four hours, got wet and sweaty, and then cold, and then climbed into a faded, not-warm-anymore sleeping bag, over a tiny pad, with my boots still on, and shivered until the light of sunrise crept back into my cave. Dry and in negative-twenty-degree bags, these guys all survived the night just fine.

The next trip, three weeks later, was made up of fifteen girls and five guys and was an altogether completely different experience. Taos ski area was packed, despite the rocky, icy look of Al’s Run from the parking lot. A lot of snow had melted, and we hiked the trail in T-shirts and good spirits. There was less raucous energy and yet everything seemed to be accomplished more quickly than the first trip. We were at the yurt with plenty of time left over to organize gear, set up tents, and mound snow in the sunlight. By the time dinner was on the stove, everyone was lounging about, playing cards, having debates, reading books. I couldn’t believe that this was the same number of students in the same space.

The next day, after our marathon digging, most everyone snow-shoed up to Bull Of The Woods Mountain and got the 360-degree view of Wheeler Peak, Gold Hill, Kachina Peak, The Bavarian restaurant, and all of northern New Mexico. New Mexico never looked finer; the sunset soon burned the sky into flaming orange tatters and cooled blue and then grey as nighttime fell.

The whole month had me thinking about the uniqueness of experience. Being a kid who got to explore the Southwest a lot—brought along down every river and to every yurt, flipped over on every lake, and hiked up many a mountain by the time I was twelve—I once wondered what happened when you ran out of stuff to do. But then I started doing the same things, rediscovering the same places on my own, and I found that everything was changed. My mind was blown realizing that there was this dichotomy between going places with your parents and going places alone. The whole world was fresh again, and I began to re-tick off lakes and rivers and mountains in total bliss.

I realize now that experiences are always fresh because our perspective is always changing. When I was a kid at a yurt, there was nothing else; the yurt was the universe, and I reveled being trapped there on an island in the snow in the middle of whatever. I didn’t think about the road five miles away, or the cartography of the mountain range, or the fragility of the snowpack. I thought about tiny footprints in the snow and getting the top bunk. As I grow up, my mental territory is constantly expanding, everything grows layers of context, and sometimes its hard to just do a thing because your range of focus has grown so vast—what kind of bird is that in the distance, and what time do they close the gate, and what are we going to have for dinner, and where are we going to sleep, and how am I going to make a living, and why is that light always on on my car’s dashboard?

Given all of that, I’ve found that the best experiences are the ones that shrink the world back down—to just a snow cave, or a singular move on a rock climb, or a hand holding your own.

Rail Runner—seniors ride free this spring

Seniors are invited to explore Central New Mexico by rail for free this February, March, and April. Every Wednesday, seniors age 62+ can ride any New Mexico Rail Runner Express train at no cost. Seniors just need to show the onboard ticket agent their valid photo ID (must contain your birth date).Those planning on making a connection to an ABQ RIDE, Santa Fe Trails, or Rio Metro bus, must ask their ticket agent to print out a free bus transfer slip. Visit to learn more about activities near the train in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Nature hike with Michael Crofoot

The Las Placitas Association is pleased to announce the first native plant hike led by Michael Crofoot of 2017. On March 18, Michael invites you join him to see what the open space looks like as a result of this early spring weather. The hike will start at 9:00 a.m.—meet at 8:45 a.m.—and will last about two hours. Michael will try to identify every plant species seen and share some stories, trying to help participants understand the environmental history of this wonderful park. There will be time to take photographs and for a short discussion time. Wear a good hat, warm clothing, rugged shoes, bring plenty of liquids, and be prepared for a relatively easy hike with a bunch of nature lovers. Go through the east gate of the Open Space off the BLM access in the Toad Road, Mustang Mesa area, to meet Michael at the Open Space gate. Info:

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