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Hiking to Tejón

—TY BELKNAP
On August 13, a public hike to the ghost town of Tejón was hosted by Diamond Tail Ranch subdivision. The subdivision is part of the property that includes Tejón.

Diamond Tail Ranch has big lots and great views. They recently opened the Shooting Star Corral for a stargazing center. Michael Crofoot has installed erosion-control devices in the arroyos and has planted native plant seeds and trees all over the hills. Best of all they have a back yard measured in square miles. Even though it’s a gated community, sales manager Dan Dennison has agreed to grant access to a trail to Tejón that I had never before hiked.

Dan led the way on a cool and clear August morning after a Las Placitas Association presentation of the erosion control techniques. Cresting a hill to the east revealed a stunning view of the southern ridge of the Sandias, the San Pedro Mountains to the northeast, and the vast arroyo-scarred wilderness of the Tonque Wash to the northwest. Tejón was about two miles away, in a relatively flat area at the bottom of a steep hill.

According to Las Placitas Historical Facts and Legends, by Lou Sage Batchen, Tejón was officially founded in 1840 after the Mexican government granted settlers 12,801 acres. LPHFL says, “By 1846, Tejón was a flourishing town built according to old Spanish law, which decreed that that the house and corral of each family form a wall about the large plaza with openings or gates left only at the corners, affording protection from hostile invaders .... ”

As it turned out, the invaders most to be feared were enabled by the American courts to steal the settlers’ land legally in 1890, when a wealthy rancher named Otero determined that he would add Tejón to his ranching empire. Gold had been found in the area, making it even more attractive.

All that remains today are the rock walls of one house, several piles of dirt that used to be adobe, a graveyard, and an empty reservoir. Pottery and other artifacts are scattered about.

Our group of hikers talked, ate lunch, and wandered around for about an hour. Salty water formerly used for irrigation and livestock was still seeping out of the surrounding hills into a small pond and riparian area. LPHFL says that the women of the town carried drinking water in tenajas on their heads from San Francisco Springs, which is several miles up Tejón Cañón. Antique tin cans and glass may still be found along what remains of this ancient road that connected Tejón to San Felipe and San José de las Placitas.

This is also the route followed by modern-day trespassers braving rumors of mean Diamond Tail cowboys. Dan said that the cowboys never really existed. In any case, the imagined threat, and getting lost on the first few attempts to find Tejón, added to the adventure of searching for a ghost town.

My wife even led a few classes of children from Placitas Elementary School on the adventure. After years of walking, biking, and horseback riding to Tejón, the place where the trail suddenly emerges from the arroyo with a vast panorama of the wild West above the ruins is one of my favorite places.

It was afternoon when we puffed and sweated our way back up the hill to the subdivision. Even though cowboys will not swoop down on the uninvited, it is best to get permission and sign the release form.

For more information, call Diamond Tail Ranch at 771-2000.
Las Placitas Historical Facts and Legends, by Lou Sage Batchen, is available at Jackalope, in Bernalillo.


Conchas Lake State Park still open, despite south side closure by feds

New Mexico State Parks announced in August that contrary to recent media reports, Conchas Lake State Park has been and will continue to remain open for visitation, with the exception of the south portion of the lake. That portion of the lake is under the exclusive control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The south-side boat ramp is still open, but can only be accessed from the Old Lodge Road.

In fact, recreation conditions at the park have been the best in several years.

The corps hosted a public hearing on August 12 and requesting public input concerning the future of the south-side portion of the park.

Conchas Lake State Park has 105 developed campsites and sixty miles of shoreline and is a popular destination spot for camping, hiking, and fishing. The park is thirty-four miles northwest of Tucumcari, via NM 104.

For more information, contact Conchas Lake State Park at 868-2270 or (888) NMPARKS.


The allure of the gnarled

—JOSHUA AFFOS
High Country News

”The lover of nature, whose perceptions have been trained in the Alps, in Italy, Germany, or New England, in the Appalachians or Cordilleras, in Scotland or Colorado, would enter this strange region with a shock, and dwell there for a time with a sense of oppression, and perhaps with horror. Whatsoever things he had learned to regard as beautiful and noble he would seldom or never see... Whatsoever might be bold or striking would at first seem only grotesque.”

—CLARENCE EDWARD DUTTON, The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District (1882)


On my first trip into Canyon Country, I remember driving past a glorious, lone aspen tree in front of a flavorfully colored rock along Highway 40 around Massadona, Colorado. The autumn leaves shook like sheaths of golden paper, and I sensed that I was in for something new.
I headed toward Dinosaur National Monument. I had read a lot about the area, so I was aware of its recent and not-so-recent past: David Brower’s crusade to save Echo Park from dam builders in the 1950s; John Wesley Powell’s 1869 exploration of the Green and Colorado rivers; Ute and Fremont natives stalking game and carving petroglyphs during the last two millennia; apatosaurs and allosaurs coming and going 150 million years ago.
In the national monument, I drove out to Harpers Corner and hiked the short trail that leads to Echo Park and the confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers. The canyons were overwhelming, bewildering, like a lithograph by M.C. Escher. But the aspen tree I’d seen on the way in turned out to be a tease: the cliff tops and benches were studded instead with piñon pines and Utah junipers.
The trees leaned awkwardly, like jaded old men. They reminded me of Statler and Waldorf, the grumpy duo from The Muppet Show. I imagined them mad from the heat and waiting—hoping—to die in their balcony seats over the amphitheater of Echo Park.
I would learn later that the characterization isn’t entirely unfair. Piñons and junipers exist under conditions that would warp even the most rugged species: scarce precipitation that typically falls in intense storms with ferocious winds and hail; hydrophobic soil that deprives plants of most of the water that does fall; famished wild creatures of all sizes that will feed on any pine nut, juniper berry, needle, or bark they can sink their teeth into; disease, insects, fire.
As a result, the lives of piñons and junipers are isolated, their forms disfigured. Beneath the desert crust, their roots stretch out like the arms of derelicts reaching for bread crumbs. Extremely dry seasons may even force junipers to cut off water and nutrient flow to a limb to protect the rest of the tree, leaving a withered appendage.
Standing there in Echo Park, I thought the piñons and junipers beyond solace or charity. On my way back to the car, I reveled in the crushing sound of the rivers, the flowering rabbitbrush and the songs of lark sparrows and canyon wrens. But I failed to see the allure of the piñons and junipers.

“But time would bring a gradual change. Some day he would suddenly become conscious that outlines which at first seemed harsh and trivial have grace and meaning; that forms which seemed grotesque are full of dignity; that magnitudes which had added enormity to coarseness have become replete with strength and even majesty.”
—CLARENCE EDWARD DUTTON

I didn’t return to Canyon Country for two and a half years, but not because of any lingering distaste for the piñons and junipers. Actually, I had become fascinated with the desert and the vegetation. I wanted to revisit the landscape the way you want to sneak another peek at your lunatic great-uncle sleeping standing up in the spare bedroom of your parents’ house.
That next trip, deep in the backcountry of Zion National Park’s backcountry, the piñons and junipers struck me differently. The trees still looked miserable, but I recognized a stalwart stoicism in them that had eluded me earlier. Perhaps it was my own isolation, miles into the sagebrush and yucca, utterly exposed to the desert. If the piñons and junipers were hermits in this wasteland, there was a bond among them born from long endurance.
At first glance, the trees had seemed like grumpy old men, but now I saw them as defiant, willful curmudgeons. I imagined them raising hell in this perverse, red-rock nursing home of an ecosystem, poking branches under the wings and breasts of birds, tripping deer with their roots.
In a world of brutality, the piñons and junipers had the strength to endure. The species have lasted in the desolation for millions of years; individual trees persist for centuries. Nothing—not Brower or Powell, the Utes or even the dinosaurs—knows more about how to survive in the eternally forbidding environs of Canyon Country than the piñons and the junipers.
I had found the allure.
These days, I live on Colorado’s plains, beyond the foothills of the Rockies. In my free time, I alternately visit mountain meadows and desert canyons. Autumn aspens still steal my breath. But with the piñon pines and junipers, I can crush their needles in my palm, brush my fingertips along their scraggly bark, and marvel at a perseverance I can only vainly hope to emulate. And then I’ll trip on some hideous root and look around for the source of a haunting laughter that not even a demented magpie could chortle.
High Country News (www.hcn.org) covers the West's communities and natural resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

 

 

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