Greg and Luna in Late Spring

Pecos Falls

Date December 13, 2009 at 7:00 PM

Author Greg Lewandowski

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Outdoors & Recreation

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PECOS FALLS

The trees are thinning out, the sunlight is getting brighter and the skies are starting to open up. Even my backpack feels lighter as I reach the top of Hamilton Mesa. The hike will continue for miles without any steep climbing; mostly flat, some rolling hills and views that I dream about.

At this time of year the iris are blooming and their blue and purple flowers are shooting up all over the mesa. This means stopping frequently, kneeling down, starring intently at their beauty and then pulling out my macro lens. The shades range from blue to purple and seem to vary depending on the light and what stage of growth they are in. Im looking at one that has weathered the winter; a thin light brown stalk that has a brittle pod on top, the pod looks old and tired but still standing strong, dark brown age spots scattered over its surface, the opening on top will provide the seeds necessary for the spring growth. I search around to find an old shoot and a new bloom close enough to create a contrast. Im crawling along the top of the mesa captivated with their beauty while Luna sits and stares at the mountains.

I pack up my tripod and move on. Small clumps of iris are scattered among greener areas of the trail. They only reach a foot in height but they bloom happily on top of the mesa because they love the direct sunlight, once I turn into the forest they will begin to disappear.

For now I'm enjoying the late spring sun, cool enough for a light jacket and over a month before it heats up enough to draw out the summer backpackers. It's mid afternoon and I've been hiking since early morning, up ahead I spot a feeding trough set up for horses. A few pines, water for me and Luna and a chance to open the map.

I hope to reach Pecos Falls by 5 pm when there will be some nice afternoon sunlight. The plan is to cross the Pecos river near the falls and camp for the night. I pack up and head north. The landscape of the mesa begins to shift. Im descending a bit and the trees are starting to grow closer together. The views I love so much of the mountains are starting to become obscured. I look one last time at the patches of snow dotting the mountain side, soon it will be ready for summer campers but for now winter has some small snowblankets keeping the mountains quiet. We stare at each other as Luna sniffs the air. Staying on trail 249 was challenging, signs are sparse and by late afternoon the open air trail turns to forest. The forest thickens and the light grows thin. My pace slows as the presence of so many pines makes the silence more obvious. I turn west and head down 239 to the falls. The remnants of winter snow have left parts of the trail with thick mud and small puddles of partially frozen water. After a mile I begin to hear the tumultuous sound of water gone wild.

The trail puts me at the top of the falls, open to the sky with the force of the water splashing upwards trying to grab some rays of sunlight. A thin steep trail descends quickly to a rock ledge, the ledge is partway into the river. The force of the water is intense as it flies over rock ledges and deadfall. It splashes up and down as it disappears out of view to the forest below. Luna worries me as she walks out to the edge of the rock. I unravel my leash and hook her up. I worry slightly about myself as I walk out on the ledge and gaze down into this turbulent abyss. This isn't the type of waterfall that reaches a cliff and falls straight down. This one is angled, 30-40 degrees and behind me I can see it flowing down over more rock as it narrows and winds to the mountains in the distance.

I stand on the ledge and set up my tripod. I decide on a quick shutter speed to try and capture the splashing and fading sunlight. I spot another rock below me, a bit too far to reach unless Im on the other shore. Standing on top of this force of nature makes me smile as I click off shot after shot.

I pack up and unhook Luna as I follow the river upstream looking for a suitable place to cross. I find a spot about 6 or 7 feet wide and decide the only way to cross is to jump. I throw my pack to the other side. I hook up Luna and take the end of the leash and hop across. Luna is unsure of my intentions but she learns quickly as I give her a little tug and she leaps into the river and I tug and she swims and joins me on the other side. She shakes herself and happily rolls on the ground.

We pick up the trail and head back south. I find the spot with the other rock ledge I saw from above. I walk out and watch the water cascading downward. I decide it would be a perfect spot for some early morning viewing. It's not difficult to find a suitable place to set up for a night with the falls serenading me to sleep.

The next day is cool and clear. The bottom of the falls is some what anti-climatic. A 10 foot drop off before they flatten out to continue their journey through the wilderness. I spend some time at the falls and then head south to Betty's flats then back up to Hamilton Mesa. We spend our last night on the mesa watching the sun set over the peaks. The next day we head back through sunny fields of flowers as the mountains watch us leave the majesty of those falls behind.

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