Page 27

DESERT EXPOSURE

JULY 2017 • 27

HIGH PLACES • GABRIELE TEICH

Where on Earth is Cactus, N.M.?

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ometimes even the best planning isn’t good enough. We drove up to Cloudcroft on a Saturday in May — two families, two cars. We dropped the hikers off at one end (or rather, the middle) of the 14-mile Rim Trail, drove both cars to the other end (Sunspot) to park one car there and returned to the hiking group in the other car — a procedure known as car shuttle. Great idea, except the Rim Trail was closed that day for the “Cactus to Cloud Trail 50k Run.” I looked on a very detailed map to find out where Cactus is: It doesn’t exist! The run starts at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park among cacti. What to do? Our optimistic friend pointed us in the right direction. “Good that there are many hikes to choose from in these mountains,” she said. And with the area map on hand (you can obtain one at the Ranger Station on 4, Lost Lodge Road just outside Cloudcroft) we decided on the Shofield Trail. The first trailhead (there is a second one further down the road) is on Rio Peñasco Road which turns off Sunspot Road to the left about seven miles outside Cloudcroft. You can’t miss the trailhead sign — it sits very visible on a bluff above the road. Pull the car over on the right and head uphill. Warning: It’s quite a while uphill at first. And at this altitude of over 8,000 feet, breathing does

not come easy. So take it slow, take lots of short rests. After the first intersection with another trail it soon gets more level. There are many trails to choose from here. We stuck to 5007A at first and then took 5006 down towards Bluff Springs. The signage is great, trail numbers as well as destinations and distances are mentioned. The chosen route led us up to over 9,000-feet which in itself can give you a feeling of accomplishment. Our friend checked the altitude frequently with her altimeter on the cell phone. We jokingly advised her to jump high in the air with her phone held over her head to get the highest reading yet. Like many trails around Cloudcroft this was originally a train route for logging companies at the turn of the last century. Trains zig-zagged up the mountain and where they changed direction a swath of forest was cleared creating beautiful meadows that endure today. The day we had chosen was sunny and warm but thanks to the altitude not too hot, in other words perfect hiking weather. If you are interested in birding there are some treasures to find here as well. We came close enough to Western Tanagers and American Robins to take good photos, while the beautifully blue Steller’s Jay was too elusive. It took us more than four hours to complete the hike. The

last part steep down towards Bluff Springs. This is a place I highly recommend — even if you are not inclined to hike much. Bluff Springs is a beautiful waterfall that cascades into the Rio Peñasco literally right next to the road. If you want to explore just a little (come on, you can do it!), cross the wooden bridge and make your way up the stairs to get to the top of the waterfall. Wander another half a mile (not more, I promise!) on the trail and you get to the actual spring where the water pours out of the mountain. Lucky for us part of our group had gone ahead and set up our camper for the night already. What better way to relax after a long hike than slumped down in a camping chair, enjoying a cool drink and snacking on chips and salsa? If you go, don’t forget sunscreen — you are much closer to the sun up there! Also, wear sturdy shoes and bring water and snacks for the trail. Of German origin, Gabriele Teich has called Las Cruces her home for the last 18 years — and loved every minute of it, hiking the mountains in the immediate surrounding and all over this beautiful state.

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