“Be alert and think ahead on this and all steep slopes on this hike; choose your route carefully since there are areas of loose scree and unstable rock.” –Greg Magee
|Mt Riley as seen from an El Paso sunset|
So go the directions in my guidebook, Day Hikes and Nature Walks in Las Cruces - El Paso Area, as I ascend Mt Riley in the Potrillo Volcano Field in Southwest New Mexico. There is no trail leading to the summit so I have chosen a ridge and am hoping for the best. The route always looks easier from a distance and earlier I was saying, “I can just walk right up that incline over there and will be on top in no time.”
|Sierra and Taz|
I suppose I’m half way up the mountain at this point. The peak rises 1500 ft from the base and tops out at almost 6000 ft above sea level. Rocks, grasses, barrel and ocotillo cacti and sotol make up most of the landscape, but the occasional juniper tree dots the slope. Some of the trees are dead and gnarled creating a lonely spooky feeling. It is isolated out here; I bet there isn’t another soul within 20 miles.
Driving through the desert to get here is a bit frightening, because there is no traffic on the dusty roads leading to the mountain and cell phone service is spotty at best. What would I do if I got stuck in the sand or broke down? Best to not think about such things and keep climbing to the summit. From my vantage point there are stunning views of several volcanic cones and the Potrillo Mts.
|What made this?|
As I near the highest point of my hike, I see a fuzzy white clump containing about a dozen golf ball sized cacti. The "fur" looks something like a Santa Clause beard and I believe the species may be known loosely as an old man cactus. My dogs are panting as heavily as I am breathing, but we finally make it to the peak and enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding desert. A small rock cairn with a protruding piece of sotol stalk is all that marks the spot. Lucy, Sierra, and Taz enjoy some water and then I put a shirt on Taz to keep the sun off our little hairless devil. It’s a long story, but you can read more about him here if you wish. Taz: Devil, Runner, Escape Artist
|Taz sporting his Old Navy shirt.|
|Beautiful barrel cactus|
My stick works great at helping me keep my balance and after a while I stop under a juniper tree for a rest in the shade. I share my sesame sticks and peanut butter sandwich with my loyal companions. After a drink, we continue the journey and, when we reach the desert floor, stumble upon a barrel cactus in full bloom. Everyone is exhausted by this point and the sun is getting higher in the sky. Fortunately, we are almost back to the truck. Now all we have to do is safely drive out of this desolate, otherworldly landscape.
See you on the trail.
|Cholla cactus with Mt Cox in the background.|