Weekend in the Sierra Blanca Mountains, New Mexico

Following our wonderful Thanksgiving Day potluck dinner with our fellow Habitaters, we packed up in preparation to spend a few days in the Sierra Blanca Mountains near the town of Ruidoso. We had visited there on a whim last January and LOVED it there so we thought we would take advantage of our extra days off from building and spend them exploring more of the area.

We left Las Cruces fairly early Friday morning and arrived in town just after 11am; another 10 minutes and we were at the trailhead for the 5 ½ mile loop trail we thought would be a nice, relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Beginning on the Perk Canyon Trail we walked the gradual incline up the surprisingly lush canyon, filled with green grasses that have popped up amongst the thinned forest. We were all delighted with the fresh air, cooler temperatures, and pervasive large trees but Abby positively ecstatic – she is a cold-weather, mountain dog through and through. It should be noted that while Tom and I had a wonderful weekend, Abby had the best 3 days since we left Utah. I thus took many, many pictures of my happy dog in her natural element.

Moving on, we hiked up over 1,200 feet over 3 miles on the Canyon Tral to the junction of the Perk Ridge Trail where we began getting vistas east over Ruidoso and north to the White Mountain Wilderness. Unfortunately, this larger area of national forest has been devastated by fire in the past few years and so the views north were marred by acres of dead trees while the forest we were hiking through had been thinned and cleared in an attempt to prevent future wildfires from reaching town; it was lovely but not knock-your-socks-off beautiful, if you know what I mean. The return down the Ridge Trail continued to provide views and was easy hiking following a jeep trail.

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After our hike we visited the Rio Grande Taproom in Ruidoso, sampling a couple flights of Sierra Blanca Brewing Company’s finest. I was enthusiastic about the Alien Imperial Stout, their (grapefruit-forward) IPA, Bone Chiller Brown Ale, and the Alien Amber but settled with the brown ale as my favorite considering the brisk temperatures, as it was a nice balance between roasted malts and lighter flavor with about half the ABV of the stout.

After staying the night in Ruidoso, we were out walking the dog the next morning before 8 at the nearby Grindstone Lake. There were a plethora of trails in the area but we decided to not commit to any of the hiking trails and just circle the lake – both on and off the formal trail – for a couple miles. Though bright, the day was already clouding up again which made for some less than ideal photo conditions; the walking conditions were ideal however.

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We had talked about a number of different hiking options for the day to be followed by an exploration of the shorter trails near Ski Apache (the highest trailhead in this section of national forest) but were both enjoying the easy walking without the objective of a longer, more challenging hike so we decided to skip ahead and start by taking our time on the mountain top trails. It is usually the case that by the last week in November the town of Ruidoso (which is at 7,000 feet) has had snowfall and the ski areas above 10,000 feet always have significant snowpack, but there had been a complete absence of snow up to the time we were visiting which allowed easy access to trails feet that would have normally been impassible without snowshoes. We elected to take advantage of this fact and start by hiking up the Scenic Trail, a 0.6 mile connector that rises 300 feet to just over 10,200 feet. The route switchbacked twice up a grassy ridge before we reached the junction of the Crest Trail/Lookout Mountain Trail. Almost immediately after we turned left at the junction the trail transitioned to forest – unfortunately burned out from a wildfire a few years ago – for the next mile before emerging again. I’ve seen photos of this once-pristine sub alpine environment and it is a true shame that all that’s left are charred, toppled trees, however the hike was really quite wonderful. It was refreshing to hike in the 35 degree temperatures, feeling the tightness in my chest after weeks of not hiking at elevation. At the next junction the now unmaintained trail seemed to disappear so we spotted the highest point within sight and trudged up it. At the top we found a cairn (which Abby posed near) and some expansive views. We turned around here and after reaching the car decided on a few more vista stops and a short walk along a random forest road before the sun’s angle in the sky suggested to us that we should return to the brewery for some Bone Chiller.

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