Big Trees and Mushrooms: The Hunt for Fall

By the third weekend in September I was so ready for autumn. Though it was thankfully down into the mid- to low-90s in Las Cruces I was really craving temperatures in the 60s, along with the characteristic crispness that seeps into the air and the yellowing of the aspen that signals the change of seasons. Luckily I found all that in the Sacramento Mountains, just 2 hours away by car. The city of Las Cruces is relatively close to multiple mountain ranges but before this year I’d largely neglected the Sacramentos in favor of some of the others. But because they receive more precipitation than the Sierra Blancas to the north or most of the ranges in the Gila National Forest a couple hundred miles to the west (between which is the city of Las Cruces) I was hopeful I’d find more aspen there so I made it my mission to explore.

And I did… but mostly I found grand, towering fir trees and mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms. On two concurrent weekends we hiked sections of the 31.2 mile Rim Trail which – as you probably surmised – follows the edge of the range. This western flank captures much of the moisture carried over the lowlands from the Gulf of Mexico and thus, much my surprise, captures enough water to support mosses, ferns, and yes, mushrooms. It was very much reminiscent of the low-elevation modified maritime ecosystem of northwestern Montana in which spruce and fir co-exist with precipitation-loving ground flora shaded in the towering canopy.

Whatever the ecosystem, these two weekends convinced me that I needed to spend more of my coming year in these mountains, hiking beneath the lofty conifers that cling to the edge of the sky-scraping range. My first few weekend explorations also turned up multiple pockets of aspen between the dominant conifers, a couple of which were tinging colors or had shed multi-hued leaves at the time but put on a spectacular show in the following weeks.