Monsoon Green in the Sierra Blancas

The morning after the fifth (and last!) house was issued a certificate of occupancy we lifted the jacks on the RV and rolled up the mountain to Ruidoso for the month of August. We arrived with monsoon season still in full swing, the earth greened and the wildflowers blooming from daily afternoon rains. Abby and I hiked pretty much every day while we were there but our first hike as a threesome was a jaunt up Nogal Canyon which, once we had accomplished, unanimously extended to loop trek around the peak.

We had done this route on a chilly Thanksgiving weekend a few years back but found this section of the high country positively verdant in summer – and quite a bit prettier. Once at the saddle there were lovely views over the White Sands basin, but the surrounding peaks and miles of grassy ridgelines were so much more lush and appealing to us as we wandered south near the intersection with the Crest Trail.

By this point we had unintentionally separated by a few hundred yards as I, eager to see the next vista, powered up a rise of a 150 feet. From this new vantage point I was gazing out over the endless meadow when movement caught my eye, and within a couple seconds I was watching as a black bear lumbered up over the lip of the canyon less than 30 feet in front of me. I’m not sure which one of us was more astonished to not be alone there but thankfully my yell and raised arms startled him and he quickly ran off, crashing down the opposite hillside towards the canyon we’d ascended. Once out of sight I ran back to Tom and an alert Abby whose ears were cocked, listening the retreating cacophony of breaking trees.

As soon as our new friend was out of earshot and my heartbeat had returned to normal we three continued on, soon entering the miles of scrub oak on the steep west face of the peak. Breaks in the foliage produced some fantastic views over the lowlands along this stretch but the badly overgrown trail provided more cover and snags than anything else so we found ourselves grateful to emerge once again on the high grassy ridge. From here we had some excellent sightlines up to Nogal Peak; this good fortune continued as we began our descent skirting the high ground. Less than a mile before we reached the Nogal Peak trailhead – and where we’d have to cut north back to our truck – the rocky outcroppings that overlook Skull Canyon emerged from the oak and we took a pause to eat snacks and take lots of pictures of Abby who wavered between indifference (when we were photographing her as she overlooked the canyon lip) and reluctance (as we attempted to take selfies). It was beginning to heat up by then, even at this elevation, and we were glad to be within a couple miles of our destination and the promise of a cold beer waiting at the RV so after leaving the exposed ledges we hoofed it back.