Trigo Canyon, Part 2: Between Mist And Schist

Me and Mag can tell we’re in for it weather-wise all the way from the grocery store parking lot. Looking east from Los Lunas twenty miles out, we can see the Manzanos. There’s snow on the peaks and in the canyons. Fog is pouring over the ridge line — a cataract unfurling in slow motion.


We’re undaunted, though, so off we go in my station wagon. Seems at least worth a try to hike up to Capilla or some other zenith above the 10,000-foot contour line. It’s not like we’re going to get buried in an avalanche or anything.

Of course, the car’s already fishtailing bad in clay by Tomé Hill. This continues for the next hour or so until we reach the defunct JFK campground. It’s a fine line between getting hopelessly stuck and careening off the road. The trick, I think, is to pretend you’re boating. Then all the slop in the handling becomes a little more manageable.

No wonder the suburban Eden developers have in mind for this part of the Albuquerque Basin hasn’t taken off. (Was Rio Rancho the same — a land of silt and clay brought down to the low places by the Rio Grande and its tributaries?)

Headed Up

Eventually we make it to the parking area and set off down the same Trigo Canyon Trail Andrés and I began on during our initial exploration last month. At first the ground was clear of snow but saturated with meltwater, and our boots sank deep. However, it wasn’t long before we’re crunching through a few inches, then several inches, then over a foot. Skies darken as we hit the deep stuff.

The unconscious is an ever-changing stew capable of bringing very different thoughts to mind even when you’re supposedly looking at the same things. All it takes is time. Last visit, I was consumed with the mission of finding a secret climbing area. As a result, my eyes were drawn to surfaces that looked climbable. Other details fell by the wayside.

Green Schist, Ivory Quartzite

This visit, maybe because the dawning of a new year had me perusing my memories of the last one, the gentle stream and severely tilted rock layers recalled those of Provo, Utah’s Rock Canyon — a frequent destination for me last summer and one with many happy memories associated with it.

There are places in Rock Canyon where layers of dolomite and quartzite are tipped vertical like the pages of a cartoon flip book. While not in as dramatic a fashion, perhaps, Trigo Canyon displays similar outcroppings composed of foliated green-grey schist and fissured ivory quartzite, both of which are of precambrian vintage. Both of which have only recently been revealed, in one way or another, after eons of being heated and contorted underground.

Layers Of Life

The biome is layered too, though the layers bleed into one another in a way layers of schist and quartzite do not. The drive takes you from verdant farmland and cottonwood bosque along the river; up and over to acres dominated by cholla and invasive tumbleweed; and finally through grassy foothills dotted with ever-increasing numbers of one-seed juniper, which from a distance seem to hover above the ground like weightless orbs.

Once you step out of the car and start stomping upwards; alligator juniper, piñon pine and scrub oak cede to ponderosa pines, which, in their turn cede to aspens and firs where the air really starts to get thin.

This is another facet of New Mexican adventuring I love: The opportunity to pass through so many ecological communities in a relatively short time. Change the environmental parameters slightly — temperature, sunlight, precipitation, soil composition — and the wellsprings of life flow in radically different directions.

The Practice Of Turning Around

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, something that’s extremely difficult for me to do when I’m out and about is stopping and turning around. This problem is only amplified when I’ve got someone else with me.

Recent psychological research suggests that the will-power to say ‘no’ works like a muscle. Not only can will-power become fatigued via acute overuse, it can also be strengthened via conditioning. Having this in mind, I will very occasionally practice cutting hikes and climbs short provided there’s some weather or some other act of God I can use as an excuse.

Today my excuses were knee deep snow, a difficult-to-discern trail, mist obscuring everything above 8,500 feet or so, and plunging temperatures. We could have continued on, but we decided not to. Maybe we’re stronger for it.

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