From Ruidoso, we had planned to work our way back to Arizona to resume section-hiking the Arizona Trail. Well, fire season has begun and things are so dry and crunchy and the fire danger so extreme, the powers that be decided to close parts of several national forests, as well as some state lands in Arizona. This impacts quite a few passages of the AZT and, naturally, these are some of the areas that are hike-able in the summer months and where we planned to go. Of course. I hope the closures are effective, but it seems to me the type of yahoos that cause forest fires are likely to be the same ones who will ignore the closures and enter the forests anyway. (Case in point, a friend told me of three fires intentionally started over Memorial Day Weekend - why would anyone do that?) I also feel badly for all the local businesses impacted, many of whom rely on valley residents fleeing the sweltering summer temperatures to head north.
Fortunately for us, there's lots to see in New Mexico! There are fires and closures here as well, but the closures are less extensive than those in Arizona. So, we opted for some dispersed camping not too far from Ruidoso, in the Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. The fort was established In 1855, by the Army as an Infantry and Cavalry post to protect settlers in the region from the Mescalero Apache Indians. Coming and going, our timing was off to explore Fort Stanton, so this will give us an excuse to go back! This area also includes Fort Stanton Cave. At over 31 miles, it is the second longest cave in New Mexico. From what we could tell, one has to obtain a permit to go into the cave. This is to help protect areas with heavy bat populations from White Nose Syndrome which has, apparently, killed millions of bats. Fine by me since being in small spaces underground does not sound like fun.
As close as this area is to the towns of Ruidoso and Capitan, we were pleasantly surprised how few people we saw, especially considering it was a holiday weekend. We only saw a few cars pass by on a nearby road and otherwise had the place to ourselves.
This was really a relaxing week. We found a meadow campsite with a nice shade tree (juniper, I think), for which we were very grateful! The smell of the Pinon Pines hit us as soon as we opened the truck doors. It was pretty warm and windy, so walking around was limited to early or late in the day. It was very comfortable in the shade, however, reading and enjoying the views.
We soaked in sweeping views of the surrounding area, including the Sacramento and Capitan Mountains and Carrizo Peak. The area has many trails, but the terrain is easy walking and cross-country travel is allowed.
We are quite careful where we let Baron off-leash (listening when he's focused on a critter is not something he does well!), but since there was no one else around and the only critters we saw were a few antelope on the way in, he got to enjoy some running around time. It's been awhile since we've been in an area we felt comfortable letting him roam, so the first time I let him off leash, he looked at me with an expression of "Really? I can go run?! Yes!" He was a very good boy and never took off.
We were surprised to find as much trash as we did. We collected it throughout our stay and were able to haul it all out except a couple rust buckets. As with most places we've been so far, we left feeling like we need to go back and explore more.