The trip to the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico was fantastic! That area is so magnificent, I just want to go right back. It is an artistsí dream world. The scenery was spectacular and around each bend the beauty increased as the canyon walls rose higher. It was so grand. The river was flooded and there had been a huge forest fire the week before we were there but the fire was in the national forest and did not get down into the canyon. We had to cross the river about 50 times or so on the way to our base camp and I thought the smallest mule in the pack train (Ginger) was going to get swept away but she didn't. One horse went down in the river, our guideís horse (Chief), but he was so amazing that he got right back up immediately with the guide, still firmly in the saddle.
The Guide had to change our itinerary and move camp to a little higher in the canyon because the water in the Middle Fork was so charged with ash and mud runoff from the fire that we couldn't drink it. The water looked like chocolate. In that regard it was very inviting. We ultimately camped on a feeder creek called the Clear Water (and it was) then rode the Middle Fork every day. It was lush, cool, green, beautiful, magnificent, far better than I imagined. Peppermint grew lavishly along the creek and wildflowers were blooming all over. The
rich, red amber bark of the Ponderosa pine trees would glow as the light reached that magic time late in the day. The soil is deep, rich, black and luscious. Digging with a good stick (for personal reasons) was no problem at red amber bark of the Ponderosa pine trees would glow as the light reached that magic time late in the day. The soil is deep, rich, black and luscious. Digging with a good stick (for personal reasons) was no problem at all.
It was perfect sleeping weather, never too cold or too hot. In the mornings the cliffs were shrouded in mist and the trees on the top of the canyon would slowly appear out of the fog as the sun banished it for the day. We could never get enough of that ethereal blue mist as it mingled with the sunís first golden rays, nor could we capture it in photos. Perhaps a painter could come close. It was the rainy season so was often wet but the air would dry out quickly when the rains abated and you could hang your wet things out to dry. Birds were plentiful and I saw new ones for me including a bright-faced little Verdin. On one ride we surprised a Zone-tailed hawk with its youngster.
We saw a bear one day while riding which was exciting. Jim has dogs that he takes with him on these trips. They are part of his family just as the horses are. It was very reassuring at night to know that the dogs were in camp. And every night there was something that got them riled. Jim had a feeling there was a bear that was hanging around. Wolves are also in that area and he has encountered them before. There are mountain lions too but they are not so bold and tend to keep away from people. As you may well imagine, Jim has some incredible stories to tell of his wilderness adventures. One day he took us to an ancient cliff dwelling that he discovered and very few people have seen.
We rode about 10 miles a day, the trails were very rugged, often steep and dangerous but the horses were amazing athletes and conducted us safely, even through several yellow jacket attacks- one of which was on a steep and narrow mountain trail. The horses were being stung viciously and I got stung once on the head. One other person got stung too I think but the horses and pack mules took the brunt of it with multiple, continuous stings. If we had been on lesser animal it would have been utter chaos, especially on the side of the mountain. My mount was Cowboy and it turned out he was very fond of dried kiwi so I will take more next time. One day we rode up to the canyon rim and looked down into the awesome beauty of our temporary home. What glorious sculpture! This canyon, so incomparable and alluring, even seems to create its own weather.
I have some good pictures although lost hundreds due to a card malfunction. However, the truth is that pictures do little justice to the majesty of this area and they can't capture the admirable nature of the people I was with or express the beauty of the connection made with people and place on such a grand adventure. They can't show the vastness, depth and purity of the canyon or the smell of the air when the rain starts to fall on alluvial soil and pine. They can't convey the essence of the mint as the horses step on it and release it's magic scent. They can't impress the feel of the sting of the yellow jacket on soft horse belly. And they can't express the sensuousness of the dew running down the inside of your tent, reflecting the first light of dawn and then dripping, almost sneakily, onto your sleeping bag. They don't show the time and hard work that the guide must spend to prepare for a trip to make it nice, safe and successful for us. And they definitely cannot capture the heart and soul of the animals; the horses, mules, birds, bears, dogs, lizards, insects, that make it all so beautiful, so real, that make you think deeper and purer than you are use to.
On the way home I took a side trip to the Davis Mountains and enjoyed several hours of chasing birds, more scenery and even saw some wild Audad, which I managed to get pictures of. Bird of Paradise trees were in bloom and Damianita in its full glory, spilled over the roadside.
Back home in the studio Iím working on pieces started before I left. But, Iím chomping at the bit to get started on images of those memories and moments with horses and horse people in the majestic Gila Wilderness.
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