Elephant Nose: See how the tiny flowers look like an elephant’s trunk?

Today’s field trip ranged from Sound of Music moments in the La Junta valley of the Picuris mountain range to a good old-fashioned Dallas hail storm.

First we traveled 10 miles on a gravel road to a meadow at about 9,000 ft. elevation at the junction of the Canadian zone and the Alpine zone. We madly photographed wildflowers as if we were paparazzi at the Academy Awards: Elephant Head, Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, a white Indian Paintbrush known as Wyoming Paintbrush, Osha.

Leaving no plant unphotographed, we climbed back in the van for a trip to the top of the ridge, cleared more than 70 years ago by loggers. Nature regenerates forests very slowly. We saw more evidence of the logging operation than we did of a new forest. We did see a wonder of nature, the bristlecone pine, the longest-living organism in the world. These pines can live 5,000 to 6,000 years. The loggers left it behind because it is not a useful wood.

Instead of enjoying a picnic lunch on the ridge, we headed back down the mountain because of looming, dark storm clouds. Sprinkles, rain, then hail proved Dr. Ubelaker made a wise decision. He has put lots of miles on the van on our behalf and is very patient with our requests. We are rather picky about the temperature in the van and not terribly easy to please. Jean and I sit on carsick row in the front of the van and are grateful to people like Tracy, Regan, Carol, Jane, Les, Ruthanne and Jose who take the back rows.

Only Doug was brave enough to climb down into the pit house on a ladder missing a few rungs.

We ate our sack lunches back at Ft. Burgwin, then explored the archaeology of the area. Near the fort we saw an excavated pit house where Anasazi lived about 800 years ago. They dug round pits and lived underground with a hide covering the opening. A separate fire pit was connected to the pit house by a tunnel for warmth. The smoke plume from the fire left pit house residents vulnerable to enemies. Nearly every pit house excavated on the SMU-in-Taos property included the skeletons of a family with evidence of attack from above. Above-ground pueblo houses proved to be much more safer.

Our recent meals have been wonderful; last night we had pork, chicken and veggie tamales, black beans and squash. Tonight the grills are fired up for ribs. Although not typically a breakfast eater, I have developed a nice routine here: Greek yogurt, topped by organic and locally grown fruit ( the blackberries are as big as my thumb). Then the grand finale, homemade granola.

A new species of a mountain hummingbird has arrived at Dr. Ubelaker’s feeders, but I’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to see it. Tonight we’re going into Taos for an outdoor music performance on the square.

Time to gather yarrow leaves to have on hand after tomorrow’s hike. It’s the most ambitious hike of the week.

Facts of the Day

  • The Aspen tree is the largest organism in the world. An Aspen grove may be just one tree with many trees growing off one set of roots.
  • The Indian paintbrush is a parasitic plant. Its seedlings grow into the roots of another plant, and it sucks nutrients from that plant.
  • To be continued….

Wildflower paparazzi