Friday, June 2, 2023

Exploring Las Vegas, New Mexico--not Las Vegas, Nevada

We picked a cloudy day for a drive north into the national forest just north of our campground at Las Vegas, New Mexico--not Las Vegas, Nevada. We got some sprinkles of rain, but we had a lovely view as we headed towards the mountains. A good friend has a second home in these mountains. While they are not there right now, he gave us great advice for stops to make in the area.

James had warned us that we will see lots of burned trees, and it was sad to see that he was right. This was the path of last summer's terrible wildfire. It burned almost 350,000 acres, the biggest wildfire in New Mexico's history. We drove by miles of charred timber today.

We could look up into the mountains to see the exact line where the fire stopped and the green healthy trees start.

We drove to their mountain house, and were greeted by the resident deer in their neighborhood. Then we took James's advice for a stop at Teresa's Cafe de Tamales in Cleveland, New Mexico--not Cleveland, Ohio--for a tamale smothered in New Mexico green chili. We love good local advice for food and sights to see!

Our next destination was to see how close we could get to Hermit's Peak. So we drove down more charred tree lanes trying to see this unusually-shaped mountain.

Rising up over 10,000 feet above the prairie around it, this rounded peak is unique on the New Mexico landscape. It was named after the hermit that lived in a cave on the mountain from 1863 to 1867. When the hermit left Hermit's Peak in 1867, he headed south to Las  Cruces. Sometimes our travel knits stories together. Denisa remembered visiting the cave in the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces where a hermit was murdered in 1869. It was the same hermit that this mountain was named for! After a drive down a maze of little gravel roads, the picture below was the best shot we could get of Hermit's Peak.

On another drive around Las Vegas, New Mexico--not Las Vegas, Nevada--we headed to Fort Union National Historical Site. A couple pronghorns met us at the gate.

For forty years between 1851 and 1891, Fort Union served as a military base and trading post. If you are keeping count, this is our fifth fort to visit in the last two months.

The adobe walls have melted away in the weather over the years. But the bricks used for chimneys of the row of officer houses stood strong.

Likewise, the rock foundations of the large storage buildings were still standing strong, with only part of the original adobe intact.

This fort served as protection for early travelers on the Santa Fe trail. In fact, wagon ruts from the original trail can be seen right outside of the walls of Fort Union.

This was the main supply trail that stretched 900 miles from Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The soldiers here protected that trade route. They also provided protection against the American Indian tribes that often robbed the pioneers heading west on the Santa Fe Trail.

Over 3,000 wagon-loads of settlers would pass by the fort in a year's time. They could restock and rest at the fort before continuing their journey. Traveling 8-10 miles per day, it was a long journey to cover the 900 miles of the Santa Fe Trail.

The most intact building at Fort Union was made of native stone. The building had to have durable walls because this was the jail.

On another drive around Las Vegas, New Mexico--not Las Vegas, Nevada--we headed to Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge. We wanted to hike the Juniper Loop Trail that we found on the map below.

But before we started the hike, we found a large herd of bison grazing on the prairie. We forgot to bring the good camera today, so the blurry picture below was the best we could do at this distance.

We did remember to bring the binoculars, and decided to see if we could get a closer picture using it. We looked a little like we were playing a game of twister as we were intertwined trying to hold the binoculars steady while holding the cell phone in just the right spot to focus down the binocular tube and still being able to push the cell phone button to take a picture. It took four hands to accomplish all those tasks, and we finally got one picture of the far-away bison that we deemed good enough to save. We got 27 others that we deemed only good enough to delete.

Then we headed down the Juniper Trail, secretly hoping that we didn't find any other animals because a cell phone just can't take a good wildlife picture. A phone does fine with landscapes, as we snapped this picture of Rio Mora--The Mora River.

Our perch at the top of the cliffs gave us great views of the river valley below.

We love the way that God decorates with colorful lichen. This flower-like round lichen was surprisingly large, and Denisa included the toe of her hiking shoes to show just how big it was.

After completing the loop, we returned to the trail head. This is a nice national wildlife refuge, with a picnic table and toilet facilities for visitors. 

We drove the pickup deeper into the wildlife refuge, and over the next hill we found that large herd of bison.

They were grazing right beside the gravel road, so Denisa kept snapping pictures on the cell phone. No binoculars were needed for these photos!

Each bison had a numbered ear tag, and they were almost close enough to touch. We've been blessed with another fun wildlife experience on this drive around Las Vegas, New Mexico--not Las Vegas, Nevada.

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