Come on along with us for 5 days of camping fun in the Land of Enchantment, where we had some weird and close encounters with botanical beauties, a bare-butted gopher, a swarm of bees, and voracious leaf-footed beetles! All this, and more while exploring a National Conservation Area, a Desert National Monument, and a New Mexico State Park, all within the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem.
May 1-5, 2023
BLM’s Cave Canyon Campground is Frill-less but Free!
After a fun camping trip to the Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Conservation Area (NCA) last year, we decided to head back to see more. Our first day’s destination was to a campground along Cave Canyon Road, just a few hundred yards away from a protected bat cave. We had our pick of the 4 campsites, and after getting The Felix settled in, Luna was ready for a hike. Up the gravel road about 3/4 mile we stumbled onto Valley View trail, which turned out to be a splendid area to explore 3+ miles of this beautiful NCA. The wildflowers were in full bloom, birds were singing, and the views of the still snowy Sierra Blanca Mountains (Lincoln NF) to the west were gorgeous. Making a big loop, hiking out onto the top of a crest where we could see the Fort Stanton military cemetery, we bushwhacked our way back to the campground …. the three of us well hiked out. About sunset, we walked back to the bat cave, hoping to see some activity. No bats were flying about tho. The entire perimeter of the cave entrance is chain linked/concertina-wired/6 timed padlocked off, effectively preventing easy access. And to further discourage entry and vandalism, multiple signs are posted warning curious visitors about the need to procure permits and a guide lest thousands of dollars in fines and imprisonment befall those caught trespassing. Why?
The 31 mile long Fort Stanton Cave, the second longest cave in New Mexico and the largest cave managed by BLM, is home to 12+ species of bats, including a maternity colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats. The environmental conditions within the cave, especially in the winter, is ideal for the growth and spread of a fungus that causes white nose syndrome in bats. This pathogen has infected and killed more than 8 million hibernating bats across the US and Canada. To date, the presence of white nose syndrome hasn’t been detected in the bats living in the Fort Stanton Cave, but has been detected in cave systems nearby in Texas. To limit the chances of humans introducing the pathogen to bats inhabiting the cave, BLM and the USFWS have closed access to all but researchers with permits to study and monitor resident bats. If you’d like to learn more about this cave system, the bats, and the underground Snowy River that flows through the cave, click here:
Aguirre Spring Campground, a Desert Botanical Wonder!
We can never resist visiting this spectacular botanical oasis in the Chihuahuan desert …. Aguirre Spring. The long and narrow road leading to the campground passes thru a botanical garden-like landscape as it climbs out of the White Sands valley up to 5000 feet at the base of the east flank of the Organ Mountains. The vegetation is lush and wickedly prickly, wildflowers are everywhere, and birds, small mammals and the occasional deer can be seen. The campground itself is backed on the south and west by the massive and breathtaking Organ Mountains. This developed BLM first-come, first-served campground is usually full to capacity this time of year, but we lucked out. The place was nearly empty! Backing The Felix into a picturesque campsite (hey, they’re all picturesque!), we headed up one of the two major trails, Baylor Pass, to check out the flowers, and at dusk we trekked about the large campground and a ways down the access road, discovering more blooming flowers.
In the morning, off to finish the Baylor Pass trail, we spent the next 3 hours hiking up and down while enjoying many species of wildflowers, ornate tree lizards sunning on slabs of granite, giant agave leaf-footed beetles devouring banana yucca flowers, the occasional skipper moth, and gorgeous surrounding views of the Organ Mountains; peaks with names like Rabbit Ears and Sugarloaf.
Then the weirdest thing happened ….. a true phenomenon!
Roy and Luna were about 10 minutes ahead of me near the top of the trail, when he began to “sense” an intense humm/buzz/drone sound. Looking around, and curiously noticing Luna sitting stock still in the trail, he saw in front of him, moving through the vegetation, humming growing louder, a moving gray cloud rapidly approaching him and Luna! Within seconds they were engulfed by a swarm of what appeared to be bees; hundreds of thousands of bees! Taking his clue from Luna, neither moved a whisker as the whirlwind of bees seemed to pause to investigate them as a possible foe or food source. Then as quickly as the bees appeared, they flew on, up the face of the mountain, until they were gone, buzz and all! Fortunately, other than a case of shock and awe, neither Roy nor Luna were left unscathed. As I caught up with them (where they were still standing stock still in the trail), all I could “sense” was a hint of a humming/buzzing/droning sound as the bees disappeared over the mountaintop. Wow!
We’re these really bees? If so, could they have been the infamous killer bee variety? Or was this just an episode from The Twilight Zone?
Out and about early the next day, we chanced upon a mule deer, a herd of white-winged doves conducting their morning ablutions, and finally spotted one of the dozens of northern mockingbirds nesting throughout the campground, mimicking their repertoire of no less than 15 different variety of bird songs! I dubbed them the Aguirre Spring “roosters.”
Then a hilarious happening happened during breakfast ….. about 5 feet outside The Felix
Roy first noticed that the vegetation he had been looking at under a nearby tree seemed different somehow; pushed over? Disappearing? After closer observation, he then noticed a movement in the undergrowth and called me over to have a look too. One by one, the short to the tall plant stems and flowers were swiftly cut and yanked underground. When enough plants had been removed we discovered the culprit …. It was a Bota’s pocket gopher, about 8” long! Flash-darting out of his burrow over and over again, in a short time he harvested each and every plant in a body-length radius from his borrow entrance. When he had harvested all the grab-and-go goodies, he disappeared underground sealing up this entrance to his burrow so he could dine on his cache. Oh, another curious thing we noticed about this guy …… for some reason he had a bald butt! We wondered why all the hair at the base of his stubby tail was missing, exposing his wrinkly skin. Maybe it was a predator injury and he barely escaped with the hair on his chiny-chin-chin? Maybe he has an allergic reaction to burrow dirt that’s aggravated by flash-darting? Only Mr. Bota knows!
RockHound State Park and the Florida (Floor-eee-dah) Mountains
What a great time of year to visit this area of the deep southwest NM. Just 20 miles north of the Mexican border, the surrounding Chihuahuan desert can be viewed and experienced for miles and miles and miles in all directions. At first glance, mountain islands, like the Floridas and Little Floridas, appear naked, exposing their geological, and often volcanic roots. But upon closer inspection, especially in the Spring, plants taking advantage of scattered rainfall wash the usually brown and gray landscape in color. This is why we plan our southwest NM trips in the Spring, and like Cave Canyon and Aguirre Spring, The Floridas were vegetatively lush.
We had a fun 3 day stay in the beautifully groomed and well equipped RockHound Campground. Our spacious site came with a preparing-to-bloom century plant (agave) and still growing 25 foot tall flower stalk. And in a ridiculously spiny cholla right next to the covered picnic table was an active curve billed thrasher nest; dad was busy feeding 3 fuzzy chicks while mom sat on top of them in a the grassy cup shaped nest, not caring about us peeping Toms.
Hiking ….. We enjoyed the scenic loop trail north of the campground. This is an area where rockhounds can collect gemstones and other minerals. We just enjoyed the wildflowers and views as we chased scaled quail further up into the Little Florida Mtns. Our second day we hiked what was supposed to be the easy out and back Spring Canyon trail in the Spring Canyon Unit of the park. We’re not sure who rated this trail “easy,” because it was straight up through a narrow canyon, with an elevation gain of 700 feet in the first 3/4 mile alone! To reach the actual spring (a wet spot on the ground), that’s further up the canyon than an older mapped location, we needed to climb at least another 3/4 mile. But all my grunting and groaning paid off in a wealth of wetland wildflowers and birds.
Our first Escapito of 2023 was a success! The Felix functioned perfectly and warmed up for whatever adventures lie ahead for us! Thanks for coming along.
What are you up to as Spring matures into Summer?
Wow, a wildflower wonder! Your trip sounds so enriching with all of your sightings, hiking and the bee swarm visit was incredible! How did Luna know to stay still? What a smart doggie! That would be worth researching about that swarm visiting and moving on. The rockhounding sounds interesting to me. I have a fun collection that I’ve worked on since I was a child. Thanks for sharing your incredible trip! We had a wildflower wonder last weekend on a kayak-camp trip. I’m working on a blog post – stay tuned!
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Wow, can’t wait to see your next post Karen! I have visions of you kayaking in a humongous lily pond. And you’re a rock collector ….. I’m so curious about your specimens. We had a marvelous trip. And it was a wonder how stock still Luna remained, as she’s so wiggly and excited while hiking. I tried to find out more about those bees (killer bees?!?!?) but no luck. It was wildly weird. Thanks for taking the time to post comments. Always fun to read, thought provoking and appreciated!
What an exciting adventure! All of your journal pages are beautiful.
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Thanks so much Dee! The majority of these pages I completed or sketched out on site, which was great practice for me. I really appreciate your following and comments.
So wonderful photos of your drawing and dear your written article about the trip 🌷👍✍️🙏
A fantastic travel you did and the happiness can view with all photos dear friend ❤️🌷
Now spring season and you enjoyed the most beautiful places 👌👏 grace wishes 💕
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Thank you very much for the lovely comments Thattamma! I so appreciate your following my posts. Your comments always make me smile! Hugs across the miles.
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Most welcome and thank you for lovely comment reading time felt your hugs my friend 🌹🙏♥️
Have a beautiful weekend and grace wishes dear 💝👍🏻💐
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