Picnic

It was sunny and warm at the Mud Shack.  Temperature around 60.  A rare rain shower had passed through.  A peaceful afternoon.  Working on editing some video for future posts.

Then the phone rang………………

TfabP and MrsfabP, friends newly emigrated from Massachusetts, called to remark on the beauty of the weather and suggest a picnic.  We were game for that.  They rejected the suggestion of going to La Llorona Park since we had been there a couple of times recently.  So we decided to go to Dripping Springs which is a Bureau of Land Management public access area.  There are numerous covered shelters in the picnic area and wonderful views of both the Mesilla Valley and the Organ Mountains.

The Dona Ana Mountains seen from Dripping Springs

 Now an understanding of the geography and elevations in the Las Cruces area are necessary to appreciate this tale, so please excuse this digression.  Many people embrace the opinion that New Mexico, consisting mostly of desert, is warm year around.  This is most definitely not the case.  The lowest elevations in the state are well over 2000 ft above sea level.  The Mud Shack is located in what is called the “North Valley” and our elevation is 3900 ft.  The main residential growth area east of the city proper is known as the “East Mesa”, rising about 4500 ft above sea level.  The highest peaks of the Organ Mountains, also east of the city, are 9000 ft high.  Dripping Springs, nestled in the foothills of the Organ Mountains and about a 20 minute drive from the Mud Shack, spans an elevation range of 5600 to 6200 ft above sea level.  Any hiker or person with knowledge of the outdoors is aware that with these sharp distinctions in altitude at relatively compact distances, weather conditions can be extremely changeable……..

As we approached Dripping Springs, clouds were racing up to the peaks of the mountains.  One minute there were beautiful views enhanced by the changes of light.

The peaks of the Organs

The next the highest peaks were obscured by the clouds.

The clouds roll in
Off in the distance we could see the remains of the last snowfall, about a week ago:
Snow in the Organs

The wind had picked up a bit and there were a few scattered raindrops at the picnic site we had chosen directly across from the trail head.  TfabP and my wife stayed in the shelter.  He had set up his camera on a tripod to attempt to capture the changing lights and scenes in the mountains.  My wife stayed with him, discussing photography and the geology of the region, while MrsfabP and I hiked up the trail to La Cueva.

The trail rises through sandstone foothills to a large cave, the site of an unsolved murder of a hermit in 1869.
Along the trail
Our destination
Entrance to La Cueva
Inside La Cueva

Since we had been briskly walking, we did not feel the temperature falling until we returned to the picnic area and saw TfabP and my wife with shawls and towels bundled about their shoulders against the chilly winds and dropping temps.  We decided to decamp to the Visitor Center about 3/4 of a mile up the road.  MrsfabP and my wife decided to walk, the showers appearing to have abated.  We two men drove to the Center’s parking lot.  As we stood admiring the views of the valley, the precipitation descended more vigorously.  The women appeared with hoods or shawls covering their heads.  I swore I saw a snowflake drift by…..
We entered the Visitor Center and chatted with the BLM volunteers manning it, all the while keeping a wary eye on the weather.  The rain had evolved into freezing rain and snow.  Within the twenty minutes or so we had been in the shelter of the Visitor Center the desert landscape outside was acquiring a white sheen.
Snow on a bush
Snow begins to cover the desert

As we left to make our way down to the valley floor, the temperature outside the car was in the low 40s and both the windshield and back windows required the wipers to keep them free of snow.  The defrosters were also going full blast.  In the space of a couple of hours and the change of a couple thousand feet of elevation, the winter warmth one expects of the desert Southwest had taken on all the trappings of the New England states our hardy band of picnickers had recently escaped from……..

5 thoughts on “Picnic

  1. Kind of like going to New Hampshire in the summer and thinking, gee, lets go to the top of Mount Washington in our shorts and T-shirts! You don't make that mistake twice!!

  2. Yeah, Mt Washington, at only 6288 ft, the highest point in the Northeast, is also known for having perhaps the worst weather in the world. But remember, there's a difference between going up to the summit there from most places in NH which are close to sea level and here, where we spend a lot of time living at an altitude about halfway up Mt Washington and routinely traveling to places higher than the NE behemoth—Santa Fe, our state capitol, is over 7000 ft above sea level!!

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