by Dr. Denise R. Ames
October is alive in all its splendor. My favorite month! October and hiking fit together in New Mexico, and there are plenty of areas to hike in the fifth largest state by area in the U.S.
I recently ventured to a new hiking trail, the Oak Flat Trail, located in the Cibola National Forest east of Tijeras, New Mexico, about a 20-minute drive from my hometown of Albuquerque. The trailhead is located in a massive camping area with room enough to accommodate hundreds of campers. But strangely, the site was closed to campers, so the eerie quiet spread over us. There was only one other car in its vast parking lot.
Undeterred, we made it to the Oak Flat Connecter trailhead and started on a slight downward incline. The area is 7,660 feet above sea level, and is relatively flat, except for the initial decline.
The one thing I love about October in New Mexico is the air. Although the fall colors are stunning and the azure sky sparkles above, it is the air that dazzles me the most. It is hard to describe the air, since it is mostly a feeling. Everything in the October air is clear, it is like seeing through a filter that has filtered out any cloudiness or imperfections. What emerges is a crystal synthesis of light bouncing off other light. A yellowish hue that dances through the air. I can see why painters love to paint in this atmosphere, since it enhances the sights of everything around me.
It is delightful to walk through woods and catch moments when the air sparkles and glistens, as if it is showing off another reality that I am privileged to be given a fleeting glimpse of. What better way to connect with nature than to have her show off one of her most stunning features: pure air unmasked from any imperfections.
The hike featured some already-turning-brown scrub oak dotted across the open areas. The official name for what I have always called scrub oak, also called oak brush or white oak, is Quercus gambelii, with the common name Gambel oak. It is a deciduous small tree or large shrub that is widespread in the foothills and lower mountain elevations of western North America. In fact, one of the trail connectors we ran into was Gambel Oak Trail.
Although the scrub oak is not particularly attractive by itself, blended in with other trees and scrubs it is a pleasant juxtaposition of diverse flora on a mountainous landscape. I looked for squirrels dashing about collecting acorns for winter consumption, but they must have been hiding from me that day.
We took one of the connecting paths cleverly called Easy Pickins to a scenic overlook of the valley and other mountaintops from the crest of one of the hills. (I never figured out what was easy to pick.) It was fun to climb upwards in search of the perfect view of the surroundings.
We next encountered a foreboding named trail in the labyrinth of trails crisscrossing our small section of the vast Cibola National Forest: Deadman Trail. We wondered if the dead men were the prey of hungry bears packing away the calories in preparation for their winter hibernation. We were on the look-out for the elusive animals but did not record any sightings.
We trekked down Deadman Trail for a while and then decided it was time to backtrack to the Oak Flat Trail. We climbed back on the Oak Flat Connector Trail and headed to the deserted parking lot. Our wobbly legs had been given a workout and we were delighted to witness some stunning views along the way.
As we climbed into our car and headed out of the campground, I said to myself a note of gratitude that October in New Mexico did not disappoint me on this hike, it was magical once again.
About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames
Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units.
The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program GATT, Global Awareness Through Travel. GATT is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates five pathways—a holistic world history, cross-cultural awareness, multiple worldviews, significant global issues, and personal well-being—into her unique approach to gleaning all the wonders travel has to offer us.
Dr. Ames lives in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico with her partner, Jim. Her family includes two adult children and their spouses, and three adorable grandchildren.