Scouting the Penasco

DSCN0885Half way between the sweltering Tulerosa Basin and the cool pine forests of the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico, we stopped to view the canyon where Archaic Peoples ostensibly took shelter in their travels thousands of years ago.

I like to know the woods I’m in. Coming to a new locality, I instinctively raise antennae to get a sense of my surroundings. Preparing for a fly-fishing excursion to the Rio Penasco beyond Cloudcroft (the highest town in New Mexico), I gladly tagged along with Richard and Leighanne as we escaped the desert heat with a short drive to the forests of the Sacramento Mountains.

DSCN0888At Cloudcroft, nearly 9000 feet above sea-level, a walk felt as good as a summer swim. An insipid shopping stroll among the boutiques was bearable, and a good seat at the neighborhood saloon with a western burger and an IPA was delightful.

We took a scenic drive along the mountain rim toward Sunspot. The westward views of the basin and of White Sands were exhilarating. Trailheads beckoned. We did the walking tour at Sunspot, a National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak overlooking the Missile Range in the basin. The dry, clean air with abundant sunshine makes this place an ideal location for scientific studies of the sun.

The birding was amazing: bands of western bluebirds roamed the pine-scented DSCN0911meadows; mountain chickadees and black-throated gray warblers fed among the shrubbery. I added Grace’s warbler to my life-list of birds. But what did all this have to do with fly-fishing?

Richard made a right turn onto the Upper Rio Penasco Road.  I’d never been there before, but I figured we were near the headwaters of the Penasco, the stream I would soon be fishing. A recent storm had flooded the river and dashed my opportunity to explore it earlier, but here at the springs, the sudden appearance of flowing water was exciting.

DSCN0912A rivulet spilled into the meadow. I left the car and crossed a short bit of national forest ground. What I found surprised me: the rivulet was tumbling into a deep clear pool. The cold water, several feet deep, at least, gave a pleasant introduction to a river I’d never inspected before.

That night, a monsoon thunderstorm rattled the basin in Alamogordo but left it with little rain (much less than the mountaintops received). I thought of the little pool at the headwaters, and found it comforting. The depth there; the tranquility of water in elk country seemed like a third eye in a meditative trance. It saw the long river below, and an eastern guy ready to fish it.DSCN0904DSCN0935DSCN0929DSCN0953DSCN0960

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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5 Responses to Scouting the Penasco

  1. Junior says:

    Great pictures! Some of these are new perspectives for me.

    • Junior says:

      Is the picture of the basin from Sunspot? And does the observatory overlook Dog Canyon?

      • The picture of the basin is probably from Sunspot but it’s possibly from a pull-off just before we got there. Unfortunately there was haze that afternoon (unusual for NM) but the sense of height and depth remains. The observatory overlooks Dog Canyon, though I think the canyon is technically a bit south of this image. And yeah, a lot of this was new to me, too.


  2. stevegalea6953 says:

    Beautiful country — it’s so foreign to me it seems exotic. Makes you want to go there.

    • Thanks Steve, It’s big country, for sure, with great diversity, and here there’s a huge amount of it inside just an hour’s drive, or so. I learn more every day.


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