Snowline in the Pecos

By Becky Fitzpatrick

It has been a big snow year here in the Pecos Wilderness in the Santa Fe National Forest. Not only here in the Pecos, but all across the Southwest and Colorado snowpack levels are recorded as high this season. Not only is this good for stream flows, wildflower blooms, and early wildland fire prevention, it is also fantastic for tracking animals in the snow!

Purple Iris and Yellow dandelion remind me of a passage from the book Braiding Sweetgrass discussing why these two colors look so good together

On an early season overnight, myself, co-ranger Doug Campbell, and intern Kat Deutsch from North Carolina State University backpacked to Horsethief Meadow. We found the usual stray campsites too close to water or the trail, a few invasive thistle species, deadfall across the trail, and a handful of forrest visitors, including volunteer trailworkers from the Kids Mountain Camp. Thank you for your work!

Bobcat track next to a handsaw for scale.
Weasel tracks in a bounding gait.

The following day I surveyed the trail up to Johnson Lake. Snow began below the trees around 10,500 feet and was well above my waist height in drifts by 11,000 feet. For most of the trip I was able to stay on top of the snow, sinking through only occasionally. By mid-morning the sun had warmed the snow’s surface just enough to create excellent snow tracking conditions. I found a bear track in the mud, a beautiful trail of bobcat tracks, a bounding weasel trail, multiple coyote, and a set of robin tracks in the snow.

Robin Tracks.
Coyote trail.
Bear track.

Three weeks later and the snow is melting fast, but still present!

Cornice near jct. Trail # 24 and Trail #251.

From the jct. of the Divide Trail #36 in the Carson NF and the Skyline Trail # 251 in the Santa Fe NF, Hermit’s Peak is a distinct geographic feature.

Hermit’s Peak

Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine grows in thin rocky soils, and can be found at the top of Hermit’s Peak. Corkbark Fir grows at mid to high elevations 7,500-11,000 ft. and has a spongy cork-like bark.

Corkbark Fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica)
Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine (pinus aristata)

With such amazing views, plants, and animals, it is hard to ask for a better place to work than the Pecos Wilderness.

View of the Sangre De Cristos from the Divide Trail.
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