A charming pooling along Tesuque Creek

During my weekend walks up in the mountains, lately, I’ve been exploring a little away from the network of  trails that weave their way through the Santa Fe National Forest just above Santa Fe. It’s nothing you couldn’t do yourself; following a tributary of a mountain stream is not a particularly risky undertaking, especially if you are within earshot of a frequented trail. (Striking off boldly across country is another story. You’ll want a good map, a compass, some basic navigational skills, and the foresight to let someone back home know roughly where you’re going and when you’ll be back)

Creekwalking is always rewarding, and the watershed of Tesuque Creek feeds several small streams that run down wooded canyons with plenty of spots to sit and enjoy your temporary solitude. Some mountain wildflowers grow nowhere else than these damp and cool corridors. One of my favorites is blooming now:

A cheerful Spotted Monkeyflower

Little hanging gardens decorate rocky clefts in the shade:

A fern hanging above the creek

The tributary I chose was full of this beautiful flower, but one with a dark nature, hinted at, perhaps, by its deep color and oddly involuted blossom – the Western Monkshood:

The Western Monkshood, Aconitum columbianum

This isn’t the most poisonous flowering plant in the forest – I think that honor goes to the Water Hemlock – but all parts of this plant are dangerous to ingest, and its roots are particular potent, laced with aconitine, the “Queen of Poisons”.  Its other name is Wolfsbane.

Geologists love creek beds because these are often the best places to find exposed bedrock in wooded places. The upper reaches of the Tesuque Creek watershed cut into various parts of the crystalline heart of the Santa Fe Range, and on my walk, I found a place where the water had scoured right down into the living rock, gliding over polished granite in a gleaming sheet:

A glissade of water over polished rock

Fascinating details emerge in the wet smoothed stone. Other patterns are revealed in the boulders brought down by the water, like this beautiful granite pegmatite cutting across a finer-grained grey tonalite:

A coarsely-crystalline pegmatite cutting through dark grey tonalite

Wherever there’s a sunny spot you’re almost sure to find a butterfly or two, this time of year:

A Satyr Comma on an aster near the creek

In the Ancient Days every spring and pool had its Naiad, and you could be forgiven for feeling like these sweet transparent waters, pausing in mossy basins floored with gleaming coppery stones, conceal a Secret. Perhaps if you sit quietly enough. . .

Singing waters