The Acceleration Into Summer

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Cerrillos Hills State Park has a number of trails, all of which you can see on the maps found on the website cerrilloshills.org. There is little shade in the park and your exposure to the sun is high, so be prepared with hats, water, and sunblock. Pets are welcome on leashes. Broken Saddle Riding Company uses many of the park’s trails for escorted horse rides. Since this is a State Park, there is a $5 day use fee, payable at the parking area near the entrance of the park. There are no camping facilities.

Apache Plume in full headdress in the Cerrillos Hills

We are moving rapidly into summer, here in the Southern Rockies, and the natural world is bursting with activity. My favorite change can be seen from here in Santa Fe, looking up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east: the grey expanses of aspen high on the mountains are donning their bright yellow-green coat, with the usual suddenness that never fails to impress me. It’s a look as soft as the fuzz on an elk’s new antler, and as welcome as summer itself.

Red columbines along the Winsor Trail above Santa Fe

The alchemy of change is strong up there among the leafing aspen, and this is that brief moment of transition when the fairies appear in the forest. By which I mean, the fairy flowers; those two species that seem the most fairy-like of all our woodland flowers here – the diminutive Red Columbine, and the elusive Calypso Orchid.

A flower like this, bright red, with nectaries perched well up into tubes, is naturally pollinated by hummingbirds, and you can hear the flying jewels chattering under the forest canopy and whirring about. The complexity of this flower is fascinating:

Hummingbird’s view of a columbine

Even more intriguing are the ephemeral Calypso orchids, or fairy slippers. After finding just one of these, years ago, along the Bear Wallow Trail, I have been searching in vain for another look. Our wet winter must have been the key to my luck this year, because I found an entire cluster of these beauties:

Calypso bulbosa along the Winsor Trail

This orchid has a surprisingly sweet fragrance, although I have to warn you that you’ll have to put your head practically on the forest floor to enjoy it.

Meanwhile, here below, in the more arid hills, a tougher set of flowers is showing off its resiliency. Our newest State Park, the Cerrillos Hills State Park, south of Santa Fe, has been offering a variety of nature walks including a Wildflower Walk.

There were splashes of color everywhere:

Paintbrush growing among the rocks

Verbena

This was a very pleasant way to spend part of a Sunday afternoon.

You can keep track of activities like these by visiting the New Mexico State Parks website. And if you prefer to explore on your own, local bookstores like the Travel Bug, Collected Works, or the Nature Center at the Randall Davey Audubon Center have good selections of guidebooks, from the most basic pamphlets, to tomes only a botanist could love.

Getting There: Cerrillos Hills State Park is about 25 miles south of Santa Fe, just a couple of miles off of Highway 14, the famous “Turquoise Trail” that connects Santa Fe to the eastern outskirts of Albuquerque. Turn into the scenic little village of Cerrillos, and then turn right at the sleeping dog – er, first stop sign, and follow the dirt road past the railroad tracks and Broken Saddle Riding Company to the park. Be sure and bring $5 to pay the day use fee.

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