Was there ever a greater mockery of summer than “summer school?” No, there wasn’t. We have summer school to blame for this very delinquent post on the Rio Grande Bosque. And for most other current reckless behavior in my life (like backing into my driveway wall as I was leaving my house for… summer school.)
But that’s okay, because now instead of a practical, timely, must-see guide to the bosque, I have a nostalgic, too-late-now, retrospective guide to the bosque. My guide will allow you to lament all of those things you didn’t see in the bosque this spring and yearn to see them next year (while also suspecting that this is an impossible dream, and vaguely wanting to die).
One night in the Jemez, my friend Molly spun us a campfire yarn of a famous thru hiker known as “Insane Dwayne” who lives in a canoe in the Everglades surviving on turtles and alligators (when he is not hiking thru things).
This set in motion a false-nostalgic train of thought that began with: Freedom of Choice(!), veered to Freedom to Ingest Turtles, and ended with: Could I (me??) live in the bosque? (I say false-nostalgic because I have never myself lived in a canoe, but I also somehow feel like I have.)
Could I live in the bosque? No, as everyone who knows how much I hate mysteriously rustling grass can tell you, I could not. But I could hike thru it. That is an attainable goal. The Paseo del Bosque is only 16 miles.
I could hike through it this fall and probably survive if I am well equipped and well versed in bosque flora.
For this reason, I am compiling a season-specific bosque reference guide, which I am archiving here on Spartan Holiday.
My purpose is twofold: to make you feel false-nostalgic pangs about the majesties of spring that you missed (yet somehow feel like you didn’t), and to ensure my own survival in any season.
Bosque Thru-Hikers Guide: Late Spring
The sweetest, most identifiable berry, and nostalgic crayon color. Has there ever been a berry so stacked, luscious, and fiendishly scrappy as the mulberries in the bosque this damp spring? Now they’re past season.
Always be careful who you tell about the locations of mulberry trees in the bosque. Do not tell bored teenagers or Amish people (who in my experience can clean a tree in three minutes) or little girls with buckets.
2) Yerba Mansa
You might still catch the lovely, and deliquescent yerba mansa, but if you pick it, God help you. This is an endangered flower slated for certain death, but for an entire movement called the Yerba Mansa Project devoted to resuscitating the potent herb in the bosque.
How would you have recognized it if you had seen it? “In the light of the setting sun the white petal-like sepals of Yerba Mansa radiate an iridescent glow that reflects an otherworldly palate of colors,” writes my friend, herbal sorceress, and project founder, Dara Saville.
Oh there is nothing I wouldn’t do for this flower whose roots are (according to Dara) “anti-inflammatory, broadly anti-microbial, astringent, anti-catarrhal, and tonifying to the mucous membranes” !
3) Ravenna Grass
Invasive Ravenna grass clusters in grotesque tussocks mostly near the zoo where it escaped from the Africa exhibit, in a way, way more boring version of Jurassic Park.
Ravenna grass is locked in a zero sum death match with yerba mansa, which makes it a mortal enemy of the Yerba Mansa Project. You can still see it; it will never die because it is invasive. Unless we all take it upon ourselves (during sanctioned workdays) to dig them up.
Which we will, as I have hope in our children, and our children’s children (although children shouldn’t be having children, IMHO).
4) Wild Irises
Louis, Carry, and I were walking by the clear ditch in late May when Carry noticed this electrifying patch of wild yellow irises. I didn’t know that irises grew near riverbanks. I picture them mostly as the hobby flowers of shrill-voiced English ladies, so I was suspicious and cynical, at first.
But then Louis screamed, “Lemon curd and buttercream!” I guess he was referring to their yellow color or something. It put me at ease.
Oh, Louis. Never will I have a more resplendent day in the Bosque than that day with Louis (and his mom) and his encyclopedic knowledge of native plants.
5) Bike-In Coffee
The Bike-In Coffee food truck, parked on Old Town Farm property (just southwards and eastwards of I-40), is a thru-hikers dream. It will be open until October but never dreamier than in the month of May.
It’s called Bike-In Coffee because, really, it’s for bikers and hikers, not lazy people driving their cars and bounding like spaniels up to the counter.
But if you’re smart, you’ll park two miles away and then hike in, loudly announce how hot it is, and how far you walked, so as not to be associated with those people who parked much closer. After a taxing day of eating only mulberries, you can relax a spell and order an iced coffee and giant slab of recycled chocolate cake (so-named from left-over coffee and spent grains procured from Ponderosa Brewing Co).
Or this blue cornmeal cake with farm cherries (which is probably already off the menu). I think no cake will ever taste as good as this cake in the company of my lone self, pining over memories of my old friends Carry and Louis, who had walked with me there mere days before. I’m not going to lie, at this point of my thru-hike, I will probably be tempted to flame out and hide from my sponsors in one of the horse stables with a plateful of cookie scones.
I want to tell my future self: “No. Keep Going. Those horses don’t like you. And there is so much more to see,” as future installments of this guide will make abundantly clear.
City life is hard–what with its density, urbanity, and impossible Chihuahuas. Sometimes a person just wants to throw off the shackles of civilization/summer school and go AWOL in the Rio Grande Bosque for a couple of weeks. I understand.
And so, we shall return in the fall to see what you missed late summer.