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The Invitation: Aspen Vista Trail in the Sangre de Cristos

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A winter's day walk on Aspen Vista Trail, above Santa Fe

Gloomy weather is always Nature’s way of veiling a secret undertaking on her part that will take more than the usual effort on your part to discover. It’s much more comfortable to stay warm and dry inside when the day dawns with miserable cold rain and low grey skies, as it did in Santa Fe last Sunday. But bad weather is uncommon here, and I took this gloom as a subtle invitation to find out just what was going on up there in those obscuring clouds.

Bundling up in fleece, boots, and rain gear – and not forgetting to bring along a thermos of coffee – I pointed my car’s nose for the road to the Santa Fe Ski Basin and was soon surrounded by light fog and snow-covered trees. My destination was Aspen Vista Trail, a very popular walk high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains not far from Ski Santa Fe, about 15 miles northwest of town. This trail is such a favored destination that the Forest Service has provided a large area of parking as well as some minor picnicking facilities and an interpretive sign:

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When I pulled up, scrunching through some five inches of fresh snow, I was sharing the lot with only one other car. The telltale tracks of cross country skies let me know that another early riser had answered the morning’s invitation. I set off in an obscuring veil of cloud and the absolute hush of a forest newly covered in snow. The dense stands of aspen mysteriously vanished in the distance. The dark spruce and firs held their new mantle of snow lightly, stretching their branches in preparation for the heavier falls of deep winter.

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It’s impossible to get lost on the wide track of Aspen Vista, so I wandered happily alone in the quiet forest, slowly climbing through the leafless aspen toward the dense stands of Englemann spruce that cover the higher elevations of Tesuque Ridge, now hidden in clouds. No views today – just the peaceful isolation of fog and the squeak of my boots in the new snow.

And then I noticed what I had been invited to witness: out of the fog, from every twig, from every needle, from every spray of winter grass, crystals of frost began growing in tiny glittering spikes. The forest whitened in silent manifestation all around me. It was amazing.

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How lucky I felt to be present at such an intimate moment, concealed from all those who chose to stay home on a cold wet morning.

It wasn’t long before the same chill that drew crystals out of the air penetrated my clothes, and I turned back for my car and a swig of warming coffee. The snow covering the trees disappeared as reached the wet streets of Santa Fe. The mountains behind me remained hidden in their veil of winter clouds.

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