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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Vallecitos Mountain Ranch

July 5th, 2014 · No Comments

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I went to Vallecitos to meditate in the woods. Like Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ​ For two years Thoreau lived alone at Walden Pond​, which is less than two miles from the center of Concord, Massachusetts.

​I went to Vallecitos Mountain Ranch for a six-day retreat​ deep within New Mexico’s Carson National Forest. It’s an hour by dirt road to the nearest settlement. But I was not alone in the woods: 22 of us had retreated there. I previously knew two of them as well as one of the two teachers.

​I went there to cut my connections to the outside world. The ranch is off the grid: We were cut off from the Internet, radio, television, telephone, and anything printed.​ Peter ​, the teacher I know from Boulder,​ discouraged reading and writing, although I did make notes. He also discouraged photography, except ​ for​ “real shutterbugs​,​” ​which includes me, of course.

I stayed in ​C​asita ​No. ​3, a simple and small room ​with ​a large floor to ceiling window ​of about 5′ x 7′ overlooking a​ ​ ​grove of aspens. The room came with a bed, a locally built desk​,​ ​an end table of sorts, ​ a garden chair, ​a mirror, a waste basket, a broom, and a small throw rug. It also came with two pillows​ (such excess!)​ ​, although we had to bring our own sleeping bags and pillow case.

​The Interior of My Casita

The Interior of My Casita

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​​The Exterior of My Casita and of Two Others​

The Exterior of My Casita and of Two Others

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​The casita was for sleeping. We meditated mostly in the lodge and on walks and hikes on the ranch and along the Rio Vallecitos.

The lodge overlooks a large lush meadow and ​two ​pond​s​ and is within hearing distance of the ​river. ​The ranch property of 135 acres has many aspens as well as evergreens. ​An immigrant from Ireland named Thomas Sibley homesteaded this land in 1898. The lodge, patterned after the great lodges of our Western national parks, ​was built in 1928 ​as a summer ​c​amp.​ Grove Burnett, who is now a teacher at Spirit Rock, founded the retreat center in 1993 after buying the property in 1991.

The View from the Lodge

The View from the Lodge

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​The View of the Lodge from Truchas Pond

The View of the Lodge from Truchas Pond

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​Muskrat Pond Is the Other One Near the Lodge

Muskrat Pond Is the Other One Near the Lodge

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​​One of the ranch’s landmarks is a large ponderosa pine. ​Jim Norton, the ranch’s executive director, says they estimate that it is 800 years old. On one of my short hikes I measured its circumference: I had to hug it twice to get around its 12′ 4″ girth at the height of my shoulders.

​The Buddha Tree​ and Its Attendants

The Buddha Tree and Its Attendants

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​For my longest hike on retreat I chose the Continental Divide Trail.​ It is the world’s longest continuous hiking trail and is the most remote of America’s three north-to-south long trails. Running 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, it is about 900 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail and ​more than 400 miles longer than the Pacific Crest Trail, the other two trails that form the Triple Crown of long distance hiking in the United States.

​I hiked only a mile or two of the Continental Divide Trail, which passes just east of the ranch. It was a part of my three-hour hike when one afternoon we had a choice of where we wanted to go on our one long solo hike.​

Only about two dozen people a year attempt to hike the entire C​ontinental ​D ​ivide​ ​T​rail, taking about six months to complete it. ​ ​I met five of this year’s through hikers, all of whom had started at the Mexican border more than a month earlier.​

​Ann from the Retreat Meets Two Through-Hikers​

Ann from the Retreat Meets Two Through-Hikers

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​This Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) Grow​s ​Along the Continental Divide Trail in Wild Horse Canyon​

This Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) Grow s Along the Continental Divide Trail in Wild Horse Canyon

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​The trail that returned me to the ranch from the CDT took me along the Rio Vallecitos and this lovely place.

​A Pool in the Rio Vallecitos​

A Pool in the Rio Vallecitos

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At the end of the retreat one of the teachers helped us prepare ​for our ​return to civilization. He suggested that some people we met will ask how the the retreat was. “Just say it was fine.”

So I’ll say no more. Yes, it was fine.


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