Wednesday, February 15, 2017

In Between Ridge- Sierra de las Uvas

Andrea, Seamus, Nessie and I did this little morning into afternoon hike on a sunny February Sunday. It was  a lollipop loop where we went around a little rocky ridge that sits between( and much lower down) Tailholt Mountain and a high mesa to the north. We parked and started out  about 1/2 mile off of the Corralitos Road. We walked along the dirt road  that heads north past Valles Tank. This road has been much improved as of late, the so even though we parked just before the first crossing of Valles Canyon,it is possible to drive most vehicles carefully down to the tanks about a mile north
Just past the tanks we picked up a good cow trail on east side of Valles and began walking uptream on the bank of a tributary canyon. We ate lunch under a juniper soon after.
Continuing upstream, our trail all but disappeared past where the two little arroyos become a bigger one at the base of the In Between Ridge. We went cross country now straight up the hill to investigate the boulders and cliffs on the spine of the ridge, and then continued on all the way to the little plateau at the top.
Here, the views opened up east to the Robledos and onto the Organ Mountains. At the edge of the cliffs, this spot had a wonderful "top of the world" feeling  that was achieved with only a minimum of effort.The wind picked up quite a bit as we looked around. It was a little annoying, but truth be told, the day would have been a bit too much on the warm side without it.

We headed down the opposite side, investigating  more cliffs,boulders and the top of the ridge.The views over canyons and mesas all the way to Big White Gap were impressive. Walking back on the road again we scoped out some places for camping along the way. I've often wanted to camp in the Sierra de las Uvas. There are certainly many attractive spots,  and perhaps now that the range is part of a national monument I'll feel more obligated to promote the area as a destination for tents, small trailers and maybe even a bit of backpacking.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doña Ana Mountains

I made a couple of trips out to the Doña Anas the last two weekends. It seems that over the last few years  I've been getting out there at least couple of times every winter, after having put the whole area way back on the backburner for many years previous. I still love it out there. The many problems I've written about over the years seem to melt away at least for a few moments with the incredible views in the glowing light of a winter afternoon.
 We  visited several areas  within Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and also within the restricted USDA's Jornada Experimental Range and similarly restricted lands belonging to NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center.  Locked gates block vehicle access to entire northern half of the range which is controlled by these two publicly funded entities, so travel is entirely on foot.
 I'll let you make up your mind on whether you want to participate in a little civil disobedience, just remember to respect the land, if not the policies of the institutions that control it.  On the first trip we parked near the locked gate  on the west side of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park. REMEMBER, THEY LOCK THE EAST GATE AT 5:00 PM
 On the second visit we used one of the two dirt roads off of Jornada Road that are part of the Monument, and then used the  very rough powerline road to access the  areas on the north and northeast side  of Doña Ana Peak. High clearance and four wheel drive are strongly recommended.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Meander Canyon-Sierra de las Uvas

After finishing my Las Cruces Public Schools hiking group's trip to Box Canyon, I set out to the Sierra de las Uvas for a quick afternoon incursion. Once again I was in the Bell Top Peak area, in this case directly below the mountain  in a sinuous little arroyo that I'm calling Meander Canyon. This desert creek starts  on the west side of Bell Top heading south and then makes a big turn to the east, where it begins its series of  deep horseshoe bends. The stream is mostly cut through soft,gray ash tuff and whitish conglomerates, but toward its mouth it winds through boulders of denser rock( which may also be ash derived).

After hiking in the canyon bottom,for my return, I climbed up to the bench lands on the north side that hang high above the arroyo,but hundreds of feet below the steeply rising Bell Top Peak. Huge boulders and junpers that rose from the pale grass, along with the views down into Meander Canyon beyond made this part of the hike much more scenic  than the first leg down in the trenches. Having found much of interest the vicinity in recent weeks, I looked, but in vain, for rock art and others signs of prehistoric habitation.

Looking across the canyon to the mesa where I had parked, it was hard pick out my vehicle. Recently dyed brown from its brillliant Toyota white, it now blended in with the desert earth. Warning to those driving through those low water spots along the Corralitos Road: some  of those puddles are deeper than you think and they all should be taken slowly,very slowly.
Sometimes I like doing this quick little hikes with very specific itinerary, instead of long walkabouts.They're well suited to winter days, when you may not want to start hiking when the sun has barely come up and temps are still in the 20's.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Las Uvas Walkabout 2- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Here are some photos from a second walkabout done in the same territory as the most recent post. This area is very rugged, and although not too far from the paved Corralitos Road,  it quickly gives one the feeling of being somewhere extremely remote. There are no roads, or trails and with  the exception of pasture fences,  virtually no evidence of modern man.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Las Uvas Walkabout 2017- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 The south facing escarpment of the Sierra de las Uvas is quite dramatic. From vast flatlands that extend for hundreds of square miles, peaks and mesas rise  an  abrupt 1000 feet.Dry mountainsides in alternating layers of orange and white are punctuated with steep boulder strewn defiles. It always feels like seeing a good friend as I rise  on the Corralitos Road up into the juniper and grass chaparral  of the central highland plateau where more peaks and mesas rise from the upper Valles Canyon headwaters another  1000 feet higher still.
 I've done  several walkabouts on the west side of paved road in this region, but this past Sunday I ventured out onto mountains and canyons on the east. As  before, it was a lot of up and down as the hike varied in elevation from little over 5900 feet to just under 4900 feet. Seamus and I sidehilled up steep ridges, dove down into rocky canyons too on the way out. On the way back we more sensibly tried a bit of contour hiking which led us more gently back to our vehicle.
 Along the way we had several raptors screech in our direction, had our first encounter with Montezuma quail who seemed so unfamiliar at the sight of a human and dog they didn't know how to react, only taking to air when it seemed like I was going to be able to reach down and pick one up.
 Water and sometimes ice lingered in pools where the stream bottom was washed clean of sand and gravel to reveal a pinkish orange bedrock where we found a few ancient grinding mortars as well.
 One section of a canyon got so narrow, it was like a miniature slot carved into the gray rock. This was where we were stopped by seemingly deep, dark, pool  of what was surely very cold water. We climbed around it and then tried  coming back up from the bottom to see the lower end of the little slot, but were eventually turned around by an increasingly unmanageable collection of enormous boulders just below our destination.

 We did find two heavy iron miner's bits laying in a big, empty pocket of one boulder. As with our recent discovery of a mine in another part of the Uvas, I'm not sure what they could have been  used to mine for, and I doubt they realized much of return on their investment in those pieces of equipment.
 It was still early afternoon as we headed back, bathed in the sun, but with just enough wind to keep us from getting hot( in January!).  We stopped more frequently than usual and I enjoyed the variety of views from high places after so many canyon hikes of late.We crossed bedrock rills, weaved through the junipers and saw the largest all thorn plant I have yet see.

 A thorn that is lodged in the rubber of my boot worked its way up through the sole, as it is wont to do, and poked me painfully enough to make me angry. I realized I  had no means of pulling it out, so all I could do was shove it back down and  after a good rest I just hoped for the best on the last mile back to the car.

 NOTE: The low water crossings along the Corralitos Road are prone to filling with mud,sand and water after storms. Be very cautious if you are not driving a high clearance, four wheel drive vehicle.