Thursday, September 13, 2018

Silver Creek Canyon-Gila National Forest

claim marker

Last year I visited the lower falls and box canyon of Silver Creek by hiking up from its confluence with Bear Trap Canyon. This year I wanted to visit the upper canyon above the Silver Creek Road to check out the falls there. It's a long drive to get to the start of this hike. I left the house at 8 and wasn't hiking until 10:30 or so. The Silver Creek Road ( FR 523) has a couple of bad crossings over Little Gallinas Creek, but otherwise is quite drivable.  I was glad to see the old cabins we had visited 8 or 9 years ago had not burned ( see "Silver Creek Road" in this blog).  The large Columbia Mine nearby which previously was concealed in thick forest was easily visible amongst the burnt trees.
About a quarter mile from  Silver Creek crossing, there are berms that prevent vehicles from traveling any further, but there is a large turnaround/parking area. This was all put in place, I'm sure, because where the roads meets Silver Creek, it is completely washed away. There would be no way to turnaround at that point either.
 There is a little bit of a mine road to follow up initially on the north side of the stream. Most people would not notice it. Past the mine there are a few old blazes on ponderosa pines, but the trail is mostly invisible.
Not to worry though, because the flood has left many parts of creek scraped clean to the bedrock which makes for easy walking. I continued up with my only companions the little yellow warblers darting in and out of the shrubs and bushes. There is one tough section of boulders and fallen snags, but after that comes the falls which are over bare limestone bedrock.

 Unfortunately there was just the barest of trickles when I visited. I plan to come back when the flows are better though, because this series of steep slides, cascades,  and drops will be quite a show. The whole section with cliffs and alcoves on the north side is very rugged and still quite scenic despite the damage done by the Silver Fire back in 2013.

At the top of the falls section there is fifteen foot drop. I tried to climb up the rock on the north side, but really couldn't get a good footing. I then decided to ascend a narrow break in the bedrock with small oak trees and their protruding roots, both of which I used for leverage.
  I got up on top and was now standing where I stood nearly six years ago ( see " Grandview Trail FT 146- Gila National Forest" in this blog). The forest here was as green and beautiful as it's ever been, even though I was only short distance from ground zero of the Silver Fire. A short ways upstream  the entire mountaintop had burned.

  The ascent up the canyon had been a little slow and a little warm but now the descent was quick and easy. Back at the road, I decided to explore to north on the closed section of the road which was  rapidly returning to a natural state with fallen  trees concealed in a thickets of wildflowers.
 I was looking down into Rustlers Canyon, when I decided I had enough. The road still continued for perhpas a 1/2 mile down across the drainage and then up on the other side. I could see the Mineral Mountain Mine and the plateau where it dead-ends across the way.
 I now began hiking back to my vehicle.  Squirrel-sized lizards ran out of nooks in the crumbling chalk like rock beside the road, and then seeing me, ran back in. I looked over to the rock bluffs of Haystack Mountains and down the bleached bedrock of lower Silver Creek. I enjoyed long distance views  to all of the western lands of the Gila. There were a few isolated thunderstorms well off in the distance, but just scattered, fast moving clouds and blue sky over my head.

 On my drive back. I saw a cinnamon colored bear right along the Royal John Mine Road.   It didn't really register with me at first that I was seeing a bear. The way he stared at me for a few moments  was more like something a big goofy dog might do.  I was wondering if the the hunters a hundred yards behind him had noticed our encounter when he ran off.
  As   I continued to drive down and down on the narrow and winding, but well maintained road,the rolling hills of green grass, with oak, piñon and juniper in the folds  along the lower reaches of Cold Springs Canyon warmed my heart the way only a Gila landscape can.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Three Rivers 2018 - White Mountain Wilderness, Lincoln National Forest

 Our first backpacking trip was to Three Rivers. The first time I ever caught a trout (in this case a brook char) on a fly was at Three Rivers. I fished this stream at least once a year, sometimes twice, from 2000-2008.
 On my visit in September 2008  I found the stream severely altered by flooding caused by torrential rains from the remnants from Hurricane Dolly that passed through the region that July. The fish appeared to be gone. I skipped 2009 but got curious again and visited in 2010.The brook trout were miraculously still there in small numbers as they were on my most recent visit last Tuesday (8/7/2018).
 A new rod, and a couple of successful fishing trips earlier in the summer inspired me to go have a go at my old favorite fishing stream for the first time in 8 years. When I arrived, the campground, where we've stayed a couple of times over the years was empty.  I paid my $6.00 fee, changed into my sacrifice shoes and began hiking upstream staying close to the creek instead of following the trail. The stream here near to the trailhead still looks much the same as it did nearly twenty years ago with large junipers and pines providing shade over a nearly bare understory. There are many use trails and fire rings. I tried a few of the murky pools as I went up with no success. I wondered if there will still fish in this section as I tried a few more with no luck either. Things then started to get really thick. The streambed was choked with fallen logs and branches.
 It looked as if the majority of the large firs and pines had died from drought, disease and having their roots stranded in the intervening years since my last visit. I have since been informed after publishing a short report on the Gila /Rio Grande Trout Unlimited Facebook page that there had been big blowdown about 2 years ago. New vegetation such as prolific bricklebush, willow and boxelder has begun to fill in extended sections now baked by the summer sun.
The growth made approaching the stream even more difficult. It was hot, and even though the water was still cold, I let this stretch be and hit the trail hoping for better conditions upstream.
 I didn't really find any. But I did notice that the water cleared above a section where the creek goes underground beneath  a massive deposit of gravel and sand from a side canyon.
 Little waterfalls, pools, crossings and clearings that had become so familiar to me  were difficult to pick out.  Our old campsite was unrecognizable.And the fish were not to be seen. Finally I saw a few in an utterly still pool. I threw a dry fly which did nothing but send them all scurrying around in a panic. Soon after I caught a toothy brookie in another pool upstream who was a skinny 9 inches or so. Then I caught another below a favorite  waterfall who was virtually identical. I hooked another but lost it and from that point on I entered the bizarre realm of masochistic fishing as  I bruised, scraped, cut and scratched my body while performing a kind of clumsy forest parkour using boulders and deadfall trying to get in a position to cast between fallen logs that were always hanging over a very few choice pools. If that wasn't the case, then I was struggling to push through new growth with blind footing beneath. Some of the tiny pockets that I managed to get to had fish that approached my fly, but many others didn't seem to have any, even though they look very much like they should. In times past, they would have been everywhere.The logistics of getting to a deep pool to cast your fly would've been tough back then too, but not this tough. I know I'm bit older now, but I'm still game for wilderness fishing, just perhaps not for conditions so unrelenting and unrewarding.
Somewhere between 2 to 2.5 miles in, the stream went underground for couple of stretches. This was unfortunate because it looked as if the worst of the debris choked and flood damaged sections seemed to be ending. I ate my lunch in the shade of maples and oaks, after trying one more familiar pool without success where I had caught several lunkers ( 11 inches or so is a lunker in this tiny stream) over the years.
 I walked back down the trail and had the idea that the fishing was over for the day. I just couldn't make it stick and continued to punish myself ( it definitely had ceased to be fun hours ago) as I sweated and stumbled for one more brookie. I had had the idea that perhaps the fish were only in the clear water above the enormous gravel deposit and probably would have reported as much, but then I as retried pool after pool in this lower section, I was quite surprised to hook and then lose a nice brookie, and then have several more bites in tiny pockets downstream of the old blown out dam.

I remembered a photo I had taken of fat fish with a beadhead fly still in its lip and now switched to a beadhead gold ribbed hairs ear that would sink on its own ( instead of using the downward pressure of the little waterfalls). I got a few more bites and more hookups from small ones  but never could bring  in another fish. I was sweating, dehydrated, exhausted and mostly miserable and I thought to myself : the fish are still here and I've even managed to catch a couple, but is this really a fishing stream at this point?
 I don't know. Certainly parts of the section  I traversed are reasonable enough and not any tougher than the old days. It may also be there is still good water above where I stopped with the stream more easily approached as well, so I may be back for at least one more investigation.
 Not everything changes for the better. You can't go home again. I can accept that. I'm glad the fish are still there and the water still cold, but it's not my place, my home stream, anymore ( see my blog White Mountains Wilderness Streams).

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Coyote Canyon Upstream- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 I had wanted to drive out to the large cattle tank/ reservoir at the confluence between Silva and Coyote Canyons. That surrounding area has seemed ripe to me to explore for evidence of past peoples. Unfortunately the road gave out close to two miles before getting there. I might've made  it through the washed out section if I had had someone with me with another vehicle, but the thought of getting stuck in the sand out there on an August morning when the temperatures were expected to reach 100 degrees seemed more than a bit foolhardy.
 So I got out and walked. Near where I had parked, there was large ( 20-30 foot high) earthen dam on Coyote Canyon. The water behind it had evaporated or leaked out, leaving behind a carpet of weeds growing in gooey black mud. Below the dam the arroyo  was a river of tall grasses. It surely had rained out here to bring out the summer growth and green up this valley between the Rough and Ready Hills and the Uvas Mountains.

 I walked along between the road and the bank of the arroyo, always keeping my eyes to the ground for pottery, chert flakes or manos ( and or metates). It's also just generally a good idea  to watch the ground during rattlesnake season, so it all worked out. At a confluence I worked my way down toward Coyote Canyon itself to investigate some cliffs. I passed a chunk of what had been a large  rattler as I went, perhaps the victim of some large bird.
The cliffs were of a loose, rough conglomerate completely wrong for petroglyphs, and their alcoves were small, too small to be of any use to humans. Now, I walked on the white gravel in the tunnel of tall grasses toward another set of cliffs.

Nothing much doing there either, so I climbed up the steep slope and saw the reservoir that was supposed to have been my original destination.
It was already to late in the day to investigate the surrounding area, so I began heading back. Mostly it's quiet in the desert, but in the summer when the water has arrived,  birds, grasshoppers, black bees, and flies add a little music. I like it. My return walk to the car was mostly on the road. I had gone a little farther than I had intended and now it was really quite hot. I made it back no worse for wear and tear though and then drove myself back to the city.
 A couple of day later I went out on similar mission in the Doña Ana Mountains walking around an area adjacent to where I had found some pottery a couple of years ago. It always brightens my day to see this little mountain range up close.  It was doubly nice because this area was greened up too. I searched the cliffs and boulders. I searched the slopes and flatlands too.  I didn't find anything but it was nice.

NOTE: the roads in both these areas have gotten pretty bad. I was using four wheel drive.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rio Ruidoso- Upper Canyon

Before we left to return to Las Cruces last Wednesday morning ( 8/1/18), I got in a couple of hours fishing on the Ruidoso River. I've fished it four times now: once on the Mescalero Reservation when it was still available to do so, twice going downstream from Two Rivers Park and now this time: my first visit to the Upper Canyon.
 I parked at a pullout near where Main Rd. crosses back over the river to the south side. I rigged up my bright yellow and brand new Redington Butter Stick rod and headed upstream. The water looked pretty good, considering the  stream had been flooding over bridges and brown as YooHoo just two days before. It was still at its normal summertime level of murky, (you could only see the bottom in the  shallower runs) but clear enough for flies. My low expectations of success, fishing so close on the heels of flood event, were quickly met, but I continued on upstream.
This really is a beautiful river. Shaded by tall conifers, wide enough for easy casting with only the occasional box elder trying to snag your fly, with beautiful small falls and chutes through gray bedrock, you can almost forget you are right in the middle of a busy little tourist city. Almost. Apparently Wednesday is trash day in the neighborhood, so the constant beeping of the garbage truck and the clanging of the dumpsters as they set them down was a good reminder.
 I headed back downstream after about an hour, some of that precious time wasted trying to thread on flies and tie knots with glasses of an insufficient magnification ( only later did I realized I had the more powerful 2.5X pair in my backpack all along), with not even a single bite, approach or even a glimpse of a fish.
 I walked around the bridge, half stumbling down the rocks and stirring up a bunch brown garter snakes in the process. The pools below the culvert and deep water where the stream ran up against a concrete retaining wall were my last remaining hope. I got a bite. Then another as I let the falling water push my fly below the surface. Finally, I got the fish on. It was a very different feeling with the super slow action of the fiberglass four weight. I had to play it a little more than I'm used to because of that, but also because the fish was a heavy rainbow that ran to 12 or 13 inches.  I released him and then continued fishing downstream but with no luck. Still, that was nice prize for 2 hours of effort and a fun way to start off with the new rod hopefully on a long friendship.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Rio Bonito Petroglyph National Recreation Trail

A couple of years ago when we were renting a house in Ruidoso for a weekend in early May, I had wanted to do this hike our second morning there, but it snowed overnight and we opted out. It was probably for best, because the road down to the trailhead is probably one we wouldn't have wanted to tackle without four wheel drive, especially since on the previous day we had our fill of adventure driving over in the Capitan Mountains
 The morning was cloudy and cool, but it didn't feel like we were going get any early rain. We turned off of NM 220 into the BLM's Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area. The road down to the creek is mostly good but has three rough, very steep pitches which necessitate high clearance and under wet conditions most definitely four wheel drive. We parked and made our way down to the dual trailheads of this loop hike. We headed east first and soon found a boulder by the trail with a few petroglyphs. We then made our way down to the creek where a large boulder sits in the water, its upper half  deeply incised with numerous petroglyphs.

The creek was brown and running about a foot deeper than average flow I would guess due to the torrential rains the previous night. We  continued east on the trail and quickly came to a little bridge made of three logs strapped together with 2x6 planks nailed across them. It was a bit crooked, about four feet above the water level, had no hand railings and my wife wanted no part of it, so turned around and headed in other direction for the western leg of the loop.
 One of the problems with this trail is it doesn't really spend very much time close to the stream with it's lush  greenery of cottonwood, willow and russian olive trees. Instead it climbs up on the benches above threading through the junipers and dryland shrubs.

Along the  way we found a flat rock with some cupules ( small grinding depressions) where there was a hand petroglyph on an adjacent boulder. Eventually we followed the trail back down to creekside where a small ravine comes in from the south. From there the stream banks widen, we strolled along toward an old adobe ruin in the distance. The ruin is not on public land, so we admired from a distance, and then crossed the bridge that was made for vehicles, which was infinitely preferable to my spouse.
 The loop turns back after the crossing, and even though we knew we had the log bridge waiting on the other end we continued on.
The trail goes up onto the rough mesa on the north bank, where we had occasional views of cliffs with alcoves and overhangs on opposite side.
I felt strongly that I would rather be down on the along the creek instead of up on the dry and shade free mesa where when the sun began to break through the clouds a bit it began to feel rather warm. I have a feeling the BLM most likely wants to keep people off of the creek perhaps because of cultural resources located there.  People do fish this stretch because we could use trails below, so I'm not totally sure why the trail  still has to go where it does. Nessie decided the optimal time to begin pulling really hard was when the trail descends very roughly down to a lower bench. Once down we worked  our way back to the petroglyph boulder we had seen at the beginning and where I could get  better picture of the goggle-eyed glyph on cliff behind it.

 Now we made our way the short distance to  the foot bridge. If my wife didn't want to cross it, we were headed back in the direction we had just come from. She didn't want to wade either. I crossed it once as a demo. There was one loose plank which was good to discover first before she crossed. I then began crossing with the dogs while she followed closely behind, We all made it and then hike back our 4Runner. This would be a fun place to return to and just explore without the trail. It also might be a fun place to come try and fly fish in the spring or fall.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Nogal Canyon Trail ( FT 48)- White Mountain Wilderness, Lincoln National Forest

 We rented a cottage in Ruidoso for three days. The cottage and neighborhood weren't much, but on the first morning we had about 15 elk come into the yard. That was a treat as were the mule deer, ravens,  and hummingbirds who came to visit.

 Our first morning, we took the long way round ( NM 48, NM 37, FR 400) to the Nogal Canyon trailhead. The lower canyon along the road is very typical southern New Mexico shady forest with pines, firs, and occasional aspen, oak, maple and the namesake walnut. The upper canyon in the White Mountain Wilderness in very different. It's mostly open with slopes covered in ferns, grass, wild iris and snakeweed. Along the creek and in patches on the hillsides are deciduous oaks,  and tree-sized locust. Just a very few pines rise above the broadleaf trees.

 I was hoping the creek would have some flow, but it was only a muddy trickle and that only in a few spots. We climbed upward, resting in the shade we could find, because it was pretty warm in the sun and blue skies at nearly 9,000 feet. We made it to the grassy crest with views over to the town of Carrizozo, and to Carrizo and other nearby peaks which were blanketed with low clouds.

 Here is the junction with FT 54 ( Tortolita Trail) as well which we could see faintly descending into the canyon. This is one of the longest trails in the wilderness but it doesn't really have its own trailhead at the lower end of Tortolita Canyon. One can access it from some very up and down trails that start in Pennsylvania Canyon or supposedly through some private property along lower Nogal Canyon. It's too bad because it could be a fun day hike  in what looks to be a sweet canyon, but instead it's only appropriate for a strenuous workout, or a backpack.

 We rested beneath a pine in a patch with a some spruce and fir trees growing lush and green and then walked along the crest south down to the alternate path for the Nogal Canyon Trail. There were tremendous views of Nogal Peak as we began our descent.

We walked in the creek bed itself for a ways for the shade the oaks provided and then rejoined the trail when the brush got a little thick. A few tiny clouds drifted in as we finished the hike just before noon. They gave no clue as to what the region was in for later that afternoon.
 It was nice to finish a summertime hike in the high country before noon as you should.  It was even better than we knew at the time because by about 2 o'clock it began pouring, I mean flash flood type pouring in Ruidoso and it didn't stop for over three hours.
 This was a beautiful, low key (just under 3 miles roundtrip) hike in an area that looks very much like some other part of the country like Colorado or maybe somewhere in the mountains of the eastern U.S.