Thursday, November 16, 2017

Indian Hollow, Dripping Springs- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Last Friday I took a group of 11 Las Cruces Public Schools staff and family members for a hike on the Indian Hollow trail on the east side of the Organ Mountains. It was probably my 10th time back there,but I hadn't been in at least 5 years. That, and being able to see it through the eyes of those who have never been, made the experience fresh and vibrant. Not that the imposing views of Sugarloaf and the high peaks of main ridgeline ever get old, especially when, on the slopes below, the ash, oaks, maples, and aspen are in their full autumn color.
It was beautiful day, if a bit warm. The trail was easy to follow,if not easy, as ever. Everything looked much the same as it always has in the 20 or so years I've been hiking there with just one exception. Right where the trail parallels and then crosses the main canyon that comes out of Indian Hollow, the Abrams Fire did extensive initial damage burning large live oak and juniper trees plus all the shrubs and smaller trees that once lined the stream banks. Secondary damage from flooding has stripped the soils away and exposed a wide stream bed of large bare boulders.  We didn't make it to the conifer forest behind Artemis Temple,but instead took our rest in the grove of Gambel oaks that sometimes serves as campsite for the rock climbers visiting Sugarloaf.

 On Saturday morning I went out solo on the east side of the Organs, starting out at the Dripping Springs visitor center with the main trail and then turning off north onto the Crawford Trail.Shortly thereafter I struck out east off trail, passing by some old wooden ruins early on that were almost completely hidden in the high golden grass. From there it was up to the piles of loose rock deposited by the rock glaciers descending from the wall of peaks directly east.

I began a trudge on a slope heading southeast. It was steep and slippery, but mostly shady, which was a good thing given my slow pace. Using an ash walking stick I had brought and a dried sotol stalk in tandem I leveraged myself  up to the saddle, and then continued climbing on the increasingly narrow,rocky little ridge.

Eventually, I found a deer trail that led me through some pinons,live oaks, and mountain mahogany clustered tightly against the rocks all the way up to a second saddle where there were views  both to the south and north. Nearly a thousand feet below me was the old hotel, sanitarium and stage stop of the  19th century Van Patten mountain camp.

To the south and southwest were Squaw Mountain and the ridges and peaks that extend eastward from the southern Organs. To the northeast, the views extended across the east mesa to the Dona Anas, Robledos, and Uvas Mountains all the way to the Black Range 100 miles away.

 I might've gone a little farther,but I felt a little unsure without a companion so I called it the turnaround point at around 10:15. Initially, I followed the same route down,but then wandered out onto a ridge that extended to the southwest  all the way down to the Dripping Springs trail. It was rough here and there, but I came out  with relatively few holes and scratches, certainly far fewer than I was expecting from the cholla, prickly pear and lechugilla. All along I could see and hear practically every word( sometimes they sounded so close I was sure another hiker was nearby) from the many people taking advantage of the entrance fee being waived for Veteran's Dan weekend. None seem to notice me, a small lone figure, on the side of huge mountain.
NOTE: After checking on Google Earth and topo maps, the Dripping Springs hike that I did appears to crossover onto to military lands.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mars Canyon- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

  I went on this little exploratory hike with David and Nancy Soules on Sunday. We started out from the Achenbach trailhead but headed out northeast, first in the arroyo then on a road. Along the way there is a ruin of a concrete structure now with only two walls standing. Nearby, there was an iron pipe sticking above the ground from a long abandoned well.
 One of the fun things about this canyon was the abundance of New Mexico buckeye, a shrubby little deciduous tree with large seed pods, which isn't particularly common in most areas of the Organs. It gave the whole canyon a wonderful dash of desert fall color.

 There is a trail of sorts once the road gives out, and then cairns here and there beyond where the tread is indistinguishable from the many other pathways on the canyon floor. We ended up high  on the north hillside following one set of the little rockpiles,but really this was a mistake as the footing was very treacherous on the numerous rockslides we encountered. David and Nancy and their dog Hank slowly backtracked to the stream bottom. I went a little further ahead,but then also ended up back down in the watercourse. Upstream from my landing spot, the canyon narrowed and was choked with vegetation. I had planned to hike all the up to the ridge top at the back of the valley,but now that destination didn't seem all that interesting, at least not by this particular route. I turned around and had only taken a few steps when I was stopped by dry waterfall which had a genuine chockstone stuck in its narrow precipice. I probably could've climbed down carefully, but chose to go around steeply up and down on the north side. Back in the creek bed I came upon more cairns, and then quickly rejoined my friends.
 We now made our way over to the best part of the hike: a narrow passage in the cliffs on the canyon's south side, which actually appeared to be the main source of ephemeral water  for the lower canyon and gets the benefit of the blue dashed line on maps of the area. It became dark, cool and green, as we hiked up the stream bed. Past the hackberry, soapberry and buckeye trees, the canyon narrowed even more into what was essentially a long, high dry waterfall. We could see two "caves" up in the cliffs that were stained black from the years of summertime flows, which I would imagine would make this spot even more magical.

Across the way the cliffs presented themselves as significantly more imposing than I had given them credit for on the way up.
We lingered awhile. I climbed partway up the lowest part of the waterfall, and found a gully on the west side that could be easily taken up to the ridge. We contemplated the larger upper "cave" for sometime. From that vantage point it seemed an intriguing, if almost completely inaccessible destination. Looking back on our way out, it didn't appear to be a cave at all.
We investigated a few more little spots while returning on this November day that seemed just a trifle too hot and sunny for desert hiking.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

South Palomas Creek- Aldo Leopold Wilderness

 Places like this in the Gila, especially in the Black Range are the essence of the ineffable for me.  Still, I try to find the words, and I diligently take the photographs that I know will never transmit the feeling that I have when I am at the bottom of this deep lonely canyon with the obviously majestic thousand foot cliffs crowned with a myriad of rock formations rising above, while beneath my feet moss growing thickly on the gray bedrock gives way to a plush quilt of fallen bigtooth maple leaves in tan, yellow and red on the banks.

  I hear what turns out to be a deer stumbling on the rock glacier, in answer to my own stumbling. I think this is place so rugged that even the deer have difficulty now and then. I think, I don't belong here, and yet I am here and that creates a giddy sort of dissonance.
This spot came on to my radar because of my friend, that most intrepid of New Mexico explorers; Doug Scott. We were  supposed come up here together to look for waterfalls about a year and half ago. Doug ended up going that spring and if you want to see the waterfalls he found look here: .   I would have to wait until last Saturday(10/23/17). I decided a while ago that I would visit in the fall, because of the canyon of bigtooth maples that Doug and Nate Bartnick had discovered. I am  a total sucker for the magic of maple trees in October, so off I went hoping to find them at peak color.
 I had been in South Palomas once before when we had been camping at either Circle Seven or Morgan Creek  quite a few years ago. We only hiked on the trail along the creek briefly before heading off into Marshall Creek to find the springs to cool off our overheated dogs on a warm September morning.

 It's a long drive to get there for a day hike: 2 hours and 47 minutes. The last mile or so on some tracks barely visible in dry grass only increased my anxiety about the feasibility of the whole enterprise. But the morning was pleasantly warm and the skies devoid of clouds as I started hiking out past the old lower corral. In a short distance the good trail I was following headed up Marshall Creek, while the remnants of the Palomas trail became invisible in the tall grass along the creek. I experienced some low grade panic wondering if I was on the right track, until I found the upper corral of wire and wood and I knew now it was all good.

Somewhere early in this trip I left my aluminum hiking pole on the ground as I took photos of oaks and boxelders in full turn. I picked up several sticks along the way that served well as substitutes. I never did retrieve the pole which I've been trying to lose for some time  and now had finally succeeded. I kept a good pace, knowing my time was limited.

 An owl flew from its perch and turkeys trotted up the trail in front me. As I walked on and the canyon narrowed I caught a glimpse through the trees of a patch of blue at the base of a rock tower. It was a natural arch formation which would have been so easy to miss had I not looked up at just the right moment.
Puddles lingered in scoured out pools in the bedrock as the creek bed became the clearest avenue of travel. Immense cliffs towered above the north side of the creek strikingly similar to those seen over in the gorge of North Percha, but these were even higher.
I finally arrived a the mouth of the canyon with the bigtooth maples that Doug and Nate had named (you guessed it) Maple Canyon. To my disappointment the leaves on the first tree I encountered were entirely green. Color was found as I continued up the canyon, which at least for some of the way had lovely open channel with a smooth bedrock bottom that would have contained many small falls cascading toward the confluence with South Palomas had water been flowing, as it was,water lingered in the discreet pools surrounded by spongy green moss and sprinkled with pale, fallen maple leaves.

The many theories I have on the fickle nature of fall colors, and perhaps a few new ones began to dance in my brain, as I  made my way clumsily upstream, still hoping there would be a more spectacular display onward. There never was. A few pretty patches and a couple nice little trees would have to do for today.

 I finally stopped to rest. I had forgotten my phone and watch, which had had me hiking at a blistering pace as a kind of insurance in case my estimate of 4.5 hours for the round trip hike was way off.
 I drank another bottle of water. Took a photo of myself nestled in the glen, and then headed upstream just bit farther to where the canyon got extremely narrow, very thick with willows and a few walnut trees, and the maples ended.

I turned around and for the first time, really took it all in as I gazed down  Maple Canyon to the nearly 1000 foot cliffs on South Palomas  crowned with towers and spires.

 It was the only place for me to be in the world at that time, on that day. I slowed down as made my legs and feet carry me back to South Palomas heading little bit farther west before turning back. I glimpsed a second deer. Disturbed the same owl. Saw the turkeys again too. Touched the biggest ponderosa pine I have ever touched, and contemplated the upright cones of a true fir for the first time it seemed.
 I did my best to follow the the bits and pieces of trail, but didn't really to do any better than on my way in. Where the valley widened, I waded through the high grass and felt a sadness to be leaving. I took a couple  more photos with the yellow tops of narrow leaf cottonwoods along the creek and the shadow of Lake Mountain in the distance. Back at the car I realized I had overshot my time by a little more than hour. I thought about returning some day, camping nearby, getting an early start and doing it all over again,but just a bit more slowly.