Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Rattlesnake Hills- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 We drove out to Kimball Place along Broad Canyon again on Sunday where we started out on our Coyote Canyon hike a few weeks ago. This time though we headed west up a nameless arroyo that runs through the Rattlesnake Hills, a small collection of hills and side canyons that sits in a wide section of the Broad Canyon basin. It was pleasant walking up the sandy wash, where soon the steep hillsides shielded us from the morning wind.
We explored a long, flat bench on the southside for any evidence of ancient peoples. All we could find were a very few flakes of jasper and chert, and a couple of larger chunks of obsidian that had appearance of being transported from another location.
 At the narrowest part of canyon, fantastic conglomerate boulders collected, and we speculated how great they would  look cut and polished as our new patio.  A very few hackberry trees welcomed us to our picnic spot between two outsized boulders on either side of stream bed.  I climbed around a bit exploring alcoves where critters live, keeping an eye out for a stray bit of ancient pottery but finding none.

 Moving on we came to the only exposure of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks for miles around, an unusual site for sure in the sea of volcanic rock that composes the Cedar Hills and the Sierra de las Uvas. Near the western contact the beds are nearly vertical. On the north hillside above the canyon was a jagged volcanic wall, and I though how the scenery of this little canyon far exceeded my expectations.

Eventually the canyon opened up completely into a flatland of meandering washes punctuated with a few isolated cuesta hills. Now we cut back to the southeast over purple blue andesite gravels, where only creosote seemed to want to grow, toward Broad Canyon, using cow paths on the banks to avoid the rough walking in the arroyo itself. The day had gotten quite warm for mid- January and we welcomed the shade of the cliffs and boulders of the mini red rock box, while we admired the many nests resting spots of birds of prey. Underneath one were many, many tiny bones of their meals.

 We explored up  a  hidden side canyon that ran up into the main body of the hills, rested among the boulders and then headed back out to Broad Canyon, the Kimball Place and our 4Runner.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

North Fork Robledo Canyon- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 Believe or not  I was already on the road by 7:00 AM on New Year's Day heading out to the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. I was going out to meet friends David and Nancy Soules who were doing an overnight backpack/ through hike of the Robledos. They had been dropped off near Robledo Cave and had hiked up Indian Springs Canyon. I was going to provide their ride back and to do the last leg of their hike with them.
 The sun wasn't quite up yet when Seamus and I got out of the 4Runner. It was clear and cold, maybe low to mid twenties. I was sufficiently layered up,but my gloves were thin and my hands quickly chilled down and would not warm up as we began our hike on the mesa. I was walking in a headwind as well, and I was hoping it wasn't going to last all day. It brought to mind childhood times when out sleigh riding or playing football in the snow when my hands and feet would be nearly numb despite heavy exertion. In the present day, all it took was climbing a couple of steep hills to really get the blood flowing  and freezing hands were no longer a problem.
We took the old road toward Split Rock Canyon, just as I had done with my LCPS hiking group a few weeks earlier. When we got to the crossing, I took the north branch of the canyon instead of continuing on the barely visible road. Eventually, we went up on the ridge to the north and very steeply down a rough tributary that was entirely in the shade and still quite cold. Near the bottom were some dry pools and falls carved in the bedrock that we had to hike around. Soon thereafter we were in huge  Robledo Canyon just downstream from where it splits into its two major forks.
The plan was  I would meet David and Nancy somewhere along in the north fork. So, Seamus and I began  a light-hearted march through the first of the curves  that twist at the bottom of this deep canyon, inspecting limestone walls and  admiring massive junipers both dead and alive.

Seamus had chased a couple of jackrabbits earlier on with no great enthusiasm, but when three deer materialized at the edge of the canyon ahead of us, it was off to the races. Two went up the very steep hill on our left and Seamus pursued. They were long gone in seconds, but my Scottie had a hard time giving up, going higher and higher still, even as I called repeatedly after him, breaking the near complete silence of the winter morning. He did negotiate his way back down for a treat and drink. My tired, but exhilirated companion only rested momentarily before we continued on.
In a wide section of stream with a row of trees and brush in the middle, I was going up one side when I realized David, Nancy and their dog Hank were coming down the other.
They told me about their long winter night in a tent as we began to walk downstream. We checked out a couple of little alcoves in the cliffs and then continued on as we both expressed admiration for the beautiful little canyon we were in, and  a bit of disappointment at its lack of rock art, or other evidences of ancient peoples.

David did find a very old trap, and I found the same evergreen sumac  bush that had puzzled me( due to its full green foliage in January) on a similar winter day many years ago.  I couldn't interest them in going down to the box section of Robledo Canyon, so we took the almost completely invisible old road out of the canyon, a steep 250 foot climb and began follow it as best we could on the hilltop.
Hank went after a jackrabbit up there and got very close to catching it. The abrasive limestone he was running on was tough on his pads though, and he seemed a little tender footed for awhile afterwards.
 I did convince Nancy and David to at least go down to the dry waterfall in Split Rock Canyon. We all snacked and rested there a bit, with the incredible views laid out before us. I was glad when they both told me it was definitely a worthwhile side trip.

 Now all that was left was the trudge up and down a few more steep hills on the Ridgeline Trail to get back to the trailhead. Seamus was dog- tired. This was the longest hike he had been on in awhile, and I'm sure chasing deer up that hill didn't help much either.
Somewhere along the way I left my REI binoculars on the trail. I'm not really a binoculars person. I rarely bother to get them out of the backpack, and I don't really want to wear them around my neck , so it didn't seem like too big of a loss,but if you are out hiking somewhere between Split Rock Canyon and the Discovery Site Trail( Trackways) and you find them in their little cloth sling. They are mine.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A+B Canyon- Robledo Mountains

I wanted to do a short hike( 2 to 3 hours) with relatively quick access. In the past few months this has meant  a hike beginning right off the Corralitos  Road, or a trailhead a short ways down one of the many gravel roads that branch off of it. I was little less than excited because the last few hikes using  this approach,although pleasant enough, had not been the most scintillating.
Then I remembered a little canyon on the northern edge of the Robledos, that always gets a spark of interest going in me whenever I glimpse it from I-25. The problem with getting a good look at it was the private property along the Rio Grande which appears to block access for starting at its mouth.
 I very quickly figured out it would be very easy to connect with the canyon further upstream by going overland and heading back southeast after parking about a mile in on the Faulkner Canyon Road.
 There was the plan and off I went. I first headed up a side canyon of the Lower Faulkner Box and then up over  some hills and a ridge, and then it was down very steeply into what I would end up calling A+B Canyon. Most of the area's geology is composed of basalts, andesites, and ash deposits. At the bottom I  found this boulder with deep crisscrossing crevices which reminded me of turtle shell. I headed upstream and soon encountered a large dry waterfall which had carved many channels in the soft pale rock.

As always I looked around for grinding mortars and rock art, but neither was forthcoming. The waterfall was easily climbed around and I continued upstream. It was wonderfully sunny and peaceful in this little valley as I marched along on this late December morning. I soon realized the canyon was going box up in the dark brown varnish of the cliffs ahead of me.
  As I climbed up the first of several smaller waterfalls I realized this canyon was like a mirror image of Lower Faulkner Box Canyon, which I had hiked a little over year ago, and whose high waterfall was only a stone's throw away. A + B Canyon's last waterfall was not  nearly as high, and after I had climbed around it,  I saw petroglyphs in the rock. These were pecked in for sure, but they were letters which relegated them to a fairly recent vintage. They did give me the name for the canyon, though.

 After that  I wandered up the shallow upper wash cut into the slopes of golden grass. I was tempted to go find the precipice of the other waterfall, but instead steeply climbed up the ridge on the west and began heading north. It was very rocky indeed up top and even rockier still as I descended a steep slope to a saddle where I picked up section of trail that headed more directly back to my vehicle. It faded quickly but soon after it did, amongst the tufted gray grass I spotted sherd after sherd of ancient brown pottery. There were many pieces,but they seemed to concentrated in one small area, which made me wonder if this was just a place where someone had dropped one pot.  As I ventured out short distances in each direction  in search of more,but finding none, I decided to go back to my original discovery. I panicked a bit when I realized,even though I had walked no more than 20 feet from it, how hard it was to find again. I did find it,but decided to build a little cairn that rose just a bit above the grass to aid me if I should return.
 I continued along this mostly flat, mostly cleared mesa with my eyes to the ground, and thought of how when I'm looking for something small I ( like sherds or fossils) I might miss something big( like a mano or metate) or when I'm looking for something big like rock art, a mine,or grind holes I might miss many small things. It began to seem like destiny that I find anything at all,but the happy part is that I do and it keeps me coming back to our desert for more.
NOTE: Although most of this hike is on Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, it  begins and ends on State Trust Lands where a recreational permit is required.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Coyote Canyon- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Coyote Canyon is a major tributary of Broad Canyon. It begins as a shallow draw  in the basin east of the Cedar and Rough and Ready Hills. It gathers two major tributaries, Silva and Lloyd Well Canyons, and many smaller ones as it heads north to its confluence with Broad near the Kimball Place.The last mile or so is a box canyon, where we walked on a rapidly warming December morning last week. There's a good road in the bottom, and we walked on it at times and in the gravel wash itself at others. Colorful cliffs of conglomerate and volcanic rock lined the sides of the canyon.  They were similar though not as tall or dramatic as those in the nearby box of Broad Canyon.
Coyote Canyon
When the box petered out,  I was not in the least excited about continuing  up the now wide and shallow wash that cut through a landscape of the monotonous low hills, so we went up onto the mesa on the west side using a little used  road that leads to water storage tank.Up on the mesa we had good views of the Cedar Hills highpoint on the east and the Rattlesnake Hills on the west.

From there we took another old road that heads north across the mesa top and which brought us right back down to the corral area at the Kimball Place. It took us a minute or two but we managed to find our way out of the maze of pens and gates to our vehicle,which was good because I sure didn't feel like climbing any fences.
NOTE: The land around the old Kimball Place is still private property. Be respectful.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Coyote Tank Canyon-Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 Seamus and I went out to explore the upper reaches of this canyon that's cut into the escarpment on the south side of the Uvas Mountains. It was a breezy,but sunny winter afternoon as we started out just short ways west of the Corralitos Road. I had wanted to find a way to drive out to the water tank on the low mesa, but the road situation in this area is a mess. Wash-outs and brush, disappearing tread, and alternate routes that go nowhere all add up to a very confusing bit of ground. There still may be a way to drive out to the tank yet,but this, shortest day of the year, was not the day to look for it. We hiked  on the road and made it to the tank in short order,and then it was northwest cross country toward some junipers in the distance that mark where the canyon comes onto the flatlands.
I saw a deer that Seamus luckily didn't. He did chase a couple of jackrabbits though. We flushed out one good sized covey of quail as well.
 There is fantastic boulder field on the benches of the east side of the steep canyon where we explored, looking for rock art. We found none.

 In the highest sections of the stream courses on either side of the main canyon  were lines of junipers leading up to the plateau above us. The ultra-rugged qualities of this highest section of the canyon would seem to preclude its use by ancient peoples,but we still looked a little longer. We then made our way to the creek bed for bit.

 Eventually we got out of the creek to  head back to the tank, which was brimming with water,but must be for storage and distribution only, as it was too high for cattle to use. We got off the road at one point to walk straight to our vehicle.Unfortunately, this more direct line of our return approach was made difficult by the myriad of dessicated, but still potently thorny weeds that covered the much of the territory. Just a few hours out in our desert, another of my many quick-hikes done.
NOTE:I'm calling this Coyote Tank Canyon because the stream leads right to Coyote Tank on the east side of the Corralitos Road. It is a tributary of Silva Canyon. This is not Coyote Canyon a short distance to south.

Monday, December 18, 2017

San Lorenzo Canyon

  This canyon is a wide wash where I-25 crosses it, but a few miles to the east it has wonderful box section with towering formations and cliffs. There is a many nook and cranny to explore in the numerous side channels as well. Unfortunately we only had time for  quick picnic, while returning home from a trip to Santa Fe. After eating we drove to where vehicles of all kinds must turn around, but now that I've had a first look at this little gem, I will be back for a hike. It's easy enough to get to, just take exit 156 ( Lemitar) and then follow the signs on  the west side frontage road. Once the driving in the canyon itself begins, four wheel drive may be needed, but the dirt roads heading there are excellent. Perhaps because it's so easy to get to, it appears this place is pretty popular, so don't expect to be alone, especially on a weekend.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fillmore Canyon, In-Between Peak- Organ Mountains

Organ Peak

Baldy Peak

 Believe it or not, I really am a fan of taking the path of least resistance. It just happens that frequently for the destinations I choose there is no such path. I'm also very much in favor of avoiding danger in the routes that I choose. I'm happy to take the long way to forego anything too risky. I also prefer, if I can, to find a way to make the journey as rewarding as the ultimate destination.
 I wanted to climb Baldy Peak( or Organ Baldy) in the Organ Mountains. My research had turned up two routes. The first one involves climbing around the waterfall in Bar Canyon, and then continuing on in the upper canyon until reaching the massive scree slopes on the southwest side, where
 the serious trudging begins. After that, the intrepid hiker who supplied this information, accessed the burnt-over, sun baked ridge for a walk to the top. This is probably the most expedient route, and it certainly does not appear too dangerous, but to my mind it sounded like a means to an end, with little to recommend it, except that it does get you to the top of the mountain.
 A second  route that I found that has been by used the Jornada Hikers meetup group is a loop using Ice and Little Ice Canyons.  I actually tried ascending both of these a couple of years ago on foggy and damp November day. I just gave up in Ice after climbing around several flowing little water falls where every step must be carefully chosen. I just plopped down beneath a small ponderosa, where I rested, drank and snacked, and then made my way back down with equal time consuming care. I then tried Little Ice, where I  fell into a waterfall (see the story in "Little Ice Canyon" in this blog). A maneuver that gave me pause, about trying either of these routes alone or when they are not bone dry, ever again. To their credit the  Jornada hiking group is abundantly explicit about the treachery involved, and in fact they appear to have cancelled this years hike because of lingering wet conditions.  Now, this second route is certainly replete with imposing and awe-inspiring scenery, even if,  it appears ( from their description and my own failed attempts) that one can hardly relax enough to enjoy it.
 I devised  a third route of going up the Fillmore Canyon trail, then onto a ridge on the south side  a short ways before the Narrows. That ridge connects with the U shaped ridge that surrounds the  headwaters of Ice Canyon and culminates in a lesser peak where it connects to the ridge that  runs between Organ Peak and Baldy Peak. From there I would descend to the east  face of Baldy and then up a tree filled gully on the southeast side that would hopefully connect to a walk up on the southwest sided.
 I got started a little later than I wanted at 8:30. I plowed through the catclaw, and up and down several  gullies taking a short cut straight out the back of the visitor center over towards Fillmore.
 I hadn't been back on the upper part of Fillmore Canyon in a number of years, and lost the trail by going down into the creek bed much sooner than I should've. I knew I would find it again eventually so I just enjoyed the ash trees in fall color and the sweet little trickles of water that flowed here and there. I got back to the trail and continued on along the south bank until the real crossing onto the north side. I lost the trail again, but only momentarily, in some thick shrubbery, just before the trail crossed back over to the south again.

 I met a couple in the rocky dry stream there, who said they were on the way to the "peak." I asked which peak, but they didn't seem to be sure.  I met then again as I rested before my ascent of the first ridge on my planned route.They were using a route on their  AllTrails app. I assumed it was Organ Peak, after explaining that they were now on military land, not on an official trail and that the trail would most likely disappear long before their ascent to the peak was complete. They told me that when the going got too steep they would most likely turn around. I chuckled inwardly, because, for most people, it would only take about 5 steps out of the canyon bottom  before they decided it was too steep. They seemed young  and fit enough,  and I did not discourage them. I didn't see or hear them again,but would've been curious as to how the rest of their hike turned out.
 I now began to climb the stupidly steep, although reasonably open ridge in front of me. The obstacles; low piñon and juniper branches branches, lechugilla spines, prickly pear, and the occasional jumping cholla, multiplied as I continued upward. When I hit the bedrock backbone jutting out from center line, I was happy to find easy passage through with only minimal scrambling. Eventually there was merciful leveling off, and some easy walking through golden grass and over fallen trees where I could catch my breath. The ravine on my left had been extensively burned. On the right was some of largest acreage of conifer forest in the entire mountain range.

Up and up, picking a path and clearing my way I steadily ascended to the first junction of ridges. From there, the climb to the In-Between Peak seemed like cake walk to what had preceded. I slowed down and enjoyed the views of Organ Peak,  and down the upper reaches of Ice Canyon and the un-named peaks on its north side. On top,  after noticing the abundant,dessicated mountain lion scat at my feet,I had unobstructed views down into North Canyon and beyond to the massive and rugged Rattlesnake Ridge.  I started down the slope toward Baldy Peak, just 1/2 mile away,  and realized, since it was already 12:10, that I was unlikely to summit before my ultimate turnaround time of 12:30.

I sat down and ate my lunch, mentally calculating how long it might take to plow through the low growing, now leafless oaks that grew in the gully I had planned on ascending.  I thought I spied a few aspen against the cliffs, but couldn't be sure from that distance. Despite knowing I wasn't going to reach my destination, I was happy to be up high in the Organs and to know that all that was needed to accomplish my goal was more time and daylight.
 It  had been hard, but it hadn't been that hard.
  A  curious stellar's jay hopped through the undergrowth to get a closer look at me. I packed up and began my return trip. I  didn't re-climb the peak but skirted around the head of Ice Canyon. It was a little slippery, but it cut off some distance and elevation gain. Now, instead of descending the same ridge, I opted to go down the wooded canyon immediately to the west. I slipped,slid and scooted on the thick bed of pine needles that covered the very, very steep slopes. It was delightful to be in a forest of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and Gambel oak even if it was nearly vertical.
Eventually I was in the rocky stream bottom, stepping over fallen trees, heading back to Fillmore Canyon. Close to the canyon's mouth there was a long bedrock cascade, that actually had some flow provided by a spring at its top.

Back in Fillmore I marveled at the massive boulders, the huge cliffs on its south side, and began to resent the fact that most of this  beautiful hike was not on our Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, but senselessly  still part of military land.

I saw and heard folks coming down from what I assume was a climb to Organ Needle high on opposite hillside. I didn't lose the trail. Someone had pitched a tent, that had not been there on my way up. I met a man looking for a way to the Yellow Rocks, and an extended family with crying toddlers looking for the waterfall. I snapped a photo of a lovely little ash tree, then made my way through the catclaw back to my car.