Thursday, July 19, 2018

Deep Canyon-San Mateo Mountains, Cibola National Forest

 Last year, this same week, I visited the amazing box of East Red Canyon. I had wanted to continue the hike into the box/slot of Deep Canyon, one of two major tributaries on its south side. The heat, and worries about approaching thunderstorms had me leave it to another day.
 Another day arrived, with a dry forecast, and so I was off. I parked much closer in this time, right at the  mouth of East Red's box. I  had given thought to driving up on the mesa in between  Deep Canyon and Cold Springs Canyon on FR 984, but when I looked at the thick gravel of a roadbed barely incised into the side of the steep hill, I changed my mind. If I had done it, I would have cut out walking through East Red and then very wide lower end of Deep Canyon, by scrambling down to the mouth of the box of Deep from the mesa.
Going on foot seemed preferable to white knuckling up the hill on the road plus whatever driving mysteries that awaited on top. The walking was easy on the level gravel of East Red and soon  I was turning up Deep Canyon walking through its narrow mouth into a wide valley with grasses, piñons and junipers.

It was plenty warm already even though it hadn't reached 10:00 yet. The hike through was more pleasant that I would have imagined. Bunnies darted out of the shrubs as  I cruised on the cow paths. Soon the gentle hills on either side stopped and the cliffs of volcanic rock, low at first, began. They got higher, not quite as high or sheer as East Red, but almost. The canyon  bottom was much narrower than East Red as well.  While East Red had hackberry, walnut and boxelder pressed hard against the cliff with the wide gravel channel in between, Deep Canyon was more like a low elevation forest environment. Oaks, straight growing junipers, piñons, plus New Mexico locust, cholla and grasses along with very occasional small boxelder and walnut made the going a bit thick at times even with the wildlife paths to follow.

There was even one very photogenic ponderosa pine and few of its offspring in the shadow of the tallest pock marked cliffs where the temperatures are cool enough for them to survive.

 Cackles of canyon wrens echoed of the walls of rock, but with the continuing dry conditions, only slightly relieved in the last few weeks, the place was remarkably devoid of the sounds of wildlife. After getting to its narrowest passage that cuts through a lower shelf of bedrock, the box canyon opens up with the craggy rust colored cliffs giving way to the sun baked grass and cholla covered slopes again.  As the temperature was closing in on 90 degrees, and my shade was now gone, I turned around.

On the way back, I looked for likely looking alcoves that ancient peoples could've utilized but found no sherds or lithics as I had last year in East Red. I lunched around noon in the shade of the cliffs and junipers near the entrance to box.  I climbed up on bench on the east side to walk most of the way back to the confluence.  I gave some thought to climbing up to the mesa to walk along the south side of East Red on the mesa, but it was just plain old hot at this point, and I opted for shade of the canyons.

 This is an awesome area for exploring. If it was close to Santa Fe or Albuquerque it would be packed with people every weekend. A really great loop hike would be to go up East Red, then Deep Canyon and then come back down the box of Cold Spring Canyon. Unfortunately, most of the box of Cold Spring is private property. Still, one could go up on the mesa and use it for the return leg.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Rim Trail ( FT 105) Westside Road ( FR 90) to FT 90V-Lincoln National Forest

 I've been trying to hike all of the Rim Trail by doing sections of 2 to 4 miles (roundtrip hikes of 4 to 8 miles). This was another installment in that plan. I had done the section from Apache Peak Observatory to the Moonshine Trail ( FT 90V) two years ago in an anxiety ridden hike with thunder, dark clouds but thankfully only light rain. Now I  was beginning this section from the saddle where the Westside Road crosses over the Sacramento Rim down to the Sacramento Creek valley, and heading to the Moonshine Trail intersection.

 It was cool and windy at 8100 feet with clouds mixed with blue sky above. It felt like it could completely cloud over and begin to rain for the first hour and a half but never did.  So there was that anxiety again, especially since the trail here ( as with the section just to the north) crosses many nameless almost bare promontories I like to call "Lightning Bait Hill ( Number 1, 2, 3. . . ).
 This part of trail though, is not as severely up and down as the piece I did two years ago. Overall it's uphill and gained about 1000 feet with three substantial hills to ascend and descent including one right off the bat that's a less than inviting rough, rocky trudge.To make matters worse I was covered in flies the entire time, which gave me ideas of giving up on the entire enterprise. Eventually the trail levels out and spectacular views open up to the west which mitigated the situation a bit, although the flies stayed with me for some time  afterward.

 The trail here is very close to the precipice of the rim itself and the environment here is substantially drier than the forests forests behind and in front of you. Alligator junipers that define gnarly and piñons predominate and many of those have died in recent years providing perfect tinder for lightning strikes. Just a few paces downslope to the east,Christmas tree sized firs are scattered through the scrubby oak brush.

 In the forested section that follows, Seamus go a little frisky in his interest in the local wildlife, and  had to put on a leash.  I needed  a break from the nerve wracking idea of him chasing something right over the cliffs that we were so close to. Over the middle hill is one of those idyllic clearings along the trail that would provide a perfect camping spot for the backpacker. Even though it has been bone dry and things looked a little sad, I could just imagine what the place would look like in wetter times.
 The climb up the third  hill is over 400 feet and straight up, with loose rocky footing, and uncleared downfall to boot. Now it was mostly sunny, and beginning to feel hot. Seamus and I rested frequently as we made our way up to the highpoint of the hike at 9100 feet.

I had set a turnaround time at 12:15 which was fast approaching, but as we descended the other side I knew we were rounding the head of Pine Spring Canyon and were very close to our destination. Soon after we arrived at the signed trail intersection. I sat on a log and ate my sardines and crackers and fed Seamus treats. I hadn't really paid much attention to how far the hike was, but  knew if we kept a good pace we had good chance of making the destination. I was especially glad  because for most of the walk, I wasn't sure it was going to happen.
 On the way back, the sun was out in force. It was not going to rain on this parched landscape and we needed to rest in the shady spots more often. We passed some rocks painted yellow in two spots. I'm not sure of the significance.

By the single tire tracks I saw, it looks as if this part of the trail does receive some motorcycle use, but overall use  appears to  be very light. We saw no one, though the cars on both the Sacramento River Road and the Westside Road were  frequently within earshot, as were the low flying fighter jets returning to Holloman AFB.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Ivy Creek- Shenandoah National Park

We had a couple of days in Charlottesville. My wife has made many work related trips to UVA, but this was my first time. I decided I would spend one day fishing for brook trout, once I realized how close we would be to Shenandoah National Park.  I did my research and bought my license online, and after considering several streams at the southern end of the park, I decided on Ivy Creek.
 Off I went on a Tuesday morning (6/19). I paid my 30 dollar entrance fee and about a half hour later I parked at Loft Mountain Wayside, crossed Skyline Drive and found my trailhead. I hiked briskly, passing a small hut and a piped spring, and quickly arrived at the Appalachian Trail where I headed north.
 Where the AT crosses an upper branch of Ivy Creek, it's less than inviting to continue off trail and downstream. The fallen logs, thick growth, and steep descent on slippery bedrock awaiting, gave me just a bit of anxiety. But, down I went and I was glad for it soon enough. It's beautiful place amidst the oaks, maples and other deciduous trees with the occasional granddaddy pines that sit streamside. I began casting soon, but didn't get a bite till I got below a twenty foot falls.
 I threw the fly blind into a pool just under a small falls formed by a fallen log. It brought to mind a very similar spot on the Rio Bonito South Fork, where I've caught many brookies. I didn't hook that first one but shortly afterward I got my first and then began bringing them in at nearly every pool. They were much more silver  which made the vermiculations much less obvious than the ones I've caught at Three Rivers, but they were still a beautiful fish, some with stunning purple parr marks.

 When I sat down for my first rest,  after pulling a tick off my cheek and spraying myself down again, I looked down to see my rod cracked through in the second section. I tried in vain to do some kind of rigging that would hold the thing together. It worked once when I caught another fish, but afterward I was just casting with the top three sections while holding the reel and bottom section in my other hand. I still caught six more fish. After eating my lunch, and losing my shades, I tried the last few pools below the waterfall and then called it day, wanting to get back to my car before the inevitable  afternoon thunderstorm that was coming.  I was a little sad to have broken my Redington Wayfarer rod that had been with me on majority of my fishing trip for the last 15 years, but was elated to have caught so many feisty beautiful brook trout in their native Appalachian mountain habitat.
 This was the simple, fun, fast and wild kind of small stream fishing that I've been used to out here in the West. It was such a good fit I can't wait for another opportunity to do it again.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Rain Creek- Gila Wilderness

   My wife and I visited Rain Creek quite a few years ago. We were staying at the Bear Mountain Lodge in Silver City and ventured out for a day hike. I also had the idea of doing a little fishing. Well, we hiked down to the creek from Rain Mesa. The stream had some water at the crossing, but I didn't see any fish. We continued on FT 189 up the east side of the canyon where it treacherously and precipitously  winds up to the top of the ridge between Rain Creek and West Fork Mogollon Creek. Where it leveled off somewhere up high, but before we could look down into the West Fork, we decided to call it day. Back down at the creek, I tried a little fishing. There were no fish. I hiked a ways up stream, and instead of finding fish, the water went underground. The creek looked just like a cobblestone road. Now I know, if I had continued on for a while longer I would have found both.
   I returned to Rain Creek on Tuesday, this time with friend Doug Scott. Doug, as almost always, was stalking  a waterfall, this one, which looks like a spectacular 200 footer on Google Earth,  is way up high on the eastern fork of Rain Creek, six and a half miles from the trailhead.  We had spent the night at Los Olmos in Glenwood  and drove off around 6:30.We started our hike, after a little mix-up with the roads getting to the trailhead, at around 7:50. It was already feeling warm. Down in the canyon it was only bit cooler. Where the official trail switchbacks to south on the east side of the creek there is sign, that's where we took off onto the abandoned, but still usable Rain Creek Divide Trail which heads north. We followed the trail, then at the first creek crossing, we began using the creek itself for a stretch. It was dry where we hit it, and for a ways upstream, but soon we found water, and with it, fish. Dark forms in the dozens were wriggling about in every pool which were anywhere from 6 inches to 3 feet deep, and they scarcely acknowledged us as we passed by. The creek sides were green with alder, willow and boxelder and for the second time in less than week I was just enjoying being in place that wasn't dry and hot.

At times we used the trail, which climbed ridiculously high above the creek.  And when we couldn't find it on the other side we'd try the creek bed again for awhile, sloshing through the waters filled with hundreds of unwary trout, and then crawling, climbing, going over, under and through boulders and flood lain debris.

Through one stretch the boulders went from big to bigger to biggest with king of them being close to 100 feet high and at least 100 feet wide. It must have been quite a thing the day that one broke loose and came tumbling down the mountain.

 Up on the west side were enormous hoodoos, towers and cliffs of pink conglomerate. A natural arch was up there too. Soon, the orange cliffs, full of alcoves and caves only for eagles, rose up 1,000 feet on both sides of the canyon.

We were high up on the west side on the trail which had become just a narrow dirt tread more suitable for deer than the tired old legs of two adventurers past the half-century mark and had the passed the steep slashes in 10,658 foot Sacaton Mountain that are the west and middle forks when we decided to head down and continue up the east fork, which is the most sizable and more like a continuation of the main creek. Now we were just climbing from pool to pool, each one had me thinking it surely must be the last one to hold trout and then being proven wrong each time. Throughout the day the average size of the fish in the pools seemed to increase the farther up we went, although some who had chosen the wrong pool to hold out the drought in and were surely stranded. I have heard, though not had confirmed, that next door in the West Fork Mogollon, way up high in the inaccessible gorge  carved in bedrock are two foot fish. The best I saw in Rain Creek in this low water year was probably close to 12 inches, but the whole environment seems fertile enough to grow larger fish during wet times. We finally reached a wall of rock trickling cold precious flow on its face that would have been a beautiful 25 foot white waterfall had we had something even vaguely resembling average precipitation this year.
 I was done climbing. I pulled out my oldest and cheapest rod ( a 7 foot switchable fly/spinner bought at Academy in Houston more than 20 years ago) and my Shakespeare 1094 reel. Doug went up high on first one side, before switching to the other in search of his waterfall. I wished him well and then calmly untangled my line. Then, because we had been happily observing the trout taking flies on the surface all day, I attached the smallest dry fly ( a blue dun looking thing) and was in business. All I'll say about the fishing in these upper reaches is that it was hilariously easy. You can catch as many as you want. The only problem is getting the bigger fish to come to your fly before one of the many four or five inchers greedily grabs it. One method that seemed  to work was to run or skim the fly away from them which may trigger a greed reflex( Rex Johnson Jr. observed this as well in his seminal book Fly Fishing in Southern New Mexico ). It was fun. They definitely look like a mix as far as phenotype, even high up on the forks, similar to wild fish I've caught in other parts of the Gila. Doug remarked that I had caught fish in all three of the upper forks. I continued to fish as we scrambled back down. The fish were more wary lower down, but still willing at least to approach the fly even while I stood in plain view at times.

 I would have liked to fish more, but now we were working on getting back before dark. We rested at a pool below a waterfall on the west fork, where I caught my largest fish (10-11 inches). I had forgotten my lunch and had only trail mix, no worries though, I was running on wilderness power at this point.

We stayed in the stream for awhile. Doug was wanting to avoid the lush poison ivy that grew along the trail, and I wanted to avoid all the climbing, but eventually we got back on it to put the miles away. A healthy looking black bear crossed in front of us and went up the hill. We crossed the stream over and over, each time we were on the west side speculating if we were on final stretch to FT 189 and then the last leg of our exit. We stopped at the last creek crossing. I drank what I think was my seventh or eighth liter of water of the day. My feet were completely marinated and tenderized. I had soaked my shirt earlier to stay cool, but really the 600 foot, less than 2 mile climb out, now on the good, maintained trail was not hot (it was now past seven ) and really a piece of cake as we took a steady, but relaxed paced and got back to the vehicles in reasonably good shape.

Doug did not find his waterfall, the terrain perhaps too treacherous up above, and the stamina in too short supply, but it didn't dampen his enthusiasm for the place or the trip.   Our 12 hour day in the Gila Wilderness was done. As I drove home in the darkness, my brain kept filling in pines, firs and cliffs on the sides of the highway instead of desert flatlands I knew were there.