Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Out the backdoor is the Santa Fe National Forest and a trail leading up Cañoncito Seco. The property blocks entry from the bottom and it is highly unlikely anyone will make their way very far down from the upper end, so it essentially is private trail for the property's owners and visitors. I'm not sure that's the best situation. In the past I've lamented about small parcels of private property here in southern New Mexico that block convenient access to huge tracts of BLM land. And it did bother me that adjacent private property blocks access to upstream to the box canyon of Cañones Creek where I'm sure that what few trout are left in the stream still dwell. But, that's life. In this case I took it as little gift and proceeded on.
The path runs along a very lush section of the Cañoncito Seco, which flows here fed by several springs. A wide variety of deciduous trees and shrubs including locust, water birch, narrow leaf cottonwood, ash, and oak grow here. The droopy evegreen ( or gray in this case) Rocky Mountain juniper is mixed in as well.
Just a short ways past the gate, where we entered the Santa Fe National Forest, we passed the last of the springs and the canyon became more to true to the seco( dry) part of its name. Now there was juniper,ponderosa and piñon pines.We made the last damp crossing and continued up the west side on a clear trail running between lichen covered boulders of volcanic rock. Above us was the rough, peak like termination of Cañoncito Mesa. To the east were the modest cliffs, and long slopes of Polvadera
The trail crossed back over the dry bed, and became very rough as we ascended onto a bench on the east side. I was having doubts about the whole adventure, given my recent problems with my knee, and the difficulty of managing Scottie #2, Nessie, who must be on a leash. Also, the heat of the day was rising rapidly which meant our black dogs would be needing our water, as my hopes of finding anymore in the cañoncito dwindled.
Up on the bench,we were exposed to the sun, but at least it was level,smooth walking. Eventually the trail went down again, where we walked anywhere from 5 to 25 feet above and right along the dry creek bed. As we traveled higher the vegetation changed, at least right along the water course. Pines gave way to firs, and even a few aspen showed up.
There was Rocky Mountain maple, and deciduous oaks as well. This propped up my hopes that water would appear again, and it may very well be that it does run most years through this section, but just not this year in this very dry July we have had.The trail which is used by wildlife, and maybe a few cattle, is clear below, but not above chest height through some thickest of shrubs and vines in this section as well. We just had to push through.
What kept us going despite all of the problems, were the spectacular views of the sheer cliffs on the west side of the canyon. Made of the reddish orange volcanic rock found throughout the region and growing to hundreds of feet of high, we knew we were traveling through the deep box and the most scenic section of the Cañoncito Seco. Where the cliffs began coming back down to earth. We stopped and rested on some boulders right in the still dry streambed. If one were to continue on, the cañoncito become meadow creek with surrounded by a spruce/fir forest in its upper reaches similar to, but most likely with even less water than Cañones Creek.
It wasn't what we expected. We had both been picturing something like the stroll on a grassy path in lush riparian shade that started the hike, for the duration. After all, it's not that unusual for streams in New Mexico called dry or seco to have plenty of water in them. Big Dry Creek, which is a trout stream in the Gila, comes to mind. Anyway we still enjoyed it and will return in cooler times when there will be abundant fall color and maybe some more water.
Forest Road 99 continued the journey past many lovely, shaded campsites adjacent to more meadows that had shallow depressions where water could gather naturally, after summer rains and the spring snow melt. They were dry at present, though, because of the failure of our monsoon season to actually start.
Both these roads are wide and well maintained and could be driven by any vehicle under dry conditions.
We started off at around 10,000 feet up on the huge dissected plateau that is the north side of the Jemez Mountains. The trail took us gradually and then increasingly more steeply down a side drainage that was dry( I expected at least a trickle) and was full of dead conifers.
We emerged after less than a mile in the open meadows of upper Cañones Creek. We went down to the stream so our dogs could drink and cool off. Unfortunately what we found was mostly trampled mud and close cropped grass with only the occasional puddle of clear water. The never-ending drought in New Mexico continues. It was very reminiscent of our trip to the upper meadows of Canjilon Creek four years ago.
We hiked downstream and where the stream entered a more forested section, it dried up altogether leaving only gray rocks and gravel. We continued down a little more where it acquired a weak flow from a couple of feeble springs. That's where we called it quits, sat in the grass and ate lunch. I had had plans of doing a little fishing. So much for that. There may be better water and at least a few fish in the box canyon section lower down, but that will have to wait for another trip. More direct access to this middle reach is had using FR 100, FR 173 and FT 102. As it turns out,I had left my reel behind, which would have been very frustrating had there been anything to catch.
On the way back, our dogs were giving us fits, as we tried to wrangle them up the trail. All they wanted to do chase the many, many chipmunks that emerged from every nook and cranny among the boulders in the meadow. When we got back in the woods, we picked and ate the many tiny wild strawberries that grew at our feet. When I would pop a good one into my mouth it tasted like the distilled essence of a larger berry- all gone in the briefest of seconds.
Getting back to the level ground at the trailhead, we heard our first thunder, got in the 4Runner and head back off the mountain.
NOTE: There is what appears to be an abandoned project to fence the upper reaches of this creek, with gates( I assume that cattle could be let in to drink or cross the stream at these junctures) and posts installed but no wire. If anyone has any information about this,please comment.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Monday, July 11, 2016
Once upon time, your truly, The Explorer, decided to go on a little hike, the day before he was scheduled to begin a series of family visits to Magnolia, Texas; Danbury, Connecticut and Putney, Vermont. His knees had felt a little creaky lately( foreshadowing here), but he figured it was okay, as he wasn't planning anything too epic, just a little jaunt in the forest on actual trails. Well, everything started off alright that Monday morning in June. He arrived at Schofield Canyon, an unassuming upper tributary of the Rio Penasco, and off he went with his two Scotties, Nessie and Seamus, on a pleasant, clear morning. There was trickle of water in the tiny stream, and the trail side grasses were greening up nicely already, due to a steady diet of late spring rains.He snapped a photo looking back down the steep,but not ridiculously steep hill he had come up,and continued the peaceful hike on what was once an old road now turned trail.
About 3/4 of a mile in, they all came to the intersection with FT 5007C and took a water break.That's when the explorer realized he did not have his keys.He panicked a little,but then quickly came to the conclusion that in all likelihood they were on the ground somewhere very close to his vehicle. The reason he thought this was because about a 11 months previous, in another national forest, he had realized he didn't have his keys, and after much anxiety ridden searching up and down the trail, had found them 3 feet from the passenger side door.
Of course he couldn't be totally sure that was case, and since they had only come less than a mile, he thought it prudent to backtrack now, retrieve them, and then re- start the hike with peace of mind. Ha! Fate had a different sort of adventure in mind. For good measure, he did the best he could to check the gravelly trail and its environs, even as Nessie pulled him downhill with all her tiny might. Back at his wonderfully white 2016 Toyota 4Runner, the keys were not to be found.It was locked,so even though he was 99% positive that that meant they were not in the vehicle, he looked inside every window. They were not to be seen. The day, himself and his dogs were rapidly becoming hot at this un-shaded trailhead,but what choice did they have but go back up the trail in search, and then back down, and then back up and then down. Oh,in case you are wondering, there is no cell service in this part of the Lincoln, and the only other keys were with his wife in Virginia.
On one of his returns, right across the Rio Penasco Road( County 17, or FS 164),some rancher folk were unloading horses and rounding up cattle that had gotten inside the electric fence that enclosed a section of the Rio Penasco. He knew how the ranchers felt about this fence, put in place by the Forest Service to protect habitat for the Meadow Jumping Mouse. He decided to not ask for their help, not because he thought they wouldn't have given it to him, but because they were not having the best of days either.
Shortly thereafter, some plainclothes forest service personnel arrived, and agreed to help once they returned from checking with the above mentioned rancher folk. The Explorer sat in the shade on banks of the Penasco which was flowing nicely, ate some snacks and rested with his pups. Some more forest service personnel arrived, and he told them his plight as well. When the original ones he had contacted returned, there was much talk about what to do if the damnable keys could not be found. He was already intimately aware of what had to be done because, almost exactly a year ago his wife had flown to Virginia with both sets of keys, necessitating a call to locksmith who came and made keys for him in the parking lot of an Albuquerque hotel( cost: in excess of $300!). He could scarcely wrap his mind around the idea that this bizarre circumstance, which he felt so certain would happen only once in his life was happening again only one year later.
There was much discussion, about the many steps involved in extricating himself from the situation. He would have to be driven the ranger station, to call a locksmith down in Alamogordo to come out and make keys. Besides the expense, humiliation, and his two long suffering but obviously miserable dogs, there was something else eating at him: the keys had to be on the trail somewhere. He had stayed within five feet of the path the whole time.Even as he had been looking, now hours, earlier, he did realize that every time he looked away,for even a fraction of second to control his dogs or mind his footing, was a perhaps a lost opportunity for finding the keys.
He decided to hold off on the most drastic solution, and the group,all volunteers and employees of the National Forest Service, cheerfully decided to help him look for the cursed keys. First, they looked all around and in( as best they could) the car and then headed up the trail. His heart was lightened by the companionship of these strangers as he talked and laughed with them. 15 minutes later one of them found the janglers of steel and plastic that were the key to his happiness.
The Explorer was overjoyed as he thanked them all profusely. All's well that ends well. Except fate had one more twist( literally and figuratively).
The helpers went on their way and he, he took his dogs down to the little Rito Penasco for a dip in the cooling waters.He was relieved, but exhausted like they were, and he stepped a little strangely as he was pulled by Nessie down the bank. That's when something went sideways in his knee, his leg buckled and a searing pain almost brought him to the ground. He hobbled with them over to the stream, as the pain grew steady and persistent, and the muscles and tendons stiffened to stone. Things like this had happened before so despite the pain, he subsequently drove down the road to look at the waterfall at Bluff Springs and the trail head for Taylor Canyon( FT 5007) and then drove the very scenic Karr Canyon Road down to NM 82 on his return trip.
Upon returning home,however, he had the creeping suspicion, due to being barely able to walk, that this pain was not going away any time soon. His adventures on more or less one leg while traveling by car and plane over the next several days fall outside the purview of this blog
Torn medial meniscus.
Friday, June 3, 2016
This past fall we did a shuttle hike using the Scott Able Trail and the Spiller Canyon Trail. The Scott Able Trail only crosses the creek in Scott Able Canyon and then heads up onto the ridge never to return. The Spiller Canyon Trail isn't even in Spiller Canyon at all, but rather in a canyon once removed to the north of what is called Spiller Canyon on maps. The Cathey Canyon Trail( FT 105A) is a similar situation. It's not in Cathey Canyon but actually across the ridge, and it's not in a canyon at all, although it does weave in and out of the uppermost branches of San Andres Canyon.
There is ample parking at the Cathey Vista trailhead off of NM 6563 about 14 miles south of Cloudcroft. We were the only ones there although I could hear campers nearby. It had rained on us as we drove and the car's thermometer read a brisk 59 degrees, but as we continued we drove into blue skies and sun, which was good because we didn't have enough rain gear to go around and I hadn't even bothered to bring a jacket. I didn't miss it. It was gorgeous mountain day for the rest of our trip.
Cathey Canyon Trail is another foot and horse traffic only route. It would definitely be the preferred alternative for someone hiking the Rim Trail, which it parallels slightly to east for close to 2 miles through this section. My plan, which we stuck to, was to do a loop using the Rim Trail as the beginning and ending legs,but a better alternative might be to use the trail head closer to Sunspot and to do out and back on the Cathey Canyon Trail using just a short section of the Rim Trail to begin and end the hike. The parts of Rim Trail we used were really just an old road that was rocky, open and unattractive, especially the leg north from the trail head where there has been cutting and clearing( most likely of dead and downed trees) in recent times.
Happily the Cathey Canyon Trail itself is a beauty. A rustic footpath winds along a ridge through old growth forest of huge firs and pines. Early it crosses an enchanting little bottom land with large aspens, and enough sun for grass, wildflowers and mountain spray to grow. Near this area we saw the junction for FT 105 B. It was also here where the first of several bits of downfall that had to be negotiated was encountered.There was more all along FT 105 A, but they were widely spaced enough, and not too numerous so as not to become annoying. Most of our walking was in the shade of the giant conifers but the occasional clearing, or young aspen grove provided just the right amount of variety.
Seamus went off chasing a deer herd, at about the halfway point of our journey, which injected an unwanted dose of anxiety into our carefree forest mood. Needless to say he remained on the leash for the final few miles. After a steady climb, past some truly huge trees, we picnicked in the sun. Afterwards when we reached the junction with the Rim Trail, I thought it would be soon to end our hike by just heading back, so we extended it bit by walking north on the Rim Trail all the way to the San Andres Trail( FT 125) junction where we rested in a grassy clearing along FR 640. The Rim Trail was very rocky, and stuck close to the highway initially which was not exactly what I had been looking for, but it was alright for making our hike into lollipop loop( only with the stick coming about 3/4 of the way in) of about six miles. The last bit of the hike after intersecting with FR 5011 was the least appealing. We ended up bypassing some campers through a clearing( where perhaps the trail should go instead of following the road) which brought us to the short road leading to our parking spot.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
We came in from the west, first on the Corralitos Road and then down the dirt, gravel and bedrock excuse for a road that tumbled us down along Choases Canyon, across Kerr Canyon a couple of times, past Chivatos Canyon and Alamo Well, ultimately to a spot just a short ways down the east end of the Valles Road itself, where we parked our three vehicles. We hiked down the road and then into Valles itself, where, when we reached the rock art panels, I neglected to take any photos again. Somehow all those folks snapping away, made me feel like it was covered. As many times as I have been down here, I only have a few photos( some taken with a film camera and a couple with a flip phone) of the place.The first or second time I came here I just made sketches of the petroglyphs, which still make me happy when I look at them all these years later.
As we went downstream, I kept looking and looking for goggle-eyed figure I had seen four years ago,but couldn't find it. I realized later we were looking in the right place , but just couldn't see it. Some of the petroglyphs here and at Broad Canyon are so obscured by lichen growth on the blackened rock that the light has be coming at just the right angle to create the shadows necessary to see them.
We continued down to the Broad Canyon confluence, where the many humanoid figures( " men in skirts" one of our group joked) were photographed , and then to the black cliffs on the south side of the stream, where some folks rested, while I lead the rest downstream to the eight foot goggle- eyed figure at the base of the very tall cliffs in this section of the canyon.
A lone hiker passed by us, mumbling to himself, as we rested in the shade of the canyon walls and hackberry trees. He may have been an ARARA conventioneer that couldn't attach himself to any trip so he decided to go it alone. Someone said he was looking for an image called " the guardian." I didn't know that any of the images here had names, so I probably couldn't have helped,unless he could've described it to me, but it appeared that he was not really interested in interacting at all. Strange. We later realized he must have walked all the way from Valles Tank. It was a bit worrisome because he was wearing way too many clothes for the weather and continued past us mumbling all the way to 8, 10 or who knows how many miles of desert hiking in the last week of May.
We made our way back slowly. I spotted a gate up the hill on the south side of Valles, where I had earlier made everyone crawl under the fence. They were happy to go through, but wondered if I had been" testing" them earlier. I sheepishly admitted even though I had gone this way twice before, I had never bothered to look for a gate.
We were back by 12:30, so I took everyone over to the site at Upper Silva. Only about half of the folks went very far down past the first images in the rough little canyon. It was a bit hot by now, but a wonderful breeze that had been blowing at strategic intervals throughout the day kept our intrepid group's spirits up. It seemed that a good time was had by all, including myself, so I considered the day a success.