Thursday, April 12, 2018

Circle Seven Creek Camping 2018- Gila National Forest

 The road to Circle 7 Creek is rough. With a trailer in tow, it took  us nearly an hour to drive the 15 or so miles from Winston, climbing in and out of the three drainages (Chloride/Cuchillo, Monument and North Palomas). But it was  worth it when we were finally looking down into the open meadows and widely spaced ponderosa pines of the Circle 7 valley.  It's hard to do justice to the way it makes us feel. We've camped here 4 or 5 times and we'll probably come back a few more times before we're done.

 We hiked down the road and the cowpaths beside the streambed in the evenings, once to the old homestead on Whiskey Spring Creek, another time to the campsite we used a couple of years ago. There's always something more,something different to see each time we walk it,  and I wonder how those rock formations, or that pine stand on the south side escaped my notice before.

We parked our little Casita just a short ways down on FR 730 from the windmill and well at its intersection with FR 157. Turkey feathers were everywhere at the large site, so I guess turkey hunters had been also.
We saw bats in evening, and watched the full moon rise to throw moonshadows over the silent junipers and oaks.

 It's dry there this spring. The only water for miles around was coming from the still pumping windmills where birds perched on the metal rim of the low tank to sip. I talked to one couple who passed by in their pick-up out for day drive,but otherwise saw only one other vehicle for three days.
So remote, so peaceful, so beautiful, it seems no wonder that settlers tried to make a home here,although they probably had other interests on their minds.
Go out there once if you can, it will calm your soul.

Friday, April 6, 2018

North Palomas Creek Upper Box- Gila National Forest


 Note: I'm calling this the"upper box"  to distinguish it  from a  second box canyon  further downstream right before its confluence with the South Fork Palomas.
On Sunday( Easter) morning we headed out to another box canyon cut through the same layers of Paleozoic sedimentary rock. The  North Fork of Palomas Creek is the next major drainage to the north, less than 2 miles of Circle Seven. It's even deeper, somewhere close to 900 feet from the hilltops to the creek bottom, but unfortunately it's more open to sun and more accessible to livestock, which meant there were only a couple of bends that had a few puddles of water.  Riparian trees were limited to scattered willow clumps and mostly older cottonwoods.

 We started out parking at a  camping spot sitting  30-40 feet above the creek. We headed down the  bank where the dogs began bounding through the flats covered in tall, dry grass and past some big stream side cottonwoods just beginning to bud. We began to walk in the dry, gray gravel where my Seamus began picking up sticker after sticker. We had to stay  to the most recent channel  to avoid those as we went on.
 Our first stop was a small shelter cave. Nearby, on the same side of the creek was another cave opening  hidden in the leafless vines. I investigated in on the way back but my weak little LED flashlight was useless in trying to see into its black depths. I wonder if anyone has ever investigated it.

 We came upon a few mossy puddles of water in the bedrock of the first bend and then began making our way through  turn after turn. Chipmunks and squirrels ran in and out of the  crevices in the limestone making my terriers more than little excited. The walking in the stream bed was much in flat gravel but occasionally through boulders and bedrock.  It was wide enough however that we were able to use cowpaths on the banks at times to bypass some rougher passages. Spring comes on late in these dry years,  so the scenery lower down, lacking any greenery, was not the best, but high above our heads it got better and better. Massive cliffs,sparsely covered with desert vegetation on the south facing slopes, and painted with piñon and juniper on the north facing ones, had us craning our necks.

At the deepest bend was an alcove formed where layer of shale is eroding more quickly than the layers above and below. Nothing remarkable was found when I investigated, except  the piles of flood debris about 15 feet above the floor of the canyon.

 Eventually, the netleaf hackberries, to my mind a tree of the lower desert, appeared and the heat seemed to rise. We sat in the  branch shade of a huge cottonwood( alive but leafless still) and then made  our much more slowly back.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Circle Seven Creek Box- Gila National Forest

Three years ago on Easter weekend we hiked upstream on the Circle 7 Creek trail ( FT 106) just about as far as we could go. This Easter weekend we were out camping at Circle 7 Creek again. This time we would hike downstream. I got the idea from my friend Doug Scott who hiked to the little slot canyon down in there a couple of years ago and put the trip on his New Mexico Slot Canyons page. I wondered why I had never thought of that, but now on Saturday morning we were off to discover the Circle Seven box for ourselves, and as it turns out there was so much more there than that very short little slot section.
 The un-named and un-numbered road( on one map it's labeled 4146V) that starts off just north of Negro Bob Well  was a wonderfully scenic drive through last years luxuriant growth of now golden grass, and past tall ponderosa pines. After crossing the dry creek a couple of times we parked off the road in the dried weeds and wildflower stalks just a short ways from where the road dead-ends with a little loop for vehicles to turn around.

The boulders and lower streamside cliffs started almost immediately as we stomped down the dry gravel and rocks of thestream in jumps and bounds until reaching a large overhang in the limestone rock that overlooked a dry waterfall. On the lip of the overhang were names and drawings done in charcoal from over 100 years ago. This was a place to come back then,not so much since, I would venture to speculate.

 We backtracked a bit to find the cattle/wildlife trail that went around the waterfall on the stream's south side. When we got back down to the creek bed that's where everything changed. Water appeared which changed the stream from looking like so many pine and juniper lined canyons that run with water about  two months a year, to a real forest/desert oasis. Bright green cress grew in the pools, and thick grass hedged the undercut banks. Glass wort was everywhere underfoot.Willows were budding close at hand, and  while up above junipers poked out of cliffs of  marine sedimentary rocks  that rose up 500 feet to the ridge tops. Further down the stream flattened out, opened up and flowed over bedrock bordered with healthy alder trees.

Livestock and wildlife trails had been utilized but as the canyon narrowed again, the terrain of  boulders,bedrock and thickly tangled vines, shrubs and trees became increasingly difficulty to navigate with two headstrong Scotties.

 My wife graciously let me continue on downstream solo.  It was all rock hopping and scrambling down to the slot canyon section. Dark at nearly noon with walls close to 100 feet with the stream live singing and echoing out both entrances.
Coming out of it's cool environs it now felt like we had emerged into the high desert and left the low forest. Large cottonwoods appeared on the scene as did a few tiny fish and then to my wonder and surprise a newly constructed beaver dam. 

The small pond that backed up behind held more fish.The paths through the brush and grass that I was walking were theirs.  Then in the juniper brush, I could hear them. It's hard to explain how incongruous this all felt. I would wager  that at that moment, all but these two or three of Circle Seven's 13 or 14 miles were completely dry and yet here were beavers. Were they survivors somehow able to continue to eke out a living in the insulated world of this narrow canyon? Or have they been returned to live here perhaps by folks at the Ladder Ranch?
Towhees darted in and out of the bushes. Canyon wrens laughter echoed on the cliffs of hard gray rock. After I returned and we ate lunch, we walked upstream and noticed  beaver chewed stumps both big and small that we had overlooked on the way down. This has been their canyon for  some time now.   Back up with big pines and dry stream, it was hard to imagine the riparian paradise we had just been in and hard to say goodbye.

 On the drive back we stopped at the log ruins of an old homestead. It's so easy to see why folks wanted to live in this idyllic valley, and easy to feel sad at their failed aspirations. I didn't feel too bad though, for I'm more than happy and thankful that it now belongs to everyone.

 NOTE: Although I did not see a fence or NO TRESPASSING post, somewhere below the slot canyon section, this hike crosses over into the private property of the Ladder Ranch