Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Organ Eye-Peña Blanca Wilderness Study Area

The Peña Blanca Wilderness Study Area, I would guess, is the least visited of the Organ Mountains three WSA's.  The only trails are the unofficial ones in Achenbach and Ladera Canyons. Private property along Ladera Canyon Road and Peña Blanca Loop blocks access from maintained roads. Two unmaintained roads, one on the southern boundary and one on  the eastern leave a lot to be desired.  All these reasons, plus the fact that it lacks a "destination" feature combine to keep it's nearly 5,000 acres very wild. Why it is still just a study area, I'm not really sure.
  I've known about this place for several years and finally took the plunge to find it on the second day of my spring break. The eastern boudary road into the trailhead  starts just past the Sierra Vista trailhead on the county road. It was my first adventure of several that day. Let's just say it's not great and if you don't have high clearance and the option of four wheel drive, find someone who does.
 I haven't been out to this area in several years, and had forgotten how scenic the southern Organs are. Massive ribs of pock-marked volcanic tuff, immense rusty red towers and jagged formations that puncture the soft curves of the hillsides though not comparable to the world class Needles a few miles to the north,make the ridgeline south of Achenbach impressive as a desert range on its own.

 I started out from the trailhead  situated between the foothills of the ridge and a small detached mountain. There was a trail patted down in the grass and still curled poppies. It followed and crossed the arroyo and then headed up a ridge between the main canyon on the south and smaller  side branch. The trail disappeared. For reasons that don't reflect well on your author. I went back downhill. I climbed a steep hillside on the south, thinking there was natural arch there to be seen. Nothing doing, but nice views, although none of the Organ Eye. I then angled my way down  and began up the main canyon, which I thought of dubbing " Fool's Canyon" because only a fool would want to go up it through the spanish dagger, catclaw, whitethorn, mesquite and octotillo without even a trace of trail.There was an odd sort of dwarf forest of soapberry trees just beginning to leaf out which brought some sweetness to the unrelenting thorniness of the vegetation.

 I spotted a very small arch and climbed up,around and then behind it to get a look. I thought there was a larger arch beneath, but no dice. Now I continued up the hillside and got my first look of what I thought was the Organ Eye, looking from that vantage point like the entrance to large cave.

 It was getting hot already and I still had 500 feet of elevation gain to go, but I decided to give it shot. I sidehilled on  deer trails in and out of gullies, careful not lose any significant elevation as made my way toward the dry cascade just below the "cave." Eventually I was directly across from the massive fin of rock and the Organ Eye, at its base, was visible for the first time. I edged my way slowly across the bedrock of the waterfall and a ledge and then I was in the Eye, grateful for the first shade of the day.

 The Organ Eye is the largest arch formation I know of in the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.  It is not well known, and from the lack of graffiti, trash and evidence of campfires it seems to have very few visitors. I was happy to be there and took many photos to commemorate the occasion.

I decided to go out the northern entrance and the down the steep slope. When walking down rough, treacherous terrain like this, it's best to forget taking anything resembling a straight route. Any direction that allows a few free steps that aren't uphill works. Just keep moving  generally where you want to go and  don't be afraid to find a better option.
 I went over a low saddle and found  a couple of cairns and then was back on my original path from several hours before. The poppies were open now and it made me smile to see them after so many years absent.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chivatos Canyon,Plateau- Las Uvas Mountains Wilderness Study Area

This was a nice hike for an early spring morning. The grasses were greening up, the wildflowers were beginning to bloom and the junipers  looked bright and full. The destination of this hike is the plateau country of Uvas Mountains Wilderness Study Area and this walk has the distinct advantage of the use of  a  very old,little used road to get up there. Although it is cherry-stemmed out of the WSA,  this road to Chivatos Tank and beyond, is getting more than bit wild itself. I was glad I parked just off of off the through road( I'm never sure what to call it in these middle regions, either the Barksdale or the Corralitos Rd, E006 or D012), and elected to walk to Chivatos Tank. I'm not saying it can't be driven, but I enjoyed exploring the canyon itself , examining different sections on the way in and on the way back.
 The walk to the tank was pleasant with early season butterflies flitting  about and bird songs welcoming me. Although there was several bedrock areas, and a narrow slot-like pot hole stretch that held water in several places, I didn't see any grinding mortars, or petroglyphs.  I did find a vintage Pepsi can and other vintage trash.

The cliffs exposed the oxidized tuff and basalt caprock resting on layers of  pale conglomerate and volcanic ash.
 The tank was without water, a suprise given all the rain we've had this winter. Past the tank my trail/ road zig-zagged up the hillside. I rested under a juniper when it finally leveled off and I wondered if I will ever find another surviving piñon tree in the Uvas. Continuing on I hit the highpoint of the hike which is a shade over 6100 feet. Google Earth greatly enhances the continued viability of the route as a vehicle road . Grass and weeds are taking hold in the gravel tracks of the main northward branch.Two side roads that begin close to one another, on the plateau, one heading east and one heading west up onto  adjoining mesas are almost invisible at their starts in the high growth of last years grass and wildflower skeletons. They might be fun to explore on a second visit.
 Looking down  I saw  several nice pieces of the ubiquitous Uvas agate, including one glob that had  the nice pinkish-orange tint that is more prized than the more common shades of blue, gray and white.

 Where the road ended, there was still a little bit of rocky mesa left where I first descended and then walked up a little hill to the "land's end" point where there were views of lower peaks of the Uvas, the arroyos leading to the river and to the village of Hatch.

 Beyond, there was the Black Range of the Gila, the Caballo Mountains, the San Andres chain on the east and far to the north, the buttress of Victorio Peak of the San Mateo range.

 On my return walk, the sun emerged from the cloud cover that had mercifully kept the heat down. In spite of the rising temperatures, I couldn't resist the urge to explore the little box section of Chivatos Canyon just downstream from where I had parked. Although there were deep natural pools of water and this area is very close to places with petroglyphs, once again I found no rock art or grinding mortars.

 I walked backed out and to the car. I had been out about 4 hours and covered between 6 and 7 miles. The elevation gain was a little less than 1,000 feet

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Rough and Ready Hills- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

We did a little three mile loop hike in the Rough and Ready Hills on Sunday. Got most of it in before the wind started to really blow. Seamus chased a few jackrabbits. Nessie got excited over a few cows. We found a nice little picnic spot in the cliffs beneath a juniper. The contact between the rhyolite layer and  the underlying basalt flow is evident here in several places. There were some nice views to the north and northeast once we  reached the saddle at the top of the arroyo we were following. Not much else to report. It was just a easy going, early spring hike. I thought, even though the scenery wasn't spectacular, that places like this should be set aside, if just to preserve a few quiet places on our earth.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Selden Hills, Tonuco Basin Escarpment- Tonuco Uplift

  I'd been thinking  for a couple of years about visiting a couple of canyons on the southwest corner of the large basin that lies south of Tonuco Peak. The reason why: on Google Earth they strongly resemble some of the slot canyons I've visited near Lake Roberts.  Unfortunately, since NMSU has locked the gates that would have  allowed closer vehicle access to the entire Tonuco, Selden Hills region, getting to these canyons means a long approach hike over less than scintillating terrain. So, I've continued to put it off. Well, on Monday afternoon, I just bit the bullet, and headed out at a blistering pace  from my parking spot across NM 85 from the Broad Canyon Dam.
 I crossed the river and hiked up Flying V Canyon. Staying to the left, I angled my way up arroyos and down ridges to the upper end of Lytten Canyon. I then  pushed my way, with one hiking pole and one yucca stalk for leverage, up on the ridge overlooking the basin, with the canyons  that were my objective lying directly below me.
 Let me say right now that the canyons were a disappointment. They were very small and only mildly slot -like. One was thick with dwarf hackberry trees which would make it bit more attractive come spring, and  the alcove pocked sandstone and conglomerate cliffs had a modicum of charm, but that hardly made the two mile approach through monotonous sand and shrubs worth it.
 Afterwards I went back through Dancing Man Canyon, where I found a couple more petroglyphs I hadn't spotted last year.

This  canyon is deep, peaceful and secluded and made me feel happy to be there despite the wind which had begun its steady, forceful afternoon blow. Rhyolite boulders, and boulders of a conglomerate  made of boulders line the sides and lie in  the canyon bottom of gray pebbles and sand. It's rough and narrow, even if the grass covered north facing hillside softens the scene and left me wondering why ancient folks would venture up there in the first place.  I was reminded as  I listened, to cars driving along  NM 85, how close I was to  the river and that it wouldn't be much of venture for those who lived along the river in ancient times, more like a walk in the backyard.

 I walked back through the low growing mesquite and  creosote across benches and down into short arroyos. On top of one small bluff above the river and the railroad tracks,hidden by a small berm,  I first spotted  a perfect triangular prism of igneous rock that gave off the  distinct aura of being a prehistoric tool. Then bits and flakes of chert were found in the soft sand.  Then, confirming that this was a habitation site, I spotted large pieces of pottery, red and brown, one after another. I slowed down, for the first time that afternoon. I felt  connected.

Note: Although the pottery site appears to at least be partially on small  bit of BLM land, the Selden Hills and Tonuco Basin are almost entirely within NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Research Center land. The property is not posted along every fence line,but it is at intersections and entrances that are along dirt roads on the east side of I-25 and at the north and south entrances along the power line road.This is not public land, although the land was once open to public use. It appears that roads and arroyos  along the mesas and in the canyons still receive some use( I saw many recent vehicle tracks),but mostly likely these are people that are coming from private property along the east side of the river. For the present, entering without permission  should be considered trespassing.