Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Organ Peak- Organ Mountains

Douglas Firs high on the slopes of  Organ Peak

Organ Needle

Looking southwest- Baldy Peak, North Canyon

 Big trees in Rock House Spring Canyon

The Narrows
I climbed Organ Peak with Kevin Muckerheide in March. We came in on the Modoc Mine road, then bushwacked into Fillmore Canyon where we followed the trail to its end and then went cross country up the very last ridge before the main dividing ridge. We chose this route because it was mostly snow free. Eventually we had to angle out on the steep slopes, sidehilling southwest toward the east-west ridge coming off the peak. It was all a hideous bushwack amongst thick stands of 4 foot high oak and locust. On the south side, just below ridgeline, it was mountain mahogany,cactus,yuccas and the usual assortment of desert vegetation even at nearly 9000 feet. Up and down pointy rocks we trudged,when ,completely exhausted, we hit the knee high snow just below the summit. I stood there for quite awhile,cooling my feet, and packing my water bottles .We summited pretty much on schedule.Close behind us was a group we had met down in Fillmore Canyon. They had taken another ridge to the top, and were even less pleased with their route than we were with ours.They had been walking in snow for the last hour.
We came back down,very steeply, but more quickly, in Rock House Spring Canyon which had trail in it's lower end leading back to the Narrows and Fillmore Canyon. I found an old mine shaft high on the side of the mountain. We also found some wreckage,which my hiking buddy, an Air Force colonel, told me was mostly likely from a drone.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holy Ghost Creek, Panchuela Creek-Pecos Wilderness

I fished the Pecos Wilderness twice this year. On a very hot June day, I had the the pleasure of fishing the Wilderness section of Holy Ghost Creek all by my lonesome. It was a perfect summer day of fishing. I caught over a dozen eager browns, all on attractor drys. Walking out, I passed a fisherman working the section in the campground and couldn't imagine that he was having the kind of day I just had. I dodged the potholes I hit on the way in, and drove back to Santa Fe all smiles. In November I went to Panchuela Creek and caught nothing. The few actual opportunities I had, I squandered. On the way out, I saw a fisherman coming in from his day on the Pecos. Curious, I quickly turned into the NMDGF parking area only to realize I was practically going over a cliff. I literally bounced my wife's Corolla down to the bottom. I chatted awhile. His day was much better than mine. I then turned to the daunting prospect of getting up the deeply rutted,STEEP entrance. My first attempt succeeded only in burning rubber. I retreated, banished the thought of getting towed out of there, and steeled myself for a second attempt. I carefully looked at my choices and determined that I needed to go to the left, balance on the highpoints of the ruts and somehow get my left front tire onto the grass to the side of the collapsed border between pavement and dirt. By some miracle it worked on the first try. I gave abundant thanks and thought my good fortune in getting out of there was more than adequate repayment for my poor luck on the stream. I checked under the car for any obvious damage and saw nothing. I worried for awhile,but slowly came to realize we had emerged unscathed.
The next day there wasn't time for fishing , so I did a little 4 mile loop hike in the forest near Santa Fe. The trails were practically like highways campared to what I'm used in most parts of Gila. It was nice,but I was about a month late for the fall color.IMPORTANT UPDATE: This areas have been impacted by the Tres Lagunas and Jaroso fires and are currently closed( June,2013).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

West Red Canyon- Cibola National Forest

I knew I had a cold. I was determined to go camping anyway, and we did. We made the trek to West Red Canyon in the San Mateo Mountains for the Labor Day weekend.We arrived late in the day. I had heard rumors that the Forest Service road had been improved since our last trip here 2 years ago. They were not true.It may have gotten worse. On the that last trip our trailer's interior had endured a serious road testing-and failed. I was not eager to repeat the procedure.But here we were: sun setting and ever hopeful that the 2 steep stream crossings before our old camping spot, had miraculously improved.They hadn't. And with our new relatively fuel efficient,but less powerful truck,just getting up the second one took on the aspect of a 50-50 proposition. Worse yet, our old spot was taken. We continued on through ruts,stones and mud,but luckily found a perfectly acceptable spot in short order. It was the opening of elk bow hunting season, and the holiday weekend, so there were many more people there than you would normally see.Still, it only amounted to four or five camps set-up over the 10 miles or so of canyon road on Cibola National Forest property.We didn't do any strenuous hikes. Just a few rambles along the road or the creek bed. It rained( and hailed we would discover) hard further back in the canyon,but we just had a few intermittent showers at our camp. I did a lot of sneezing and resting; watching chipmunks and bridled titmice in the little oak tree at our camp.The stream bed back in the forest had a phenomenon I had never seen before. Pine debris was piled up like a curb on either side, underneath was was a solid mass of half inch hailstones,insulated from melting in the heat of the day.We had a few more parts shake loose on the way back,but we did scout out a nice camping spot where we could avoid the treacherous crossing altogether.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Circle Seven Creek, North Seco Creek-Gila National Forest

We got out of Las Cruces early, so we made it to Circle Seven Creek around 4:30. We saw several other camps on the way, and we soon discovered there was another camp about a mile down the Circle Seven Creek side road.This was the first time we had seen any people out here, and we assumed they were all deer hunters.It was a busy weekend by Gila standards,but hardly crowded compared to other areas( the Sacramentos for instance). Boxelder, walnut, oak and the brilliant five leafed ivy provided fall color. On Saturday we hiked up North Seco Creek.There was a large camp set up there as well. The bed was dry where the old road crosses the creek, but there was plenty of water a short ways upstream.We saw deer, including one young one who didn't have the sense to run, but stared at us from about 20 feet for a long time.There were jays, juncos and nuthatches in the trees.Two large groups of turkeys crossed the trail ahead of us. We made it to the Aldo Leopold Wilderness boundary and perhaps a mile or so beyond, our dogs enjoying a shady romp in the country. We could hear rifles in the distance but never saw anyone on the trails.There are some deep pools in the North Seco which put me to wondering about its potential as Rio Grande Cutthroat stream,perhaps using Las Animas transplants.

At night the moon was bright.We saw two helicopters flying low. We decided they had to be headed to nearby Hermosa, an old mining town now serving as the headquarters of the enormous Ted Turner-owned Ladder Ranch.This is a remote, secluded area(despite the seasonal influx) of old ranches and abandoned mines.There is ample room for camping along sections of North Palomas, Circle Seven, and Morgan Creeks.These waterways are usually dry along the roads in the foothills,but often have water upstream in the forest. Be mindful of, and don't camp on any private property inholdings.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Part of the North Seco hike is within the Silver Fire burn area.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sapillo Creek-Gila Wilderness,Gila National Forest

I've fished Sapillo Creek 6 or 7 times now and the results have been erratic. My worst day: a single fish, although that day was less frustrating than the one where I couldn't catch anything bigger than 6 inches.That day was particularly frustrating because on my previous outing I had caught the 2 largest trout of my fishing life up to that time. My best day on the Sapillo, I injured my knee early on, and even though I was a virtual cripple for the remainder of the hike, I caught 2 dozen fish . There weren't any whoppers, but plenty of nice fish in the 8-11 inch range.
Sapillo Creek west of the bridge is a very healthy riparian area with willows,alders and grassy banks in places. It always has enough water. I have never encountered( in the 4-5 miles I fish) any dry stretches, so frequent on Gila streams.The reason it's not more of trout stream probably has to do with the temperature of the water that flows off the top of the Lake Roberts dam and the less than shady or healthy 6 miles of stream on the east side of the bridge. It fishes like the lower ends of the forks of the Gila and the Gila itself. Early spring and late fall are best.Even though it was the last weekend of October, it has been so warm that I probably should have( and have in the past) waited until the first or second or even the third weekend of November to fish it. The biggest rainbows hang out in the deepest pools,usually those that have streambed springs or seeps nearby. My first fish on Sunday,a 14-15 inch rainbow,that had to be close to 2 pounds,was caught in one of these pools near the mouth of Spring Canyon.

I hooked a second one in a similar pool further downstream that I lost on the second or third leap. You won't catch these on dry flies, and the nymph will need to sink fairly fast depending on the current. I got mine on beadhead Prince Nymph.Smaller fish that look more like Gila/rainbow hybrids can be caught(with dries some of the time) in the well oxgenated water in the small falls at the head of many pools.Some years there will many other types of fish throughout the stream. I have seen suckers,dace and even some large catfish here. Other years, it has been filled almost exclusively with trout. The past few years I haven't seen any trout, at least not until they were chasing my fly.I just hopefully cast to to likely places- a strategy that will do well on most Gila streams. The fishing has been slow the past 2 years.Even so, the thrill of battle with a leaping 16 inch or larger rainbow may occur to break up the monotony. In additon, it's beautiful place in the fall.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Organ Mountains,Black Range,White Sands , Ruidoso River Fishing

My brother visited New Mexico for the first time. It was hot,but we managed to do some morning hikes in the Organ Mountains. We tried to do hike over in the Ruidoso area,but got rained out. We did a drive through the Black Range, stopping at Emory Pass and Gallinas Creek.We also went for an evening picnic at White Sands hoping to catch some of the meteor shower.The sky was clear,but we only saw a few. It's always fun to see New Mexico anew through a visitors eyes. The last day he was here, it turned hazy,hot and humid.
Also in August, I fished the Ruidoso River for the first time. I had only a couple of hours and it was threatening rain,but I managed 4 small browns and one nice sized rainbow. I'm not sure if it was worth the $10 fee the reservation charges,but it was fun.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Poison Ivy

Either on our Las Animas backpack or on our Gallinas dayhike, my wife came into contact with poison ivy. The resulting reaction wasn't the rash of tiny bumps I remember from childhood. It was a very gnarly,swollen infection-like thing. She suffered with intense itching for a couple of weeks. In wet years,poison ivy will be abundant especially in riparian areas. Don't think "you don't get it" or any other foolishness. You can and you will if you're not careful. It's also very pretty in the fall.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ladrone Trail( FT 127)- Aldo Leopold Wilderness

There are bugs in the forest.They don't sting or suck your blood.They just form an electron cloud around your head,and with a maddening frequency, divebomb your eyes, mouth and ears. I had already swallowed several when we had our first rest stop on the Ladron Trail. Strangely enough when we stopped moving, the bugs dissappeared. It was a mostly breezeless,warm, humid July day and with the added attraction of kamikaze insects, we were seriously thinking about turning back. Then we saw a hawk family, just going about their business in a tree across the trail 25 feet above us, and a little bit of Gila Forest magic must have flowed into us, because we didn't turn around, and continued our hike with good -spirited determination.
  Determination and good spirits is what you will need for this hike.The first stretch is an easy ramble along an old road that parallels Percha Creek.The trail then crosses the creek and you quickly begin a brutally steep climb on loose dry rock.Eventually it levels off and a rather pleasant ramble beside a dry stream commences. Alas, this comes to end, and you begin the first of several ridiculously steep sections that you must conquer before reaching your destination. We decided to forego the ultimate conclusion to Ladrone Trail ,which is its junction with the Crest Trail, and instead ended our trek at tiny Hillsboro Lake(more of a puddle on this day) We had previously hiked down from the Crest to Hillsboro Lake and saw nothing to be gained by retracing the extremely steep 1/4 mile or so that would put us on the ridgeline.This trail has limited viewscapes but it does takes you through an extensive aspen grove and Hillsboro Lake, in a wet year, is a delightful,unique spot in the dry Black Range. This trail has quite a bit of variety, which is why it ultimately won me over,but it is a challenge.IMPORTANT UPDATE: this  wonderful hike was within the Silver Fire burn(June,2013). Conditions are likely to be vastly altered especially close to the ridgeline.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Railroad Canyon-Gila National Forest

We did a couple of dayhikes in July. One was to Railroad Canyon. At the junction of Railroad Canyon and East Railroad Canyon we found a recently abandoned campsite. These folks had never even heard of leave no trace. There were tortillas and tomatoes dumped on the ground. In the firepit were steakbones, foil and plastic bags. There were several bare areas nearby, where their tied up horses had eaten and trampled the ground to dust. It was absolutely inconceivable to me why people who had pack animals would not pack out their trash. This was the first time in 10 years of visiting the Gila that I had seen a backcountry campsite so trashed. Well, we picked up all the inorganic refuse and carried it back in our daypacks.The food we left, unfortunately knowing it would be an attractant to bears and other critters. Who are these people who do this things?Surely they must have experienced some of the anti-litter, anti- pollution, safe bear practice etc. education campaigns that have been going on for the last 40 years. Oh,well I still find plenty of abandoned campfires burning, and everyone knows about Smokey. I can't imagine that they are just ignorant, rather, I believe, they get a perverse pleasure out flaunting long accepted standards for outdoor behavior.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Black Range Crest-Gila National Forest

I was sick of eating backpacking food. Someone had thoughtfully left some oily sardine tins at the campsite at Sid's Prong saddle, so bears were even more on my mind. Then I noticed the bear scat on the trail,but I somehow convinced myself it wasn't bear scat. In the night we heard large animals and the sound of breaking branches, I convinced myself it was elk. I dreamed something was holding my leg and woke up in a terror. I have seen bears in the Black Range: on East Railroad Canyon, on Turkey Run and a close encounter on the Mimbres River. Alas, it was not meant to be on this trip.
The last leg along the crest was shady and pleasant,if a bit up and down, in contrast to the nearly shadeless stretch from the previous day.We arrived at Boardgate Saddle and began down the road. It was hot. We drank the last of our water and rested in the shady spots.The hills were very steep.They were meant for jeeps not feet. Still, we had a sense of triumph, of accomplishment. It was by far our longest backpack and our first loop.And loops in and of themselves are always more satisfying than an out and back.The truck started. I didn't have flat. I went for a gander at the less than scenic Mcknight Cabin, and then started down the merciless Mcknight Road, happy.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Black Range Backpack-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Hiking around the gorge in Holden Prong is quite a haul. Now,exhausted, we were looking for a camping spot. Coincidentally, the canyon had narrowed considerably and there really wasn't any space to pitch a tent. Eventually, we did find a slightly wider area and decided it would do. It's amazing how much better you feel just by getting the pack off. The next morning I caught a few more fish, all good fighters, until we reached the often photographed series of waterfalls that marks the beginning( or the end in my case) of the fishing water on Holden Prong. I tried the deep pool below the falls without success.Then, I decided to just dunk myself in the cold water.We did see a five-legged leopard frog on a rock face above the pool. The Rio Grande cutthroats had been great fun: each one a classic. Now we started the considerable task of reaching Sid's Prong saddle. It was a much longer hike to the crest than I remembered from a previous backpack,but we did make it to Holden Prong saddle, and after a good rest we set out on the Crest Trail. It just so happened, as we stood out on the exposed ridgeline, that the first thunderstorms in 3 days began to the west and south of us.The humidity soared in this late afternoon as we tried to speed to Sid's Prong saddle.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Sadly, this beautiful area was within the Silver Fire ( June, 2013). Expect vastly altered conditions in the future.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holden Prong Fishing-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

After lunch we packed up and started up the Holden Prong trail. In a short while I saw trout- Rio Grande cutthroats- cruising in a deep blue-green pool. A minute later I had caught a nice fat one. As we continued on I would cast at only similar looking pools- the fish weren't anywhere else. They seem to have an instinct,because of the extreme fluctuation in water levels,to stay where they know the water will be, even as long stretches of the rest of the stream dry up. I caught maybe four or five more. It was a little difficult taking on and off my backpack to fish. I tried leaving it on a few times but it was more than a little awkward, especially when I was scrambling on rocks or bending down to release a fish. The weight of the pack had me constantly fighting a nosedive into the water or a headsmash on a boulder. I also had to worry about the patience of my non-fishing companion.She was very, very patient while I tried my luck at more than half of the promising spots as we hiked upstream. To try every good looking pool, or close to every one,would have not been feasible given our schedule: we were doing a 25 mile loop in three days, and we have never hiked more than about 8 miles a day with a full pack. I was happy with the fish I caught. Their strength,their beauty, their very existence in this remote canyon on the dry side of the pretty dry Black Range, had me in a constant smile.
At some point I had started using a Black Ant, because real black ants were everywhere streamside. At the last crossing before the trail makes a steep climb out of the canyon to bypass the narrow gorge,there is long,wide stretch of flat water , less than 2 feet deep , with a small falls at the head and another at the tail. There was no gravel here, just a thin layer of organic matter that had accumulated on bare rock. Upstream , there was a series of cascades over the same bare bedrock.I drifted that Ant in the narrow seam of flow at both ends and came out with good fish each time.That was exciting I thought. That was well done.IMPORTANT UPDATE: This hike is within the  Silver Fire burn area. Expect vastly altered conditions from those described here (October,2015).

Along Las Animas Creek- Gila National Forest

A beautiful place. UPDATE: unfortunately, this idyllic scene may be vastly altered due to the Silver Fire( June, 2013).

Murphy Place- Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Holden Prong/Las Animas Creek Backpack - Aldo Leopold Wilderness

It was chilly on Mcknight Mountain. A little bit raw compared to the already balmy weather in the lowlands.The clouds were rushing by.The wind and chill , and the tortuous drive up the Mcknight Road, completely exposed the fact that my backpacking partner had zero enthusiasm for this trip. Still I was determined. I had been hoping to get back to Las Animas Creek for 5 years. 3 years ago I made a mental note of the then marked turnoff for the Water Canyon trail when we hiked the Crest trail to Mimbres Lake. Why I can remember things like this - I don't know. The turnoff was no longer marked and the trail no longer obvious.There were remnants of a cairn hidden in the grass and aspen saplings and about 10 yards down the hill an actual tread to follow.The Water Canyon trail is rapidly becoming more like a place where a trail used to be than a real trail. Small aspens and locusts grow in the path. Downfall crossings are frequent. Most of the lower end has very little tread to follow and many steep stream crossings. In addition to those trail conditions, the rising temperature and humidity as we descended to the bottom(3'500 feet lower) made the chill on the mountaintop a distant memory. Even though it is entirely downhill and only 5 miles long(supposedly) it took us over 4 hours to reach the Holden Prong trail. We hadn't backpacked in few years,but our skills were still good and we set up camp. Bear sign was everywhere. It had not been a carefree ramble in the woods.IMPORTANT UPDATE: much of this hike  was within the perimeter of the Silver Fire, conditions may be vastly altered(June,2013).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts of a Fly Fisher

Fishing is cruel. It's also mysterious. Even the small, fragile and sometimes ridiculously transparent world of a trout in a stream has something in it of the leviathans lurking in the dark ocean. Creatures living in these tiny rivulets of water amidst all this land. Stranded as if on another planet so far from, and at least here in the southwest, with no way to get back to their mothership ocean. It's cruel to pull them up to the air, however briefly. The pain of the hook I've felt in all my fingers many times over, probably not the same as in the lip.Somehow it seems more cruel just to terrify them and, let them go, rather than kill them and eat them. I can't deny the cruelty,yet I can't deny the compelling hold fishing has over me. Perhaps it's an instinct, a link to a primitive self: stalking one's prey, wandering the forest. Or perhaps that's some kind of rationalization. I don't think I'll stop anytime soon.Somehow not denying what seems to be obvious, clears my mind.Yet in those moments,when a release doesn't go 100% the way it should, or there's a foul hooking, or swallowed fly- the strange cruelty of what I'm doing surfaces.But it's usually quickly forgotten in the adrenaline mainline of the next fish tightening the leader.Then I redouble my resolve for good releases off short plays. I move on to the next mystery.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bonito Creek Camping-Lincoln National Forest

Crest Trail

Nogal Peak

Wild irises

South Fork Bonito

In late May I started things off with fishing trips to Three Rivers for brookies, and Bonito Creek for rainbows and brookies. Fishing was good and I did catch one truly large rainbow in Bonito Creek just below the confluence with Aspen Canyon. I also encountered other fisherman for first time in the seven or so years that I'd been fishing in the White Mountain Wilderness.

In early June we went on a trailer camping trip back to Bonito Creek. We found a good spot on a dirt road along the creek. We hiked up the Argentina Trail to the Crest and then back down the Little Bonito and Big Bonito trails. The crest was spectacular! The third day it was starting to get windy, cloudy and a little cold. We drove around until the sun came out and then hiked some of the South Fork and the Bluefront trails. I did a little fishing,but only caught a few small trout.By the time we returned to the campsite, it was really blowing a gale. We could hear trees cracking all around us and decided to get out. It was a long drive back to Las Cruces with 60 mph headwind the whole way.
Argentina Canyon trail
Looking down Argentina Canyon
Argentina Spring on the crest

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Day in Black Canyon-Gila National Forest

Black Canyon Gila Trout
Sometimes you wait so long for something, you think it's never going to happen.Even as the day approached I thought something would go wrong. But nothing did. I made it to Black Canyon. I fished for Gila trout. I made the wrong choice choosing trails walking in, which led me onto a narrow ledge of a cliff, which to fall from would mean death, not just injury. I left my lunch in the truck. Somehow I didn't secure the cap of one of my water bottles so I soaked and ruined my camera, but I fished for Gila trout. I didn't change my cap for the one with the cloth that protects my neck from the New Mexico sun. I didn't put on sunblock.I turned down and parked on the road that was 50 yards before the road I wanted, which added a half-mile to my hike, but I fished for Gila trout. I fished for Gila trout and I caught Gila trout. At the first pool I cast from behind a giant Ponderosa pine: there was a bite. A short while later, kneeling in some tall grass, I blind casted into a calm, narrow pool and waited a few seconds with just the fly sitting on the surface. The line tightened with an undeniable hook-up, and a few moments after I held a pure strain Gila trout in my hands. I continued upstream, catching a nice fish in almost every deep pool.The few where I'd failed, I made up for on the walk back. It was hot, a little too hot for mid-September. I didn't mind. My lunch wasn't back at the truck, like I thought, but back at the house in Las Cruces. So, it would be at least another 2 hours before I could stop at the Lota-Burger in Deming and get something to eat. I didn't mind. The drive out was just as slow and rough as the drive in. I didn't really mind. The waiting was over.