Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hillsboro Lake-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

Hillsboro Pond, or Hillsboro Lake is an oddity in the steep, and relatively dry Black Range. It sits in a small depression just below the crest of the Black Range. The only other natural pond I know of in the Black Range is Mimbres Lake, which sits on the crest a few miles to the northwest.
There are two ways to get to Hillsboro Pond. First, there is the Ladrone Trail FT 127 which is very steep and hard to follow(see my post about it). Reaching the trailhead 3 miles past Kingston on the very dodgy FR 40E is also a bit of an adventure. The other way is via the Crest Trail FT 79 starting out of the Emory Pass parking area. This trail is wide, well worn and easy to follow. At about 4 miles in, this will be the second relatively wide, open saddle you will reach on the crest, there will be sign pointing east for Trail 127 which says “ Kingston 6", turn right here head steeply down for less than a 1/4 mile. As the trail levels out, you will see Hillsboro Pond on your left. When it’s full, it’s probably only a little more than an acre.
Still, it’s a sweet spot surrounded by aspens and firs, as well as a few spruce. Try to visit during wet times, spring after a good snow year or late summer- early fall when we’ve had good monsoon rains, otherwise it may be little more than a mud puddle.IMPORTANT UPDATE: this beautiful area was within the Silver Fire and may be vastly different from this description(October, 2014).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

North Percha Creek-Gila National Forest

The trail up North Percha is not on the Aldo Leopold Wilderness map, nor the Gila National Forest map. It is on the USGS topo of the area, but for the most part it is a forgotten trail in a remote area of the forest known and used mainly by hunters and a few locals. Still it’s a great dayhike if you happen to be visiting Hillsboro or Kingston, or if you’re already familiar with the more “popular” Black Range trails and want to try something different. Access to the trailhead is off of NM 152 about 6 miles west of Hillsboro. Be on the lookout for a small brown Forest Trail sign.( Note: this road is signed now and is called the North Percha Road and there is a much larger brown sign listing various destinations along the road). This is where you will turn off. If approaching from Kingston it is perhaps 2 -3 miles east of the town. There may be an even more smaller sign with 157 on it, also indicating your turnoff to the north. You will drive approximately 8-9 miles on this mostly good gravel road. You will go through a posted private inholding with an old yellow house and several log structures. Once out of the private land you should quickly take advantage of any available parking spot. You may see a forest trail sign and an Abandoned Primitive Road sign warning of the dangers of continued travel- believe it- especially if you’re not driving a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle and are less than experienced. You may get yourself into a position with no way to turn around. Wherever you start walking just follow the old road.
You will pass a deep pool of North Percha Creek and an area where the stream cascades over small bare- rock waterfalls. When you reach the old Virginia Mine, the road/ trail almost disappears briefly. There are numerous tunnels and tailings piles in this area, but no open shafts that I have seen. A little further along you will come to a fork in the road- go left across the creek where you will encounter several old stone structures and one almost completely collapsed larger board building which I assume was some kind of bunkhouse. Continue following the road which eventually turns into a single track trail. Watch for old tree blazes and remember the trail is never too far from the creek. At close to 3 miles a large tributary comes in on your right, stay to the left following the path across the main creek again. In a little over 3 miles you will enter a stunning gorge with volcanic cliffs towering hundreds of feet over your head. Closer to the ground there are pictographs below some overhanging rock.You can turn around here, or continue through the gorge, following old tree blazes another mile or so to an old corral. Be forewarned. Beyond the gorge there is little or no trail on the ground, just a few old blazes. The hiking gets steeper as well. Note: Mileages for the hike are distances from the Abandoned Road sign. There is limited, but nice dispersed camping along FR157 and a couple of side roads. These same roads make for a pleasant selection of dayhikes, but be careful when driving them: the change from navigable to un-navigable may be abrupt.IMPORTANT UPDATE: At least part if not all of this hike is within the Silver Fire burn area.The road is washed out a short ways past where it re-enters Forest Service land ,which is a few hundred feet past the Abandoned Road sign. There isn't good place to turn around either.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

White Mountain Wilderness Trout Streams- Lincoln National Forest,New Mexico

I think of the creeks of the White Mountain Wilderness (near Ruidoso, New Mexico) as my home waters. I know they are 100-125 miles from my house in Las Cruces, but that's just a fact of life here in New Mexico: most of us live and work in the desert valleys, but we play (and fish) in the mountains.
A two hour drive brings me to Three Rivers, name notwithstanding, a very small, steep stream(singular) on the western flanks of the 12,000 foot Sierra Blanca, the "white mountain" of the name of the wilderness(though not actually in the wilderness, but on the Mescalero Apache Reservation).This massive peak towers 7,000 feet above the desert floor and makes it own weather, which provides enough moisture for the several small trout streams, including Three Rivers which flows into a closed desert basin, disappearing beneath the sand. To fish here, you'll be hiding behind boulders, stumbling down steep banks and frequently resorting to the bow and arrow cast. The quarry: six to eight inch brook trout, but with the chance lurking for a heavy 10-11 incher that will give you a thrill. Bring your shortest, lightest rod and maybe some kneepads and you'll have a lot of a fun.
Directly across the ridge are the Rio Bonito drainages, about 15 miles northeast of the resort town of Ruidoso, New Mexico. Passing by heavily stocked Bonito Lake( open April through November) brings you first to the South Fork Bonito Creek and then to the permanent stretch of the Bonito main stem seven miles further down Forest Road 107.The reliable water on the Main Bonito, and the best fishing is in the wilderness, but even there, the water can get frighteningly low in dry years. In wet years, there may be water and fish in the non- wilderness sections both above and below the lake. There is also a permanent stretch much lower down at Fort Stanton which may contain browns, though I've never fished there. In the main stem Bonito are small brookies and rainbows. There can be some large (12-15 inches) rainbows here in May and early June, from, I would assume, a spawning run from the lake. Fish a large caddis at the tail of a plunge pool, or a weighted prince nymph right in the froth for one of these prizes.
The South Fork has more fish, rainbows, brookies and even a few cuttbows up high, and catching a couple dozen seems no great feat, but I've never caught anything bigger than 10 inches. The South Fork also has reliable water in late spring and early summer (before the monsoon starts) even in dry years. It also clears much more quickly. The nearby Ruidoso River will run brown as chocolate milk for a week or more after a heavy summer rain, while the South Fork will clear in a day or two. The only problem with the South Fork is the developed and popular Forest Service campground of the same name that sits beside the creek. This means there'll be backpackers, picnickers and hikers all along the stream every weekend in the spring, and once school lets out, they'll be there every day all summer long. Walking in a couple of miles leaves most of them behind, but lots of luck with those really nice pools about 3/4 mile from the trailhead; if they don’t have kids jumping in them, they're frequently fished out by mid-July.

Small tributaries of both forks hold brook trout. Some, such as Argentina Canyon, because it's really difficult to fish, and also looks highly unlikely to contain fish, have grown some fairly large brookies in the past, bigger than in either main branch. Argentina was silted in and had little habitat last time I visited, but the brookies could return.
In July 2008, the remnants of Hurricane Dolly brought an excessive amount of moisture into the area. Sierra Blanca received 9 inches of rain in one night. The resulting floods washed out bridges and damaged homes along the Ruidoso River. The streams of the wilderness were heavily eroded, especially the high gradient Three Rivers creek. I visited in September(08) and saw no fish. Although I’ve so spoken to a couple of people who say they saw fish in there this past summer. The main fork of the Bonito above the South Fork is blown out as well: a wide gravel wash with a few inches of water trickling down the middle. It’s doubtful they’ll be any fishing there anytime soon.A few good water years in a row would really help the situation. The South Fork seems to be doing better, there are still a few catchable fish. It also may be able to repopulate from the lake. Three Rivers could be supplemented ,this time, since no hatcheries are raising brook trout, most likely with rainbows, although cutthroats would be a better choice.UPDATE (4/13/14)- The Southfork Rio Bonito drainage burned severely in 2012, it is most likely fishless. Parts of the Main Bonito drainage burned as well, it is unlikely that it has any fish either. Three Rivers population of brook trout continues to survive. Water quality in the Ruidoso River is very poor- the fishing has not been good. There are plans , however,to reintroduce Rio Grande Cutthroats to its three forks on  the Mescalero Reservation- which would be great.