Monday, September 20, 2010
Railroad Canyon/Gallinas Canyon( FT 128, FT 129)-Gila National Forest
Something strange comes over you looking down the Holden Prong trail. A narrow path disappearing in the darkness of a dense aspen grove beckons you onward,even when you know you can't go. Even though I've been down in there, its mystery is still strong and as I linger at the Holden Prong saddle, a small,flat grassy clearing along the Crest trail, I think about when I can get back down into that narrow canyon hidden in a crease of my beloved Black Range.
We came up the Railroad Canyon trail,the classic introductory hike to these mountains. It starts at the Railroad Canyon picnic area passing by a quarry area that must have been used during the building of NM 152. It follows the usually flowing Gallinas Creek crossing it many,many times. This time of year the wildflowers were everywhere, and the creek low enough to rock hop and keep your boots dry.Oak,pine, fir,black walnut and an occasional narrow leaf cottonwood make up the forest along the stream bottom.Wild strawberry is abundant underfoot, and as you go up there is poison ivy trail side so be careful.Pay no mind to the distances posted on the trail signs,which not only underestimate the distance,but also seem to conflict with each other, the hike to the top is a little over 4 miles. It's a mostly gradual climb until reaching the junction with the East Railroad Canyon trail,from there it really starts to climb in earnest culminating in several switchbacks that finally allow some nice views back down the canyon and beyond to the peaks to the south. From there the gradient lessens passing through a mature aspen grove and then on up through the gambel oak to the crest. Along the way there are two alternate hikes. First is the Gallinas trail which is very steep initially,but eventually levels out to follow the stream in a canyon that is larger,more open and prettier than Railroad. The gradient is significantly less as it take an extra mile to reach the crest at Sid's Prong saddle. Stands of aspen and open meadows near the top of this hike make it especially scenic in the fall.East Railroad Canyon is much more narrow and steep and has distinctly closed in feel to it. It also has more lush growth of poison ivy which makes it a less attractive alternative. It eventually ends up at the Hillsboro Peak bypass trail. Both these trails can be used to do lollipop type loop hikes.If you're new to Las Cruces and looking for place to get started in the regions many forest hiking opportunities, this area is a great way to go.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Sadly, these areas were within the Silver Fire burn area. Conditions may be vastly different from what is pictured and described here(June, 2014).