Monday, September 26, 2011

Noonday Canyon,Gila National Forest

The Rabb Park Trail starts in swale along the crest a short ways west of Lower Gallinas Campground.There is an old road on the north side that steeply drops from NM152 and areas to park adjacent to it. If it's wet at all, better to park at a small pullout a little ways west along the highway. The trail starts immediately to the left down a rocky stream course and then disappears completely, which led us on a circuitous route back up the hill, down some arroyos and through a fence where we finally found the trail again. We discovered on our return that the trail only disappears briefly and had we persevered initially we would have quickly found it again as it exits the stream bed.The trail crosses Noonday Canyon which usually has precious little water but when we visited back in July 'O8, it was a whitewater torrent. We found a relatively calm spot to cross and then continued along the road on the other side. A short distance further there is a sign showing the Rabb Park Trail taking off to the left(west). We started up this steep,rocky path and quickly realized it was already too hot for this particular excursion. When I encountered a couple of free roaming hounds as I scouted out just how much more climbing this trail was going to do( a lot) the deal was sealed. We headed back down to the road and decided to take a more leisurely hike. We walked along that same road as it follows Noonday Canyon to the north. It eventually dead ends( or at least appears to) at an old cabin,which still may be getting some use.We didn't investigate the cabin and its environs too closely,because we weren't exactly sure as to the property status. We instead called it a day and headed back,just before the rains came. I was grateful for our change in plans:it would have been tough negotiating the Rabb Park trail once it was wet. That hike will have to wait for a cooler,dryer day.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Parts of this hike are within the Silver Fire burn area(June, 2013).

Quaking Aspen Canyon Trail 86,Gila National Forest

Access to this trail is off the Mcknight Road. About 10 miles in, there is a turn-off for Forest Road 537. The initial pitch down into the canyon is very steep,with a some large road bed rocks that scraped the bottom of our truck. There is some shady,spacious,flat camping areas a short ways in along the stream,which usually has some water and even tiny fish(not trout).

We parked and started walking down the road,passing an old homestead with corrals,sheds and a cabin.

Eventually there was a fork in the road. The left branch continues on the East Canyon Trail(FT 93). We headed right on FT 86( Quaking Aspen Canyon). It was pretty pleasant walking on a clear Autumn day. Huge oaks were in brilliant color, and eventually we saw a few aspens a short ways past the junction with the Rabb Park Trail.
A nice walk in a section of the forest that attracts very few hikers, although hunters do frequent the area.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Parts of this hike are within the Silver Fire burn area (June,2013).

Tierra Blanca Creek and Trujillo Canyon-Gila National Forest

I've been back on Tierra Blanca Creek 3 or 4 times, although not very recently. The first time I was looking for trout. I had read in Rex Johnson's Fly Fishing Southern New Mexico that this small stream in the Southern Black Range( also known as the Mimbres Mountains)contained a population of rainbows.It was a good hike,but the fish were no more, although there were plenty of ornery looking cows drinking in the stream which had plenty of water. I probably made it almost to the divide that first trip,hoping I would find fish up high. I did see a very large blacktail rattler sitting on a rock right in the middle of the creek on my way back down. On subsequent visits I've come to the conclusion that this is a snaky place. My last visit I actually encountered someone coming in from the other side in a Jeep Cherokee, it looked liked he had run out of visible road a ways back. I told him he absolutely would be at the end of the drivable portion of his journey soon, because we had just had to climb around a 10 foot waterfall coming the other way. Trujillo Creek is reached starting from the Tierra Blanca trailhead,but heading north on an old road.Many old mines,an old trailer and a bread truck that someone managed to drive in here are encountered on the way. Trujillo usually has some water.We followed the old road along the creek,passing one old homestead. It eventually turns into a trail that weaves along the creek bed and then the trail is the creek bed. I'd like to have a look at Trujillo Park, a large, flat grassy area to the northeast of the creek crossing. The road to Tierra Blanca is off of NM 27 a few miles south of Hillsboro. The first part is a good county maintained road that passes several ranches.Watch for a small sign for FR 522 that takes off to the north. From here on the road is very rough and slow going. You're bound to see javelinas in the fall.IMPORTANT UPDATE: These hikes are within the Silver Fire burn area.Check with the Forest Service for conditions.

South Percha Creek, Gila National Forest

The old road down to South Percha Creek is 3 miles west of Kingston on NM 152. I can't be any more specific than that. The turnout looks just like any of the other turnouts along the myriad of bends as the road winds its way to Emory Pass. I've driven right by when I was trying really hard to be on the look out for it. Just watch your odometer and then look for gap in the shrubs( mountain mahogany I believe,but don't hold me to it). It may be easier to find coming from the other direction if you have a passenger who is diligently looking over the edge. They may be able to spot the road and tell you to slow down. Anyway it's a steep and shadeless trek down to the bottom. You'll remember both those adjectives on the way back up. Thankfully it's a pretty short as well. At the bottom is the confluence of South Percha( on the right) and Drummond Canyon. Both usually hold some water. Old boards and assorted mining debris are littered about,including a sizable cast iron boiler a short ways up Drummond. There are also several mines both upstream and downstream from this point on South Percha . I collected some nice azurite encrusted rocks from one of the tailings piles on one visit. There are many good sized bigtooth maple trees down in these canyons that turn brilliant red in October. It's a pretty easy place to get a dose of New Mexico fall color. Traces of paths going up Drummond Canyon and down South Percha are just unofficial use trails that don't go anywhere,just as far as your exploring wants to take you. Although if you amble far enough down South Percha you will hit private ranch property eventually.Going upstream on South Percha appears to be a bit rougher. I haven't explored very far up the canyon, but erosive forces have considerably widened the channel and scraped it down to bedrock in the lower end. At one time this place was obviously bustling with activity,but now is forgotten and remote despite being barely out of earshot of the cars negotiating the twisting NM 152.IMPORTANT UPDATE: This hike is within the Silver Fire burn area and may be significantly altered from the time that this blog was written (June,2013).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spring Canyon Trail 721,Gila National Forest

This our fourth or fifth hike up the Spring Canyon Trail. It's easy to drive by the short side road that leads to trailhead. And I did it again. It's in between Railroad Canyon and Upper Gallinas with only a small brown sign indicating a forest trail.This is not nearly as popular a trail as others in the Emory Pass corridor,but it does look like it's been receiving more traffic lately including some horses,which I haven't seen evidence of before. There even looks like there's been some trail maintenance, which is highly unusual on all but the most popular trails in this section of the Gila. Perhaps it was the Backcountry Horsemen group doing it.This is a nice hike,mostly closed in by alders,boxelders, oaks and walnut along the narrow streambed. The stream was flowing in a few short stretches.Much of this creek flows on a contact between limestone and volcanic rock. There is abundant light colored limy mud and re-deposited calcite minerals in the stream course which gives it a different look from many of the streams in the area.There's a nice grove of mature aspens about 2 miles in,that I always enjoy seeing like old friends. We made it to the first saddle, then went through the gate to a second saddle, then down the trail a ways to where the views open up to the Sawyers Peak ridge and on out to the Mimbres Valley. We were tantalizingly close to the Silver Creek mining area,which I had wanted to get to back in the Spring.This hike is about 5.5 miles(if you make it to the Silver Creek Road) with about 1300 feet of elevation gain. I still would like to do a shuttle hike from Emory Pass along the Sawyers Peak trail, down the Silver Creek trail and then back up and over on the Spring Canyon trail. On a side note: there has been a corral built in one of our favorite dispersed campsites across the creek at Upper Gallinas. I guess it's alright.There had previously been no facilities for horsemen in this area of the forest.Who knows, I may use it some day if I ever learn to ride a horse.IMPORTANT UPDATE: This hike is within the some of the more severely affected areas of the Silver Fire burn area.  Flash floods have been frequent. Conditions are vastly altered.  Here are some photos from fall camping trip from 2007. As you can see, it was once a sweet little area to hike.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Trail 41- Skull Springs Canyon, Lincoln National Forest

I got ready in the dark on Sunday morning. I was tagging along with my friend Matt and his dad on their deer hunt. They picked me up at my campsite at about 6:20. The original plan was to go to Littleton Canyon near Bonito Lake,but they wanted to drive up the Tanbark Road(FR108) to look around. We quickly spotted three deer along a fence line where the forest borders an open field. They quickly spotted us too and off they went. Hindsight tells me it probably wasn't a good idea just to stop the truck in the road and stare-they're probably getting more than a little wary of that particular technique.Perhaps it would be better to drive past them aways and calmly park.Who knows?
    Matt and I went in pursuit on foot up the hill,while his dad parked the truck . We met some friendly dogs,but the deer, of course, were long gone. Sitting quietly eating a Kashi bar amidst the droppings of the deer we had spotted, I began to take inventory of the morning. It was cool,probably in the 50's. The clouds hung low on the hillside as if we were in the Great Smokies. A dampness, a mist was in the air,but drops were not falling,nor, strangely enough, did it seem like it was going to rain.But I could tell the clouds weren't going to lift anytime soon. It could be any hour of the day I thought. A kind of day that was rare in New Mexico even in the high country. We met up with Matt's dad and decided to continue up the trail/road we found him on. It was Trail 41- Skull Springs Canyon( a delightfully ominous name suited to the gloomy weather), which like almost all the trails in this area tops out at the White Mountains Crest Trail.
   We walked along very quietly first in the pines and then in the oaks. I saw some movement in a small,level clearing ahead. Four deer were browsing. Matt looked through the binoculars. Three were does. One was a very young buck-whose antlers had not forked and was not legal. One deer was such a dark brown-it looked like a small elk from a distance. We inched closer. One moved off,but three remained. We inched closer and closer.There was no way to tell if there was a larger buck in the vicinity,so we kept our slow approach. We never saw them run. Even when we were very close, we thought they had lain down in the tall vegetation. They had just vanished. Although we stayed quiet as we continued up the trail,looking at the many wildlife trails,listening to the ravens, we knew when we met some other hunters coming down the trail,that the hunt was turning into more of hike.We continued up,now hiking in the cloud with visibility severely limited.There had been bear scat all along the trail and I kept thinking we would encounter one coming out of the mist.Stands of oaks took on otherworldly look as if they were about to float away or had just settled down en masse on the hillside.Myriad spider webs sagged and glistened with wetness.
   When we reached the top,which seemed to take much longer than it should have, the wind was blowing a gale and temperature dropped about 20 degrees. I put on my jacket,ate some Fritos and an apple. We looked at the signage,took some pictures with Matt's phone( our only camera unfortunately) and then quickly descended.On the way back down we investigated the gathering of ravens and vultures to find an elk carcass- most of the meat was already gone but it probably wasn't more than a few days old.We saw no other deer or other animals for that matter on the way down. Unlike us maybe they had more sense and bedded down in weather like this. Still, I was glad I came. There's something to be missed when one gets too weather averse. I know I would have never chosen to going out hiking in a cloud.There's too many perfect blue sky days here New Mexico to feel like you ever have to.But I was somewhere else today.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trail 19- South Fork Bonito Creek-Lincoln National Forest

We camped at the South Fork Campground in the Lincoln National Forest, arriving in the dark on Friday. Our friends had saved us the last spot left. We got set up with their help,had a beer and chatted at their trailer,and then were off to bed. Although we could hear some partying at the crowded walk-in sites down by the creek, once 10:00 PM rolled around, South Fork became the quietest full campground I've ever been in.
The following morning I enjoyed the cool temps as I cooked breakfast. After eating we set out for the South Fork Trail. Someone warned us as we walked out to be careful because " there's a lot of people on that trail." I knew better. Having fished here many times, I knew that we would see people in the first 1/2 mile or so, and after that, more than likely, no one at all. There were a few folks splashing in the cold water on this not particularly warm morning, and even one campsite where the family had carried in an enormous tent about 1/4 mile down the trail, but after crossing the wilderness boundary a little over a 1/2 mile in,we saw only 3 other people the next 3 or so hours.
  The South Fork is a nice trail,though a bit up and down.It passed some old foundations and a stone chimney early on. Bits of an old iron and wood pipeline lie along the trail as well. There are many small waterfalls created by large boulders and areas where the stream slides over bare bedrock.The creek is as low as I've ever seen it, but the fish are still there I'm happy to report. We saw a pool about 3 miles in that had many 8-10 inch fish, both brookies and cuttbows, which made think that I need to hike in aways before I start casting the next time I fish here.We had lunch and kept hiking despite the gathering clouds and the stinging vegetation that lined the trail in several spots. While enjoying the first open views of the ridge line and debating whether to wade into yet another patch of stinging weeds, we heard our first clap of thunder and had our decision to turn around made for us. A few drops fell,but not much all in all. We encountered quite a few more people in that last 1/2 mile to the trailhead, including one very large group, all,from the very large to the very small, wearing identical clear emergency rain ponchos. I would really like to hike this entire trail one day perhaps making a loop with either the Peacock trail or the Bluefront trail.Nice wildflowers.UPDATE: South Fork Campground is currently closed due to damage from the Little Bear Fire.