Monday, October 31, 2011

Cider Making

We have three dwarf apple trees that produce hundreds of apples every year.We bought the three varieties, Pink Pearl, Sierra Beauty, and White Pearmain as bare root trees from Trees of Antiquity in California about six or seven years ago. For the last three years we've been making apple cider. I'm not talking about some cloudy apple juice. This is a fermented product using champagne yeast. It's a pretty labor intensive process usually taking the better part of a morning to do a two to five gallon batch.The fermentation is complete after about 3 weeks.At that point,it's like a nice still white wine. We rack it off a couple of times, add sugar for carbonation, and then bottle it. I don't know what the alcohol percentage is, but it does go to your head just like champagne. On Thanksgiving or Christmas when we look at the bubbles rising in our glasses, we can remember our labors under blue autumn skies and know it was more than worth it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I was half-watching George Romero's Diary of the Dead recently. It follows in shaky documentary style the travels and travails of college film crew as they film themselves in the usual zombie infested landscape of western Pennsylvania. One scene,where a female student is haranguing the never seen,but sometimes heard obsessive compulsive camera operator, struck a chord with me. She asks him something along the lines of " so if you don't get it on video then it didn't happen?" Well,the problem is,for too many of us ( mostly males) this is kind of true,which may explain my gender's obsession with pornography.We are a culture now of images both still and moving,and becoming less and less one of words,either written or spoken. A few years back, I read John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra, and I felt I was right there with him,page after page in Yosemite or high on some Sierra Nevada peak. No images were necessary. I could see everything in a way that even the greatest photographers of the day could not capture: I was seeing through another man's eyes. In the past, I have often, especially when fishing, completely forgotten to take pictures on my outdoor adventures. I write my blog about this hike or that fishing trip and feel empty inside because I have no pictures to serve as either "proof" or just as touchstone for my memory. I bought a 35mm SLR a few years back, and it made me become more and more conscious of being a photographer( however amateurish). Now, there's no going back-the taking of pictures is an integral part of the experience. Still I hope that people will read my words. I still like to get my information that way. It still gives the opportunity to express precisely. All of this is my long way round of saying that on my last 2 hikes I, first forgot the picture card for my recently acquired Pentax Digital SLR, second,on my most recent hike left the camera in the truck( which I guess is a little better than hauling it to no purpose up a mountain). The ubiquitous cell phone came to the rescue, for which I was glad because for the purposes of the internet, its quality is sufficient. I was also sad that it is so hard just to " be" in the land,fishing ,hiking camping,hunting,wildlife watching or whatever else it might be,without thinking of our cameras.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Powderhorn Ridge Trail-(FT 82)-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

I parked my truck at the gate on the mesa top.The road continues down to the stream bottom.If you want to cut off 1/2 mile(round trip) from your hike, or if you're wanting to camp, driving this last section of road is an option. It's actually in good shape especially compared to horrendous 3 miles( see Forest Road 151 blog) leading up to this point. There is one stream crossing that might be a little dicey if the stream is flowing. Anyway,the forest trail sign pointed down the road, so that's the way I went,but it looked like the old trail goes straight ahead onto the ridge.This stream bottom trail is probably the only option if one is on horseback. The wide, grassy and shady valley of the South Fork Powderhorn Canyon is a more pleasant way to start and finish the hike anyway.

     After about a mile and a half of easy walking the trail quickly took me up to a small saddle on the ridge. I didn't see it on my way up,but on my way back down I saw the old trail sign indicating that Trail 82 does continue straight along the ridge. Thing was I couldn't see any of the old trail tread. Either it's been deliberately obscured here with downed branches and such,or it just hasn't been used or maintained in a while and is disappearing naturally.After this point the trail winds it's way up onto the ridge,crosses over it a couple of time before sidehilling far above the North Fork of Mcknight Canyon.There are couple of spots where I briefly lost the trail in this section.If you walk more than a hundred feet without seeing a tree blaze, a cairn or obvious tread, you will have lost it too, just go back and look for one of those three and you'll find it again like I did. There wasn't many places for the trail to be any way: I was on the top of a narrow ridge.After the somewhat exposed sidehilling section, I arrived at a saddle with large trees and a second sign. This is the junction with Trail 80, South Fork Mimbres River. Now the upper end of this trail appeared clear,wide and well trod,but I have read that the lower end is a horrible maze of burn downfall and brush. So even though it's only 2 miles from here to the Middle Fork Mimbres River(FT 78) junction, it may not be a good choice for hiker,backpacker,rider or fisherman.From here trail 82 switchbacks through some young aspens and eventually levels off for some pleasant walking through an aging aspen forest that is nursing the next generation of conifers. From the junction with the Crest Trail(FT 79) it's a short walk to one of the twin crests of Mcknight Mountain.
      The views to the south of Water,Pretty, and Flower Canyons were awash with the golds and reds of aspens and oaks.Hillsboro Peak and in the distance Cookes Peak were visible as well.Looking to the east and north, the Caballos and Vicks Peak are seen.This is wonderful place to linger awhile, the highest point for many miles around(10,165 feet).The hike is about 10 miles with a little over 2000 feet elevation gain and took me exactly 5 hours to complete. The middle section of the hike has nearly continuous views of the aspen covered slopes of the Black Range Crest and Mcknight Canyon. Except for the last section of the drive to the trailhead, I highly recommend it as Gila classic.Oh and for you wildlife lovers I did see a cute little bear run across the creek on the way back.IMPORTANT NOTE: Parts of this hike are within the Silver Fire burn area. Check with the Forest Service for conditions.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Forest Road 151- Gila National Forest

I love the Gila,but sometimes I wish getting to some of the trailheads was a bit easier. I had two fall color hikes in mind. Both are from Hiking the Aldo Leopold Wilderness by Polly Burke and Bill Cunningham. One starts off of the top the Mcknight Road and goes down Pretty Canyon,up Sid's Prong and then uses the Crest Trail and the road for the final segments of and 11 mile loop. The other was an out and back hike on the nearby Powderhorn Ridge Trail to the crest of the Black Range and its highest peak; Mcknight Mountain. Now I've been up the Mcknight Road (FR 152) twice before and it's very rough and slow going for the last 10 or so miles past the East Canyon Rd. (FR 537) turn off. I had read that that it was no longer being maintained and absolutely needed high clearance and four wheel drive. I checked with the Forest Service and they concurred, but I suspect it's probably no worse than it was before and that my pick-up which is not particularly high clearance or four wheel drive and has made it up there before, would probably make it up there again. They did mention that there was a distinct possibility of tire damage- which of course no matter how high your truck is,or how great the four wheel drive is, the most vulnerable part of any vehicle are the four pieces of rubber that actually touch the earth. Since I don't buy the kind of tires that would lessen the probability of a flat on roads like these, I opted for the Powderhorn Ridge Trail and Forest Road 151.Ignorance is bliss, at least for a little while. I had driven this road before,but only to the trailhead for the Mcknight Canyon Trail(FT 92). There are 3 more miles after this to get to the end and the start of my hike. Although driving them probably saved me some shoe leather and the energy to make my climb to the high point of the Black Range, it probably didn't save me much time. Those 3 miles took a little over a half hour to drive.It wasn't really a road so much at times but a rocky place where no trees were growing. I don't think I scraped bottom on the way there, which was good,but I just kept thinking a flat was inevitable. At least here, I consoled myself in advance, there are ample places to pull off and change a tire.Unlike the Mcknight Road which is barely notched into the side of a mountain,with many hairpin turns, FR 151 stays almost completely top and center on Kelly Mesa. I did make it,with four intact tires. I fretted periodically on my hike about the return drive,but not so much that it spoiled my enjoyment of a spectacular fall day. Ah, the Gila, always an adventure. Of course,roads like these are probably more than little responsible for the fact that in the 13 years I've been hiking the Gila, the vast majority of the time, just like this particular time, I have encountered none of my fellow man.IMPORTANT NOTE: The Silver Fire may have changed the road and trail conditions in this area. Check with the Forest Service for  accessibility and vehicle suitability.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kingston, Forest Road 40 E-Gila National Forest

Forest Road 40E begins when the pavement runs out in the little town of Kingston(just off NM 152 about 25 miles from I-25). It rambles on roughly for about 3 miles before ending at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness boundary. Along the way there several steep stream crossings, and a few nice campsites as well. We did camp here way back when in the late nineties,when we were still tent camping. It was little hot for late spring/ summer camping. This was before we learned that spring and especially fall were the best times for camping in the Gila.We poked around the old mine dumps and did walks along Percha Creek. A nice place for exploring,although less remote than some of the other drainages on the east side of the Black Range because of the proximity of the town. Trailers are probably not a good idea here. High clearance four wheel drive may be needed to go past the first mile or so.IMPORTANT UPDATE: Nearby areas have been been burned by the Silver Fire(June, 2013). IMPORTANT UPDATE: Forest Road 40 E has been vastly altered by flooding and other factors in the aftermath of the Silver Fire. Probably only the first mile or mile and half past Kingston are usable at this point, and even that stretch may be a more of an adventure than most folks are looking for. There is little to be gained by trying to get a vehicle in any further( September,2015).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Riverside Campground- Caballo Lake State Park

We've really enjoyed this campground the 5 or 6 times we've camped here.We always take a spot away from the main loop which has electric, water, showers and flush toilets nearby, and opt for the "developed" camping which only has fire rings and tables and single pit toilet and usually very few campers at least in the fall and winter when we have visited. A couple times we've had the whole lower end of the campground to ourselves. That was not the case this past weekend,when we had to share the " developed" area with several other campers,including some sort of Jeep club types who had way too many vehicles and two large popups squeezed into a single site. To their credit they kept it down to a dull roar both days so the atmosphere stayed congenial.This is great place to use as base camp for hikes in the Black Range in the Fall and the Caballos in the Winter. We'd thought we would try nearby Percha Dam State Park this time for a change,but quickly realized that this camp is just more spacious and more well laid out,plus it has one of the best sunrise views anywhere in New Mexico.

Ladrone Gulch Trail(FT 127) Revisited-Aldo Leopold Wilderness

We hiked the Ladrone Trail( in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness) hoping to see some fall color where the trail passes through a good sized aspen grove. I was pretty sure that we were too early by the almost total lack of color in the oaks,willows and cottonwoods lower down. I was right. When we reached the aspens high on hillside above the head of Carbonate Creek,only about 10 percent of the trees had begun to turn.Still it was an absolutely beautiful day and this is one of the best day hikes in the Black Range.
   The storm that had blown through brought in rain,and much cooler air to the region.In fact when we reached Hillsboro Lake( more of puddle this year) nearly at the crest of the range, we saw patches of snow and a rim of ice on the pond.Temperatures were in the 50's which made for a much more pleasant time than when we hiked the trail in July a few years back.Depending on how far one drives the crummy FR40E past Kingston,this is an 8 to 10 mile hike with over 2000 feet of elevation gain. Some sections are very steep and rocky,others just steep.There was water running in Middle Percha for maybe a mile and a half. A small spring was running where the trail follows a side gulch, a tiny bit of water flowed at the head of Carbonate Creek and there was just a couple of inches of water in the much shrunken Hillsboro Lake. Other than Middle Percha none of these sources of water can be considered reliable year round.
 I was more aware of the few, but great views at several intervals  this time along this trail: back towards Kingston and Caballo Mountains, north across the upper valleys of Carbonate and Mineral Creeks, and all the way to Vicks Peak and San Mateo Mountains. There are a lot of dead and dying trees in Black Range due to the prevailing drought conditions,but there are new ones slowly replacing them.Perhaps fewer fir,spruce and deciduous oak now,but the Gila in its flux goes wildly on.          IMPORTANT UPDATE(9/21/2015): This hike is within the Silver Fire burn area and may  have vastly different conditions than described here. Check with the Forest Service.Driving  beyond the third stream crossing on FR 40E is not advisable for most vehicles and drivers. There is no parking, the stream crossings are steep and filled with large boulders, and eventually,sections of the road are completely missing.  Don't get caught in the thick gravel with a flat unable to turn around.  Parking and starting further back may make this a longer hike by 2 or more miles( up to maximum of 12 if you forego the road altogether and just start in Kingston).