Friday, November 30, 2012

Organ Needle - Organ Mountains

Looking into Fillmore Canyon

Views to  the north

 Looking southeast from the top of Dark Canyon

The first saddle

 On top of Organ Needle
 I climbed Organ Needle with a group of folks back in 2001. I had met most of them through  some Sierra Club hikes, but this was not an official Sierra Club outing. Most of us parked at pullout off Dripping Springs Road near Soledad Canyon Road. We then proceeded in three or four vehicles to Baylor Canyon Road and then up the old road to the Modoc Mine. After parking at some pullouts( well before reaching the mine) we began hiking up to the old mine and beyond.
      It was early March,but was reasonably warm and mercifully without wind. The path turned  back  straight east just a short ways past the mine.To say it was steep going from that point  on would be more than just a slight understatement. We reached a saddle with some junipers and  views of a  hooked prominence of black rock to the north and took our first rest. We met another group leaving for the peak just as we were arriving.  March and October are the optimal windows for making these climbs in the Organs, although many people  attempt them when it's much warmer, so you're bound to see a few folks on any weekend during those months. The section of the hike after the saddle is very brushy and rocky with very little clear tread to follow( at least back then, although I don't expect it's changed much). I was with people who had made the climb several times  before so we didn't get off track,but it's not unusual for  those  on their first try , and even those who have done before to do so, and in so doing derail their chance of summiting due to lost time. If you go make sure you have 10 hours of daylight to complete the hike( from Baylor Canyon Road).
      We kept our bearing by heading toward a good sized Douglas Fir that marks that the entrance to Dark Canyon. We took our second rest at that tree and then  started trudging up the very narrow canyon in the two foot  deep snow. There  are many shrubby maples that grow here as they do in many other cool, out of the way places in the Organs. One of our group who was making the hike in some beat up Cons decided his hike was ending here and would wait for us to return. At the top of Dark Canyon we took in the views to the other side of the range. Strangely enough there is concrete marker up here that has something like "  Organ Needle 100 yards" written in it. As I contemplated the idea of hauling a sack of ready mix up this mountain, we went on to the 2 maneuvers that are the crux of the climb. The first requires an awkward straddling of a  rock like a roof peak. Next, there is the small wall with some exposure that  must actually be climbed. We went one by one.When it was my turn I threw my backpack up to those already on the ledge, took off my gloves and made the pitch  with no problems. I don't know why  but I wasn't nervous or afraid, even though our leaders had the full expectation that those who hadn't done it before would be. I had every confidence in them and they didn't let me down.
       From the ledge it's a short walk to the peak. We had our lunch.  It's actually quite roomy on top and there was about 20 people from 2 or 3 groups.I walked along the boulders and signed the the small notebook that sat in jar on the  high point. We were on top of the world. On the  way back down we couldn't find our way to the ledge and wall initially, but as there isn't really too many places to go up on top,  we found them in fairly short order. Going down the wall was definitely more difficult than going up and I was a little nervous, but not distractedly so. I opted to bypass the re- straddling of the roof peak rock altogether. The walk down became a  slide on six points- two hands, two feet and two butt cheeks- with the occasional  bowling bowl sized boulder kicked loose from above and tumbling toward my head to add  excitement. It was nearly dark when we got to the cars. I was exhausted, but I had done it. I had been obsessing about making to the the top of the Needle since  I had moved here 3 years earlier, worrying that it would never happen. But now it had,and I was satisfied.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Indian Hollow Trail- Organ Mountains

  I had several misadventures trying to find my way into Indian Hollow during the first few years I lived in Las Cruces. One hiking guide book had us starting out at a pullout a short ways east of the group use area. We went cross country over a hill, across a cattle pasture and eventually ended up at a fence as we struggled through the brush. Another book had us branching off the southwest corner  of the Pine Tree Trail, going high on the slopes and then dropping down into, a brushy, rocky drainage.When we came to a high waterfall we had to climb up the slope just to continue our way down, and in the process  found  an actual trail on a dividing ridge. I fell hard on the ice high in the canyon on that trek, but at least now I knew a trail existed- and where it began because I followed it all the way back to the group camping area. Now things aren't so hard.There's one of those yellow  WARNING signs on the south side of the group area  parking lot at Aguirre Springs that will clue you in to where the trail is. It goes through the fence and continues down the arroyo before taking you up the slope on the south side. There is a section that goes over some bare rock as it sidehills toward a bouldery pass where one has to perform some minor climbing on bare rock.This part of the trail might seem slightly daunting to those less experienced. It does get better. After going over a saddle where there is a large vein of rusty quartz, it continues along  the side of the hill, up and down and in and out of some minor drainages. At  one of these it may be easy to lose the trail,unless there are some thoughtful cairns  to guide you.Just keep a southwest bearing, and you'll probably find the trail again.

Eventually the trail parallels and then crosses the major stream bed out of Indian Hollow and begins to climb very steeply on a dividing ridge.There are many small delights along the way especially if there is running water. In the fall, it's fun to get a peek at some of the very few aspens in the Organ Mountains. They grow in a gully on the northeast slope of Sugarloaf Peak. I've taken the short but somewhat treacherous side trip several times to get a closer look. The trail keeps going higher and higher, steep, then steeper on loose granite grus that's even less fun to walk on on the way down.At the highest point amongst the pines, Gambel's Oaks, and Douglas Firs,  I've frequently heard voices high up on the exfoliation dome known as Sugarloaf. I've also seen the climbers,so tiny, on the gray-white stone maneuvering their way to the top.  From this highpoint the trail continues down hill to cross a branch of the creek and then enters one of the most enchanted areas of the Organs. There are large pines that we've picnicked under. A few huge old cottonwoods, that dazzle in the fall, lie along  the stream which frequently has water. Organ Needle and the other high peaks seem tantalizingly close, but just out of reach.The trail continues back following the other branch of Indian Hollow,but eventually just peters out in the cool shadows of the ridgeline. Once we followed some old cairns, there was no tread, and somehow scrambled back to the Pine Tree Trail. It wasn't easy or particularly fun, although we did see some fantastic waterfalls that literally gushed right out of the rock.It's a toss-up between this trail and Fillmore Canyon as to which is my favorite. Both used be to be enjoyed in perfect quiet as well,but the last time we came through here, we met a woman with unfriendly,unleashed dogs( she didn't have a leash either) and had to listen to some geocachers shouting at each other every time they lost the trail, which was frequent enough that I was tempted to walk back down and guide them just to not have to listen to them. Oh,well I guess I was in their shoes once, I just didn't do a lot of shouting.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pine Tree Trail- Organ Mountains

 I haven't written about the Organ Mountains very much in this blog, even though I've hiked there,on and off trail, more than any other locality- after all they're only a dozen or so miles from my house. The reasons I haven't written about them more are several. As stated a sentence ago. I've hiked there a lot. I've done all the official trails, Pine Tree,Baylor Pass, Dripping Springs, Soledad, Sierra Vista, many times each. I've also done all the semi-official( well known,easy to follow but not signed or  publicized by the BLM) trails; Upper Fillmore Canyon, Indian Hollow, Rabbit Ears Canyon, Achenbach, at least as much if not more than some of the official trails.  I've climbed the major peaks that don't require equipment: Organ Needle, Organ Peak, Rabbit Ears Plateau and Baylor Peak. The only one left in my sights that I'm interested in is Baldy Peak.  I've also done completely off trail hikes to Windy Gap Pass, Lower  Long Canyon, Middle Spring and Texas Canyon, just to name a few. If this comes off as bragging a bit, well maybe it is,but the ultimate point is: it's taken about 13 years or so,but I believe I've reached the saturation point.  I used to have a long list of destinations and invented hikes for the Organs-many of them have been accomplished. Many more are just too remote, too harshly off- trail( what off trail in the Organs means is a chapter unto itself),too scary or logistically unfeasible because of private or military property issues, and the daylight constraints of the optimal hike season( roughly October to April ). The other reason I've become estranged from these mountains I've spoken about once before here. The official trails have become like a city park on the weekends with large groups, shouting kids, untrained, unleashed, unfriendly and unpicked up after dogs( Dogs aren't allowed at all at Dripping Springs yet people bring them in anyway),six packs, plastic bottles and trash.It's even spreading to some of the semi- official trails as well. I've seen graffiti at Aguirre Springs, and the old Hayner Mine, and I've seen kids lugging  a case of beer up the road to the old Minehouse Spring building. I'm not a dog hater, and I may be a curmudgeon( I've been avoiding crowds since I was a kid so it didn't come with age),but I just don't understand the point of coming out in nature, just to act exactly the same way you would back in the city in your house or yard.
     That all being said, my Election Day hike on the Pine Tree Trail was a pleasure. I didn't see another soul. The quiet was outstanding. I did hear some shouting down the canyon at one point,but it didn't last long. Perhaps the trail, which is rocky and steep, was too much for them and they gave up. I was a little hot on the south branch of the loop when we started,but soon we were in the shadow of the ridgeline.
     Where the path dips back toward the ridge in the  many drainages it crossed-we could feel the pockets of colder air. Fall color was provided by willows, cottonwoods, ash,oaks, grapevine and shrub like maples in the folds of the mountain way up high. There were also some very colorful weeds and shrubs( names unknown to me) as well. There wasn't a drop of flowing or standing water anywhere,but  this little northeast facing indentation that is encompassed by the trail has it's own mini-climate, and seems to be doing well enough and not ravaged by drought and disease especially when compared to areas I hike in the Gila. The Abrams Fire had little effect here, although obviously burned areas on the ridge line near Sugarloaf were visible. So, I was glad to get out, and be awed by these massive, majestic crags of igneous rock.  It may be possible to get jaded about them from a distance,but up close they never fail to impress.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Grandview Trail-FT 146, Gila National Forest

 I had hiked down this trail, which starts off at  a saddle about two miles in on the Sawyer Peak trail(FT 79), with my wife several years ago. The first thing we noticed was the abundant bear feces all along the trail. Upon my return last Saturday, let me say that the observation still holds- and then some. If you're out on this trail too late in afternoon, or too early in the morning,you will most likely see a bear. This trail only goes down and fairly steeply at that,so it was an entirely uphill trudge on the way back. There are two lovely clearings along the way. The first, a short ways in, is where I ate my lunch. There was an iced over spring nearby which my desert dwelling dog didn't know what to make of. The forest here is  mostly Douglas fir and pine, with few oaks here and there. The second clearing, which is right before the stream plunges  through some limestone cliffs, is  where the trail seemed to end. I  followed a sketchy path( probably not human created) up the hill on the south side of the stream to no avail. No blazes, cairns- nothing other than a steep hillside with lots of downfall, although I did catch a glimpse of a cave that intrigued me.On the north side( south facing) it was juniper and scrub, but views all the way to the Kneeling Nun and the Santa Rita Mine. A bit of water was seeping out in the stream here,but it would be great to come back in the spring to see these waterfalls and cascades,  that tumble down the mountain at this juncture, in action. I had planned to hike all the way to the Silver Creek Road(FR 523), which is less than a mile away from this point,but the only way to do it that I could see would be to work my way carefully down the  stream course-not knowing if there were some sheer drop-off that would end my progress anyway.I started thinking about that bear crap, and decided I wanted to make my return while the sun was still reasonably high- so I headed back.There was a nice patch of aspens visible from FT 79. On the drive back down the mountain, the maples in South Percha Canyon appeared to be only slightly past peak color. It seems  the last few years that the autumn display is more than week later than when I first moved here.IMPORTANT NOTE: This trail was ground zero in the Silver Fire(June, 2013).( The fire was named for Silver Creek which this trail follows). It may be closed or no longer visible. Many hazards exist.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cerrillos Hills State Park

 I visited here  a few years ago when it was still under BLM and Santa Fe County jurisdiction, now it's one of our New Mexico State Parks. This park is northwest of the tiny town of Cerrillos, NM( filming location for Young Guns- one of my faves). It is maybe a twenty minute drive from Santa Fe on NM 14( the Turquoise Trail) and is easy to find if you follow the signs. There is a day use fee and you can self-pay at the parking area. There are many old roads to wander around on amongst the steep,but low hills. We took one called the J.C. Sanchez Trail. It follows an old road up hills,past some old mines( not turquoise mines though it never actually said on any of the interpretive signs what had been mined), through an arroyo,up some more and then finally wound down to the main arroyo, which  also  contains the main drivable road through  the park, which we followed back to our car. All in all a little less than 2 miles of walking. This hills are vegetated with short grasses and juniper.Views of Turquoise Mountain could be had at the  high point of our hike. In the main arroyo there was a spring where cottonwoods grew. This was a nice place for a short walk or ride. There is no camping.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Salinas Pueblos National Monument

 I 'm finding it hard to talk about these places in a way that is satisfactory to me.The feeling they evoke is elusive, and yet is at the very essence of the New Mexico experience for me.  A collision of  the mundane and mysterious. Hopelessly remote and forgotten at one time,but now accessible by paved roads- in the case of Abo just a stone's throw from US Highway 60, though still quite far from major population centers. Perhaps it's just the visuals that capture my imagination: the  red stone of Abo against the cloudless blue sky, the soaring walls of Quarai, the honeycomb of gray stone that is the pueblo of Gran Quivira. Each setting is different as well:  chaparral and bare rock arroyos at Abo, the foothills evergreen forest at Quarai, and the vast plains and low mesas of Gran Quivira. The lush riparian areas fed by springs at  Abo and Quarai made them targets for resettlement in the 19th century. Gran Quivira now sits strangely atop a juniper studded hill surrounded by waterless( until advent of wells and the windmill)  grasslands where livestock graze. We've visited Abo twice now, Quarai and Gran Quivira once. Abo and Quarai were stops on backroads trips to and from Santa Fe. Gran Quivira is not on the way to anything, at least not from Las Cruces. Take some time to visit these places when you're in need of perspective. You will be rewarded.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Holy Ghost Trail (FT 283)- Pecos Wilderness

 I'd had a great day of fishing here 5 years ago, but now we were returning to soak up some Fall color and the forest's "good tidings." I had gotten some misinformation on the Santa Fe National Forest's web site that the trail to Spirit Lake ran 3.3 miles from the end of  FR 122( the road to the Holy Ghost Campground). There was no trail like that on the map, just the roundabout route using the Winsor Trail( FT 254).  All along the hike I was hoping there would some sort of cut-off,use trail, or something that took a direct route to the lake, but no such path materialized. It would have been better to  have researched the thing a little more,  but I didn't have any of my books, or my Alltopo software. I might have dug a little deeper on the internet, but sometimes I just leave things sort of open- ended.  I don't know why. Particularly, since I am frequently more meticulous in my planning.As it turns out, there was a very useful, if slightly dated, book- Dayhikes in  Santa Fe Area- put together by local Sierra Club members that had excellent information on many nearby hikes and the lowdown on the Spirit Lake hike, right there in our rental house. Problem was my wife found it there on the bookshelf only after we had returned from our the hike.
 Anyway, we took the actual trail( instead of walking through the camping area) from the parking  lot, which immediately took us high above and out of sight of the campground. It wound around and up and down a couple of side  drainages and then brought us out just beyond the group camp site  and the terminus of  FR 122C. Now we hiked mostly along the creek which  was flowing,but obviously low, crossing it several times. After  a ways the trail stayed high above the creek and only came down for the occasional crossing. There are some long  fairly level stretches punctuated with several short, steep climbs. When the trail finally leaves the creek at over three miles in, it becomes very steep indeed. We finally reached a small open meadow at the top the ridge and the junction with the Winsor Trail (FT 254) which became our turn around point. There was no indication there of the mileage to Spirit Lake,but I later found out that it was 3 miles distant from that juncture, and that Stewart Lake was actually much closer.

 The aspens were at their absolute peak. There  were also oaks, ivy, sumac,box elder and ash to add to the palette. It was spectacular, and unlike our drive up the Ski Basin road the previous day, there weren't hordes of people everywhere. We only saw two other groups of hikers. Round trip distance was probably between 8.5 and 9 miles. Elevation gain was between 1800- 2000 feet( but there is quite a bit of up and down). We saw deer early on and heard elk in the distance. My Scottie Seamus was practicing  being bird dog, flushing tiny ground birds from the brush when he wasn't on trail of squirrel. He even rousted  what I believe was a grouse along the trail which got all our hearts beating. The winds blew, but never to distraction. We were free to contemplate the  deep blue sky, the sunshine in the aspen leaves  and the sound of the clear mountain brook.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mattocks Site, Mimbres River Preserve

 We visited the Mattocks Archaeological Site about 2 miles west of the San Lorenzo School on NM 35. There is prominent sign indicating the turnoff. There are two territorial houses on the property, both of which were closed when we visited. There is also a three dollar fee to visit the Mimbres Pueblo site. There was no one there to collect,but we put ours in one of the envelopes and slipped it under the door. The walking tour is immediately to the west of the houses and has large informational plaques explaining what was found on the property during archaeological digs done  by faculty and students of Beloit College many years ago ( 1930s?). There are no excavated ruins,but some depressions that were known to be kivas are visible, as well as some mounds that were once building walls. There are many pottery sherds laying about. If you look closely, you'll see a few. We did, and I photographed  a nice one.The road that brought us to the Mattocks site continues on down to the New Mexico Game and Fish Mimbres Reserve on the Mimbres River. This is a very,very lushly overgrown riparian environment, perhaps reminiscent of what the river looked like in the days of the Mogollon people. It is supposed to be  there to preserve habitat for the Chihuahuan chub which is found nowhere else in the USA. We saw some  small fry fish,but we didn't know if they were chubs or not. Our scottie Seamus was in pursuit of some sort of smelly animal, and the scent  seemed to rub off. Either that or there was some  very skunky  smelling vegetation that he was tromping through. It wasn't skunk,because it dissipated too quickly and was too easily remedied by a bath ( for him) and a good cleaning of the truck. This  beautiful little area  is part of NMDGF's GAIN( Gain Access Into Nature) program, which does require a fee,but there is no way to pay on site.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Railroad Canyon Campground- Gila National Forest

Along I-25 there wasn't much rain falling on Friday evening,but we could see as we drove along that the Sierra de las Uvas and the Caballo Mountains were getting hammered. Nonetheless we continued on to  the Black Range. We already had decided we wanted the "luxury" of  pit toilet, so the option of boondocking out on Carbonate Creek or Sawpit Canyon on the east side had been eliminated( digging at "cat hole" in the cold and rain is not as fun as you might think). So, up we went over Emory Pass and down the other side. Iron Creek had quite a few campers, and the one spot we looked at had the feel of camping in a parking lot. So we moseyed on down to Railroad Canyon,saw that it was empty, and in our desire to set up camp before both the rain and complete darkness fell, stayed.  It did rain all night,but it's been so dry this year there was absolutely no danger of creek flooding.
    Railroad Canyon Campground isn't much: three indistinct "sites" with tables and fire rings set along Gallinas Creek. There are some very tall pines that grow in the center of the area that's been worn down to dirt by vehicle traffic. The trees provide some shade over one of the sites. There's a one holer toilet,some critter proof trashcans, and that's about it. If you follow the road past the campsites  there is an unattractive quarry area and then the road dead ends at some huge boulders,placed there to prevent vehicles from driving  any further.. Many years ago when we first came here, it was possible to drive across the creek to a couple of much nicer, more natural sites, and this could still be considered a "walk-in" camping area, I suppose.We had periodically thought about camping here before, but usually there was someone there,so we moved on usually to our favorite spot at Upper Gallinas, where it is still possible to drive across the creek to some good spots without tables or fire rings, as opposed to camping in the gravel parking lot on the other side- where I have never seen anyone camping. Our favorite spot there has been compromised by the installation of  metal corral- and has lost its charm in my eyes. Still, we might  have been better off.
      After our hike to Rabb Park on Saturday( see blog), we went to La Esperanza Winery and had a very  enjoyable tasting and a bit of conversation there. We also visited the Mattocks Ruin Site and the NMDGF's preserve for the Chihuahuan Chub on the Mimbres River( I'll blog about these later). We got 20 dollars worth of gas at the newly reopened store and gas station there in San Lorenzo and headed back to our camp.When we got back to Railroad, I was little dismayed to see what I refer to as a compound had been set up about 10 feet away from our campsite. There were four vehicles, three or four large tents, at least 10 people and several small dogs. Their  music was echoing down the hillsides. To be fair, it wasn't blasting, and these seemed like decent enough people. I just don't understand people such as these sensibilities and their lack of sensitivity regarding their fellow campers. I always wonder what would happen if I were to just start playing some music that I prefer at equal volume, what would they do? It's not that they don't have the right to listen to the music, it just doesn't make sense when they've chosen to camp in such close quarters to those who may not want to.  It's just about common sense, which isn't that common anymore. I've begun to understand, especially after seeing the crowds at Bonito Creek over in the Lincoln last year, that outdoor recreation, camping in particular, is really a social activity for many people. We've gone camping with other couples before,but not with everyone we know and their cousins packed into a campground about as big as my backyard.These folks that set up these compounds aren't really interested in sights and sounds of nature at all. It's all about the party,even a fairly subdued one such as this one was. What was even stranger about this situation was, I believe that there was no one camping  at Upper Gallinas, less than a mile away, at all. So, when they could've easily chosen a more spacious  and  isolated spot, why would they choose camp right next to someone? I've had this happen before at Riverside Campground at Caballo Lake State Park, when even though there were  six or seven empty primitive spots along the river where we were camped, a couple decided to camp right next  to us. Are this people lonely? Does being in close quarters  remind them of home and make them feel safe?
     The corridor in the Black Range is getting too popular on the weekends.The problem with these type of free campgrounds is you're getting the worst of both ends of the spectrum of car camping.  On the one side state parks and other fee campgrounds  have a lot of conveniences( electricity, water, showers,campground hosts) and  usually have lots of people, but there are lots of rules( such as the number of vehicles at at site) and enforcement(usually) to make sure everyone gets the opportunity to have a peaceful, hassle free experience. Dispersed camping on the other hand has no conveniences, but you can usually get far enough away from other folks to do your thing, without bothering or being bothered by other people. These free forest campgrounds like Railroad Canyon have almost no conveniences, no enforcement of rules and lots of people acting any old way they want without acknowledgement or regard for the people that are 15 feet away from them. Well,I've gone on long enough. Bottom line: we packed up, hooked up and were out of there in 10 minutes. I really didn't mind leaving in this particular instance- we had  a nice day, it was going to be cold and damp and we hadn't brought any firewood, and we were probably going to leave right after breakfast Sunday anyway. If it had been a longer trip, it would have been a much larger inconvenience. Still, the world is getting to be very small place for sensible people. It might be digging holes or shelling out the cash next time out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rabb Park,Gila National Forest- more photos

This is one several old telegraph poles along the trail.

 The " bowl" area I mentioned in the previous blog.

 Seamus in Rabb Creek

Here are a few more photos of our lovely eight mile round trip hike to Rabb Park in the Gila National Forest's Black Range.