Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Johnnie Canyon Trail-Lincoln National Forest

Carrizo Mountain is a massive,dome shaped uplift just to the northeast of it's namesake town of Carrizozo. It towers over 4000 feet above the yucca studded grasslands, and dwarfs the other mountains in it's immediate vicinity. Despite it's visual prominence and it's proximity to a highway crossroads, FT 74, the Johnnie Canyon Trail is it's only official route.The first part of the access road (FR 441) on the southeast side of the mountain,is county maintained and in great shape. Once we drove through the O Bar O Ranch and onto Forest Service land proper, things got bad fast. If you're driving anything less than very high clearance, and maybe 4 wheel drive( depending on the weather) you would be advised to pull out and park at the first opportunity. As it was,we only drove a short ways before parking and walked the last 3/4 mile to the trailhead, which sits in large clearing and has sturdy metal sign pointing the way up the mountain.The way to go seemed obvious enough,but after walking a mile or more on the boulder strewn path, I began to wonder if I was on the trail or in a stream bed. Perhaps the bottom part of this trail sees a lot of horse traffic which can remove thin soils pretty quickly. It also might have started life as an old road as well, and has become an alternate stream channel with the rainwater stripping away the soil down to the rocks. Whatever the reason , it made for unpleasant walking and we were glad when we left the pinon -juniper zone of the forest and entered the shade of the tall pines and firs and began walking on a thick bed of pine needles.
     There were some beautiful camping spots in this stretch. Further along the trail begins to steepen as the canyon narrows and the downed trees across the trail became more and more numerous and a bit of nuisance.Still, there were some beautiful clearings along the way where the sun shines through and the shrubs and grass showed the green of spring. There was one spring as well that had a very meager flow. A few jays and juncos flitted in the trees, and there was the occasional talk of a raven. We startled something that ran up a hill,but never saw what it was. The trail had abundant bear scat that seemed to have been from the previous fall after a season under the snow,but some of it may have been fresh.
      The trail starts to switchback right after being almost completed obscured by a thicket of downfall that has to be negotiated around. It's pretty clear going as it levels out at a large park like clearing which is on the ridgeline,but directly behind the high point and about 700 feet below it. Views to the west and north west were very limited. Well,they weren't any really,except tiny fragmented peeks at the lower slopes and the grasslands below. Perhaps, if we hadn't had to walk that extra distance to trailhead, we would've had more time and energy and went for the peak,the trail to which headed off to the south.  On the way down there were some views to the back side of Sierra Blanca to the south and over to Vera Cruz Mountains to the east. It was a good hike. Total distance was little over 8 miles. Elevation gain was in excess of 2100 feet( 6,700-8800). You'll need add a couple miles or so for the round trip to the peak.The sign at the trail head says Carrizo Peak 5 Miles, that's if you can drive all the way to trailhead.

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