Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Palomas Gap - Caballo Mountains

This route, an old ,narrow toll road is well known to those with Jeeps, ATVs and dirt bikes, but is probably not hiked all that often. One of the most obvious reasons why would seem to be the necessity of one of those types of vehicles just to get to some kind of reasonable starting point to begin walking.Well, this is not entirely true. We made it to our starting point on the east side of the mountains in a 2 wheel drive pick-up. The problem was was just finding our way among the maze of roads to get there. I drove past two turns and ended up using a road that turned out to not even be on the topo map I used for reference to get there. All but this last couple of miles on that road weren't particularly rough. I was using my hand held GPS with points loaded from my AllTopo software and I still wasted a half an hour or so getting off and then back on track. Since this is so far from towns and highways, I don't know if conventional GPS systems that are in use in so many vehicles will be of much use.
The hike itself is spectacular. We started out amongst the low red hills that run along much of the east side of the Caballos. These hills form a parallel low elevation range which forms a barrier that redirects the drainage from the main ridge of the Caballos for many miles into Palomas Gap Creek which flows to the north and then west cutting completely through range. We hiked along the road,which crossed the creek bed a couple of times before beginning its gradual ascent going higher and higher, a small scratch in the massive limestone layers on the south side of the Gap. At its highest point we were probably 500 feet above the dry waterfalls of the creek bottom,with peaks rising 1500 feet above us. We chatted pleasantly with a fellow who stopped whatever adventure he was bound for on his ATV, and I thought I might need to get one of those things for my old age. We made it over to the point where the road begins to do some really long descending switchbacks on the east side. We could see the Rio Grande, the small town of Palomas, and the snow covered Black Range beyond.        
   After we'd turned around and were heading back, I thought if it weren't for difficulty of access and it's being so far from any population center, this canyon would be a destination. But it isn't. The lone ATVer was the only person we met. And as almost always, it seemed most right to enjoy the desert in solitude. Note: this hike is almost entirely without shade, except in a few spots where it is formed by the road cut itself. Also, although the canyon itself looks like an interesting hike, there several high waterfalls that may require rapelling with a rope or at least some extraordinary rock scrambling skills.

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