Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lucero Canyon, Summerford Mountain- Dona Ana Mountains

Lucero Canyon

Lucero Canyon

Lucero Canyon

Lucero Canyon

Lucero Canyon
Summerford Mountain area petroglyph panel

Summerford Mountain area petroglyph

Summerford Mountain area petroglyph
 I first heard about Lucero Canyon petroglyph site in a book or newspaper article which mentioned it by name and that it was in Dona Ana County. No other clue was given. I found a Lucero Canyon in the Dona Ana Mountains on a topo  or some other map that I had and so I set out on a warm, late summer evening to see what I could find. Parking at the Radium Springs exit on I- 25, I soon found my way into what I believed was the right canyon and started walking up stream. There were some dry water falls and a few fossils in the gray sedimentary rock. The canyon looked very much like ones I'd hiked in the Robledos, a range made up mostly ( but not entirely)of Permian limestone and sandstone. This seemed an oddity because the canyon drained the entirely igneous Dona Ana Mountains( I later learned that faulting on northwest edge of the range  has resulted Permian era sedimentary surface geology). I had probably walked around two miles and was beginning to despair of finding anything before the fading light, when the canyon walls rose and closed in a bit, and the rock had that right patina of desert varnish prized by those ancient artists, and soon I was finding images everywhere: a hunter with bow and arrow and his antelope prey, a turtle,  strange light bulb- headed twins, abstracts,  and more. I probably saw less than half of what the canyon had to offer that first time,before I decided to return not wanting to stumble around in total darkness. I was elated to have "found" the rock art. This was only the first or second time I had set out find a site without any real directions and I felt quite proud myself for the accomplishment. On two subsequent visits with the family, we found even more petroglyphs and even saw some evidence of rock art theft. We met a large blacktail rattler on a November hike, and had four huge great horned owls fly inches over our heads on another hike in early fall.
      My wife and I had  done a hike that encircled nearby Summerford Mountain on an April day that was bit too hot. I was looking for petroglyphs and grinding mortars I had seen in catalog of images from the Dona Ana County Archeological Society.  We didn't find anything. My mind frequently drifted to thoughts of climbing the steep and isolated little mountain of pink rock. I could see myself in the shade of the junipers that dotted the ridgeline. On a solo trip in winter I parked near the pass that lies between Summerford Mountain and two detached outcrops that lie immediately to the west. I began exploring around the north side of these peaks and began to find petroglyphs on isolated boulders, as well as mortar holes in alcoves of massive leaning slabs of pink rock that must have been used for shelter by ancient peoples. This was another very exciting trip and I have always wanted to return. IMPORTANT NOTE: Both  these hikes require crossing NMSU property. At the time I made these trips, gates were left unlocked and permission was not needed to access these sites. Sometime in the mid to late 2000s, vandalism to scientific experiments in other locations on the property prompted NMSU to  lock the gates and to require permission to be granted for any entrance onto the property. This may still be the case. I have not visited these areas in many years,but advise anyone trying to do so to contact the BLM and NMSU first.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Providence Cone( "Rattlesnake Peak")

 A friend asked me if I had been to this place last May. He hadn't been there,but had another friend who had. I was a little little confused because he referred to it as " Rattlesnake Cone or Peak."  As you might guess I do lot of studying of the maps of our region and that name was drawing a blank. I figured out that he was talking about Providence Cone in far western Dona Ana County This isolated little rock mountain is similar to a pillar  or a sea stack,  in that almost all the soil and vegetation have been stripped away by the wind.In fact, it was only recently that I encountered that alternate name a second time on a geocaching site. Apparently it is called Rattlesnake Peak by "locals." By locals I'm assuming folks from the nearby Lewis Flats area or Deming,because there really aren't any locals to speak of out there. I believe there might be  a family living at Cambray along NM 549 which is about six or so miles away. I'm glad I did  look it up  and  find that geocaching site because it gives what should be considered the standard vehicle route for accessing  Providence Cone. I had previously devised a route from Cambray using maps and Google Earth which I  did use on the return trip. Even though I made it back, I can't recommend it, and won't describe it here.
      Here are the good directions. Take Exit 127 from I-10. Head west on on 1030(frontage or access road). Stay right on County Road B-05 which is a dirt road that initially parallels the highway, if you head left here and stay on the paved road you're headed for the landfill. Cross the railroad tracks near Mount Aden  and turn right onto County Road B-02. You may have some doubts about this road at first, like I did, but it gets better. Stay on that road for about 9 miles until you come to a 4 way intersection with a gate. Turn left( to the south) here on a very  sandy, twisty road that will get you to Providence Cone.
        I parked at a pull out about a quarter mile from the cone. This may be good choice for most vehicles. The roads around the Cone are rougher, have deep sand, and may be covered by water that stays for days in the rainy season( I've seen photos). Seamus the Scottie bounded out of our truck  and stretched his legs running along the red dirt roads. We  walked three quarters of the way around the Cone and then headed out southwest to outlier of rock formations about a 1/2 mile distant. On the way there was an area with many grinding mortars. We also found many flakes of agate. I took a some photos, including one of a pack rat nest  that was composed mainly of devils claw. We walked back to the cone and started looking for an easy way up.  We had gone more than half way around,ever higher on the slopes without finding that way.There are cattle paths that got us pretty far up the little mountain. Good grass( most likely fed by the many seeps) is growing on the north facing slopes and I guess the cows can't resist. While working our way down after another dead end, I saw an  artful cairn and thought perhaps it's pointing the way. Soon after we found what was mostly a walk-up route. I had to pick Seamus up only once to climb a very small wall. I'm glad I had Seamus with me, although initially I was frustrated because there were some routes I might have tried had I not had him along, but finding a safe route especially since we were alone, was very important- made even more so by information I gathered once I had returned home.
        The" peak" is a jumble of large boulders made white by the many raptors  and ravens that find it a convenient place to alight. I snapped a photo of a USGS marker( there are two more up there I later learned), one of the intrepid Seamus, and thought about taking one of the distant Floridas and my nearer truck, but didn't. We made our way back down without incident. Towhees flitted amongst the rocks. Seamus chased a  couple of lizards. I tried to fix our route to the top in my mind for a return trip that I'm sure to make.
       I looked for petroglyphs while walking around Providence Cone,but didn't see any. I later learned from two sources that they are there. One of those sources, Jerry Eagan's website and blog Hiking Apacheria, has an awesome photo of some of them.  If you go, they might be elusive to find. Eagan explains in his blog about finding them,but on subsequent trip not being  able to, and then on third trip with care and diligence being able to find them again. He also writes about taking a long fall and breaking his leg( while alone) while descending the peak on that very same trip and his ordeal of rescuing himself and getting to his rescuers( A article titled "Trauma on the Trail" published back in 2010 in Desert Exposure tells the story in detail- look it up),which made me glad all over that having Seamus with me had forced me to find a safe way up and down from the peak. I'm a petroglyph hound so I know I'll return here- just knowing they're there and not having found them makes me crazy. Now I'm wondering if that  artful cairn was an indicator of  something else( a petroglyph?) which in  my zeal to get to the top I  had overlooked as a possibility.UPDATE: this place is becoming more well visited  over the past few years. It is one of a handful of places in New Mexico and West Texas that has a mastodon rubbing site( nearby Akela flat is another).  See this site: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=23566  I've seen photos of the many petroglyphs as well, which I guess were hiding in plain sight the day I visited.Also, I strongly recommend this only as a winter hike,but if you go at other times of the year, be very careful and bring enough water.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Turtle Mountain- Caballo Mountains

 I'd been wanting to do this hike ever since I saw mention of a trail in a  T or C travel pamphlet. Problem was I couldn't find out where the trail started until this past summer when a contact through this blog informed me. Well, it seems like I'm also doing a hike somewhere in the Caballos come February or early March( last year it was Palomas Gap), so we set off on Sunday to tackle Turtle Mountain and it's highpoint, Caballo Cone. The trail is very, very steep initially,but well defined and not too rocky. In fact for an unofficial "use" trail, it's easy to follow, seemingly well thought out( it doesn't put you precarious situations or leave you with no alternative but rock scrambling) and well maintained.  We could see the Caballo Cone on the initial ascent,but once on the ridgeline, we lost sight of it. We then ascended a series of ever higher little peaks, which don't look like much from down in town,but were pretty slow going due to their steep pitch. Along the way there are some nice level sections of ridge walking that gave our legs a break from the climbing.  After getting to the top of the third or so minor peak, we were heartbroken to see the trail descend a  hundred feet as it  continued on.
          My wife, who was feeling a little under the weather decided to stop . Seamus the Scottie and I  went on, first down and then up,up,up. At this the point we got on a wrong use trail that took us out on the exposed west facing hill side. The " real" trail always stays right on the ridge, weaving in out of the rocks. We had made one minor peak and then another at lung busting speed for me- when we saw Caballo Cone looming large; still several hundred feet above us, and  quite a distance( checking later it was about 3/4 of a mile) away. I crunched the numbers in my head, and decided that it would take about an hour and a half  to summit and return to the spot I was at. I already been gone about 25 minutes which would mean being gone from  where I left my wife for  close to 2 hours. That wouldn't be good. Since we started late( just after noon), the extra time  might mean  steep descent with unsure footing in the waning light. That wouldn't be good either.
      Disappointed, as I watched a lone  hiker stretching on the distant peak, I turned around. We lost the trail briefly on an uneventful, but  windy return. Afterwards, there was a soak at Hay yoh Kay Hot Springs that helped me get over my disappointment- for now. I'm already planning a return. This is a really nice hike with views of  T or C, Elephant Butte Lake, and the many mountains ranges; the San Mateos, the San Andres, the Magdalenas and the Black Range, that rise up in the distance. Round trip distance is probably a little over 5 miles, but the elevation gain is close to  2000 feet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Broad Canyon -upstream from Kimball Place

 This was supposed to be a hike into Coyote Canyon, a large tributary canyon to Broad,but I was a little too casual in my survey of the map before we left( been a little preoccupied lately with the start of a new job). I brought maps with me as well,but didn't bother to check them. I had in my mind that Coyote Canyon would be coming in from the south in the vicinity of the old Kimball place( the starting point for the awesome downstream hike  in Broad Canyon)-which it does. What I failed to notice was that Coyote Canyon is on the east side( downstream) from the old corral and water tank. We started walking west, thinking the large arroyo to our left was Coyote and the smaller one to the right was Broad. In reality the one on the right is a smaller side channel entering into Broad Canyon , and we were walking in Broad itself. I didn't realize this until I got home and put the GPS track onto my topo software. I did keep wondering why the canyon was so wide(  or indeed, broad), and why it was heading  straight toward the high peaks of the Las Uvas,instead of out to the plain that's bordered by the Robledos, the Rough and Readies and the southern end of the Las Uvas. I didn't bother to even get out the GPS until we were walking back or I might have noticed we were heading west instead of south.
        The valley of Broad Canyon is quite wide here. It has deep sand and many boulders in the streambed in pale shades of gray, pink and black. The scenery is not remarkable, except for one short,narrow, "box" section that has walls of deep red conglomerate. Sections have broken off here and are stacked and leaning in somewhat precarious positions. At one point we decided to turn down a side arroyo after coming another large field of  boulders. The walking was easier, but the scenery unremarkable as well, although there was a massive deposit of calcite in one section. In retrospect, I wished we hadn't turned,because as it turned out we were not far from another old homestead,the Hersey Place, and it's nearby spring. This wasn't a great hike,but it was a nice day and good exercise.IMPORTANT NOTE: The road into Broad Canyon  E006A is in terrible condition.You must have high clearance and if it's wet- four wheel drive. The last section down to the Kimball Place has one section that has nearly washed out. It was barely wide enough for my Tacoma  and as it was I was tilting my truck quite severely just to negotiate past this point. It may be better to park near the dam on NM 185 and do the fantastic hike in lower Broad Canyon going upstream. As for Coyote Canyon, it may be  more easily approached from Corralitos Road, using dirt roads that branch off to the north.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Windy Gap, Middle Spring- Organ Mountains

These are two obscure, one-off hikes I did  on the west side of the Organs. Windy Gap is the pass, or saddle that lies between the main  high sections of the Organs( "the Needles") on the south, and the Rabbit Ears complex to the north. I started off  from Baylor Canyon Road on the road that goes to the old stone building( see the Rabbit Ears Plateau hike in this blog). From there I headed southeast, crossing several ridges and gaining elevation. I passed a couple of old mines that don't appear on any map, and then began ascending the ravine that descends from Windy Gap Saddle. The  brush is very thick in this arroyo and the sides very steep and rocky.At times there was literally no where to walk but on top of the chamisa and other desert bushes. This was little dangerous because, even though they were very thick, they didn't always support my weight and I would rapidly fall four or five feet. I clawed my way up,passing some of the very few ponderosa pines that grow in the narrowest part of the canyon.The situation cleared up a bit just before the saddle. There were junipers, grass and remnants of a path that guided me to the top.The saddle is fairly wide and flat with room to camp. I enjoyed the views; to the Tularosa Valley to the east, and closer at hand, the massive peaks all around me. I ate my lunch and then made the treacherous trip back down. This hike was done back in the early 2000's when I had more ambition, energy and stamina to plan and execute off trail hikes in the Organs. Most of them(including Windy Gap) I have had no desire to repeat.

 My wife and I did the Middle Spring hike back in 2005. The starting point is also from Baylor Canyon Road about half way between the Baylor Pass Trailhead and the Modoc Mine Road. We started off cross country,but found some old,old roads that aided our ascent. We found where the spring should be, but it wasn't flowing. We wandered around to the south and ended up making our hike into  a  lollipop loop.We had gotten up high enough on the slope that the crazy maze of the arroyos and ravines the lead up to the rarefied  air amongst the high and low Horns of the Organs seemed tantalizingly close. I immediately started concocting trips in my head to places like the tiny gap that lies just to the north of The Spire, the first of the High Horns of the Organs. I would still make some these treks if I could find some intrepid soul who didn't mind walking at my 51 year old's pace. They're probably out there because I know I'm not alone in feeling the lure of high places in these rough desert mountains. That feeling has diminished some over the years, but there is something about the Organs that I know it will never go away entirely.