Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Osha Trail (FT 10) -Lincoln National Forest

The Osha Trail is a pleasant little walk right out the front door of the tiny mountain town of Cloudcroft, NM.  Brown signs in either direction point to the trail and it's large parking lot on north side of US 82,  a very short distance west of Cloudcroft.   Initially the trail goes up steeply, but then levels off at the  point where one chooses which direction they will take on the loop section. We turned left(west) and headed up the ridge, reaching the high point of the hike in short time, enjoying views  from the the pine and fir clad high country hills  around us, down through first, the  scrubby and then rocky canyon sides all the way out to the expanse of  White Sands in the desert far below. We walked on, as the trail descended(now heading first north and then east) and skirted a dry grassy stream bed, through oak,maple and elder( all yet to leaf out or even bud).  After reaching the low point of the hike, a dry stream crossing, we walked up to a lovely open, green meadow surrounded by large conifers.  While the first part of the hike had ever present sounds of the cars on US 82. This back side, below the ridge, was delightfully peaceful with just the sound of the wind, ravens and the occasional laughter  of other hikers.We took our rest, enjoyed this spot, and then continued on, partly on a road where we saw a playful Stellar's Jay,  and then back on the trail to the end of our loop, and finally the short lollipop stick back to the car. It was a very enjoyable way to spend an hour on a crisp Spring morning.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Middle Percha Creek Falls-Gila National Forest

After seeing my photos of Mineral Creek Falls last year, my friend Doug of the New Mexico Waterfalls website speculated that there should be a " waterfall" up Middle Percha Creek as well. Being from Taos way, my friend does not fully comprehend the sometime nature of just about any  waterfall here in the southern half of the state- hence the quotation marks.  Well I ventured  out to confirm or deny his speculation on Friday.
      Seamus and I drove up to Kingston, parked our car a  short way inside the Forest boundary on FR 40 and began hiking.Where we would normally turn right to continue on the Ladrone Trail ( FT 127), we turned left, and began a bushwack up the main stem of Middle Percha Creek. It's pretty rough back in there, with rocks, downed timber and brush. It's steep as well. I was beginning to think my friend was wrong, but I decided to push on little farther. I  had been keeping my eyes peeled to see the tell tale matching outcrops high on either side of the stream that usually indicate a waterfall just below. I finally spotted them, and in a short while I had found my waterfall, such as it was. There is first  a 5 foot high cascade( which was dry).   A 7 or 8 foot falls in two drops came next and had a trickle and a pool of water beneath it( Seamus the Scottie was grateful for that). Above that was, what in wetter times is mostly likely a twin 15 -20 falls. One branch had a trickle that created another small pool. The other has an enormous boulder wedged in it so that when water is flowing, it must flow around and mostly beneath this rock.  I climbed up on top and saw some more enormous boulders in the stream, but nothing to indicate any more falls.
     Well, I'd wished I'd gone about a month ago,because given the light winter preciptation and typical very dry spring this year, I was probably lucky to see the tiny amount of water that I did at this late date.  In addition, these falls are almost at the very head of the creek( my GPS data put us at nearly 8,000 feet and close to the ridge line in this section of the Black Range) so it's peak  run-off time is probably short lived.I'll have to try again( maybe with Doug if he ever makes it down here) in a wetter year( if we ever get one of those again). If you go, don't expect much at least not until the Gila gets some good, really good summer rains, or some decent winter snow pack. Our hike was about six miles round trip,but you can shorten considerably by driving further in  on FR 40 depending on your nerves, vehicle and road conditions( see my 2011 blog about this road). IMPORTANT NOTE: This hike is within the Silver Fire burn area(June, 2013). IMPORTANT UPDATE: Forest Road 40 E has been extensively altered by flooding and other factors in the aftermath of the Silver Fire. I estimate less than 2 miles past Kingston, it becomes more or less impassable to vehicles. I know some folks will regard that as a challenge,but those of you that are more sensible, heed my advice( September 2015).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bridal Veil Falls Trail (FT129)-Lincoln National Forest

I saw some photos of these falls on my friend  Doug Murphy's New Mexico Waterfalls website and I was intrigued. I also saw that the Forest Service had finished their work on the trail, so on Sunday I thought we'd give a go. The trail head is on the paved 162 C probably less than 2 miles from the turnoff on NM 82( the road is called Cherry Blossom initially).  We turned right on the first stop sign , passed the Cherry Festival grounds on the left and continued on out of the village. There is room for   2 cars to park off the road at the Grandview Trail trail head.
      Bridal Veil Falls trail is directly across the street.  As we began walking we could still see  houses of High Rolls on the hills above us from some parts of the trail,so you're not exactly in the wilderness. The trail is almost entirely on the old railroad grade so it is wide, smooth and  pitched at a moderate enough grade for the railroad engines of a  100 years ago, so it's easy walking. It's also without any significant shade. The vegetation is a mix of pinon juniper  chaparral along with desert species such as creosote and all-thorn. Most of the area looks beat down not just by the  disturbance caused to the land initially by the  railroad,but also from years of over grazing and recent persistent drought. In fact if it  weren't for the waterfall at the end, I would've wondered why we were on this trail in the first place, given that there are many more scenic places to stretch your legs in the Lincoln. 
      In the places where the absence of the trestle leaves the trail hanging high above a gully,  bypass routes have  been built to take you down to the arroyo or creek crossing. The first of these even has bridge over the perennial south fork of Salado Creek.  Interpretive  signs along the way had us imagining what it would have been like to actually see  a train chugging up through these hills and contemplating the considerable effort in raw labor and engineering imagination needed to make this a reality back in 1899.
         Close to the falls there are the ruins of an old homestead. It must have been an lovely place to live. There were apricot, apple and plum trees that were already leafed out and sporting tiny green fruits. We ate our lunch down below the deck  of the main falls while a couple with young children enjoyed themselves. After they left, we took our turn. Our timing was perfect, just as we were done photographing and enjoying this lovely place,  a troop of  less than quiet Cub Scouts descended upon the scene.This trail is more than likely very popular  being accessible, containing the attraction of a permanent waterfall and easy walking to boot. We just happened to get lucky for being there on a weekend.If you're really allergic to crowds, you might want to try a weekday.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Conkling Cave ( " Conkling's Cave," " Conkling Cavern")

This was my third attempt at finding the elusive Conkling Cave. I didn't. I went to where my Alltopo software and  Google Earth said it should be( I believe they've relied on the same source whatever that may be). In fact when I looked at my GPS data afterward,  I apparently walked over it- a couple of times. I never really saw anything, and I certainly didn't step over  a large hole in the ground without noticing. I was looking for any sign of human disturbance that excavation, and repeated trips to the entrance would have surely made, but saw none. I was so optimistic this time, although things got off to a weird start.
       There's a sub-division out where the turn-off to for the Bishop Cap Road used to be, and a sign announces that the Bishop Cap Rd. is now a dead end. I drove around this little neighborhood in the middle of nowhere several times before deciding to take the power line access road in the hope that it would lead to a road that would bring me to where I wanted to be.  I ended up a little over a half mile from my Conkling Cave waypoint for starting my hike. There is another road that will bring one to within a 1/4 mile or so,but it's behind a fence now.
    Anyway,  I took off walking and was soon stumbling up the steep ridge( it was the one 2 ridges east of and parallel to Bishop Cap, or 2 1/2 if you count the truncated ridge immediately east of Bishop Cap). Any hike off road or trail in the Bishop Cap area requires jeans,boots, a denim or canvas jacket, and work gloves no matter what the weather. Not only is there cactus, catclaw, octotillo,lechugilla, and spanish dagger to contend,but the first time I fell and cut my hand open, I was reminded of why gloves are so essential. The limestone rock here is as sharp as knife. Well, I walked all over that ridge,but to tell the truth when  you're up there everything looks the same and the photo I had as reference( from UTEP's quaternary fossil site index) didn't reveal much. I  came within 13 feet on my hand held GPS which is about as accurate as the thing is going to get, but still saw nothing. I found a man- made wooden post that had toppled from it's  cairn and  a couple of other cairns as well. Most likely all of these were for mining claims, not to indicate the location of the cave.
         I gave up and decided to try my alternate theory, which ran as follows: the topo map was wrong, and my recent experience at Las Uvas Spring bolstered this idea, and the cave was actually on the parallel ridge immediately to the west of the one I was on. I had seen some vague paths there years ago which had given birth to this theory,but had never tested it out. At first I followed some orange ribbons that marked the way at along the base of the ridge,hoping for no good reason that they were leading the way to the cave. They didn't.The "paths" on better inspection were an illusion- mere changes in the rock and soil type. I then proceeded to walk all over that ridge too,  until, exhausted, I plopped down ate my lunch near the top. I looked over at Bishop Cap  proper, and remembered that the written accounts of the location of cave say it is on the east side of Bishop Cap,not a parallel ridge to the east of Bishop Cap, but perhaps on the east side of Bishop Cap itself. This is my new theory.
     The UTEP photo with some higher peaks in the upper left hand  corner may lend strength to this idea. Although I'm willing to test the initial one with  a few willing extra sets of eyes. My alternate, I've discarded. I know  this  must all seem a little ridiculous to someone who knows exactly where it is. I also  wonder what  I would do  if I found it. It goes straight down and one would need a ladder or a climbing rope to enter. It has also occurred to me that it has been backfilled,  concealed or even capped and that I may have indeed walked very close to it without knowing. Most people who know me, would probably tell you I'm good at finding these type of obscure places with very little  to go on. This one is beginning to stick in my craw little.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mcknight Canyon- Gila National Forest

We hiked here one fall quite a few years ago. I suspect it hasn't changed much though. The trailhead is about 7 miles down  FR 151. If you read my previous blog about this road, don't worry, you'll be parking before the going gets really horrendous. There is a small sign indicating a trail at the turn off and that's about it  I believe. Officially the trail is FT 92.  We hiked down the sunny canyon side on a very steep pitch. The lack of shade and elevation gain were not super fun on the return.When we got down to the shady green  stream bottom,we could see a couple on the other side of the creek in the midst of putting their clothes back on. We paused a minute before making our presence known and then continued along trail in the very narrow( similar to the wilderness reach of it's parent stream, the Mimbres,  but smaller) canyon. There was canyon grape growing in abundance in places, and the oaks were changing color. In one rocky section we spied some good sized Gila Trout in a deep pool( Mcknight's population of Gilas are still off limits to fishing at this time). Eventually the  streamside became very lush with willows and grass, to where we could no longer find a trail. At some point the dense willow growth became nuisance to continuing at all, with or without a trail- so we turned around. On maps I know that this trail appears to continue  all the way to the crest of the Black Range- but it seems likely that it becomes a cross country bushwack further along from where we stopped. Don't let that discourage you, though, because it's a beautiful place.Update: Although I have not  hiked it recently it seems very likely that this hike has been seriously affected by the Silver Fire and it's aftermath in  2013. The canyon has flooded numerous times since then and ash has extirpated the population of Gila Trout.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dog Canyon-Lincoln National Forest

 I've been wanting to get this hike on here  for awhile. It's a New Mexico classic. My wife and have hiked  this trail three times. It's a  lung and leg buster,but we were rewarded with fantastic scenery, and the last time we went, the many dry waterfalls were all spraying, plunging and tumbling. If you go, you'll need to park and pay the fee at Oliver Lee State Park which contains the lower trailhead. You can also explore the boardwalk trail here  amongst the lush riparian canyon bottom. If you do that'll be the closest you get to the bottom for almost 4 miles,because the Dog Canyon Trail just takes you up and up, and just when you feel like you don't want to take another uphill step that's when the serious switchbacks begin. Eventually things level out on wide grassy bench in the upper( but still far from the top) canyon. There are huge boulders here and there that have tumbled down from the limestone cliffs, as well as the first shade trees of the entire hike. The trail leads down to the creek where there are a couple of old, roofless stone cabins. The trail continues from here steeply up the "eyebrow" and eventually reaches the West Side Road up  in the pines, but we've always made this our turn around point. On our last visit I bushwacked it back to the waterfalls to get some photos. Only a few are visible here, but further back on the trail,before we descended to the cabin and the creek, it's possible to see the whole series of 20-50 foot water falls that reach all the way to the top of the canyon. Some advice to those wanting to try this hike: it is very steep, and there is almost no shade until one reaches the stone cabins. It is best to try the Dog Canyon Trail from late fall to the early spring, Just keep in mine that there's likely to be snow on the ground in the upper reaches during the winter months.