Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Iron Creek- Black Range, Gila National Forest

Iron Creek

If you look through the posts on this blog, you'll notice that many of places I've written about over the years have been  burned, are burning right now or are about to be burned by the Silver Fire.It's very sad, and despite what some people think, completely inevitable. This fire was  never a question of"if" just "when." Most of the places that I've written about in the Black Range, I haven't just visited once,but multiple times. This was our forest stomping grounds for camping, hiking, fishing and the occasional backpack. I'm so glad these peaks,forests and canyons were such an important part of my life for the last 15 years. I take joy in the beauty that was there, and that will return slowly- perhaps too slowly for my lifetime- for future generations to enjoy. We have camped at Upper Gallinas( at least 4 times), Iron Creek(2 times), Railroad Canyon, Carbonate Creek( at least 6 times)  Spring Canyon and Sawpit Canyon. We  have hiked over  all the trails:  Tierra Blanca Creek, Trujillo Canyon, Silver Creek( Grandview Trail), Sawyer's Peak,  South Percha, Drummond Canyon,Spring Canyon, Railroad Canyon, Gallinas Canyon, East Railroad Canyon, Hillsboro Peak, Hillsboro Peak Bypass, Crest Trail, Holden Prong, Ladrone Trail, Water Canyon, Middle Percha, Sawpit Canyon, Carbonate Creek, Mineral Creek, North Percha, Cave Creek(FT 307), Rabb Park, Noonday Canyon,North Fork Mimbres, Mimbres, Powderhorn Ridge Trail, Black Canyon, North Seco , Morgan Creek, Circle Seven Creek, Turkey Run, Diamond Creek, Mcknight Canyon and many old mine roads and other little side roads to nowhere.  I'm still hoping that it won't burn into Mcknight,Mimbres or North Seco Canyons.( Update: it did burn into the upper reaches of Mcknight, Mimbres and Black Canyon. It burned through a section of North Seco as well.) Time will tell. If it continues further north I may be writing about all memories  I have of the northern half of the Black Range as well. I leave off with a few words about  Iron Creek. I remember my first time, as a vacationer from Texas, driving on the winding, spectacular NM 152  and looking down  at the cool water of the creek rushing beside the highway and thinking I wanted to be part of this up and down, wild place that was so, so different from the flat urban expanse of Houston. Our first winter after moving here we drove up to the campground and slid around in the snow, using the same disks we had bought for playing at White Sands. We tried to make it a regular thing, coming up in the winter. One of the last times we sat in camping chairs drinking cocoa as a snowflakes started to fall. Ah well, here are some photos from happier, wetter times.
Emory Pass
 Emory Pass

Gallinas Creek

Gallinas Creek

Petroglyph National Monument

 I hiked the Rinconada Trail in Petroglyph National Monument last Thursday. This is one of the  4 designated trails.The city of Albuquerque  is beginning to surround the monument on three sides, so, like the Organ Mountain trails here in Las Cruces, these routes have more of the feeling of a city park. That being said it was relatively uncrowded on a weekday morning. I only encountered  a total of 5 people. The trail is very sandy. It winds along the base of the lava flow escarpment. Petroglyphs popped into view on the desert varnished  boulders early on and got more numerous and elaborate the further I walked.  I climbed up on the rocks to get better photos of the some of the panels. Do so at your risk however. There's probably a  very good reason that many of the images in the stone are snakes.
        The return trail just cuts across the sandy flats which wasn't particularly exciting. It might be better to just turn around and follow the escarpment back. You're almost guaranteed to see petroglyphs  that you didn't see on the way out. It took me about and hour and a half to this 2 mile hike with a few  side trips into the boulders. There is no shade. Start early as possible this time of year and even though it's a short walk, bring water. Dogs are allowed, but the one I saw didn't seem  very happy.   It was getting a little too hot. Cooler months would be more suitable for our canine friends.  Also, be forewarned,it is imperative that you pick up after your dog( there are many signs reminding you of this as well). The parking area has a bathroom for humans. There is no fee at this trail but at the nearby Boca Negra  trail, it costs one dollar to park your vehicle. After I finished my hike I went to visitor center just down the road. I got directions to  the Boca Negra trail and proceeded on my way.  Although this trail may be the monument's premier attraction, it wasn't meant to be for me that morning. As I approached the parking area, which was already nearing capacity, I could see several large groups milling about, ready to start the hike. I estimated I would be sharing the trail with  upwards of 50 people. I turned around. I'll save that one very early start on another visit to Albuquerque. The monument is open for exploring beyond the designated trails,but be prepared, even though the city is close by, this is a harsh desert environment. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Rio Ruidoso, Tularosa Creek

   I fished the Ruidoso River for the second time last week. Once again, I forgot to take any pictures. Well, that's not entirely true. Several times I found myself thinking, "this would make a nice picture," but never followed through with actually snapping one. Anyway, the water was low, but not terribly so. More disturbing was the algae growth. I'm beginning to think this creek is having some real water quality issues.
     I started again at Two Rivers park and headed downstream. I saw a fish take something on the surface early on-which was good sign- but then saw nothing, or had any action from any of the likely spots. I saw another shadow dart under the bank at the deep pool right before the Paradise Canyon bridge, but  once again saw nothing and had zero action as I continued on past stately homes and abandoned shacks. At one point I met a freckle faced boy, who, if he would've been without shoes and his fly rod been a cane pole could've have easily stepped right out of an illustrated edition of Tom Sawyer or a Norman Rockwell painting. He had seen big fish downstream,but they were not interested in being caught. We continued on in opposite directions, wishing each other luck.
      I went around the next bridge, to find deep water on the other side, and obvious signs that this was popular "hole." I tried a dozen or more casts with no reward. I continued downstream and the rio, as well as the environs began to change. The stream was much narrower and sunny. Grass grew high on the banks and in clumps in the water. Riparian shade trees were few and far between, and not far from the banks,pinon and juniper baked in the gravelly red soil. The beautiful homes were gone too. Instead there was a cement plant and abandoned trailers. Trash, large and small was everywhere and the river was beginning to take on the character of an urban storm drain.
    At a bend with some overhanging vegetation for shade was a deep pool. I cast a prince nymph in, expecting, given the total lack of action the last 2 hours, nothing. But there was something. Something of good size grabbed my fly decisively and began to run, stripping out line as it went. I was so completely surprised and unprepared for this to happen,lulled as I was by the lack of any takes or bites, that I was no longer " on point," and failed to set the hook. Bitter disappointment.  Shortly afterward I turned around. I'm sure it was one of the resident browns that I lost and not a stocker.
       Upstream I had one more adventure. Back at that pool at the Paradise Canyon bridge, I knew was my last best chance to catch something. I tried casting blind upstream, but there was nothing doing. It's pretty much impossible to approach the pool any other way, but I decided to go up high on the nearly vertical west bank. I could see several large trout in the still water. I hadn't scared them with my earlier casts. With much difficulty, as my gear and my body were tangled in the small trees, I managed to finally, gently drop a fly  right at ground zero above the  fish, only to have them scatter as if I had dropped a five pound rock. Then I fell. Hard.  Dignity and backside bruised, I trudged on with no luck with the few casts I bothered  to make. Soon, I was back at my car. Update: A third visit in August,2016  found better off color water, with no algae and  colder temperature, but still no fish.

 On the way home,  I saw some kids fishing in Tularosa Creek right in Mescalero.  I decided to check out the water where the creek goes under  US 70 at Round Mountain. The small creek was flowing strongly as it usually does and was only slightly off color. I could actually see to the bottom in the shallower runs. Several years ago and recently( August, 2016) I fished this creek starting at the bridge and going upstream and then downstream. The water was has ranged over three visits from opaque to quite clear, and the current is always strong.  I gave up  in less than an hour.It occurs to me that the gradient in this stretch, and the fact that it's just a long run makes this section not a particularly good trout water. There's nowhere for them to hold. Further upstream on the little orchard properties and farms it may be more level and have a few bends in it. Still, there could be a few fish hiding beneath the undercut banks, or holding on the bottom below a small falls,but I've had not luck casting to these areas.

People do come down to this cottonwood and willow shaded retreat to drink beer( as evidenced by their trash) dip their toes and maybe catch a fish. Downstream there is good path to follow for quite a ways. There have been logs  hammered into the bank that stick out into the stream in the hopes that branches and sediment will build up and  provide structure but so far this hasn't occurred. The water is reasonably cold even though you're in the desert at this point. Every year I drive over Tularosa Creek, I tell myself that I should come back and give it another shot, say, in November when the cottonwoods have gone to gold. Maybe this year I will. NOTE: Tularosa Creek is not posted in this area, but I believe it is private property. Ask permission and /or respect posted signs upstream and downstream.  I'm not sure if non-tribal members are allowed to fish this stream on the reservation. Inquire before doing so.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fresnal Canyon- Lincoln National Forest

Andrew Brill and I did a scramble down the box section of Fresnal Canyon last Thursday. I had been down in there once before returning from a fishing trip when, on a whim,  I decided to go down,stumbling my way like so many do from the Tunnel Vista parking area on the treacherous use trail. The stream was in flood stage and looked like Bailey's Irish Cream( I'm tired of the chocolate milk comparison). I explored  upstream a short ways and then made my way back up. On top, I sat on rock for a good 20 minutes trying to stop sweating,get my racing heart rate back somewhere near resting, and just generally trying  to compose myself before driving back to Las Cruces. This trip was infinitely more civilized. We left Andrew's jeep at the bottom at a pull out on FR 162C , then drove back up and parked my truck at the abandoned building  east of the tunnel just off the highway.
     One quick slide on our backsides and we were in a different world.  The water was flowing,clear and surprisingly strong given the extended drought we're in. At one of first trickling waterfalls, we were amazed at the depth of the pool beneath,but as we continued down past several good flowing springs, the waterfalls got higher and pools bigger and deeper. The largest one,below a thirty foot waterfall was probably 50 feet in diameter and easily over our heads. Down in this  dark, narrow little canyon, densely shaded by its namesake ash trees, the creek runs cold. Canyon grape tangles are everywhere. Thick green moss grows on the limestone rocks in the cool of the canyon, while high above, immense cliffs of the same limestone bake in the summer sun.
     We continued to be amazed with each new discovery( tiny travertine terraces, grotto like overhangs . . .),  and scarcely noticed the not too shabby bushwack  we were involved in to get to the bottom. Lower down, the stream leveled out into a peaceful, cottonwood shaded brook with the thorny, dry desert just a few steps from the banks.  The length of our hike revealed an amazing oasis.This place would be a destination, and fiercely protected were it near a major southwestern population center( like Albuquerque or Tucson). El Paso is close,but in a different state. If this canyon were in Texas,  I'm sure we would've needed a special permit and had to pay to get in there( as at Hueco Tanks). Since this place is barely acknowledged by the Lincoln National Forest or the  City of Alamogordo, there is trouble in paradise.Fresnal Canyon's box is little too close to civilization and US 82 for its own good. Those big pools of cool water are magnet in this desert we live in , and in  the section right below the Tunnel Vista parking there is ample evidence  that people do visit this canyon to swim, and perhaps for other less innocent activities. Beer cans, blankets, and other forms of trash have been left behind. In addition, some feel the need to leave a more lasting residue of their time spent in the canyon: graffiti, some in garish neon colors, is plentiful on the cliffs and boulders in the choicest spots. It is mostly invisible from above, and likely to be seen by very few people. Truth be told, jarring as it was, it didn't have much effect on my experience. Still, it shouldn't be there and should be remedied somehow. More concerning were the few  campfire  rings we saw, not just because of the wildfire danger,but because people had actually started hacking away at live trees in pursuit of wood. It's strange to now to know this little jewel exists. I have taken a keen liking to it, and  want to proceed  to ensure it is not abused. Note: Some things have fallen or been washed into the canyon, not deliberately left behind. A partial list includes: tires, highway signs and the scattered but nearly complete remains of what we think was 40's or 50's era milk truck.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rio Pueblo de Taos

The Rio Grande looked beautiful,blue and every inch a classic fly fishing stream.But when I saw the Rio Pueblo de Taos at the end of our drive along the Rio Grande Gorge, I knew that's where I wanted to fish.   I knew it would be rock hopping bushwack,but it still was my preference. Why?  I'm not totally sure. I 'm used to bushwacking small streams. I didn't have my waders for standing in the cold water all day, plus everything I've read about the Rio Grande gave me the strong impression that is was a  fall through early spring stream. Bigger streams intimidate me, perhaps because I haven't been super successful at the few I've tried. What the exact reason is, I don't know, but I was still debating it even as I drove toward the  Taos Junction Bridge and the dispersed camping area at the confluence of the Rio Pueblo de Taos and the Rio Grande. Perhaps if I had seen just one  of the many fisherman in the Rio Grande with a rod bent toward the water, I would've changed my  mind and tried my luck on the Big River.   I didn't and didn't.
        So it was off to rock hop in what is probably  the strangest small trout stream environment I've yet to fish. The Rio Pueblo de Taos  runs in it's own  gorge in it's lower end. 10 feet from the stream, is a hot dry desert, and if I couldn't see the  concealing wall of willows  that line  the bottom of the canyon as I walked up the old road( now a hiking trail) running along the south side of the creek, I would never have imagined  water would be there, never mind  a trout stream. The previous day when I first saw the stream, it seemed that we couldn't even hear the rushing and falling  creek until we were  on it,perhaps due to the  sound insulating properties of those same  willows. The water was fast, but not too fast, a bit off color,  and cold enough despite the fact that stream channel is completely without shade.
      Shadeless as it is,  and perhaps too nutrient rich as well, algae and other submerged plants are plentiful, as are the  large boulders. So, first I tried  dry flies and had many takes, a few bites and  one caught chub to show for it. I'm pretty sure all the surface approaches were chubs.  I caught  a small( 8 inches) brown unexpectedly as my dry fly drifted back toward me well below the surface. I realized I needed to switch to small subsurface  flies to get down in the water, but not to the bottom. It meant being careful not to cast or drift into the in- stream greenery.  I succeeded for the most part, as I  avoided the stream side greenery(willows) as well. I pulled out several more chubs,  but began to despair catching any more browns.
    I was on my way back downstream drifting a small beadhead in the channel running out from a small falls when I caught my best fish of the day- a 12 inch brown who gave me a few low leaps and a nice little fight. One or two more chubs, and it was time to head back to the truck. I mused on the way back to Rinconada that perhaps I chose the Rio Pueblo de Taos  because I subconsciously knew my number of boulder hopping, huffing and puffing days of small stream adventure fishing were limited.  Who knows? But that last brown sure made it all worth it. Note: this area has a day use fee of $3.00.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rio Grande Gorge- Orilla Verde Recreation Area

 Our third day in Rinconada we explored the Rio Grande Gorge  up to the Taos Junction Bridge. Maybe just a couple of miles from the house was the  County Line River Access area. We got out and walked the dogs along paths up and down the river. There were large cottonwoods, fishermen casting and wonderful cool breezes coming off the water on what promised to be hot day. We checked out the BLM visitor center at Pilar, but there wasn't much there. We then continued on along the river on  NM      checking out the campgrounds perhaps for future reference, but mostly enjoying the fantastic scenery as the canyon deepened and narrowed. We pulled out to walk along the river again. My wife had the idea of getting in the water, but it was one of the Catch 22 situations we'd encountered before at the beach in Santa Monica, CA. A short ways  away from the river, it was hot and still, but right on river it was considerably cooler and breezy and the water itself was very cold  So, so much for getting in the river. We drove over the bridge, then went back over, parked the truck, and explored the Rio Pueblo de Taos , which has it confluence with the Rio Grande just a short distance past the bridge. This is a beautiful, and justifiably popular area, but it seemed  that the peak times for enjoying would be in the fall and spring, or maybe on sunny winter day.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Serpent Lake- Pecos Wilderness- Carson National Forest

 I wanted to do one forest hike while we stayed at a vacation rental along the Rio Grande in Rinconada. I thought about the Trampas Lakes again- hoping to make it to the lakes this time- but it seemed just too long( 12 miles roundtrip). I dug out this obscure one from Lawrence Parent's Hiking New Mexico at the last minute. It wasn't as long, although the description of distances in the book is not accurate, and hopefully not as rough of a trail as the San Leonardo Lakes hike that we did 2 years ago. It wasn't a particularly bad trail as it turned out, although  final descent to the lake  left something to be desired because of snow drifts and a trail that was more of use path.
    When we first got out of the car in the large parking area, after a 4 or 5 mile drive on FR 161 which  is a good gravel road and can be driven by sedans in dry conditions, the wind was already getting pretty outrageous.  It felt a little raw and cold, as we were already at considerable altitude( 10,000 feet). W started walking on the trail, which initially  is just a continuation of the road. Dandelions along the grassy  hillside gave me a sunny feeling despite the wind,but one look at the aspens which were still in their budding stage let me know that spring had not even fully arrived on the north facing side of this mountain. Many of the douglas fir and spruce were dead and dying at this elevation. It wasn't until we were getting close to 12,000 feet was there a  healthy looking,green forest.
       The trail crosses many small rills and springs, as well as following and then crossing a  larger ditch diversion( twice) for which log "bridges" were rovided for our convenience. There was plenty of water for our dogs,but later in the summer before the rains  start ,water availability could be a problem until one reaches the lake. As we made our way up steeply we began to realize the distances as described were not right. Despairing a little,our spirits were lifted to see the well carved upon Pecos Wilderness sign and then a short while later the very new  sign pointing to Serpent Lake. There was no path to see as we continued downhill through the snowdrifts following some fairly recent footprints. We caught sight of the high ridges and the lake and quickly thereafter found the slightly treacherous route down to the bottom.
       The wind hadn't really been a factor while we  were in the forest except to hear it constantly blowing through tops of the trees. Now, in the open  country around the lake there was nothing to stop it. No stranger to wind, living here in southern New Mexico, I estimated the  gusts at at least 70 mph.  We had our Scotties with us. They are low to the ground, stout dogs, and it was moving them around.  We sat amongst some low trees, in a vain hope they would provide a respite from the wind, ate our lunch hurriedly, took our pictures and  then skedaddled  up the hill and back into the shelter of the forest. What a contrast to other hikes we've made to alpine lakes,where we were so reluctant to leave  the pleasures of basking in the beauty and serenity of our surroundings.The trip back was uneventful, but long. We made jokes about the 4 seasons of New Mexico- Winter, Wind, Fire and Fall.All told this hike is a little over 8 miles roundtrip.