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.










8 comments:

heavy hedonist said...

What a gorgeous, hidden treasure of a place. The kind that inspires poetry.

rexjohnsonjr said...

I've caught many a trout in that canyon-- brown, brook, and rainbow.

rexjohnsonjr said...

Have caught many a trout in that canyon over the years -- brown, brook, and rainbow. The best sort of fly-fishing is the most solitary. For most fishermen it is unusual to be completely alone, and so the solitude you get at Fresnal is all the more unusual because of the busy highway not too far above you. NMG&F has spent far more on the trout "fisheries" on Burns Lake and the NMSU campus pond. Well, who knows, maybe one day NMG&F will pay enough attention to it to poison it.

devon said...

We just looked at the fish. They all were rainbows. We were hoping to see a brookie or brown. I'd been down there once before,but it was flooding and not fishable. I haven't made up my mind whether to go back and fish it or not. Speaking of solitude- in my 13 years of fishing in New Mexico and Arizona. I have encountered a total of 6 other fishermen on the stream. It gets to be habit( the solitary excursion). I can't really explain to more sociable fishers. I fished with a friend once on the Penasco. I enjoyed it,but never felt much like doing it again.

Katie Mason said...

My husband and I live in Carlsbad (he's a ranger at the Caverns) and would love to see this. Is there a hiking trail that leads here? If you could send me some more info that would be awesome. Kmason1186@gmail.com -Thanks!

Sean C Collier said...

Hi Devon,

I am driving through New Mexico this week and would really love to see this spot, but from your post I'm unable to decipher how I would reach it. If you could perhaps send me an email at seanccollier@gmail.com to help me get there I would very much appreciate it.

Thanks!

Philip Cooksey said...

Just moved to the area. would really like to see this area. if you could email some more info on how to get there that would be great pcooksey19@gmail.com

randall norred said...

For those of you wondering where to find this canyon, starting in Alamogordo follow the bypass 70/82/54 or White Sands Blvd to the red light on the north side of town and take 82 up the mountain towards Cloudcroft. As you start up the mountain you will come to a tunnel with a parking area on the left, stop there. There is a trail at the parking lot (pretty difficult) and there is one further up towards the tunnel that is a little easier. Just remember to carry water cause the hike back up is a doozy.