Monday, October 14, 2013

Monument Canyon( FT 123)- Lincoln National Forest

 We did this hike in a remote corner of the Lincoln on Sunday. While driving there, somehow I drove right by the turnoff for NM 6563( Sunspot Highway) and continued blissfully down the Cox Canyon Road( NM 130). After awhile, I realized my mistake, but rather than backtracking. I used NM 24 to swing over to Sacramento and then NM 521 which led me to FR 64( the Agua Chiquita Road) from which I could access Forest Roads 255 and 5600 and the Monument Canyon trailhead. I used my intended route for  return trip: FR 64 to FR 460( Scott Able Canyon Road) to the Sacramento River Road and then back to the Sunspot Highway to  get back to Cloudcroft, and realized it was 6 of one , half a dozen of the other. I don't think I saved a minute of  time  or mileage either way. It was cloudy and cool as we got started at about a quarter to one. We ate lunch soon after along the trail. There is some big timber along this first section, and some even bigger stumps.
      Eventually we made it to Monument Spring which flows out from a limestone wall at the base of the hillside on the east side of the creek. The flow was small and partly piped, but it was enjoyed by our doggies anyway. The spring has built a  huge tufa mound adjacent to the creek, which in wetter times holds a multi-tiered cascade at least 75 feet in height.  From this  point on , due to the highly mineralized flow from the  spring, the creek contains dozens of tufa dams and small tufa underlain waterfalls. Unfortunately, most of these were dry,but it would  awesome to come in the spring to see them all flowing. The creek did flow, crystal clear as in most carbonate rich areas, in a few short runs near springs . Fall color was provided mostly by boxelder and the occasional aspen. There were also a few oaks, and a very few maples tucked in along the hillside. We saw fresh bear and elk scat, ravens, Stellar's Jays, hawks and owls.
      We came to a gate after a couple of miles. It wasn't posted, so we walked on until we saw the ranch house and out buildings of the Holcombe Ranch and turned around.  Our dogs had become  covered in a myriad of burs from the many weeds along the way. I couldn't help speculating as to what this canyon would look like without the effects of cattle ranching. Would the creek run year round? Would the clearings be thick with grass instead of a mind boggling variety of weeds? Would there be willows and  other young trees along the creek banks, instead of just the mature boxelders?    
       When we got back to the truck, about a  dozen cattle were waiting for us. A few had even slobbered on  our truck. One black one was particularly ornery and did a half hearted charge in our direction. I refrained from tossing a rock in its direction, but just barely. On the long drive home( 2.5 hours) both wife and I were thinking about the feasibility of these long drives for day hikes. A few years ago, I thought nothing of it. Now, it's beginning to wear a little thin. There were many beautiful aspen groves at their peak of color along the Sacramento River Road(NM 507), and the Sunspot Highway to keep our spirits up. There were also  many new signed trailheads  which intrigued me with thoughts for future excursions.

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