Friday, November 29, 2013

Slot Canyon- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

There is no Broad Canyon Ranch State Park yet . I volunteered there a couple of years ago pulling out the old barbed wire fencing. There has also been a willow planting project and that's about it. It still just looks like an abandoned ranch along the Rio Grande. The gate  is  closed and locked. This little hike is on west side of NM 85 in the vicinity of Broad Canyon.  That's all I'll say. If you use Google Earth, you'll be able spot the slot canyon pretty easily  and know how to proceed. I didn't really know where it was, and had intended to go on the Southwest Environmental Center's Back Before Noon hike to the canyon a couple of weeks ago. I was renting a place near Humboldt Mountain( see blog) doing the Allie Canyon hike( see blog) instead. The hardest part of this little hike is climbing the gate. The slot canyon section of this nameless arroyo is pretty short- less than 1/2 mile I would say, but it is a true slot- something we don't really have that many of down in the southern half of the state.
   I would estimate its maximum depth is somwhere between 65 and 80 feet, and its minimum width is between 3 and 4 feet. It was very dark in the middle sections even at high noon. It was a blast walking the sinuous, meandering path. We saw a large raptor nest in one of the many alcoves above us.   There were millions of large (2 inches plus!)dead grasshoppers in the sandy bottom providing a rather pungent smell, which was only mildly unpleasant.We kept craning our necks looking up at the winding crack of blue sky. The walls were rough waves of rusty conglomerate. Emerging on the west side, we explored the upper regions of the large, wide arroyo which funnels into and has carved the slot. Our dogs chased a jackrabbit. We soaked up the sun before heading back into the cool, cavernous watercourse. A beautiful desert day.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Humboldt Mountain Area- Gila National Forest

Access being limited by small private ranches and old mining claims, this is a little visited corner of the Gila, at least by hikers and tourists. We were staying at a  ranch house  that sits on the  flank of Humboldt Mountain( which is really more of a hill). The property borders the national forest and on Sunday morning(11/10/13) we set out to explore. The old road to the northwest is very difficult to see past the cattle trough, and we ended up going through the fence even though we found the  un- gated opening on the return trip. We climbed up through the brush to some tailings piles and then made our way up to the old mine road. We continued on the old road, first north, and then east until we could see an old reclaimed mine to the north and stood on top of another one.  Making our way back, we found the road dead-ended at the old Homestake Mine on the southwest side of Humboldt Mountain.  We found many bits  and pieces of turquoise- like stones as we searched around the dumps of the mine. The mine tunnels themselves were fenced off. At the mine we had views to the house, the Chino Mine and on to the Tyrone Mine and the Big Burro Mountains.  To the north we could see the Twin Sisters Peaks and the higher  peaks of the Pinos Altos Range. It was a very pleasant walk amongst the pinon and juniper hills on a warm fall morning.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Forest Trail 100, Allie Canyon Trail- Gila National Forest

The Allie Canyon trail( FT 100) does not start  near the mouth of the canyon off of NM 35. That is Allie Canyon Road. Rather it starts a couple of miles further north right before the Wilderness Ranger Station.Parking is available at the station, as well as  a waterless toilet. There is also  water to pump here if you need it. Being so close to the ranger station, one would think there would be an easy way to walk from the parking to the trailhead. There isn't. One must walk  a short ways along the road to get there. Be careful- NM 35 has many blind hills and curves as well as drivers who are driving faster than they should be. We started hiking  along in a less than picturesque  gully with slash piles, horse crap and the usual assortment of shrubs, trees and weeds that indicate misuse. Really, this part of the hike has little to recommend it, which is odd seeing as it is so close to a ranger station, you would think they would want it to be something to showcase to visitors. Instead it is eroded and abused.
     Eventually, we started hiking up a feeder gulch on the south side which took us up in a hurry. Views of Mcknight Mountain opened up to the east. It was hard to tell how badly that area had burned. The large stands of aspen may have survived, but had already lost their leaves for the year. The trail tops out on  a ridge. We opened the gate in the fence, with views of the large Allie Canyon valley  to the south quickly coming on. Shortly afterward came the roughest, hottest and steepest part of the trail. This section was not a lot of fun on the way out. My wife's water container had leaked earlier on and  I began to worry, not knowing if the springs on the map or if Allie Canyon itself was a reliable water source, about making the trek back up this hill and then all the way back to the trailhead with little or no water for ourselves, or our dogs. To make things worse, my Scottie Seamus took off into the brush  and stayed away just long enough for a little panic to begin. He returned, and shortly afterward we found the clear flowing spring as the trail leveled out. The flats along this side canyon  would make a beautiful place to camp. We then made it  to Allie Canyon which was a rocky, but flowing little stream. There we purified water and ate our lunch.
       A few observations about Allie Canyon occurred while we picnicked. Like many other Gila streams with heavy grazing , Allie Canyon has a channel  that seems several times too wide and deep for it's flow. It it also had very few  young riparian trees at least in this section, just a few mature alders. Allie Canyon may have held trout at one time, it obviously has a perennial flow in some sections and before the lower end became more like a desert wash, connected to the Mimbres River which does have trout. We watched some folks in one of those  little utility vehicles navigate a very dicey section of the road where the bank had collapsed and shortly followed after along the road to the old cabin and corral.
 The cabin  is at the west end of a large grassy clearing and is still in usable shape,  with beds, a linoleum floor, a 1940's era formica dinette, a stove and an outhouse out back. A  more recent wooden sigh says" Crumbley 46." I met the man who made it ,Jack Crumbley, the following day. His family built the cabin and have lovingly maintained  and continued to use  it for  more than a  half century. Mr. Crumbley was doing a round  up of  his cattle  on the ranch property where we were staying, a real honest to goodness cowboy on horseback. I would have liked to explore further upstream in Allie Canyon- but there  just wasn't time. I also thought about making it loop hiking by walking back on the dirt road,but that would have left more than a mile of higway walking along  the busy NM 35 with our dogs, which was not appealing. So we trudged back up the hill, back down the gulch and gully ,and then back to our truck.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Carbonate Creek Photo Gallery

 a deep pool near the camping spot

The camping spot

The Rainbow House

Waterfall along FR157S

an old mine

Carbonate Creek after the Silver Fire- Gila National Forest

A couple of weeks ago, after checking out the thrift stores and antique shops, and then having a delicious lunch at Bella Luca in T or C, we decided to head  up to Carbonate Creek for a little Fall color.We have visited here many, many times,both for day hiking and  camping. In fact we have visited the streams( Carbonate, Mineral, Sawpit, and North Percha) along FR157S so many times, we simply refer to the area as "the Creeks." We had last checked out Carbonate Creek back in August, while looking at the damage done by the Silver Fire. We had only walked a short ways up the new improved road( thanks to firefighting operations) when rain, which began turning the roads rapidly to mud, got us out of there in a hurry. The fire had left the Carbonate/Mineral Creek valley mostly unscathed, at least the part of it we could see along the road. Now as we walked further up the road we could see that area has been severely altered.
     First, beyond the first stream crossing there is very little left of the road and trail. It has either been washed away or become a deeply gouged side channel of the stream. So what used to be an easy,pleasant walk along an old forest road has become a boulder and gravel trudge. I wasn't wearing my boots, and normally they wouldn't really have been necessary, and ruined a a pair of shoes during our walk. Flooding must have been pretty extreme. Most likely the heavy September rains on the Black Range effected the changes we were seeing. Secondly the extent of the burning along the drainage was worse that we could see back in August. It wasn't totally horrible like other areas we'd seen, but much more of the north side of the canyon had burned than we could tell when we first looked up the valley from a high point along FR157S. The fire had crossed the stream in a few places as well. We finally made it to the clearing at the Rainbow House, an old cabin, where we could see  the  severe burn damage on the upper slopes along the ridgeline of the Black Range.  Might have to start calling it the " blackened Range."  No doubt, that without any living vegetation to absorb it, the rain falling on these hillsides was quickly funneled into the torrent that changed Carbonate Creek   from a quiet mountain brook into a flood of black mud that  I estimate to have six feet deep in places, and 50 feet wide in others.
      The clearing is still a beautiful place, though now much harder to get to. There were colorful oaks and walnut trees. The grass was high. This is also the place where the beautiful big tooth maple trees begin cropping up. A few were there. Others had been consumed by the flames. I worried and wondered about the stunning grove of large maples further upstream,that I had the happy experience of visiting during their peak fall color a few years back. Were they still there? Although we wanted to see.There wasn't time. The new, trail-less rock hop of a hike had taken much longer than we could have anticipated. I know the area will regenerate and continue to change, but this was a sad day for me. Even though I want to know if those trees are still there, I don't know if I'll want to come back.
     Back at our old camping spot , which being on the high side of the creek escaped the flood's ravages,  everything  still looked  the same, I looked over the ledge  where there's a little chute and a deep pool carved into the green rock by the flowing water. A favorite spot. I even did a water color of it once. It was entirely filled with gravel.