Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Robledo Mountains- "Twin Slot Canyons"

 I devised this hike after seeing picture on Google Earth of a slot canyon on  the east side of the Robledos. The photo was taken by Les Mckee, whose hiking group likes to roam to out of the way places in the desert just like yours truly. One big difference, though, besides the fact that they travel in a large group and I'm usually alone or with one other person, is that they sometimes do their excursions in the summertime.I can tell by the greenery in the many wonderful photos that Les posts and  more obviously because the hikes are usually dated on the photo albums page.I can't say that  I recommend this. To me the desert is for late fall through early spring. My days of baking in the June heat and sidestepping rattlers warming in the morning sun are mostly, if not completely done. Anyway, the photo, which unlike some that Mr. Mckee posts on Google Earth, was right where it should be. Zooming in for closer inspection, I could see the tell-tale squiggly black line that indicates a slot canyon. In fact I could see two in close proximity to each other separated by a reasonably low ridge, which gave me the idea of going up one and coming down the other. 
Off we went on perfect, warm December afternoon. Access is from Valley Drive,then up on the levee road. We parked and made our way across the wide, sandy river bottom. On the other side we walked north on a old two track. At a long abandoned corral, we turned west toward the mountain. The canyons are directly below the " pass" between Robledo Peak and Lookout Mountain. The southern one trends directly east. While the north one flows in a more northeasterly direction. As we got close to the beginning of the south slot, we met a group of six or so people completing their hike. Unusual, as this place is definitely off the beaten track. Up we went into the dark,cool canyon passing by some gnarly old mesquite trees as we walked. This canyon is a bit wider than the one I wrote about a few weeks ago, so there is enough sun for plant growth. We saw hackberry, juniper, Fall's last wildflowers and the usual desert shrubs. The canyon is cut in the same rough conglomerate rock as the one in the Cedar Hills. There were several deep undercuts- which must be passed under. This was a little unnerving given the  friability of  the rock, but it's harder and more sturdy than it looks, otherwise there would be no slot.

There are some low drop-offs along the way as well, which can be easily scaled. Eventually, the canyon opens up to let the sun in, and then dead ends at high pour off where there are huge boulders and many old junipers growing. If only the second leg of our journey had been as pleasant as this first one.
      First problem: Getting up to the dividing ridge was not that easy, even though it wasn't particularly high. We tried one deer trail along one ravine only to realize that another deeper ravine stood between us and the saddle on the ridge. Trying the second ravine, there was no convenient deer trail,or lower degree slope, so we just ended up muscling our way up the very steep,slippery, gravelly slope. On top we could see a second high pour-off to the west. We made our way down to the bottom on a nice gradual grassy slope and all was good for awhile as we walked jauntily downstream,stepping over dead tarantulas and giving wide berth to a cave in the canyon wall.Second problem: we encountered an 8-10 foot drop-off. It was fairly easy for me to climb down. My wife then handed me our wary Scottie, and then she climbed down. I thought to myself that could be our last obstacle. No such luck. A short ways  further down we came to a 20 foot straight drop that could not be climbed down safely, and we certainly had no way of lowering our dog down even if we could. I walked up to the narrow fin of rock on my right side to see if we could go around the dry waterfall. Not possible. I looked down  on the last few twists of the slot and could see that in only a few hundred yards or so, the canyon opened up, turning into a wide desert wash. To be so close made the next decision all the more painful( of course when I thought about it later I realized there could have easily been one or even two more drop-offs like the one impeding us, there was just no way to tell).
     We turned around. We climbed back up to the dividing ridge. So far, so good. We thought briefly about walking out on the ridge itself,but with no way to know if we would get cliffed out, we decided to go back the way we came. Even though coming up to the ridge from the south side was hard, going down was downright treacherous. But down we went, rocks and gravel tumbling, sometimes scooting on our behinds until we  slowly made it  to the bottom. It was much more of an adventure than I had anticipated, but we made it back to the truck in good shape and it wasn't even completely dark yet. Topo maps can't really help you to prepare for these dry waterfalls. Their contours are at 20 feet and all it takes is a 12 foot drop off to stop you in your tracks. Google Earth doesn't yet have the resolution to see them either. So always be prepared to adapt and find a safe solution to any hiking dilemma.

1 comment:

Aaron Hobson said...

That 20ft drop isn't the last obstacle in the second canyon. I dropped down that one, and there is still another 10ft awkward drop to get down. I love both these canyons. Cool to see you post about them.