Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kasha Katuwe, Tent Rocks National Mounument

It was a bit chilly and windy in Santa Fe, so we headed out for Tent Rocks, with the hope that the weather would improve as we changed location and as the day went on. It did. We missed the turn-off for NM 16 from I-25, but then made the turn at  NM 22 onto the Santo Domingo Pueblo, then  through the small town of Pena Blanca, across the river and on to Tent Rocks. We saw only one car  a little ways ahead of us  which made sense at the time because, although it is reached by paved roads it is not what I would  call on the beaten path There was no line at the entrance gate where the young man informed us that the entrance fee was waived to today for the President's Day holiday. So, we were very surprised to find the parking and picnic area packed with cars and people.
        We headed off  as part of what almost amounted to a long line of marchers walking out on the slot canyon trail. There  were many families with many children( some walking, some carried), folks with expensive outdoor clothes and shoes, others in their everyday duds,couples of all ages, and even a few Euro- tourists( we heard both Italian and French being spoken). It was like a trip to the mall, my wife would comment. When we got the narrowest part of the slot canyon, we began meeting the long line of people that had been to the top and were now  coming back. In several spots we had to either back up or press against the canyon wall and wait for people to pass. We saw more people in one day here hiking than we had seen in the whole year of hiking,perhaps more than in a couple of years.  We're a little spoiled down here in southern New Mexico, because it's been so easy to avoid the crowds for the most of 15 years we've lived here. And even when we've done the many hikes that we have in Northern New Mexico, we've  managed to avoid a  crazy scene like this one. On our return hike the people just kept coming, we wandered over onto the Cave Trail ( which is a loop) which helped end our  trip on a more tranquil note, although we could still see and hear the crowds  on the Canyon Trail.
       Still this is beautiful spot. I probably would have thought it was even spectacular, if I had been able to experience it bit more peacefully. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from visiting. By all means, go. For myself, if I were to visit again, I would not go on the Saturday of  a three day holiday weekend, which also happened to coincide with Valentine's Day and some unseasonably warm winter weather, or any other holiday weekend for that matter, or any other Saturday, or Sunday, or any other time when the admission was free, a  happy coincidence especially for the groups( and they were several that had 5, 6, 7 or more people). Of course if all these people had to pay fees-there would have been a line stretching back  the several miles to Cochiti Dam. I can't say it wasn't enjoyable,but it was very strange for us. Note: despite its obvious popularity, and seemingly casual aspect of the clientele that use it, I would consider this trail more or less primitive with only a few quickly deteriorating  improvements toward the very top. I'm sure when it's wet, it can be downright treacherous.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Silva Canyon exploration- Sierra de las Uvas

Last week, as it was getting dark, I spotted a few new petroglyphs in  Silva Canyon lower down than the first few  I found back in October. This week I decided to explore the further down the canyon out into the desert flats. After talking to a young couple that had pitched their tent right in the narrow canyon, I made my way down seeing only a couple of new petroglyphs before stopping at a large dry waterfall.

  I would see later that it was possible to climb down, but from where I stood and looked it didn't appear to be  doable, at least not safely. I had to backtrack and go up on the hillside using a cow trail to get around to the bottom. There are many good cow trails out here in the Las Uvas and despite the fact that many hikers might think that these areas would be better off if the cattle were gone forever, I'm grateful for their trails when I'm exploring obscure areas. Crossing a tributary arroyo, I decided to see if it would bring us down safely to the lower end of Silva- no such luck- but I did find an interesting alcove with a heavily blackened ceiling that testified to many years of use long ago. Back up on the cow trail, we worked our way across another side arroyo,around a small hill and then found a gradual enough slope to get us down to the  bottom of the main Silva Canyon. It was a rough walk up to the bottom of the dry waterfall where I stopped earlier, with no rock art to be seen anywhere. We rested  in the shade of the  junipers,oaks and silktassel.

We walked out past our entry point and found seven or eight bedrock mortars, but no petroglyphs. I didn't really have a return route planned,but as Silva Canyon began  winding deep into the accumulated soil and out into the desert flats, we turned back east and then marched northeast up another  tributary arroyo. Back on top of the hill , we partly explored down an adjacent side canyon and then finally walked  parallel to the paved road back to the flats and our truck. Before leaving the area I scoped out the very  upper end of Valles Canyon directly below the Mesa Azur thinking  that this would be a prime area to look and see if there are any more pinons( besides the one I found in Pine Canyon  12 years ago)  in these mountains. I wished I could've explored further down Silva Canyon,but that may have to wait until next winter, as the warm windy days seem to be upon us already.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Silva Canyon, Candler Canyon- Sierra de las Uvas

Another Sunday walkabout in the Sierra de las Uvas.  Starting point- the large mostly flat plateau area that follows the first major gain in elevation on the paved Corralitos Road. There is a very uneven dirt road here that takes off to the west. This is the same area I wrote about back in  October, 2013 and is the very head of Silva Canyon, which flows south then southeast eventually connecting with Coyote Canyon which is a major tributary of Broad Canyon.
      We hiked down the road, crossed the streambed and then went up and up on a cow/ deer trail heading west. We topped out on a beautiful mesa, golden with dried grass. Now, the walking was easy and scenic: the expanse of desert lowlands,winding arroyos, and distant mountains was on our left. To our right,  the towering, highest peaks of the Sierra de las Uvas. We passed one intriguing canyon, that I thought had some potential to hold petroglyphs or other evidence of ancient( and perhaps not too ancient) Indian peoples. I decided to reserve  it for the return trip( thinking at the time that I was making an out and back journey). A second canyon , I decided to explore a bit. It was pretty rough,with boulders and thick brush. I got a nasty scratch trying to power my way through some juniper branches. Didn't find rock art or  bedrock mortars. One boulder had the look of having some very old lines,but it was so covered with lichens that I couldn't really convince myself  no matter how long I looked at it. Another flat topped rock had  a suspicious  pattern to it,but from a distance it was hard to tell( wish  I had the binoculars or even my camera), and there was no safe or easy way to get to it. We ( Seamus the Scottie and I) moved on back to the deer trail on the mesa. Soon we were coming up to the large canyon that begins directly south of Magdalena Peak.
      We made our way off trail to  a tributary canyon that came in from the east. This one had a few hollowed out natural cisterns, but they were small and filled with sand, and had no signs of use by ancestral Native Americans.We made it down to the big main canyon,which I call Candler Canyon because it eventually becomes Candler Draw out in the flat country.  Here, it had high cliffs, huge boulders and very,very old junipers with enormous trunks. It works it's way sinuously out to the desert, and there seemed to be many perfect places  that could and should( in my wishful thinking) have rock art, but I saw none. Truth be told, a stray scratching could easily be overlooked,but it seemed that this was no well used area despite its similarity to good sites nearby. The big difference though is that those places have holding places for water and this canyon didn't. I took a few a pictures, starting at the beginning of this trek,but only remembered now that I was out of the canyon and not returning the way I came, that my phone( forgot the camera again) has this idiotic necessity of pressing save after  taking a picture.I sat, ate and rested under a lonesome juniper out where the  shady canyon had transformed into sun baked  desert arroyo.
      I had decided I was going to make this hike into a loop,  I just wasn't quite sure how. We headed east across the plain cut with shallow rills and arroyos. We eventually turned back to the northeast and  the mesa. I saw some low gradient hills that would  to take us up easy and of course we quickly lit onto a good cow trail. It was on this trail, on what I came to realize was the west side of Silva Canyon, that I spied some petroglyphs on a boulder below. It's strange how you immediately know that you're seeing something and not just the random pattern of erosion. I have a saying about petroglyphs, "where they are, they are, and where they're not, they're not, no matter  how much you want them to be," and in places like this so far from the Rio Grande,they are where water holds and not anywhere else. Sure enough, nearby, there were large depressions  that can hold water for a time,and least one deep bedrock mortar. We made our way up the canyon. I found a couple of antelope etchings I had gone right by back in the fall,but not much else.
     I think a top to bottom survey of the canyon is warranted, perhaps with a car shuttle.We finally found ourselves back on the plateau and lingered a bit, looking at the many flakes of flint,agate and jasper on the ground. It was clear that this was a place to be. Earlier on  I had heard voices  while down in the canyon bottom, and now realized that it was folks para-gliding or flying. It  was beautiful, their silhouette against glow of evening sky.