Monday, April 21, 2014

Black Range East Side-Gila National Forest

 Our original intention was to hike the North Percha Trail. The parking spot just before the abandoned road sign is now posted. So we drove on . First problem: a few hundred feet further on, a downed juniper and a large rock had to be manipulated to continue. The rock was easy enough to move. The juniper- not so much. I'm not sure it was entirely dead, even though it was flat on the ground. The branches weren't breaking easily and it couldn't be  pulled, pushed or shoved  at all. We made through though only to see as we looked downed from  the top of the next little hill that the road was washed out. That was the second problem in case you were wondering. Third problem: well, after small ordeal of first backing down the narrow road and finding a place barely wide enough to turn around, we realized there really wasn't anywhere reasonable to park along the road since it had crossed into Forest Service land. So we decided to go back to FR 157 and cross North Percha Creek and drove maybe a  half mile up the hill. At the first available turn-out we parked. We could've gone back down the hill and hiked North Percha, but instead we continued up and north.
    Where the road crosses the side canyon  it  had been following, we turned west and followed the stream. There is nice level camping area here, that we parked at many years ago when we did a very long dayhike to Las Animas Creek.As we walked along the benches, we couldn't help but notice the many piles of bear scat. It didn't look like any of it had been recently deposited. Still, I have an old adage; " when you see bear scat, chances are you're going to see a bear." The stream was not flowing, but there were pools of water here and there.  The Gila seems to be as dry as last year which is not good at all. Eventually we came upon a series of  waterfalls. My wife climbed a few with me, and then Seamus the Scottie and I went on and scrambled up a few more. This was a much more impressive falls/ cascade system than I had found at Middle Percha last year. The problem was  the same though. There was  only the scantest of trickles running through it. I guess it was a good sign that it had any water at all. It got me to thinking that if weren't for this persistent drought  this stream probably flows most of the year, and would be really neat to see when the rainy season is done , or when the snow first melts.
     We walked up a side canyon we had passed on the way up. Found a little more water and  a leafed out  black walnut. The pine needles had not been disturbed by any stream flow in the lower end of this small side ravine, which meant that water from spring snow melt had been very meager indeed.. The box elder and cottonwood in the main creek were bright, bright green, but I couldn't help be a little glum on this overcast day thinking of the dry lightning season that is about to begin. Despite that feeling, when I got home I started thinking of other potential hikes in the area like Dumm Canyon or the tributary of North Percha that comes in right before its gorge and runs to the base of Granite Peak.  The Gila  always fascinates and if I only lived a little closer like the folks who have done an awesome job of cleaning up and maintaining the old homestead on North Percha, I would be content to explore it for quite a few more years still. Which brings me to the last problem. The long drive to the east side of the Black Range even though it is the closest corner of the Gila to my house, has gotten a little old.Hikes with a  limited pay-off don't really make sense unless one is already camping in the area. Maybe we need to get another small,but larger than our last, trailer. Note: Please respect posted property in this area.Get permission from the owners if planning to park or hike anywhere on their property.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Little Lake Creek Wilderness- Sam Houston National Forest, Texas

It's been over 15 years since I've set foot in the Piney Woods of East Texas,but it was our camping and hiking getaway when we lived in Houston  throughout the 90's.This was my first visit back to the Houston area for anything more than a quick meal, since we moved to Las Cruces in 1998, but before the move, Hunstville State Park, Double Lake, Martin Dies State Park, Big Thicket National Preserve, Lake Houston State Park ( now park of City of  Houston Parks System) were all familiar destinations to us.
       I had thought about doing some fishing on Peach Creek, the small,sandy bottomed clear water stream where I first began to fly fish 17 years ago. Instead,  I was intrigued by the existence of small wilderness area in Sam Houston National Forest, not far from where my step- daughter lives in Conroe. On the third day of our visit the clouds lifted, and we drove out for a hike on perfect Spring day. At first  I was met with the disappointment. The wilderness area was closed to do a prescribed burn, so we headed down the Lone Star Trail which follows a power line cut through a well thinned  forest of mostly pines, although there were some blooming dogwoods along the stream beds we crossed. The trail was wide and open to the sun. The power poles and lines, and the obvious look (the semi- regular spacing of the trees,the similar age of all the trees) of a harvested forest were not contributing well to my desire to hike in natural setting. We turned around after  a mile after seeing we were about to have to cross a busy road. When we got back to the parking lot we arrived just in time to see some Forest Service personnel removing the sign and tape at the entrance to the Little Lake Wilderness, so off we went down the winding trail.
       It was quite a different experience. The trail, was just that, a trail, not an old logging road. It was tunneled into an understory of shrubs,vines and small trees, while towering above us were huge loblolly pines. As we approached the first stream (Pole Creek) we began to  see palmettos, which gave me warm nostalgia for my time spent in Texas. The creek itself had only a  small flow , but our dogs ( Seamus and his buddy Finn- two Scotties) enjoyed it immensely. Here, there were hardwood trees  with just a hint of green on the branches of their crowns a hundred feet above  us.

 We now  turned south to stay in the wilderness and continue on to Little Lake Creek.The trail was muddy in places here in the bottom lands. There were remnants of little wooden causeways that had once helped visitors keep their feet out of the water and the mud. We passed a shallow, palmetto lined pond and saw turkey vultures perched low to the ground, which gave a true picture of their immense size.  We also saw a cardinal couple and a downy woodpecker. We made it to Little Lake Creek which had more  flow but a much smaller channel carved than Pole Creek( or maybe it only appeared to have a greater flow because of its smaller channel). This was a perfect little hike for this time year. It  was an out and back of about  5 miles, but we were on a trail called the Little Lake Creek Loop. This is a late fall through early spring kind of place. Don't even think about doing it from May to September. It will be outrageously hot and humid with the insect population going full bore. As it was I got two ticks attached to my back which I discovered the next morning.