Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Corral Canyon ( FT 537), Sacramento North( FT 5008D) Loop- Lincoln National Forest




I'm going to start with few tips about hiking in the Lincoln National Forest intended to maximize your natural experience and increase your enjoyment of this beautiful area. First, hike on a weekday if you can. Many areas that suffer from being too popular are all but abandoned during the week.  Also, avoid all holiday weekends. You'll be glad you did. Second, if you are up there on the weekend, research the trail you want to hike on the Lincoln's website. There are only a few that are hiking, horseback riding only. These are best if you don't want to deal with mountain bikes, motorcycles or ATVs. If you choose a trail with more open usage, try to pick one where the use is  rated light.
 As I begin to explore the Lincoln even more( due to the fact that the high country of my beloved Black Range of the Gila NF has  severely burned) especially the Sacramento District, I'll be offering more of these sage tidbits.
 For this loop, I parked at the lower Corral Canyon Trailhead, little more that a wide spot along Otero County Road C2 also know as the Sacramento Canyon Road. It's was a quiet stroll up a narrow 2 track, shaded by huge fir trees, mixed with aspen. There were some stumps along the way that attested to the fact of that  there were some even larger trees in days gone by. One of them was  over 4 feet in diameter.The gradient is steady here, but not oppressive as with my hike several weeks ago.There is one switchback which took us out of the ravine where the trail stayed all the way to the top.
       At the top, I thought briefly about heading south to the Thousand Mile Canyon Trail which the sign indicated was 2 miles away. I didn't really know what the lower distance  back to the car would be and I didn't want to finish my hike with an uphill trudge,so  we began walking to the north on FR 64( Agua Chiquita Road) .This is one of the two highest elevation ridges in the Sacramentos( the other is Benson Ridge). It was delightfully cool at over 9,600 feet. As with my San Andres/ Heart Attack loop, the upper road walking was pleasant and easy. There are beautiful meadow areas  and  a few nice places to pull off to picnic or camp. I tried not to let the extreme dryness of the terrain bother me too much,but I did imagine these same meadow areas wet and luxuriant with long grass as they have been and hopefully will be soon. In about a mile I came to the Sacramento North trailhead which has a pretty camping area, We walked down this much less shady and much less scenic two track which eventually follows a wide, open gully with power lines running through it back down to the paved county road. As with my San Andres/ Heart Attack loop this last leg of road walking was the least enjoyable part of the hike. We stayed on the west side of the road,hiking in the long grassy gully that is the( dry) headwaters of Sacramento Creek( sometimes called Sacramento River, an altogether unfitting name at this point in time). Seamus was not happy about the  several clusters of cows we encountered. The lack of shade was not helping either. This lower section of the hike was also longer than the upper by about 3/4 of  a mile as well, we made it back, me a little sunburned, Seamus dry and tired , but  both of us in good shape.  As it  turns out it's only 1.2 miles down the road from Corral  Canyon on  County Road C2 to the trail head for Thousand Mile Canyon. Starting there and going up and then coming back down Corral Canyon would make a much better loop. The upper leg on FR 64 would be about 2 miles.  Perhaps I'll try it later in the Summer or in the Fall


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

West Side Road (FR 90) - Lincoln National Forest

I've never driven much or very far on the West Side Road( FR 90) out of High Rolls. A couple of trips for Christmas Trees, another time looking for an old mine, were the few excursions I made and they never took me any farther  than the now well signed Courtney Mine Trailhead.  A couple of weekends ago I decided to remedy that situation. I got a late start. I had been thinking about either the Gobbler's Knob trail or the Heart Attack trail for a hike. But as I got to driving I just began enjoying exploring this new territory( for me). One nice thing this area has going for it  is all the new and very visible signage which takes the guessing game of where exactly one is( so prevalent in many National Forests) out of play. I clicked off  all the places I had been studying on the map the night before: the Courtney Mine Trail, the Dry Canyon Trail, Alamo Peak Trail,Heart Attack Trail, San Andres Trail, Road Canyon Trail as  I drove on. I didn't make  it to the Gobbler's Knob Trail, which I later learned was only a short ways beyond where I turned around. That will have to wait for a cooler day.  I ended up backtracking to the San Andres Trail(upper) to start my hike, but in the process I  became aware of one of the most scenic backcountry drives in New Mexico and a whole new area for hiking  and exploration opened up for me. This drive, on an all weather dirt road, is uniquely positioned being cut along the middle of the mountain slope at about 7,500 feet where there is slight pause in the unrelenting gradient.One can view down into the undulating foothills and canyons carved into the layers of limestone, or up to the deeply forested, rounded peaks of the Southern Sacramento's highest elevations.  Either way it's stunning. I'm already planning return trips for the Fall and maybe the Winter.Note:When dry the  road is passable for most vehicles,but high  clearance is recommended. Also, I cannot vouch for the last few miles of the road to Timberon as I did not drive them, but this could  make a great loop with a return trip entirely on well maintained,  paved roads.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

San Andres Canyon, Heart Attack Trail Loop- Lincoln National Forest

 I drove back, after deciding I'd driven far enough and it was probably a bit  hot to do the Gobbler's Knob Trail, to the Upper San Andres trailhead. We got started amongst the newly leafed out maples and oaks. There was a trickle of water in the creek. At first we walked along the old road on the south side of the creek. In  short order  I spied  the first of several spring fed livestock tanks. The water was that slightly cloudy,  light grayish blue color typical of springs and creeks in areas with limestone bedrock. I walked down to the muddy water's edge to see if there were any fish. I thought I saw one, but on closer inspection it looked to be neotonic salamander. It had the look of a giant (> 8 inches) tadpole. I've seen this once before in Nambe Lake  in the Pecos Wilderness of Santa Fe National Forest. We stayed on the streamside trail rather than returning to the road. We checked out another one of the ponds. In the vicinity there were some artifacts of an old homestead. In just a few steps upstream was the trickling spring, emerging from the mud, that supplies all the water for this series of ponds.  The trail crossed the creek and went above. After awhile, I realized I was walking on the sunny south facing side of the canyon and though it might be better to rejoin the road on the other side. Mistake. We made our way down and up and over and after stumbling around in the fallen trees and the bright green maple bushes figured out that the road was no longer there and probably had rejoined the trail at some point.

 Unfortunately, that waste of energy was performed right before the trail got steep in earnest. We regained the track after backtracking a bit and now hiked well above the stream. From this point on the trail goes from steep to steeper to steepest in a forest of large pines and firs. Finally, just when I though we were going to need a ladder,  there was the first of  a few switchbacks which helped some, though not a lot. We made it to the to the top and the Rim Trail(FT 105) and Forest Road 640. I saw from the trail sign that the Heart Attack trail was only 3/4 of a mile to the north and decided to make our hike a loop.

 It was pleasant walking among the meadows and budding aspen. There are many natural depressions up on top of the ridge , which in wetter times probably hold snow melt and summer rainwater.  We arrived at the Heart Attack Trailhead, a pretty clearing with large oak trees, and started down.When a trail is this steep, it quickly becomes a bit ridiculous and all I could  do was laugh and mumble as gravity pulled me down in what can only be described as a controlled fall or slide. I was grateful, as I stumbled and jogged( against my will), that I was not going up it, because it is in that direction from whence its name surely derives. This upper part is just a gouge in the hillside but eventually the gradient lessens as it steered us toward the dry creek bed. In very fast time, we were back at the West Side Road( FR 90).

     We now had an unknown mileage of road walking back to the truck.  I worried a bit on this because I hadn't really planned on the loop and  hadn't even brought a map or my GPS. It ended up being about 2 miles of fairly level ,but at times unshaded and hot, walking. There was quite of bit of traffic on the road which was a bit worrisome , but all the drivers were enjoying themselves at very safe speeds. This would be a beautiful area to return to in the fall because of the abundant maples and deciduous oaks. Note: on the Forest Service topo map there is trail listed as the Upper San Andres ( FT 125)  which starts at the same trailhead and looks like a straight line going  up the mountain. I never saw it, nor by the look of it, would I want to try it if it's there.