Monday, July 28, 2014

Organ Mountains/Desert Peaks National Monument

Many of the hikes described in this blog are within the boundaries of our new  Organ Mountains/ Desert Peaks National Monument. Rather than changing many of my  post titles in the archives, I have opted to add this new designation to the labels at the bottom of each blog post.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Upper Wills Canyon FT 9278), Hubble(Hubbell) Canyon( FT 9277) Loop- Lincoln National Forest

stream below Hubbell Spring
Wills Canyon

Upper Wills Canyon
Seamus and I did this hike on Thursday( July 24,2014). What a change a few weeks of much needed rain has made. We actually drove through puddles on our way to parking at the Upper Wills Canyon trailhead.When we got out, the air was cool and damp, and the green grass was heavy with dew. This was a much welcome contrast  to the sickly dry conditions we encountered when we hiked the Thousand Mile Canyon trail. We started off at a jaunty pace down the canyon, sometimes walking on the road, sometimes moving over to the cow trail to take advantage of the shade. Initially, things were far from scenic, unless you like seeing dozens and dozens of dead and downed trees. It seemed that on the drier north( south facing) side of the canyon ,  the majority of the evergreens were dead. This was  the scene in the upper end of Hubbell Canyon as well where cutting and clearing operations have begun,  resulting in several huge slash piles that have yet to be burnt.
Small waterfall in Wills Canyon
    Further down, we left that less than appealing scene behind and just enjoyed the breeze, the birds and vibrant green of the valley. Above  Mauldin Spring, the creek was not flowing, although I could tell there had been recent storm flow. Below the fenced- in spring area, it was a nice little stream where Seamus got in for a drink and a cool down. We now continued on  FT 9277 toward Hubbell Canyon as it curved around the hillside between the two drainages. It was a shady,cool forest through this section. It was also easy walking on a level trail, owing to the fact that we were on one of the many old railroad beds in this part of the Lincoln. We could even see some of the old ties( and in one spot, rails) poking up through the dirt. There were the remains of several old trestles as well.
Bridge over  Wills Canyon stream
  Further on, I could hear the sound of the water down in  Hubbell Canyon, so we went off trail , down the hillside for a look. This stream had a  good amount of water too. We picknicked under a sturdy fir, while a few feet away, the brook ignored its channel and flowed over grass along side an old fence.  I could see the remains of an old( 1930's vintage) car  nestled in among the wildflowers and butterflies from where I sat, and I thought about hopping the fence to photograph it, but never did.We explored the springs upstream and then made our way back up to the road, which  comes down into the canyon near the uppermost of the springs.  Here we met a lone, lazy old bull enjoying standing in the mud while munching the new growth of grass.  We saw a couple of different raptors and listened to the  ravens talking as we walked. The canyon narrowed a bit,  and we rested in the shade a couple of times.
 Small waterfall in Hubbell Canyon

Hubbell Canyon
Hubbell Canyon springs
The valley opened up again where FR 257 comes in from the south. It's also in this area where some maps may indicate a trail to north that returns to Wills Canyon. I had been planning on using it, instead of FR 64 to complete, my loop but I was well met about half way through my hike by a nice family( mom,dad,two kids and grandma ) who told me not to bother looking for it, because it isn't really there anymore. I had some suspicions earlier in Wills Canyon where there were signs indicating this trail's intersection, but all I could see was the trail I was on. This family was on foot by the way and I believe this is only the second time that I have encountered other hikers in the Sacramentos.  We all agreed it was beautiful place to hike on a weekday( take heed as I have mentioned before). Truth be told, I've been so careful about visits to the Sacramento District, that I've only encountered ATVs and mountain bikes a couple of time as well.
 We finally made it to the top of the canyon and began walking on the road. Seamus took an interest in the three deer that were walking along with us a hundred feet away in the woods. We took one small detour to an open promontory that had expansive views, before returning to our car. This was a long hike, probably close to 10 miles and when it was all over, I realized that I probably could have seen the best of it, Mauldin Spring, Hubbell Spring and the section in between, with a much shorter out and back hike starting from County Road D 18 then using Lower Wills Canyon Trail( FT 5008) and then the Hubble Canyon Trail ( FT 9277).Nevertheless, I enjoyed this walk immensely. The more than planned for exercise was just an added benefit.Note: Hubble is how it is spelled on the trail signs, however on maps it is spelled Hubbell, which is more likely the correct spelling).

White Ranch Park- Jefferson County,Colorado

This is another Jefferson County open space park, just a few miles northwest of Golden. At over 4,000 acres it's one of largest parks in this system, and absolutely beautiful to boot. It was a happy change of scene for us, despite the gray skies and  intermittent rain, to be in a lush, green place such as this.The hillsides and valleys were thick with tall grass , punctuated with copses of evergreen trees.This park sits up a few thousand feet from the plains below and as we got out of the car we had  views back towards Golden and all the way to downtown Denver. We walked across the road and started on the Sawmill trail, which led us past the old ranch house( and sawmill?) and then  curved west toward the camping area. Campers here must backpack in their  own equipment and supplies,but there is a bathroom, firewood,  water,  trash cans and a gray water station provided. We admired this other forward thinking, practical concept by the good folks of Jefferson County. We continued on up the rocky hillsides, past a small grove of aspens, wildflowers and small stream fed by a tiny spring, to the top of Blecher Hill where we saw a doe and fawn. From there we worked our down hill, across the road we drove in on( there is a smaller trailhead parking area here) and then down again into  an expansive meadow area where the trail took us back up to the large parking area to complete our loop. Our visit to this park was a last minute change of plans. I had intended to  drive out to the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness area, but time constraints,changing plans and the fact the high mountains were entirely socked in with continuous black cloud had us doing this hike instead. It was fun and so convenient compared  to  Las Cruces, where the cool forests where we can do some summertime hiking are at least 2 hours away.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Breakneck Pass Road-Pike National Forest, Colorado

  We stopped here for a break on our wonderfully scenic drive from Alamosa to Morrison on US 285. The road leading to the forest  was good gravel as it threaded through a summer home subdivision, but of course when we reached the Forest Service Boundary, it turned to pure crud. After a wet stream crossing  we drove a short ways further and then parked. At that point the road was actually improving,but we wanted to get out and hike around a little, which we did on some closed roads. We had  great views of the immense "park" we had just driven up from, and around us was a beautiful aspen forest. The small stream had barely a trickle of water beneath the dense willow growth, but it provided for cooling down  our pup. It  looked as if  the weather has been pretty dry here as well. We found an old shelter some camper had built in  between the trees when we got to the top of the steep two track we'd been hiking on. As we headed back, I wished Colorado was a little closer, so I could really get to explore.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Winters/Matthews Park- Jefferson County, Colorado

 We had nice little streamside picnic and then did a short hike on the" Village Trail" at this park. This is one of the many open space parks run of Jefferson County,  which must be commended for their forward thinking as more or less unrestricted development continues in the Denver area. After crossing the stream, and leaving it's lush riparian evnvironment, we hiked along the trail cut in the lower reaches  of the foothills in grassy open terrain. We checked out the old cemetary, read the interpretative signs about the now vanished town of Mount Vernon( a supply stop for those hardy souls that ventured into the Rockies seeking their fortune), and pondered  what appeared to be the many vehicle tracks(the four wheeled kind) in this the hike and bike only park. We stopped at a large red rock( we may have already been on the Red Rocks Trail of the adjacent Red Rocks Park( home to the famous amphitheater), and then head back. Skies were gray, a few drops fell,but it was a pleasant place to wile away a couple of hours. Note: some sections of trails are for bikes only and there are signs indicating this, it's probably a good idea to heed them.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sacramento Lookout- Lincoln National Forest

After getting back to the car from our Thousand Mile Canyon hike I wasn't quite satisfied,so I decided a little more exploring, by vehicle this time, was in order. When we had been up on  FR 64, I was intrigued by couple of things.One was doing a Hubble  Canyon Trail, Wills Canyon Trail loop using FR 64 as the connector. I wanted to see what the road walking was  like between the two trailheads( and measure the distance via odometer for myself). The other item that caught my eye was a sign pointing to the nearby access road to the Sacramento Lookout.
 Off we went, back up to NM 6563 and then turning back onto FR 64,  an all weather road with few rough spots, but easily driven when dry with a Toyota Corolla, which is what I had. The miles went by slowly, pleasantly enough, and soon we came to the Wills Canyon Trailhead, where some folks were camping with a large trailer. I didn't envy them though. It was that hot, kind of humid middle of the afternoon part of the day with still a lot of time to kill before making the evening meal. Unless they had  an air conditioner and a generator( which I didn't hear), those hours  can go by painfully slow. We drove on , and I noted the walk from  Wills to Hubble Canyon would be fairly level and only 1.3 miles. We traveled on, eventually descending into a large, aspen bordered meadow area where we encountered the turnoff for the Sacramento Lookout( FR  430) This is a decent enough road for  sedan travel as well, even if the last bit that curled us around up  to the  lookout was a bit rough.  The little bald spot where the lookout sat  afforded us a fantastic( if a bit hazy) view to the west. The tower is closed with a high fence, barbed wire, and a locked gate,but this is still a worthwhile destination. There are good sized stands of pure aspen that must be stunning in the fall, and  on clearer days the views out across the  forest ,down the desert canyons  and across the Tularosa Basin must be as well. We walked around a bit and then turning back to the car, I noticed for the first time how dark the clouds had gotten in the east. I heard the thunder and knew it was time to go. Rather than going back the way we came, I continued on FR 64 . We drove through an eerie forest of snags,   remnants of a forest fire several years ago, at  one point  before reaching the Scott Able Canyon Road.  I wished I had thought to snap some photos,but didn't.

Thousand Mile Canyon Trail ( FT 9216) Lincoln National Forest

This is another short trail that runs between Otero County Road 2( Sacramento River Road or the road to Timberon) and FR 64( Agua Chiquita Road). The trail head is about 5 or so miles from the intersection  with NM 6563( Sunspot Highway). We drove past the Sacramento North and  and the Corral Canyon trails which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Thousand Mile Canyon Trailhead has a real pull out but not very much parking. There  is more parking directly across the road at the Sacramento " Lake" Vista and  trailhead for the short walk to the "lake".  There's a reason that lake is in quotes here. You see, this is southern New Mexico and there isn't one. . . lake that is. I don't want folks who aren't from around here getting excited about a lake, and end up staring at a bunch of wet grass and weeds, which is what they'll see if they go to Sacramento Lake.  You could've at least called it Sacramento Puddle a few years back,but now with our extended drought,even that would be an overstatement.
Anyway,back to Thousand Mile Canyon, which in reality is less than 2 miles. I don't where the name came from. The trail and walking were very similar to  nearby Corral Canyon : a narrow two track( ATVs are allowed but the use doesn't appear heavy) through a mature evergreen forest.  The trail stays right in the canyon bottom initially and the small creek could have water seasonally( early spring and late summer). The prettiest area is about halfway up where there is a small livestock pond( dry right now, of course) in a meadow area with many clusters of aspens, both young and old. If  it weren't so dry I'm sure this spot would have seemed supremely lovely to me. As it was, the aspen leaves seemed dull and wilting, and the grass that was short,but green a few weeks ago was shorter( munched to the nub by cattle and wildlife) and dried to  a crackly crunch. The trail turns to the south here and after passing the snag and recently fallen remains of a truly gigantic fir tree, we began to climb  more earnestly and left the creek bottom as well. The many dead and downed trees along this section made it seem much less shady  and warmer than my Corral Canyon hike. But it could also be that it was just hot. I had come here to get out of the desert heat for the day, but a late start and then an unexpected WMSR road block had  us starting out  for the hike close to the lunch hour.Plus, there's not much you can do when it's 109 degrees down below in Alamogordo, it's going to be closing in on 90 degrees even up at 9,000 feet.
Across the FR 64  at the upper trail head is the beginning of the Hubbell Canyon Trail(FT 9277), and after I'd eaten my lunch we began to walk down it  a ways before I thought better of the whole enterprise. For one thing there were a lot of cows. My scottie dog Seamus does not like cows, and judging by some of the reactions we were getting, they don't like him either. The trail was an old road, consequently more open, and was going downhill. The thought of an unshaded  uphill slog on the way back which was not appealing to myself,nor to Seamus , I would guess. Many of these deficiencies  could be ameliorated if there were just some water running in these canyons, but  without it , we did the right thing and headed back the way we came. Note: there is a corral at Thousand Mile Canyon( not at Corral Canyon,go figure) and it must get some use because there are many of those pesky biting horse flies in its vicinity.