Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lucas Canyon Trail ( FT 251)- Lincoln National Forest

We did a nice hike on the Lucas Canyon Trail this past Sunday. The trailhead is on the Russia Canyon Road ( Otero County Road C-4) a couple of miles from NM 130 ( Cox Canyon Road) and is directly across from the Chippeway Trail which I wrote about back in June. It was  so nice to see the Lincoln NF green again as we walked up the canyon. The tiny stream was even flowing,  quenching thirsty spruce trees that dotted the grassy meadow. Less than mile up, the trail crosses the stream  and follows a small,but wet, ravine on the east side. From this point on the hike would be on the  forested ridge above  Lucas Canyon and not in the canyon bottom itself. We had our picnic lunch in a small clearing, as one party, consisting of a motorcycle and an ATV drove by without noticing us. This trail is open to all users( motorcyles, ATVs, horses, hikers and bikers), but the Forest Service rates its use as light.  I'm tending to believe them because besides the above mentioned group, we only saw one other group of  4  ATVs and one other hiker during our four hour hike. And this was the weekend before the opening day of hunting season.  Most likely on a weekday,if you can swing it, you won't see anyone at all. Still,if you want to  definitely avoid  vehicular traffic altogether there is the option of staying in the canyon bottom. In fact, we saw what I believe to be an old trail sign ( Trail 32 ) and a good cow trail right at that first crossing which continued on along the stream. Maps indicate a section of private property along this route, but it appears to me, after viewing Google Earth that there isn't a cabin or any other structures back there( except something that looks like one of the many old railroad trestles around the forest). If it's fenced there's always the option to hike around.
 The upside to the road walking was that it was most likely quite a bit more shady. Even if the ambient temperature is only 70 degrees, the sun at 9,000 feet or so  can feel  downright hot. We strolled along looking at potential Christmas trees that were sprouting up in the open areas. At over three miles in we followed a wildlife trail down to a tiny spring. We then continued on to large open meadow and relaxed on the grassy bench 30 or 40 feet about the gravelly and dry stream bottom, while grazing cattle and our dog( the intrepid Seamus the Scottie) engaged in staring match.  In the meadow grew several huge fir trees more of a size you might associate with colder, wetter climates than southern New Mexico.
 We got back on the road after talking to the one hiker we met, but soon turned around and walked back the way we had come to the spring and then to the road. On maps it appears that the trail follows the stream more closely from this point on all the way to it's end point on Benson Ridge. On the way back we did some more  off road walking to avoid the above mentioned ATV group and rejoined the road where it makes a sharp turn. Here, there is one of the few large oak trees we saw, and there was also a primitive shelter made of bark and sticks.
Back at the stream crossing, we inspected the several springs that were flowing out of the steep hillside while Seamus drank and got thoroughly muddy. This is a wonderful little trail close to Cloudcroft . In  the evergreen branches were Stellar's Jays, while wrens flitted amongst the downfall and nuthatches did their trunk walking trick. I'm sure other wildlife would have evident had we hike earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. Even so, it was an enchanting day.

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