Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mineral Creek Falls- Gila National Forest

Last fall, we visited Carbonate Creek,one of  four major arteries ( Sawpit, Carbonate, Mineral and North Percha Canyons)off of FR 157S( the North Percha Road).  This past Saturday, we decided to check out Mineral Creek.Over the years we have visited this area, which we collectively refer to as " the creeks," and each individual creek multiple times.  They've been like good friends to us over the years for camping and hiking.
Carbonate  Creek was in very rough shape(see my blog from last October). The old road/trail was mostly obliterated by flooding past the first stream crossing.  At Carbonate, I'd say more than 75% of the trail was gone, at Mineral Creek, it was the reverse. Probably only about 25% of the old road was washed away. It's very overgrown at this point, because it's no longer being used by any vehicles, but still navigable and much easier walking overall than  Carbonate.
 Even though we've  made the hike up Mineral Creek many times, two things made it special this trip. First, this was our very first time visiting in the fall.Second, my wife decided to come with me all the way to the big falls.
  We parked at the little camping area near the confluence of Carbonate and Mineral Creeks making our way up FR 157S to where Mineral Creek flows over the road. If you go, it will be virtually impossible to keep your feet entirely dry on this hike, especially if you are going all the way to the big falls.  As we got onto the road, with its eye-high grasses, we were greeted by brilliant red sumac growing along the hillside. Walnuts, Oaks and Box Elders were in good color as well, although I wouldn't say the area had " peaked" yet. At the lower waterfall, the road was washed away, except for a narrow strip, just wide enough for foot travel. There was a large log jam right below the falls as well, which was suspended several feet above the stream's current level ; one of the many testaments we saw along the way to the tremendous amounts of water that have come down this little stream in the past two summers.

Water was running down the trail from two different springs as we walked further on. I'd seen one flowing before, about six years ago, but the other was new to me. I looked for another I'd seen flowing back then on the north side of creek, but couldn't find it. I looked again, but couldn't  find anything that would give me a clue to where the cave is. I've had one person who's been there tell me that it's in the vicinity of a fence that crosses through and on the north side of the creek,but with only that to go on it seemed pointless to search around in the brush for its hidden entrance.
 We gazed up at the large natural arch high on top of the ridge on the north side and spied two smaller ones as well. There may be a third one as well, but it's hard tell if the large hole, lower down on cliffs actually goes all the way through.
    The fire had burned here,mostly on the south side,but in a few spots, it had crossed the road and the creek. A fence that runs along the south side of the road had posts that were charred on one side.  The understory of shrubs and dead and downed wood had been completely eliminated in the  burned areas, now replaced with weeds, wildflowers and grasses-which is a good thing for the forest.


 When we felt ourselves going uphill, we knew we had passed the fork in the road, and backtracked to find it and walked down to the creek. It was still kind of hot, especially for last week of October, and I'm tired of the search for the  supposed continuation of the trail up on the sun baked hill side( see my other two blogs on Mineral Creek for more on this subject). From there we made our way carefully up to  the falls, past deep pools that were inviting us for dip. We declined,but had it been just a little warmer, I'm sure we would have dove in. For the most part the trip was easier than the first time I bushwacked up there. The creek bed was wider and much of the streamside vegetation had been uprooted and washed downstream. There was one little difficult stretch that had to be climbed to avoid  a very deep pool, which,  had it been summer probably would have been more easily and enjoyably waded through.
 Near the falls were a very few  maples in their autumn brilliance- an added delight to our journey. The falls had a more prodigious flow that my previous trip, but it was hard for me to imagine the volume of flow that broke off the top 10 or 15 feet of a tree that I photographed on that earlier visit.

   It was all beautiful. My favorite of all the hikes I've made to this canyon. It was a little sad as well. As with my hike up Carbonate Creek last year, I couldn't help feeling that this may be my last time to visit this canyon. I'm obviously one who's always looking for new places, and it seems I've gotten the best out of these ones.  An inner voice was telling me move on. Who knows, though. I've never seen them in the snow.

Gnarly old alder tree


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Karr Canyon ( FR 63) - Lincoln National Forest

Last year, after completing  our Salado Canyon hike, we  drove up to the Karr Canyon picnic area hoping to see a little fall color. We were a bit too early.The many maples,aspens and oaks were still green. I'd forgotten about this little foray, until last Sunday morning. I woke up on the last day of our little fall vacation in Cloudcroft thinking" I want to drive back through Karr Canyon."
   Well it was a pretty brisk morning as we headed out first on NM 130 then onto NM 6563 and finally after about 6 or so miles began our descent  along the  narrow, dark watercourse  where there is barely room for FR 63( Karr Canyon Road).
  The wind was blowing and the aspens were losing their leaves in large numbers. A layer of fresh yellow  color that seemed to  light the dark forest was covering every surface as we peered from our car window. I should have photographed it, but it seemed to be one of those scenes that just can't be  conveyed unless the light was absolutely perfect. Well, I could've tried.
  We parked at the  picnic  area which was busy with campers and day trippers. The maples were brilliant in shades of yellow, orange and red. There are some that have grown to good size in this cool canyon. We took our pictures, walked around a little. We would have walked around more,but it would have meant walking through people's camp sites, which seemed weird. I was glad we came this way. It always makes me smile to see maple trees putting on their fall show ( I guess it's that New Englander deep down inside me still).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Zinker Canyon, Wofford Lookout- Lincoln National Forest

I was still looking for something more like a wilderness hike, with the limitation, once again, that it be within a short driving distance from Cloudcroft. The  nearly 1 hour drive to the trail we couldn't find in Wayland Canyon was still fresh in our minds. I settled on Zinker Canyon, which had been in my original plans, as the second hike we would do on our little vacation.  The Zinker Canyon trail( FT 5660) is about 10 miles north of Cloudcroft right on the boundary between the Lincoln National Forest and the Mescalero Reservation.  It is not open to ATVs ( although that doesn't stop some determined folks in other parts of the Lincoln) and its use is rated as light which greatly increases the chance for wilderness like qualities.We headed out on NM 244. I first missed the turn for  FR 162( La Luz Canyon Road), and then once on FR 162, I missed the turn for FR 162A. Without the missed turns driving to the locked gate on FR 162A should take about 15 minutes from town. A word to the wise: the quality of FR 162A varies considerably. Some sections are deeply rutted dirt and could prove difficult to negotiate when wet.
  We passed several groups of tent campers heading up this headwaters  tributary of Silver Springs Canyon on the way to parking just off the road before the locked gate. We started walking up the hill.  It's a cool and shady trek  of about a mile( on the this closed section of 162 A) up to the historic Wofford Lookout. I'd been up here once before while I was citizen adviser for NMDGF. We drove up with Jack Williams of the Forest Service to look at drinker that had been installed for elk. The Wofford Lookout was erected in 1933  and can no longer be ascended, but the restored cabin at its base may be available for rent someday soon. That would be really fun.

 We backtracked a short ways after  checking out the lookout environs to FR 5593. We followed the signage pointing us to FT 5660 and Zinker Canyon. The road winds back in the direction of the lookout before taking a right turn straight downhill into Zinker Canyon. Initially the trail is little more  than a steep dirt gouge in green grass, perhaps created by previous ATV abuse, subsequently worsened by flooding. Eventually the gradient lessens and the walking becomes easy. The canyon doesn't have a running stream but is still lush with deciduous trees( aspens, oaks, locust, box elder, dogwood and ash) that were in their peak of fall color.

There are some huge fir tree stumps in here from the days of the logging trains( the road/trail may have been a railroad grade at one time). One, in the large meadow about a mile down that has an abandoned wildlife drinker, was about 6 feet in diameter.

 We spied a few hunters up ahead and decided to take our rest under a cluster of oaks. We ate our snacks and after awhile headed downstream to a second smaller meadow where we decided to turn around. This is a charming canyon that obviously does not see the overuse that occurs in many areas of the Lincoln.  The closed road at the west end certainly helps. I don't know what the situation is on the east side( the direction the hunters returned to). We were most  likely close to the access from FR 405,but we wanted to keep the hike under 7 miles so we returned. The steeper parts  were a bit of  a trudge, and we were grateful  when  we reached the top of the hill again and started heading down to the truck. On the way out, there were many trucks coming in. The weekend had really begun in the Sacramento District.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Benson Ridge Road( FR 223) Aspens- Lincoln National Forest

Friday afternoon, we went out driving, looking for fall color. We turned down Benson Ridge Road (FR 223) about 6 miles south of Cloudcroft on NM 6563 ( Sunspot Highway). We had been out here once before, driving slowly with some friends in their  four wheel drive through snow, trying to find the perfect Christmas Tree. In just a short ways, right across the road from an old gravel pit, we found what we were looking for: beautiful stands of aspen at the peak of their autumn color. We got out and took many photos and then drove on.  We passed several trails and roads that branch off on either side, finally turning around a short way past the upper trail head for the Lucas Canyon Trail (FT 251) where we had hiked this summer. There were many nice aspens, and also many frustrating places where thick stands of the gold tinged with red populus tremuloides could be glimpsed through the evergreens with no way to get a good photograph, except perhaps to climb up one of the pesky conifers.
 I was in the midst of not getting the  shot I wanted when I felt the first large raindrops. I ran to the truck and got back just in time to be safely sheltered from a  hail storm.  The temperature dropped almost 20 degrees. Thunder clapped. The hail turned to heavy rain. We drove back to the paved road, passing a few spots where the hail stones fell thickly enough to look like a dusting of snow.
 This is popular area. The Forest Service rates most of trail use here as heavy, and the vast majority of that use is motorized. Still, riding around on a weekday, even one right before a long weekend, there were only few other trucks out driving around, and one motorcyclist. I thought about doing an off trail hike in Dark Canyon( one of the major canyons that flow down from this high ridge) as our hike for Saturday, but decided it would have wait for another time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pumphouse Ridge Trail 3 (FT 5661F)- Lincoln National Forest

After the Wayland Canyon debacle, we decided to find something a little closer to our rental cabin in Cloudcroft. I did little investigating using my MacGPS pro software and found the several trails that branch off FR 5661 just southeast of Cloudcroft.  They are known as Pumphouse  Ridge Trails 1-5.  Trail numbers for some unknown reason are 5661C,5661D, 5661F, 5661H, and 5661Q. Don't ask me why. There may be some logic to Forest Service trail and road numbering, I've penetrated it only slightly, and may one day investigate more thoroughly, but for now just accept it.
  Most of these trails are short( under 2 miles) and are basically old logging roads. They are open to all uses except for ATVs. Forest Service rates their use as light. I chose 5661F which would be a little over 5 miles round trip and would  make a  nice back before lunch hike. Reaching the trailhead from Cloudcroft took about 15 minutes. We drove a short ways on NM 130 and then took the turn-off for the Aspen, Black Bear and Sleepy Grass Campground( FR 24B). The paved road turns to the gravel FR 5661. In about 3 or 4 miles we began seeing trail signs for 5661C and D and shortly after our destination 5661F.
  The hiking is easy and mostly level on this wide 2 track that meanders just below ridge line through a thinned conifer forest that sports the occasional oak tree for variety. It's also pretty open, so I wouldn't recommend it  for a warm summer afternoon. There were occasional views down to the meadows and ranches of Cox Canyon and over  to the  patches of golden aspens on the high ridges to the south. There are several unofficial ATV trails that come up steeply to the road, and a couple of roads branch uphill off to camping areas as well.  The trail "ends" at a flat area about 2 1/2 miles in. There is a fence and private property sign off to the south.  Actually the trail obviously continues as an unofficial and perhaps illegally created ATV trail that makes  a very steep pitch through the pines to the valley below. This was a pleasant hike even if the scenery wasn't particularly great. We saw several deer. Stellar's Jays, nuthatches,  and juncos, flew from tree to tree while woodpeckers hammered away and ravens talked and talked. As with many trails in the Lincoln, it's fun to look down  from time to time to check out the limestone bedrock and trailside boulders for fossils. Upon returning, we collected some firewood before returning to Cloudcroft to lunch at the Western Bar.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Forest Road 437( Potato Canyon)- Lincoln National Forest

Meadow in the upper end of Potato Canyon
 I had decided that I wanted to  hike the Wayland Canyon Trail( FT 433). The reason being, it is one of the very few trails in the Lincoln NF that  is for foot and horse travel only. I had hiked the  beautiful Monument Canyon Trail ( also foot and horse travel only) last fall and was hoping for a similar experience. Using the directions on the Lincoln National Forest website, and my topo map software, we confidently headed out to find the lower trailhead on Forest Road 437( off of FR 64 a few miles west of Sacramento,NM). Nothin' doin.'  No sign for a trail head. No indication of a trail where it ought to be. I continued on driving on  FR 437 up Potato  Canyon hoping, but mostly knowing I wasn't going to find it.
  At the intersection of FR 437 and FR 437A,   we continued on FR 437 as it left the canyon and took us  up on the high ridge in between Potato Canyon and Pepper Canyon. On top, it was a bleak landscape. Snags left from the Scott Able Fire rising starkly from weeds and scrubby shrubs. No  replacement evergreens as far as the eye could see, even though this fire happened 13 years ago. Down in Pepper Canyon there were patches of fall color,most likely bushy maples and box elders. We passed  a small brown " 433" sign before the road descended to the upper end of Potato Canyon, which  had not been burnt. We  parked the truck, got out and began walking down the canyon, as the weather began to bluster. We were met shortly( perhaps a 1/2 mile down the canyon) thereafter with a fence and a no trespassing sign, so we  returned to  the vehicle.
 Back up on the ridge, we investigated the road labeled  433 , walking a short ways before  it disappeared in the weeds, rocks and scrub. The dark gray skies, and the increasing wind made the  thousands of acres of snag covered hills seem even more ominous, so rather than search for the upper trail head  for Wayland Canyon we drove back down.
 We drove up FR 64 back down at the  bottom but the only clue we found regarding the Wayland Canyon Trail was  sign on a green fence saying " Private Property No Wayland Access." Disappointed, we gave up and went looking for a picnic spot, which we found on Forest Road 258 near its intersection with Forest Road 564. We then enjoyed the drive over the ridge on a good county gravel roads (  Otero D19 and D17), which brought us to Wills Canyon and then  back to NM 130.
  Back at the rental cabin I did some searches for Wayland Canyon, only finding out  about the destruction of many homes in the canyon during the Scott Able Fire in 2001 and little else. I'm thinking perhaps the trail may have been obliterated back then, but I'm not sure. I 'm wandering why the the Forest Service would continue to have the trail on its website if it is not signed(everything has sign in the Lincoln now) and no longer seems to  be accessible or viable. I spoke to the fellow at the information desk at the Cloudcroft Ranger Station,but he had no idea about it either. He only offered that if it didn't appear on the latest Lincoln NF Vehicle Use Map then it probably was  no longer there( although it is a foot trail and not for vehicles so perhaps it would not appear on this map anyway). If anyone knows anything about this trail , please let  me know. Note: FR 437 gets very rough past the point where we parked. We drove for little way before smartly deciding to quickly turn around. Here is a link to awesome website  for information on Sacramento District trails regarding Wayland Canyon trail. I have not  gone back to test these directions for access,but this site is reliable.