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.

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