Sunday, November 30, 2014

" Middle" Canyon, Robledo Mountains

Organ Peaks in the distance

tombstone rock

Looking back from the wash. Middle Canyon is left center

Juniper roots splitting a boulder.
Last year, close to this time, I visited the west side of the Robledos. I went back yesterday to the same area only this time I headed for the canyon just to south of the one we went into last year. I'm calling this one " Middle" Canyon because it's the middle one of the three larger canyons on the west of the Robledos south of Robledo Peak and north of Trackways Canyon. The north one I called Big Canyon(see blog about it from December, 2013). The south one I visited many years ago ( see "Slot Canyons" in this blog for photos). It's the largest of the three and I recall it had a short slot section.
   I reached the Middle Canyon by  beginning on the same route as last year. After crossing the Rio Grande , we followed  small arroyo and then crossed over a low ridge into the big wash that is fed by  Big Canyon. We walked up the wash  a short ways and then climbed on a visible deer trail onto the next ridge. Heading south and then east, we found a gully that took us down steeply into Middle Canyon.
This canyon is marked by small  rock tower that forms a notch on the peak on the north side. Down in the canyon it was a lot of rock hopping amongst the limestone and other sedimentary boulders. This canyon is not as narrow or as steep as Big Canyon so there was also some easier walking on the gravel stream bottom, and  a few sections of slabby bedrock as well.
    There are many large desert junipers( some truly outstanding) down here, both living and dead, as well as  all the typical shrubs one finds in the Robledos.  The  rocky hillsides were sparse with creosote, weeds, and grasses.

   We were able to penetrate much further into this canyon than into Big Canyon, eventually stopping at promontory that split the  canyon into two arroyos. Both branches had small dry waterfalls that could be climbed or walked around with modest effort,but it was quite hot for the second to last day of November, and the upper reaches were shallow and shadeless, so it seemed like a good spot for the turnaround. That being said, with little more time and effort one could  perhaps connect with the South Canyon by going over a relatively low ridge at the top and make this into a loop.

On the way back we explored a large side canyon on the south side. In the cliffs were small alcoves and perhaps openings to small caves. At the dry waterfall where where we stopped, it  was dark and cool even at high noon. I had the  feeling we were in or near a collapsed cave. Formations in the pockets on the cliffs had the look of processes only found in caves. A fantasy began to grow in my mind,as it usually does when hiking these pock-marked  canyons,of discovering a beautiful cavern in the Robledos.  I wondered if folks have even been actively looking, or have looked and given up.

 We  made our way back down, this time continuing in the entrenched arroyo of Middle Canyon rather than going the way we had come. It eventually lead us to the large wash that is fed by both Big and Middle Canyon, where we walked on first one and then another of the many gravel beds that lead back to the Rio Grande. There is some posted "No Trespassing" private property in this area.We had to climb a couple of unposted barbed wire fences as well. If one walks far enough to the north on the road( along the second fence) , or cross country( along the first fence),  the fences can be bypassed altogether, but my truck was straight ahead across the river, so I climbed and Seamus went under.  Let me repeat,I did not climb over any  fence that was posted "No Trespassing"  and if you go you shouldn't either.

 This wasn't a spectacular hike for me. The scenery was not nearly as inspiring as nearby Big Canyon with it's massive cliff faces.The most it has going for it is its wild and rough nature. It's hard to believe that humans of any era ever visited it with any frequency. Perhaps in the pursuit of prey, they came, or maybe  for some shade or a lingering pool of water. Close to where to we turned around in the main canyon. I spied a cairn on the hillside. We investigated. It wasn't a geocache nor were there any mining papers secured in a bottle. A few hundred yards away there was another one, a bit lower down. There are no trails out here. All I could figure was the  pods of iron minerals in  the rock here had interested some long ago prospector, so he erected them to stake a claim. Still, I'm not sure. It's a bit of mystery. That's what makes exploring these kind of places fun,you just don't really know what you're going to find until you get out there.
The intrepid Seamus next to cairn we found.

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