Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cleofas Canyon- Doña Ana Mountains

After my experience on the east side of the Dona Anas, I decided I would try to access Cleofas
Canyon from its lower end on the west side of the range. I thought I had the vehicle access all worked out using topo maps and Google Earth. Of course on the ground things always look different. I drove up one road that dead- ended at a power line tower.  I turned around at another where the gravel looked very deep and loose. Another road seemed like it could be okay but someone in a blue truck was parked on it( most of these roads out here barely qualify as one lane). What they were doing, or preparing to do, I don't know, but I didn't want to interrupt. So I parked the truck and headed out on foot.
  Using roads when convenient, and going cross country when not, I made it to what I believed to be Cleofas Arroyo in fairly short order. Along the way I spied yet another natural arch  that I'll have to investigate more closely on another day. Everything would have been hunky-dory, had I chosen the right canyon to walk up. Even when I was doing my research, I mentally  cautioned myself that it would be easy to mistake this nameless arroyo/canyon for the nearby and parallel Cleofas Canyon. Still, I proceeded upstream with both doubt and hope. At times I convinced myself using distant landmarks and such, that I was in Cleofas,  but eventually the creeping suspicion that  I was in the canyon just to south won out. The canyon, though not my actual destination, was a fun walk, with a winding box section early on, an odd cave-like over hang that we investigated and bike trails that branched off onto the low ridges and parallel sub-canyons. We saw one deer cross in front of us, plus many quail and towhees busying themselves  in the brush.

Finally arriving near the top of both canyons, I cut over to the north into what I knew from my previous week's hike, to be the top end of Cleofas. Now time was of the essence. We moved quickly, while still stopping to investigate the few likely looking spots for rock art. There are many boxy sections in Cleofas Canyon,with many rocky cliffs, however, most of the rock is  of grayish andesitic type  where there has been little or no build up of the brownish patina of desert varnish. Much of it is simply too rough as well, lacking flat or smooth surfaces to work upon.
 Near the old well site. I found one small panel with three heavily re-patinated glyphs. There was an old water trough( perhaps at one time containing water fed from a spring) built in 1935 by CCC labor, and an old foundation on the other side of the arroyo here as well. A little further  on was the windmill( now on its side and mostly concealed by brush) and the water storage tank.

  On we went, investigating the cliffs, bedrock( for mortars) and boulders as much as our now hurried circumstances would allow. Along the way there was what  appears to be at least one active seep with wet sand and icy puddles in the bedrock,although I suppose the water could just be lingering from storms from the previous week.
   I despaired of finding anything more in the way of rock art, when I turned my head, looking slightly behind me, an afterthought really, to some reddish looking bedrock and boulders partially concealed by brush,that sat in the middle of the wide arroyo. There I saw the first petroglyph clear as could be. I photographed at length in the fading light. Knowing now that I would be trudging back to the truck in the dark. Also knowing that had I gone up the right canyon in the first place this would have been a much less lengthy excursion by far. Still I was happy to have found this ancient art. It's an easy one to miss. People visit here, as evidenced by the skeet shooting debris, but they may very well have overlooked the rock art, such is the nature of this site.

 I leashed up Seamus, after seeing a coyote up ahead. We found the road leading out of the canyon,that I originally intended to take, and hiked it all the way back to the truck. To my partial chagrin, it was quite drivable the entire way. It had been a long walk,but it felt good to be exploring the Doña Anas again. Two canyons for the price of one. Note: this entire hike is on NMSU property.While it is obvious from recent trash and tread marks that this area receives use from the public, it may be advisable to check with NMSU regarding their policy for this area.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Doña Ana Mountains- east side

 My original idea on this day was to hike down Cleofas Canyon and hopefully find the petroglyph site I had read about. I was initially encouraged that the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park was now open on Sundays. Previously, it had only been open Tuesday through Saturday,opting to be closed, one of the two days available to working families.
 Alas, I had forgotten that just a short ways past the park's parking area the main access road through the Doña Anas is gated and locked. I suppose I had known this previously, but I had talked myself into thinking that only the north half of the range was off limits. The sign is interesting. It only states " Not a through road. Private Property." Actually it is through road, if it were open. The "private property"  belongs to NMSU, a publicly owned university. The sign does not say " No Trespassing." A smaller sign ask that we not drive around the gate. I immediately looked to my left to see an improvised road going around the hundred or so feet of low pipe fence that extends from the gate. I thought about driving it, and then reconsidered and parked, keeping up my policy to not trespass with my vehicle, where it is not wanted.
 We started walking, stepping over the low fence, and continuing on the road.  I thought much, about the all the exploring I used to do in this range, and felt there must some better solution that to just try and keep people out altogether. On the other hand, the exclusionary tactics seem to have to created a pristine and peaceful place for those of us willing to walk and break a few rules. This is in sharp contrast to the west side of the Doña Anas with its trash, makeshift shooting ranges, and heavily traveled web of"improvised" roads.
 We enjoyed our walk in the plain amongst the peaks, gaining elevation gradually until we came to the range's divide, where the drainages change from flowing to the Jornada and now flow toward the Rio Grande. We explored only a short ways down Cleofas Canyon, before constraints of light and the locking time of the gate back at the park had us turning back. The petroglyph site would have to wait for another day and a different starting point. The shadows and hues of the magic golden hour were upon us as we returned. The gatekeeper was already waiting,but we arrived in plenty of time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Redhouse Mountain 2014


    This was the fourth time I visited this mountain with the prospect of climbing to the peak. The first time I followed Greg Magee's instructions in his Hiking Guide to Dona Ana County.  After a trudge to  the top of peak 6008( elevation), looking at a steep descent  and with still a  mile or so with a another up and down to get to the peak, we stopped. A second time , my wife and I ascended the canyon climbed over the hill to the east and then descended, very slowly, the steep hillside to  another narrow canyon which brought us back to the mining area. The third time, I made it to the peak( using a slightly different route than Magee's) on a very windy day( see Redhouse Mountain blog from 2010).
     This sunny day my friend Eric and I descended first east and then north into the nameless, all but hidden canyon.  The road is here in bits and pieces ,but one can always stay in the arroyo examining  the many samples of manganese minerals, calcite and quartz  that can be found.Once past the old mines, the narrowest part of the canyon stays almost constantly in shadow.  Because of this a cooler micro-climate, a few scrub oak, a rarity at this elevation, actually grow here.We climbed the couple of awkward chutes  and emerged into bright sunlight.  Walking  along, we saw a very strange grasshopper, and an unusual excavation in the limestone wall that seemed to be at an area with deposits from a spring.At the very top of the left branch of the canyon we looked down into a pretty little valley forested with junipers . Grasses grew out of the flaky green shale soils  on the hillsides. We spotted a good sized doe, and so did Seamus, who took off after it. Seamus disappeared in the brush,but in just a few  seconds we could see the deer bounding high up on the opposite ridge from where we were standing. Seamus returned and we continued on up to a  plateau( 6043 elevation) winding through the ocotillo and yuccas. We enjoyed the views all around which  were very clear despite the wind. The peak lay perhaps less than mile beyond, but time was getting short so this was our turnaround.  We briefly thought about returning by a different route, but with the short winter day we wisely chose to return the way we came.
 Thinking on the many places that I've visited in our desert before I was very interested in taking photos. I'm embarking on returning to many places this winter to document places that are fading a bit in my memory.This was the first.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Redhouse Mountain- east side walkabout

  After exploring the arroyo, we drove a short ways back to another arroyo that appeared to thread its way through the gray bluffs of limestone off to the east. Walking along this  sun-bleached gravel thoroughfare as it curved back and forth, we eventually realized it wasn't going through, and began climbing up to a low saddle towards some old prospector's cairn of red rock. When we reached it, we sat down, snacked, drank and rested. I thought, no matter  what forgotten part of the desert you're walking in, thinking perhaps that yours may be the first human footprints to impress upon that location's sand, rest assured that some prospector, hunter( whether ancient or more recent) or geologist has already been standing in  the spot where you are.
 I looked at the mass of ridges, humps,slopes and ravines that is Redhouse Mountain. I could see clumps of junipers here and there on the north facing slopes, an area I'd hiked through  several years ago on my way to the  highpoint. I decided to cross the little drainage directly in front of us to get a look at the larger valley and wash to the west. Seamus saw a red cow down below, when we reached the top of another low saddle and wanted give chase. Instead we walked to the south and ended up at another small tank( also holding water). From there we followed some very old roads to  a  couple of barite/fluorite prospects. There were a few nice mineral specimens, especially those where a coating of small fluorite crystals encased the large tabular barite. We continued on, making a kind of loop, using old roads and then going cross country back to our original arroyo. Back at the truck, we investigated an area of slanting limestone  bedrock in the arroyo that runs between Toby Hole and Hayland Tank and then we headed home. It  was a good day of hiking and exploring, but it occurred to me that I may be already done with done with A list destinations near my home, but also the B list as well and now have moved on to those of  C caliber. I guess it's the price I pay for not wanting to just do the same hikes over and over again( although I've certainly done some favorites 3,4, 5 or even more times). And yet, as this day proved there is almost always something that will make even a seemingly mundane place interesting and fun.