Saturday, June 7, 2014
This is not a difficult trail,but I'm going to put all my caveats up front in the interest of not being misleading. First, it's probably best not to think of it as summertime hike. On clear days it's probably going to be too hot. It's without water as well, so it's not the best if you're bringing your dog. The western half of the trail is along an old road and is open to the sun. Any temperatures over 80 will feel much hotter with the intense sunshine at 9,000 feet.Once the monsoon starts, overcast summer days will be cooler, but since more that half the trail is a ridgeline walk, that same open section becomes a liability for lightning.
First problem I had here was driving past the trailhead. It's not that it's difficult to find, I was just looking left at the the Lucas Canyon Trailhead sign and drove right past never seeing the Chippeway Trail sign directly across the road. In my defense, the Chippeway Trail sign faces across the road not at the driver. So I drove on , enjoying a little tour of Russia Canyon. In wetter times, it seems the many springs in this canyon give the tiny meadow stream enough water to flow in an actual stream bed. I turned around at the very top of the canyon where the road meets NM 6563. I got behind a logging truck for a dusty return to the trailhead which I had already figured out ( genius) must be at the Lucas Canyon sign I had seen earlier.
The beginning of the trail is a series of S curves with steep pitches connected by sections of relatively level walking. It's the only hard climbing we had to do, and had the advantage of being the shadiest part of the hike. We rested several times during this stretch, our late start meant it was already hot and had me doubting the whole enterprise. The forest here had been extensively cut,but many of the trees have been left lying. I'm not sure what the purpose was , and I saw many other trees marked with orange paint, an indicator they would be cut, but I don't believe this mountainside is open to logging anymore. Some trees had the appearance of being sawed almost all the way through, but were still standing (some were dead, some were still alive), which was a little disturbing.
Things were going well as we leveled off at the ridgeline and enjoyed views to the opposite mountains. Then, there were the elk. Then, there was my unleashed scottie taking off like a thoroughbred after them down a game trail on the other side of the hill. Then, there I was having no choice but to follow, calling desperately after my dog. I stopped where the slope leveled off and the trail was hard to see, and continued to call and within 30 seconds the elk-chaser was coming back to me: exhausted, hot and panting. I was happy for his quick return but now we had to trudge back the up hill, essentially about the half the climb we had just completed. From here on it was easy walking over and around the bumps on top of this ridge.At an open, grassy saddle we passed the Chippeway Spur Trail( FT 247E). At this same juncture there was another trail or road that went off to the north, it had the appearance of the many abandoned railroad grades prevalent in this area. We continued on with the trail now a road. We rested in the shade and drank often. I decided on a turnaround time of 3:15 and stuck to it. I don't how far we were from the upper trailhead at FR 623 but it probably wasn't much more.
One of the extra points of interest for this hike are the many invertebrate fossils that are visible in the limestone boulders on the mountaintop. I photographed several on our trip. Also on our return hike it occurred to me that perhaps this trail would be better if done from the upper trailhead, stopping before the steep drop to the lower trailhead. I might have done it that way if I had had the Tacoma instead of the Corrolla to negotiate the FR 623. Although, I don't really know the condition of that road, on the map it's broken parallel lines which means expect anything and bring the truck. This trail is not open to any motorized use,but it looks like a few ATVers come in anyway, but the use is definitely not heavy. At the bottom I looked out at some grazing cows along the wide meadow that Lucas Canyon Trail ascends, and thought perhaps it would have been a better choice, but who knows? I'll keep in mind for another day. This trail is maybe a mile or so up County Road C4( Russia Canyon Road) which is about 5 miles southeast of Cloudcroft on NM130( Cox Canyon Road). The elevation gain is about 600 feet.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Anyway, Saturday morning I woke up needing a trail ( preferably a cool one, as the lower elevations were heating up quickly) that was not a lung/knee buster, not over run with mountains bikes or ATVs and had at least some water. After reading many descriptions and non- descriptions on the Carson National Forest website, I decided on FT 16, the Agua Sarca Trail, which in its brief description mentioned " opportunity for solitude," which is always nice.
We drove out from Rinconada first along the Rio Embudo, and then along the Rio Pueblo, on a beautiful, mostly clear morning. The trail head is on NM 518 a short distance past the turn off for FR 76 which leads to the popular La Junta, Duran Canyon fishing and camping area. The hike starts off in a meadow area as a two track, but soon became an intimate path lined with aspen trees. The very small creek was dry at first, which was a little discouraging, but eventually had some flow downstream of several meadow springs. The trail climbed at a very modest rate sometimes close to the creek, sometimes notched in the grassy, open hillside. Occasionally views opened up looking back as we climbed higher. They were subdued( by Rocky Mountain standards) but pretty nonetheless. After eating a relaxing lunch along the tiny shaded ( and flowing) stream, we began to walk again quickly coming upon a fenced area where several springs feed the stream, as well a livestock drinker. In a meadow above the springs, we saw a large elk, who we put off from getting her lunchtime drink, as we tried to keep our Scottie Seamus from chasing her. Past the the spring area the trail finally got steep, as we trudged through an area with many dead standing trees, and much downfall across the trail Shortly after Forest Road 722 was attained which marked the end of the trail. There are two small hills to be climbed to the east and to the west, if one needs a peak to bag to feel satisfied. One is named Cerro Picacho. Our return trip was equally enchanting, Bright blue Stellar's Jays flapped from tree to tree.Bristlecone pines with their strange bottlebrush branches grew trailside on the rocky,open slopes. The very recent deposits of bear scat on the trail didn't seem worrisome in the least even though we had neglected to bring our bear spray. This was a perfect day hike in a beautiful forest. Note: the Forest Service has lamely put a single post( they really couldn't afford a couple more?)in the gateway at the trailhead which only prevents the largest of vehicles from entering the meadow area at the bottom of the trail. By the tread marks it looks like folks to drive in there to camp, even though they shouldn't. Don't be one of them.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
This hike begins at the Santa Barbara Campground, which despite being tucked away in a remote area of the Carson National Forest is quite popular. Southeast of the small town of Penasco, NM, it's about an 8 mile drive using NM 73 and then FR 116 to get there. The wonderfully rustic campground is similar to the Holy Ghost Campground on the other side of the Pecos Wilderness. It has a long unpaved loop with shade providing conifers, of water only, tent style camp sites, only a few ofwhich can accommodate the large trailers everyone is so fond of nowadays. I hope it doesn't ever change.
If you're there only for the day or backpacking, and not camping in the campground, the hike actually begins at the parking lot set aside for hikers, fisherman and backpackers just outside of the campground. As with many popular National Forest areas in New Mexico there is a fee. Here it is 3 dollars. Although I believe it can be as much as five in other places. Don't expect to park in the campground( where the fee is 16 dollars) and please pay.
We did, pay that is and then we were off. The trail head is at the very back end of the loop. Almost immediately there was choice of directions. We stayed to the right on FT 36. After passing through an aspen bordered meadow, we had to climb a bit,but really the climbing on this hike is pretty insignificant, making it a good choice for children, or anyone who's seeking something less than epic. At times we were walking very close to the rushing torrent that was the Middle Fork Rio Santa Barbara. At other times the trail took us up and out of sight, but the sound of the fast water was a nearly constant companion. Further in, great craggy cliffs of gray and orange metamorphic rock towered above us. On the ground it was mix of large and small, brilliant white trunked aspens- some budding , some bare, and some leafed out in electric yellow green, and the darker firs, spruces and pines. Shortly after crossing a bridge, the trail forks near one of the many flowing rills that we crossed along the way. We stayed to the right and now continued on the West Fork Trail (FT 25). We quickly encountered a huge green meadow spotted yellow with thousands of dandelions. Despite the overcast conditions we took our chances and lunched on a long log right out in the open. Just as we were finishing, we heard our first thunder and decided to turn around and left exploring the west fork of the rio for another day.
I was quite surprised by amount and the speed of the water in the river. I guess if I would've read those fishing guide books a little more closely, instead of daydreaming about gold and red cutthroats at the end of my line, I might have realized before hand that I was arriving at the time of the run off. I had imagined something more along the lines of the nearby Rio Trampas, which I had fished three years ago perhaps a week or two later in June. That stream is much smaller and although it was a torrent along the trail, it was fishable in the campground and along the road. The Rio Santa Barbara seems to slow down a bit below the Hodges campground in some meadows with beaver ponds. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to check this area out. I did try a few casts in one of the few areas that had some relatively slack water. It was a slight bend( of which there are very few) with a deep pool. It wasn't much fun as first I had to cast while perched precariously on a giant log in the middle of the wild creek, and then did a log walk across the water to patch of land accumulating in a debris jam to try different approach to the same pool. I though I had one nibble but in the end it was all for naught. Later, I tried a few casts in the slightly slower water of a side channel in the campground with no action there either.
The fishing aside, this was beautiful hike. It reminded me of the South Fork Bonito Trail( Lincoln National Forest) but on a significantly larger scale. As for the fishing, while it may be that this is always a swift stream, later in the summer and perhaps into early fall may be a better time to try and to bring one of those cutts to hand. Note: We didn't make it to the second crossing which in the past was one of those logjam type bridges, which would not be safe during high flows. It may have an actual bridge now. Check with the Forest Service for more information.