Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lytten Canyon

 On Sunday we continued our exploration of the side canyons on the east side of the Rio Grande in the Selden Canyon area. We parked across from Broad Canyon dam again, and crossed the Rio Grande and accessed the east bank at the outlet to Flying V Canyon( see my blog about it) where a where a wedge of boulders extends out into the river. We began our long trudge along the railroad tracks heading north.  High above us, a large hawk screeched at our presence. Closer to the ground, a much smaller raptor, flew out from the brush along the tracks to disappear into the bare salt cedar along the river.
   I had originally wanted to do a loop using Lytten Canyon and the large canyon just to it's south( more on that later) but  as I approached to where the mouth of the canyon should be,  I despaired of accessing it at all due to the thick dessicated brush and mesquite that grew all along the double barbed wire fence line. I continued on hoping that there would be an easy  avenue of progress up the one of the canyons( I was no longer sure of which one I was close to), but it was only more of the same. I backtracked to a spot where it seemed like the mesquite could be negotiated without too much risk of injury and where my dog could follow, and  proceeded to go under one fence and climb the other. Without too much trouble found we found ourselves marching up a wide sandy arroyo.
 Up ahead there were some formations of pink rock pocked with many alcoves that reminded me of  buildings on the Flintstones,  and of the cliff sides at Bandelier National Monument.  Upon closer inspection, the alcoves were too small to house real or fictional ancient peoples. We checked out likely looking boulders in a small tributary  for petroglyphs  but found none and proceeded on to the heart of the canyon.
  The deepest part of the brief box section is wonderfully scenic with a  beautifully craggy rock tower taking center stage. Red  rock cliffs blistered out of the hillsides, and globular formations and boulders  bubbled from the descending ridges( one looked very much liked the traditional adobe oven called an horno).  We walked by a road that went off, I presume to the southwest toward Lytten Well which we had passed earlier while walking along the railroad tracks. Tire tracks  that continued in the sand let me know that vehicles still  use this canyon itself as a road despite NMSU's prohibitions. I looked for petroglyphs and mortars in the rock, but found none. Exploring up another  forked side canyon,  in one branch we found something akin to a slot canyon - only for the very short in stature.


      Out of the box section we followed the right( southeast) branch, finally climbing a low hill to get the lay of the land. To the north, in shades of red and black, was the solitary Tonuco( San Diego) Peak. The Las Uvas and adjacent ranges were  in the distance to the west. In front of us many small arroyos funneled toward the Rio Grande. There was also a long abandoned road. We walked on it for a short  distance bearing northwest, before turning and heading southwest, and downhill on a long ridge. If I had done a little more careful research, I would've known that continuing on the road would have brought me to the canyon just to the south of Lytten,but I'll have to explore that one another day.


    I hadn't been completely sure what  canyon I had been in , although I was pretty sure it was Lytten. Now, on my return leg, I believed I was back in Flying V Canyon, but wasn't entirely sure until I saw my own footprints from last week in the sand.  I didn't really mind covering this ground again so soon, it was good to know we would be emerging right at our crossing point of the Rio Grande and would not have to walk alongside the railroad tracks. I found a couple of more petroglyphs on a boulder right next to one I had found a few  on last week. How I didn't see them before I'm not sure- but it's frequently case when revisiting rock art sites that overlooked images will magically appear.

 I had been wondering if we would see yet another desert deer this week, when I realized  a couple of javelinas had walked up to within 10 feet of us. Seamus was off  leash,and the last thing I wanted was for him to have a scared javelina turn on him. Luckily, I got him on the leash and the javelinas high tailed it -an adult going one  direction, and a toddler the other, running around us and heading down to the river. We saw them again drinking from the meager flow of the Rio.When we got to the truck we watched the freight train coming through where we had just been walking.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Selden Canyon Area( Cedar Hills, Selden Hills)- "Mushroom" and " Flying V" Canyons loop hike

 I did this nice loop hike using 2 of the 3 major,but nameless, canyons between  Buckle Bar and Lytten Canyons on the east side of the Rio Grande. This area is south of Tonuco Peak and north of Radium Springs and may be referred to as the Cedar Hills, Selden Hills or Selden Canyon.
   We parked at a pull out across from the Broad Canyon Dam. A couple years ago we could drive on the road that went down to the banks of the Rio Grande, but now there is locked yellow gate, barring vehicle  access. We made our way down to the river. I let Seamus( the Scottie dog) run around, chase birds, slip on the ice, get wet before finding a convenient place to get up on the other bank. I couldn't see anything of the entrances to the canyons until we were on the other side of the concealing wall of salt cedar. We walked along the railroad tracks for a short ways until we came to the first canyon. This first one, which I'll dub Mushroom  Canyon because of a rock formation halfway up, was a narrow, rocky delight. Although it is much more easily negotiated than the bouldery canyons in the Robledos, there are two dry waterfalls which must climbed around in very loose rock- I believe it was the disaggregated  grayish purple andesite with large with autoliths( xenoliths?), but it could have been the ever abundant ( in these parts)sedimentary boulder conglomerate.

  Eventually,  the canyon we were walking in became a small sandy arroyo, amongst grassy gentle desert hills with creosote, barrel cactus and yucca. We went up the  ridge to the south. At the top we had fantastic views to the Organs, the high points of the Cedar Hills and the snow dusted Robledo Mountains. Down we went on a long arm that extended to the  adjacent arroyo below. In contrast to Mushroom Canyon, Flying V canyon( named after a petroglyph panel I found there, where a being appears to be riding on a vehicle shaped like the body of the iconic Gibson guitar) was a wide multi- channeled wash fed by uplands pleated by a multitude of parallel rills. For awhile I thought I was in the larger Buckle Bar Canyon to the south, but this canyon seemed smaller and just a bit steeper.

    I found one small petroglyph panel on a boulder at the entrance of a side ravine. Someone at a much more recent time had scratched a word beneath the ancient work, and most likely realized that this rock art thing isn't  as easy as it looks. A little bit further down I came upon a much larger panel( the Flying V) on the flat face of a boulder, which at one time must have been more accessible  to the artist, but was now perched awkwardly out of reach above the canyon bottom. We looked around in a large amphitheater with abundant boulders, but found  no other rock art. Most likely there is more, but when one is alone it's difficult cover a lot of ground closely. I was happy to have found what I had. Update( 1/16): It occurred to me walking by the Flying V panel, recently that the rock art may be continued on a broken off piece of the boulder that now lies with side that potentially holds more petroglyphs face down in the sand.

We went under a fence and over the railroad tracks, and then through a passage lined with salt cedar needles, back across the " river" and finally to the truck.Note: As far as I can tell this hike is on NMSU property, although it is not posted  No Trespassing, policy may change at any time. In addition, be aware that there is private property along the Rio Grande. Do not a cross posted areas.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Box Canyon- BLM Recreation Area( Las Cruces)


 Because of its close proximity to the city, this area may not be as attractive for the hiker, and suffers from many of the same problems I've written about  regarding the west side of the Dona Anas and the east side of the Robledos. Trash, heavy vehicle use( at times on popular, but illegal trails) and the virtually non-stop firing of weapons are all present here. And yes, once again, I know it is legal to fire your gun out here. Littering, however, in the form of shotgun shells, bullet casings, clay targets and the accompanying bottles, boxes and cans at these sites, is not. In addition, this area is still an active grazing allotment( you know all that that brings), which, to my mind flies in the face of it being a designated recreation area.
 On the positive side there is wonderful scenery  and geology here: multi-hued cliffs,  interesting erosional forms,an extensive array of volcanic rock types, active springs, and a beautiful isolated mountain( Picacho Peak). There is also history.The Butterfield Stage Route ran right up this canyon.
 We parked at a pullout before reaching the canyon bottom, and proceeded downstream. We ran into some kids( teens) around a little campfire.  I usually don't like fires using our scarce desert wood but they were burning invasive salt cedar- so I  approved. We continued on. The canyon is pretty wide here, the most boxy section being upstream from where we started closer to the dam. A short ways past a huge upright boulder that stood like a sentry,we turned around. We got out of the canyon bottom for  little while on the way back, hiking on the southern ridges. Coming back down, I saw that the teens were gone, their fire out and buried.

   Near the car,  I took some in-situ photos of a very odd  rock type that I had been seeing rocks and boulders of in the canyon. It looks liked silly sand or leftover mess from a concrete project. I'll have to do some research to find out exactly what it is.