Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Natural Arch Canyon near Lake Roberts- Gila National Forest

The arch
Spurred on by the contagious excitement my friend Doug Scott  has for slot canyons, and my recent recollection of a long ago hike to Purgatory Chasm( see the entry in this blog) a kind-of slot on the northeast side of Lake Roberts, I began to study Google Earth and my topos looking at potential slot canyons along the Mimbres and Sapillo valleys in the Gila. It began to look like there were  several more or less right  next to Purgatory Chasm to the north and northwest of Lake Roberts that warranted investigation. All of them flow from  north to south into the lake itself or into Sapillo Creek west of the dam. One of them, the furthest to the west, looked particularly compelling to me.
 I parked at the Vista Village parking lot( or Austin Roberts Vista parking lot) right off of NM 35, and immediately headed north on the grassy juniper studded mesa.  I came to a very old " Gila Primitive Area" sign at  a fence passage for hikers. Whatever road or trail that once came this way has long  disappeared. Shortly afterward, I  began crossing the  the upper end of one drainage and then ascended to a narrow mesa to cross a second. Both of these canyons had slot potential downstream, but I was determined to see this other canyon. If you're wondering why I was taking this upland route, it's because the mouth of that canyon as well as the two I crossed are on private property, which was very inconvenient  and helped to turn much of my day's hiking into a trudge along mesa tops instead exploring down in the canyons.

  Eventually, I reached a small crossways saddle, where I began to descend a very small  side canyon that would lead to  the main canyon that I was after. It had an active spring, and heavy vegetation in its upper reaches, but eventually turned into a short bedrock slot that took us( Seamus and I) to the larger canyon. We first explored upstream in the much larger and deeper canyon, which had flowing water and willow growth in its bottom, although it was still mostly bare conglomerate bedrock. We were stopped from further progress by a waterfall and  proceeded to turn downstream. As we were arriving at the deepest( between 60 and 80 feet ),  most slot-like section, we were stopped by another waterfall. This one was more of straight drop than a slide,with a pool several feet deep at the bottom. I contemplated the situation for long time- wondering how I could get myself, my dog and my stuff all safely down. I decided, with much regret , that it wasn't a good bet, and now began to backtrack.


 The waterfall that stopped us- higher than it looks
We found a soil filled crack on the east side that allowed us passage up to the top, and let us forgo using the the same canyon we had come down. Back up on the mesa we searched for awhile for a way back down  into the canyon past the waterfall that had stopped our progress. Nothing in the immediate vicinity looked very safe or promising. I hated the idea of easing my way down a treacherous side ravine only to be stopped at another high pour-off. So we sat down in the shade of the pinons, junipers and mountain mahogany, to rest, get our bearings and come up with plan B.
 We were now right above that dastardly, above mentioned waterfall, when I noticed a lovely little natural arch right in front of us just across the canyon. It was right at the spot I wanted to explore most, where a side slot met the main canyon. I kept thinking, there might be another arch or a natural bridge in the side canyon, but the  maze of rock ribs and walls prevented me  from knowing for sure. Seeing the arch was a nice compensation for not getting to explore down in the canyon bottom, but not nearly enough. We began to head back.


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