Monday, April 20, 2015

Mineral Creek, North Percha Creek Hike- Gila National Forest

We parked the car just off of  FR 157S at the dispersed camping area just above( west) of the Mineral Creek, Carbonate Creek confluence. I'm never sure if the stretch of creek below the confluence and before its meeting with  North Percha downstream is technically Mineral Creek or Carbonate Creek.  It always seemed to me that Mineral is a tributary of Carbonate,but it looks like the map makers have it the other way around.
  We started off crossing the creek at the back of the campground and began following a good cow/ hunter/ wildlife trail on the south side of the creek. I'd been down here once before many years ago while camping on upper Carbonate. We made it down to the fence line that separates Forest and private property and then turned back for a short outing. Now my plan was to hike down Mineral to the confluence with North Percha and then hike up that creek, taking in the two little box canyons they've cut in the massive limestone that runs  north to south through this section and all along the foothills of the Black Range.
 In  a short ways we came to the section of the creek I call " the chute." Here the creek runs over smooth, gray rock water slides and gathers deep pools in carved out hollows. On the hike many years ago we avoided this section by using a good cow trail that goes around and above on the north side( there's one on the south side too, although it looks  decidedly more treacherous). This time Seamus and I headed straight in. Soaking  myself up to the knees could not be avoided at the first pool, but we were able to skirt around  a second deeper one without too much trouble. Seamus doesn't mind water,but he surely tries to avoid any actual swimming, which is probably good because I've read it's not really a strong suit for the very dense and short legged Scottie.

 The creek disappears under thick gravel beyond the pools but emerges again weakly past the last straight section of the chute. Further down, though, is where it really comes to life, due the presence of  many springs burbling out at the base of the cliffs on either side of the stream. These are  considered warm( not hot by any stretch) springs, which may also account for the algal growth in this area as well. There is cress and mint growing in abundance here as well.  Canyon grape  just beginning to show leaves,hung from branches.Larger alders and cottonwoods that towered over head were just budding out. Box elder, elm, willow and walnut had already leafed out in that electric green of early spring. This abundant tree life is surely a testament to the fact that these are perennial springs, unlike ones that I've seen dry up on upper Mineral Creek.

 Though it looked a little raw still, and has not been immune from the alterations due to flooding( there had been an obvious shift of the channel recently) and needs a good long rest from cattle, this little riparian area would be a beautiful place  for a  picnic in the summer, or better still on a fall color walk in October or early November.
  Adding to my interest were the many cracks, alcoves, and holes all along the limestone cliffs. Many were inaccessible, and probably most terminated shortly after their entrances, but at one of these  cave openings someone had bothered to build a makeshift ladder in order to explore.
 Temptation to climb was very minimal, as the ladder was probably more dangerous than anything I might encounter in the cave,but my curiosity was greatly stirred.

 The confluence with North Percha is just above the fence line.  We started to head upstream now on that creek. Initially it was very similar to the section of Mineral Creek we had just been on, with  large trees, springs emerging from holes in the rock, and early stages of creekside greenery just sprouting. Further up however, the stream channel widens considerably and becomes  dry gravel wash for  a long stretch . Deciduous growth dwindles to a few seemingly misplaced cottonwoods. I was glad the clouds moved in, for this would have been a much warmer part of the hike if they hadn't.

 There were several areas where the stream narrowed itself  into channels of bare rock with tiny falls and waterslides  to keep our interest up. Here, too, were the many tears and punctures into the cliff sides signaling the potential for  a cave that penetrates deep into the mountain. I know there is at least one cave that people do visit along this section of the North Percha, but I began to wonder how thoroughly has this area been explored by folks who do that sort of thing?

 Eventually there was a good trail to follow through the tall pines, as we walked along with the now flowing again creek below us. We passed  a  trail of sorts coming down the hill from the south that was marked with bright tape. I 'm pretty sure this one is used by folks who want to access the cave as a bypass around the private property along the road( FR 157S) just a short ways upstream.  When we saw the saw the  buildings and such of one of the private inholdings, we turned around.

 On the way back, we check out two of the more accessible caves on a lower shelf of rock. They were strewn with large boulders at their entrances, and I didn't dare go in,but they at least looked like they continued on.

 Back at the confluence, I stared down the glade of tilting alder trees and hoped that the folks who own this little stretch of creek in the Gila don't take it for granted. I know I wouldn't.

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