Thursday, April 2, 2015

Skates Canyon- Gila National Forest

 After my exploration of the Lake Roberts Canyons on Wednesday(3/25/2015), I was right back out in the Gila on Friday(3/27/15), once again looking for slot canyons, only this time I was over in Skates Canyon, just a few miles southeast of where I had been.
  Skates Canyon is a large  north flowing tributary to Sapillo Creek. It's just past the large area of meadows along NM 35,but before reaching the turn off for the Sapillo Group Camping  area.  I was looking for the large open mouth of the canyon on the south side of highway, thought I had it ,but drove past anyway, and had to backtrack. What I'm saying is, there is no sign, just an old chain link gate that isn't even dummy locked, or closed really( the dirt holds it in place). When I saw one of those little forest service masonite markers with 88 on it,  I knew I was in the right place. The road was little wonky,but not too bad. It goes up and over an earthen dam so steeply, that I stopped at the top and got out just to check that there was something drive  down on the other side. We parked near the old windmill referred to on maps as " Red Sap Well".

  My first mission was to  check out two small tributary canyons on the east side that looked very bare and narrow on the satellite image. I found one small gravel streambed under the pines and began to follow it. Eventually it turned into a bare rock slottish canyon, but we ( Seamus the Scottie and I) were quickly halted by waterfall high enough to make us come up with an alternate strategy. We tried climbing around it on some loose gravel slopes, but as I looked upstream and remembered my experiences from two days before,  I retreated. A second streambed and another short walk yielded more or less the same results. A third one was at  least a bit more interesting with winding course of little oxbows  in deeply undercut  canyon walls. Alas, it too ended at waterfall that was undercut as well, and although this one looked more  interesting above, we turned around again. I had such high hopes for this section, and was disappointed, but moved on. In retrospect, I may have missed one of the ones I was shooting for that was  just a tad further east than I ventured- perhaps that one has an easier walking section.  Another day perhaps.


Back in the main canyon, we moved on, admiring the wrinkled cliffs of pale orange conglomerate. Another gravelly stream appeared on the east side and we followed it back into a very narrow little slot. It was dark, wet and moss was thriving( a rarity in  southern New Mexico). The thin crack continued up and I believe it was climbable, but not with my little dog in tow. It would definitely  be an adventure regardless. I named this one Mossy Slot.

mossy slot

      Returning to the  main valley of Skates, the previously dry, weedy wash now had a nice flow of water- and several kinds of small fish. I was so happy to see this stream running, it confirmed my enchantment with the day, and reaffirmed my love for the Gila, despite all the problems it may have. We continued upstream visiting many side canyons on both the east and west sides. Most were just short jaunts that  ended at pour offs that we weren't equipped to climb. Along the way there was an interesting  30-40 foot  water slide that was perfect little straight sided notch in the cliffs. It was wet, but it would be awesome to see it really flowing. Another short canyon had a dripping waterfall and a small maple tree, which put me in mind how fantastic this place would look in the fall with its cottonwoods, walnuts, oaks, alders and even the occasional maple as this canyon evidenced.
water slide

big deciduous trees

 In one of the side canyons while executing an awkward climb, lifting my dog down a narrow crack, I realized that I no longer had my sunglasses( an expensive Xmas gift from my wife), but I only  panicked momentarily, and then put my faith in the good tidings of the day and moved on.
 Near a spring that trickled out of a rocky little swale, green with new growth, we sat down finally for a rest and our lunches. We  then continued on a short ways, exploring up West Skates and then heading back downstream.

 first spring wildflowers

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