Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lake Roberts Box/Slot Canyons(south side)" Dam Canyon"- Gila National Forest

Despite all the fires and floods, I'm discovering there is still a lot of magic left in the Gila for me. On Sunday( 5/10/2015), we ventured out to the south side of Lake Roberts to explore two box canyons that looked likely to contain sections that would qualify as slot canyons as well. It promised to be  a cool, sunny spring day, and after parking at the end of the road at Upper End Campground, we headed out on the trail that follows the south shore of Lake Roberts. We quickly met some javelinas, bunnies, ducks,coots and a rotting vulture. I was so glad I had kept Seamus on the leash during this part of the walk. The first canyon I was after has its mouth directly  below the new spillway of the new dam, so I'm christening it " Dam Canyon". It is otherwise un-named.

 We started walking up the bouldery stream course and Seamus soon found a bit of water flowing to drink from. I got the idea to  leave this canyon to explore the canyon directly over to the west first, which had looked more promising on Google Earth, and quickly began going up a side canyon on my right, which I hoped would bring me to the ridge/mesa between the two where I would hopefully crossover and find my way down into the other canyon. All seemed to be going well.  I thought I had gotten to the mesa top. I thought I had crossed over the divide of the drainages, as I made my way through the pines down a rough, but not particularly  treacherous  ravine to get to the canyon further west,but when I got to the bottom, everything was backwards.  I was thinking , because I've always been so good about keeping a bearing that a left turn would be taking me upstream and south, but the stream was definitely running downstream to my left. I began walking downstream anyway, thinking I was in a side drainage and would hit the main canyon shortly, but after passing a nice little streamside spring, I realized  this canyon was too big to be a side drainage of  what is not a very large canyon to begin with.

 If I had only walked  a little farther I would have realized I was in the same canyon( Dam Canyon) I had started in. I kept puzzling  as I turned and headed up stream( and didn't think to get out the compass until much later). I thought I could  have had a lapse of concentration on the ridgetop and gotten turned around and ended up still in the first canyon. I also  thought perhaps I had hit the second canyon where it makes  an  almost 90 degree turn to the west.  It was a little bit disturbing, because I have always prided myself on my sense of direction and ability to keep my bearings. In the end I  also thought that it'll all work out, and there was little chance of getting lost entirely, because all I would have to do was head downstream  and I would be brought to  the lake or Sapillo Creek and know exactly where I was.
 These north facing  south side canyons are quite a contrast to their counterparts on the north side that face south ( see my March blog about those canyons).  Huge pines and firs grow. Box elder and  deciduous oak flourish. Yellow columbine and cress grow out of wet canyon walls. Dam Canyon had quite a few little delights including a huge alcove where we ate lunch, a bedrock section with cress flowers where the stream burbled from tiny pool to tiny pool, a perfectly still green toad on a boulder, plus a few stunning vistas of the towering cliffs overhead.

It eventually narrowed into slot,but quickly thereafter we were brought to a halt, by a very deep pothole filled with very cold water. It was probably about eight feet long, and perhaps nearly that deep. On the other side was a steep, slippery waterfall/ slide at the top of which were several chock stones stuck in the narrow  passage.

That was all she wrote, at least for this visit. Perhaps when I  return, hopefully one day with my friend Doug Scott, we'll figure out a way to explore above this spot.
 We headed  back  downstream and when I got to  back to the spring and the side ravine I decided to try and retrace my footsteps back up to perhaps figure out what I had done. And because despite the fact that I had been using the compass for awhile now, I was still feeling turned around and was wishing I could shake it. I got  back up on top of the  ridge,but couldn't find the exact place where I had crossed, nor the first side stream I had walked up.  I was hoping to perhaps get view of the lake that  would right my senses but all I could see were the anonymous looking hills that surround the area.I found another side stream and made  way down again this time, having a wee bit of trouble at dry waterfall that had to be maneuvered around. I got to the bottom and Voila! I was looking up at some tall pines and cliffs I had photographed a short while before. I checked around the corner for a boulder I had stood on while taking the shot- and there it was.

I had never left the canyon for the second time. This was totally bizarre to me as if in a episode of the Twilight Zone.It was like there was some kind of vortex  or portal on the ridge top which either wouldn't let me cross or kept spitting me out in same place. I now headed downstream hatching plan B for how to get into that canyon to the west.
 Back at the  dam I checked out the algae laden waters of Sapillo Creek at the source of it's flowing section( above the lake there almost never any flow) - a pipe at the bottom of the gravel part of the dam. We then  retraced our path along the lake shore back to our truck.

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