Monday, August 3, 2015

Benson Canyon Hike( FT 5005,FT 5005 B)-Lincoln National Forest

I  squeaked in this hike last Wednesday after taking care of some business in Alamogordo.  I grabbed a cheeseburger( with velveeta, mmm) , chips and some water at the Allsups in Cloudcroft and headed out for the forest. I had intended to start at the upper trailhead for Benson Canyon on FR 223,but ended up driving down the Pensasco Road( FR 164) to the lower one. The falls at Bluff Spring were doing fine and the Rio Penasco flowed over the tall grass past campsites and houses.
 There was only room for  one ( maybe two if they're small) cars along the road at the trailhead, unless we were to drive up the trail a little ways. Only a sign at the entrance specifically prohibits vehicles greater than 50 inches wide.
 There was still a few patches of blue sky when I started out but, I knew it wouldn't be too long before it was pouring. I kept a real steady pace with the trail as it went up and up. At times it was on a old railroad grade, but at others I could see the the flat railroad bed above us on the hillside. Early on there was a  spring tumbling down the hillside. A little further still, and the limestone gravel stream bed had some flow to it so I left the trail to find Benson Spring. This one is piped into a concrete trough, but the hillside above was soggy with seeps.

 I can't say that  I like this canyon as much as some of the others I've visited in the Sacramentos. Perhaps it was a little too narrow, so it seemed to be all road. Maybe it needed some more older growth trees Perhaps this lower section needed a little more shade. It was  a cloudy cool day so it wasn't a problem, but it also made the whole enterprise seem  a little dreary.
 At a big horseshoe bend in the trail, we left the valley for the ridge. If I had had time , I would have   most likely stayed in the valley, now absent of any streambed, all the way to the top. We quickly  reached the intersection with the Benson Canyon South trail( FT 5005 B), and I made a spur of the moment decision to take it back rather than retracing my footsteps. This trail winds along the ridge above Benson Canyon. It was mostly level walking which was nice, but it  obviously receives  significant motorized use, so even though it had a rustic feel,because I was completely alone, I could imagine what the place was like on a busy weekend.

At an open meadow area with some stout white pines and Gambel oaks, the first clap of  very near thunder sounded. Since it seemed that the trail was taking me in the direction of the lightning and rain. I made another spur of the moment decision and  turned to  the northeast  and now went cross country towards( I hoped) my truck.

 At first we passed  an open camping area, and then walked through a beautiful grove of mature aspens with wildflowers at their feet.

From that point , I followed some good game trails. I was hoping to make it back to Benson Canyon itself,but soon stood on the precipice of the  much larger Rio Penasco Canyon. I was surprised at how high above the canyon I was and it was very quick work indeed going down the hillside to the road, where I could see my red truck less than a half mile away. I got off the roadway and followed the little rio, with its fields of giant thistle all the way back.
humble beginning of a famous New Mexico trout stream

reminiscent of  an Appalachian hollow

Taos Trip

We stayed at a beautiful little guest house at the very end of Painter Road, off of Millicent Rogers in El Prado for our firs long weekend ever in Taos. It had magnificent view of Taos Mountain, and everyday horses would come to say "hi." We hiked and I fished( see previous two blogs) and ate out at two great restaurants: The Love Apple and Orlandos. We also figured out how to avoid most of the Taos traffic with some help from our host.  On Sunday we did the requisite visit to the Plaza, visiting shops, buying wine a La Chiripada and getting drinks and nachos at the Taos Inn. On the way out on Monday we stopped by the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge which was stunning, and then took a relatively new paved road along the west rim, which brought us to the good gravel( but winding and steep) road down to the Rio Grande and on to Pilar.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rito de la Olla( FR, FT 438)- Carson National Forest

Last Sunday morning  I headed out to fish this stream in the Carson National Forest close to Taos. Since we were staying at a vacation rental in nearby El Prado, I was actually on the stream before nine. The only hitch came on the section of FR 438 right after leaving NM 518. The road is horribly rutted and slow going, and most likely impassable to anything that isn't four wheel drive when wet. Luckily, it was dry, and after the first mile or so, the road improves significantly( frequently not the case with most forest roads where the further you drive in the worse they become).
  At every pull-out along the way, there were campers and vehicles, so I ended up driving to the very end of the road. Here there is welded iron fence and NO VEHICLES sign.  Once on the trail, it's obvious that  it is merely a closed section of the same road,but nature is fast at work making it into a single track in woods. I plowed through the brush and saplings to get a look at the stream. I came  out right at  a blown out beaver dam, where there was small silty pond behind. The beavers appear to  be  hard at work to fix the situation. The very log I was standing on, a huge aspen(  at least 25 inches in diameter) had been felled by rodent lumberman in recent days( the leaves were still green and lively looking). I saw a fish below, but none in the little pool. It didn't matter, if there had been fish there, I'd already scared them looming like a giant on  that log.

 The stream was bigger than I had imagined with a rushing flow of water the color of amber glass.   It was colder than I would have thought as well, after a while, though, my feet got used to it.  I wouldn't bring waders or hip boots here  the pools, and calmer runs only came up to my thighs and you'll bushwhack through the brush a lot, but some kind of felt-soled wading boots might be nice. There was plenty of algae on the smooth boulders just ripe for slipping.
 Early on, I  only got a couple of half- hearted looks at the dry flies I was throwing. Letting one sink in a deep at a little bend that ran against a limestone wall, I got a bite. I switched to nymphs. Also, early on, I realized I was missing the tip for the last section  of my Redington Wayfarer rod, so  I decided to work back down stream to the truck  to switch it out with my emergency rod( a  super cheap, dual spin/fly jobber from Academy- also my very first fly rod) that I keep stored under the back seat. It's  only a seven footer as well, which on a stream like this was an advantage, the shorter the better.
 Switch made, I hiked upstream a ways before plowing through the brush again. It wasn't that hard to cast in some sections, but other spots where the creek narrowed and the  willow branches met  in mid stream about neck high were to be avoided.   I had just gone around one of these, and was back up on the trail, when I  came  to place where the creek was very close to the trail, and there was a  steep little path down the embankment. I went about my business slowly, trying to get to the stream with as little fanfare as possible. Successful, I knelt down partially behind some branches, and threw a beadhead prince  nymph( the extra weight was needed to get it down in the swift stream) into a deep little pocket just upstream.  A fish hit it hard and in a few seconds  I had nice, fat 9 or 10 inch brown at hand.
 I only caught one other fish, in another deep pool a little further upstream. It  too, was a brown,  a bit skinnier but about the same length, also caught on a beadhead nymph( I'm can't remember what  exactly, but not another prince).This one gave a few leaps in a short but enthusiastic fight. I had fun though. I turned around at the first old wooden bridge, as the raindrops started. I checked out a roadside spot that had had campers earlier in the day on the drive back and was disgusted by the fact that there was not only toilet paper and other trash strewn about the place, but they had left their five-gallon bucket camping toilet there! I didn't inspect the contents, but given the toilet paper  everywhere I'm sure it had been well used. I was glad that I had persevered to the end of road to fish well away from this sort  of situation.

 There were clouds of midges all over this stream,but no feeding that I could see on the surface. There was a small amount of active feeding just below the surface, I believe for some sort of moth-like emerger.   This is a fun stream to fish, and  I wished I had had more  time to continue upstream to see what it held. Weekdays are probably best if one wants to fish the road section. Oddly enough, there seemed to be  more water upstream, although that could be because of beaver ponds limiting the flow  further down.