Monday, September 21, 2015
Middle Percha Creek Falls,2015- Gila National Forest
I went back to the upper reaches of Middle Percha Creek Sunday(9/20/2015). I was curious to see the effects of fire and flooding on yet another Black Range road/ trail that I have visited many times over the years. I also came to revisit the upper waterfall that was almost dry the last time I visited( April,2013 just weeks before the Silver Fire), and check out another couple of waterfalls brought to my attention earlier this year by my friend Doug Scott, the man who knows all and sees all when it comes to waterfalls in New Mexico.
First, let me talk about the driving. Past Kingston, the road is extremely narrow. I made it over the first stream crossing, but the second one gave me pause. There was a three foot berm of sand and gravel across much of it, that would have to be quickly and carefully negotiated around, just to make it to an opening filled with several boulders to dodge. Did I mention it was very steep down the embankment as well? I parked. I figured I wasn't going to be able to drive too much farther anyway and was adding maybe 20 extra minutes to my hike. I was right to do it.Although the road is pretty good and still sees some use over to the next crossing, the one after that is very rough, and by the looks of it few people make it much farther past it nowadays. Not too much further along is where sections of the road are missing altogether, crossings are obliterated and even the old tread is buried in places by the tangled growth of weeds and wildflowers sprouting up from between the branches of downed, charred snags. It becomes a chore just to follow the old road on foot. At times I just stuck to the stream bed. It seemed the easier option.
Walking, there was very little to be seen that was very different at first.The fire and flooding had not changed the shady riparian corridor closest to town. Beyond the Forest Service boundary and the sign warning that I was entering a burn area is where things began to change noticeably. Distant views of bushy mountains could now be seen through remains of burnt pines and junipers. Weeds grew thickly between them. At one point, while looking for the road,we got into some milkweed so high and thick,I decided it was better to walk in the creek bed instead. There, the flooding has scoured out the stream,leaving much of it running over pale green bedrock. Springs I had never seen before were now visible, emerging from cress encrusted cracks.. In other places,the gravel, sand and boulders had been so thickly re- deposited that the surface flow went underground. The once brushy and shady stream was completely unrecognizable from before.The creek had been vastly widened as well, as was the case with Carbonate Creek( which I've visited the last 2 years).
I made it to the first major fork and now headed up this side branch on the south, seeking out the 100 foot waterfall. First I had to scramble around a trickling two-tiered 20 footer. I was disappointed upon reaching the high falls to find that the flow was only a trickle. Still, it's a beautiful spot and someday I'd like to hit it at just the right time.
Now I was ready to return to the upper falls on the main stem of the Middle Fork Percha Creek. The bushwack,scramble and boulder hop I had just done up to the other falls was a short sweet walk in the park, compared to the slog up to these. It was a very slow half-mile plus , and, having been up here before, it took just as long as I thought it would. but we made it.The reward: seeing the nice little 30 foot cascade flowing and tumbling down and then sculpting its way through smooth chutes and pools in the bedrock. It wasn't a prodigious flow,but nice enough, that I thought about getting in( Seamus did of course). I was hot. The terrain I'd been blasting and trudging through is now quite open to the sun, given the severity of the burn on the hillsides above the stream. We lingered a bit. It's another special little spot for me, where almost no one goes. Although, I'd been thinking this might be the last time I'd make this hike, perhaps I could be persuaded in the future for a chance to hit it when the flow is just right.
On the return I was more diligent about following the road, and was able to,except in those places where it was gone entirely. We found the 25 foot waterfall that had changed so much in its appearance. We also saw several more bushy white tails that belonged to some good sized white tail deer( we had seen a bunch on the way in as well). I had to do a lot of talking to Seamus to keep him from chasing. I was very relieved that it worked and he didn't. Although, I suspect on the return trip, at least, that plain old tiredness was the major factor in keeping him close by. I also noticed the disconcerting sight of several logjams piled up in branches 15 feet above the present level of the stream. Luckily, there are several areas for the kind of floodwaters that placed them there to spread out before it reaches the town.
Note: where I parked, right before the second stream crossing, may be private property, although it is not posted at this time. There was small garden planted, and tall contraption with solar panels nearby, which I saw on the way out but failed to notice on the way in.