Tuesday, October 27, 2015

East Railroad Canyon Falls( FT 130)- Gila National Forest

East Railroad and Railroad confluence

corral a short ways from FT 129 trailhead

The nomenclature and assignment of trail numbers for the Gallinas / Railroad corridor has always seemed a bit confusing to me. The campground trailhead is called Railroad Canyon,but the trail that starts there is the Gallinas Trail ( FT 129), and it follows Gallinas Creek,but I'm not completely sure if the canyon has separate name from the creek which would explain the incongruity. At the first junction of trails, the Gallinas Trail takes off to the northwest and up a steep hill and follows Gallinas Creek, while the continuation of trail you've been walking  changes to FT 128  and follows the creek in Railroad Canyon. Also, I've never been sure why it's called Railroad Canyon,because no railroad came within 10 miles of here as far as I know. Anyone with any information, please comment.

 At the second junction of trails is East Railroad Canyon and that's where I hiked this past Sunday(10/25/2015). Getting there was nice enough as the path for FT 129, and FT 128 is obvious and easy to follow,even through the tall grass that grows along it in many sections newly opened to the sun. Oaks, boxelder, cottonwood and black walnut provided some feeble fall color here and there but, overall the look was still very green with late summer wildflowers still lingering. Just like my experience over in the Lincoln NF, I believe the prolonged moisture and warm temperatures have resulted in a much less than spectacular autumn color year. Still it was a very pleasant couple of miles along the still nicely flowing stream, which didn't appear diminished at all from my visit this summer.The section beyond the Gallinas confluence is particularly lovely with many beautiful grassy flats perfect for a beginner backpacker's camping spot.

 I turned off for East Railroad Canyon on a non existent path through the thickly matted grass and proceeded to follow a few cairns and blazes. There really was very little tread throughout the length of FT 130, and it's best to just stick to the wide side of the canyon whenever  you can and look for blazes and or cairns. The blazes are frequently on blackened trees and are hard to see, and except for one section the cairns are pretty far between, as if the thoughtful and artistic cairn  builder just lost interest or got tired.

 The problems with  the trail weren't too important to me initially. I was staying along and in the stream looking for the little waterfall, that I've passed several times over the years and have never gotten a photo of. We came upon it quickly enough, less than a half mile from the trail junction. It was in good form, as the flow in East Railroad was more prodigious than either upper Gallinas  or Railroad.In this narrow rocky section of the creek,moss grows on the cliff walls that drip with spring water.The streams continues with small falls and cascades above, and was a delight to behold after so many drought stricken years. Further on, I came upon a couple of other nice falls, perhaps only recently revealed due to so much soil and vegetation being removed by floods and fire. This  used to be a dark, heavily wooded canyon, significantly narrower as well, which made it always seem a bit creepy compared to Railroad and Gallinas. Post Silver Fire, it's quite open and sunny , which also makes it a bit hot and probably not an ideal summertime hike.

I had the idea of making it up to the junction with the Bypass Trail(FT 412) high up on the mountain,but  the slow going  through sometimes thick terrain with no trail to go on, made that highly unlikely. Still, I continued, curious to see what else the canyon had to offer. The fire has now revealed the steep peaks,cliffs and rocky defiles once cloaked by conifers, and I thought,that in some strange way,has given a view into these mountains true majesty. Raspberry and blackberry grew thickly and provided some fall flame. Most of the smaller diameter trees were torched,but a lot of the bigger ones, burned so deeply black  at eye level, were doing fine high above. Two deer crossed the creek in front of us, and while I was shouting at Seamus not to follow, a golden eagle lit out from the thicket of live douglas fir above us. It was little anxiety producing to see this gigantic bird flap his wings with my 25 pound dog right below.

 We eventually turned back a little after 3:00pm. I believe we were close to where the trail leaves the stream and takes off steeply on the north side. A late start meant we would not be getting up to the upper trail junction today, because we certainly did not want to be walking in the dark on the return. We found a little more tread on the downhill run including the crucial waterfall bypass up on the hillside. We were back at the truck at 5:00pm. The total mileage for this jaunt was somewhere between 8 and 9, I estimate.This was definitely what I call an adventure hike, not super hard, but not for the kiddies or the unseasoned.NOTE: Pay attention to the  sign at the trailhead and its warnings about hiking in a burned area.
Recurring idea: I often speculate when hiking here when there is decent water, about its potential for being stocked as Winter Trout Water by NMDGF.
Another Recurring Idea- This area is ripe for shuttle hikes, if you have two autos by all means take advantage.
Trivia- this was the first place I saw a bear in the wild.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pumphouse Ridge Trails 1 and 2( FT 5661C and FT 5661D)- Lincoln National Forest

Forest Road 5661 is a well maintained, albeit, narrow gravel road that begins off of Forest Road 24B just southeast of the village of Cloudcroft. It curves, bends and meanders, first on the south  and then on the north side of the high, windswept Pumphouse Ridge.Viewscapes are limited initially but as  we drove farther east they became more expansive. Along the way are many dispersed camping areas,old roads both official and unofficial, and the five Pumphouse Ridge trails.

 Last year we hiked the longest of these, Pumphouse Ridge Trail 3( FT 5661F). Before I headed back to Las Cruces on Sunday, Seamus, Nessie and I hiked Pumphouse Ridge Trails 1 and 2(FT 5661C and 5561D).  Pumphouse # 1 is about a  mile long. It's an easy walk along a grass covered former timber road. It was cool and windy as we started out,but warmed up considerably as  the morning progressed. Views are limited along this trail, and shortly after it makes a hairpin turn and heads downhill it terminates. We continued on through the brush to the top of a small forested hill.This one took a little less than an hour all total.

A short ways down the road is Pumphouse Ridge Trail 2( 5661D) another old timber road now green with grass and low growing weeds. This one winds along the western edge of the steep-sided Jones Canyon directly across from the Pumphouse Ridge # 3.   Around a curve we saw  some large cows lolling comfortably where the trail dead ended. We turned back.We were over and done with this one in less than a half hour.

 These were pleasant hikes on a cool, breezy October morning, but I could easily see how at other times of the year and other times of day they might not seem so great, given their very open nature.
There are two more signed trails along the ridge, which we passed as we headed to where the road ends( it does just end high on the ridge,although there some primitive connecting roads that come in from the north before this happens). Both are short like the ones we just hiked.
 All the Pumphouse Ridge trails are  gated and are closed to ATV use, but I noticed there must be a few special people who don't feel they are subject to the some rules and regulations as you and I have driven around the gates anyway.  I suppose, perhaps, that they were unaware. Perhaps not.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Scott Able( FT 126) and Spiller Canyon Trail( FT 9201) shuttle hike-Lincoln National Forest

Saturday morning the weather began clearing, and by mid-morning as we progressed on our hike, it was all blue sky and warm sunshine. We had two cars with us because my wife would be leaving for the airport while I would be heading back to Las Cruces the following day, so taking Lynn Melton's suggestion from her Sacramento Ranger District trails website, we did this walk as a shuttle.
 We started at the Scott Able trailhead. The names of these two trails are a little misleading. The Scott Able trail merely starts in Scott Able Canyon but quickly departs, never to return. The Spiller Canyon trail is not in Spiller Canyon but in a smaller parallel drainage to the north.
  The stream was flowing nicely in the middle of the now wide gravel wash.The canyon is recovering slowly from the ravages of flooding. The many box elders that lined the banks had a dull yellow tint.After crossing the stream, we had yet another episode of puppy chasing after dropping her leash. Seamus, who was off leash, was having a grand time, happy that I was running with him. I like the Scott Able trail.  It's a shady old road in relatively young forest( perhaps it was one of the last areas to be extensively logged) of pine and fir, that gains elevation gradually as it cuts in and out of drainages along the mountainside.

 In places moss grew thickly on the road cut. Down below us I could see large maples and oaks growing on the steep hillside,but they were just as green as they were in summer.We passed the down hill leg( FT 9201)  of our hike,which only has a small brown carsonite sign marking and is easy to walk right by. Here there were many bigtooth maples. A few even had some color. Further along,we came to nice little plateau area where we stopped and rested a bit. The trail beyond went downhill and seemingly in the wrong direction. Don't overthink it if you go.Stay on the obvious old road. We passed  some grassy, gentle little valleys below. Above us,was a recovering burn area filled with scrubby oak, locust and a few survivor pines.

At one outward bend we spied a herd of at least 10 elk, including two males. Some were resting in the tall grass. Some were snacking on it. We were very quiet, but they got up slowly and quietly moved away. Luckily, my  elk chaser Seamus was on a leash on that point. Shortly afterwards the views opened up along the trail. Looking up,there were hillsides covered with brushy oak and other shrubs. Looking out and down to the south was  a long valley and far-off rounded mountains, all deep green with well watered conifers.

 We turned around and headed back to the Spiller trail. The initial little descent into the Spiller Canyon is steep and rocky, but after that it's a pleasant little walk(at least if you go downhill) in a narrow little half-pipe with overarching maples,oaks and even the occasional ash lining the stream bed, with well spaced pines along the steep hillsides. This is a very rustic trail for the Sacramentos. There is no evidence of any vehicle use( ATVs are not allowed on either trail,but motorcycles and bikes are). If it was ever a road, it has been a very long time since. There isn't even a foot trod path. I felt like I could have been on a trail in a cove or hollow int the Appalachians or maybe somewhere in the Adirondacks where I spent many a summer as a child. I happily found at least little  bit more fall color in the form of a few maples with fiery crowns. We also saw deer.

Even though it was only a mile back to the Sacramento River Road and our  car, it took us  a little longer than expected. Despite the occasional rocky stretches, it was time pleasantly spent ambling this grass covered gully in the mountains. Getting close to the road, it was a tiny bit confusing which way to proceed in the open grass bottomed forest,but the trail exits to the north, where we crossed the dry Sacramento River.
Spiller Canyon trail is 25 miles south of Cloudcroft and is reached via NM 130, NM 6563 and County Road 2 ( Sacramento River Road). There is only a small pullout  for parking. Scott Able trailhead is a little over a mile away to the northeast on FR 460( Scott Able Road).