Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gattons Park Box and Slot Canyons- Gila National Forest

  Seamus and I went out did some more exploring in the Lake Roberts, Sapillo Valley area  on Sunday. Our first stop was a couple of canyons on the south side of the highway(NM 35) just past the open meadows of private ranch land known as Gattons Park. After opening and closing the gate on Forest Road 4080F we drove on,bearing right onto FR 4080G. I have an unerring ability to pick the wrong road  to get me the closest to my trailhead. The road I should have taken is 4085X which leads right to the confluence of the two canyons and some lovely camping areas below cliffs and alcoves in the  globular Gila conglomerate.  Instead, we crossed the dry streambed on FR 4080G and parked at a small campsite before the road peters out. Happily, in this instance, my choice of roads didn't really matter much. We walked through the tall grass, then up the dry streambed and finally onto the FR 4085X which dead ends where the canyons box up. It was maybe 10 minutes of extra walking.
 We chose the left(east fork) and quickly were entrenched  in  a delightful little slot canyon. It was mostly less than 10 feet wide and the bends came fast and tight. In fact, it was very similar to the canyons I explored on the north side of Lake Roberts back in the spring, with one significant difference. Since this was a north facing, cooler environment, this canyon  and its larger  more open  western fork were lush with grasses, moss, deciduous oaks,box elders and many other water and shade loving species of the forest.

It was a fun little walk, punctuated by a bit of panic when a large javelina emerged seemingly from a crack in the cliffs, bypassing my leg by only a foot or two to run downstream. My only complaint about this little beauty of a canyon was the "slot" never was very deep, only running between 15 and 35 feet, although at times the sloping hillside cliffs towered more than a hundred feet above us.

 We made our way back, when it looked as if the slot was opening up for good. Back at the meeting of the two forks, we now took the western ( it looks like a middle branch on maps) prong.This was much more of box canyon, with a flat, wide, grassy floor, and large oak trees towering above. Blue skies and cool temperatures made it a beautiful time of year to be there, with the all the colors and scents of our attenuated fall as well to make it a perfect gift. This un-named shady little box was like a pint sized version of Skates Canyon, and we investigated  one or two tributaries in hope of finding something like the tributary to Skates Canyon  which is a fantastic slot, but to no avail.
Walking back to the truck, I admired all the beautiful camping spots and wondered why no one was camping here,  after all we were less than a mile from the paved road. I shall return, I thought, with tent.

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