Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hill Canyon- Gila National Forest

 I may have figured out why no one was camped at the lovely little spot I had just visited on the short drive west on NM 35 over to Hill Canyon. Everyone was camped at the flats just east of Skates Canyon. There is  wide, all weather gravel road there which makes it accessible to group camping with large trailers and fifth wheels, which seems to be the preference nowadays. I took a  quick look at the veritable village that was set up and then skedaddled.
    Hill Canyon is the last large canyon on the south side  of the highway before getting to the private property on the east end of Lake Roberts. We drove only a short ways down the ungated primitive road when we  found ourselves  in the thick gravel of the creek itself. We wisely  turned around, got out of the stream bed, and availed ourselves of narrow parking spot a short ways back on safer ground at the side of the road. We couldn't have driven all that much further anyway, because we were quickly faced after only a few minutes of walking with the prospect of climbing the large gabion dam which spans the entire canyon. In the process of lifting Seamus up to the top,my camera tumbled out of its case and landed, not on the soft grass and mud, but on rock, whereupon the mounting ring on the lens cracked in two places.
  Above the dam, which is entirely filled in and serves little purpose at this point, we continued on up the gravelly wash . The canyon around us began to box up between walls of gray,blue and black andesitic rock- a contrast to the pinkish, orangish conglomerate seen almost everywhere in these parts. The stream was flowing nicely,  although, as with many Gila streams( Allie Canyon comes to mind) the gravel bed seems ready to accommodate a much larger flow. This is a smaller, steeper  canyon than nearby Skates, but it also shares many of it's characteristics. Pines  and oaks grow along its cliff bottoms with boxelders and walnut tress closer to the stream. Mountain mahogany crops up in the sunny spots. I saw something I very rarely see when exploring these trail-less side canyons: footprints. But this canyon is very close to summer cabins and a few year round homes,so perhaps it sees more folks just out for morning walk and a few boot prints are to be expected.

 I was still hoping to find a slot similar to the one that branches off to the west not too far upstream from the mouth of Skates Canyon. I found the beginning of one coming in from the east behind a huge fin of light colored rock. It was lovely little labyrinth cut through that ubiquitous conglomerate now, narrow enough and tall enough to preclude plant growth, with running water creating a series of  reflecting pools. Unfortunately it terminated in just a few hundred feet at a small waterfall, and by the  sun-soaked trees and shrubs  I could see above, there seemed little chance of the slot canyon continuing. Although, the falls would have been fairly easily climbed around, I retreated, happy to have had this little pleasure.

 We continued up the main branch. The water went underground. The box canyon dissipated into a more conventional upland, dry forest, stream valley with pinon,juniper and small doug firs and pines. I turned around.
We explored two canyons on the west side on the way back. One had a very similar feel to the slot over at Skates, but unfortunately, after only a hundred yards or so, we were stopped in our tracks by a waterfall that could not be climbed up and not very easily climbed around either. It looked as if the slot  canyon might continue above but, it was hard to tell. As a consolation prize, we saw  a little natural arch at its mouth on the way back out.

We headed back down, over the dam, looking for caves and pictographs as we picked our way through the chamisa and golden grass back to our truck.

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