Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ridgeline Trail to Split Rock Canyon- Prehistoric Trackways National Monument

I 'm dubbing this otherwise nameless canyon that was the destination for this hike" Split Rock Canyon" for the enormous rectangular prism of rock that broke off the towering cliffs and now rests at the bottom of a sheer dry waterfall, neatly split from top to  bottom. The boulder is big enough that its cleave can  be seen on Google Earth.

 I started off at the parking area for the  Prehistoric Trackways National Monument Ridgeline trail, which I believe is the only official, hiker only trail designated  so far . The entry area and road has been improved greatly. Trash has been removed, parking areas have been graded and fenced. Shooting is no longer happening right here, it appears,but I could still hear shots being fired,most likely just little bit farther down the road past the quarry. This use is not appropriate for this area, where families are coming to hike.  And coming they were on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, confirming my own personal adage," If you put a sign, they will come." I passed three different groups  as Seamus and I made our way up and down the several steep peaks and passes on the ridiculous old road that has now been put into service as the Ridgeline hiking trail. Eventually we came to a low row of rocks as the trail turns downhill toward the Trackways Discovery site. The old road continues on however, and Seamus and I  followed it. It is little used past the turn-off,  with the track hard to see occasionally. A couple of more steep ascents and descents and we found ourselves in a picturesque, round little valley where two good sized, juniper studded arroyos converge. Where the  road crossed, just below their confluence, we began heading downstream.

Initially Split Rock canyon was a  typical Robledos watercourse with sections of gravel bottom mixed with slick, gray, and dimpled  limestone bedrock. There were  puddles from recent  rains and good sized junipers here and there. Although I looked at the canyon both on topos and on satellite images, I really had no idea if I would be able to safely negotiate my way to the bottom. The maps showed a rapid convergence of elevation lines in a slightly twisted V shape with an abrupt transition to a more gradual upland stream course. Satellite images showed dark shadows on the canyon sides and a curious black gap  in the area of the transition. I had thought perhaps this were indicators of  caves.

As we began to climb down some low ledges, I was completely and wonderfully surprised as I found myself on the precipice of a high, sheer, dry waterfall with towering cliffs on my left and a long curve of rim rock extending out to my right.
 I get a little nervous in places like this, especially if Seamus is off leash, but I contained myself enough to get the photos I wanted. It really is a impressive spot,  and probably one that has not seen a  lot  of visitors.Views out to the river valley and beyond to the Dona Ana Mountains and further still to the San Andres Mountains and the Organs were crisp and clear.  The waterfall itself is undercut and it was difficult( and scary) to estimate its height. The gigantic split boulder had be at least 25 feet high and its top face was well below the ledge of gray limestone  polished  white by run-off that we stood on. Further out,  a funnel of the same grayish white rock could be seen making its way to a wide desert arroyo.
We climbed up the hill on the south for  more photos and then began to make our back in the general direction of the road.

We began to follow the road again but, at the first major hill, the whole enterprise filled me with a dread of boredom. So, we cut out downhill into rough little canyon that had massive boulders of reddish rock. Climbing out of that one, we made our way up and down steep gravelly sides of arroyos, generally following the poles delimiting the Monument boundary, back to the flat mesa( that hosts several nice houses) where we hooked up with the Ridgeline trail which brought us quickly back to the truck.
Note: It appears that Split Rock Canyon downstream of the road crossing is not part of the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, but is part of Organ Mountains/ Desert Peaks National Monument.

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