Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tonuco Uplift










I've been wanting to visit the large tilted basin area  that's on the east side of the Rio Grande south of Tonuco Mountain( San Diego Mountain) and north of the Selden/Cedar Hills area. I caught a glimpse of its unusual topography from from NM 85 a few years ago and have been wanting to see it up close ever since. I tried a couple of years ago, but NMSU has all the underpasses that go under I-25 posted. It can't be accessed from the west side of the river either because of private property. I was resigned now to  very long hike from our usual starting point for either Pictograph Canyon or Tonuco Peak: somewhere soon after the road from the Upham exit(that parallels I-25 on the west side) takes a turn toward the river.Then a neighbor suggested using the power line road. This as it turns out was not a good option.
 On Google Earth and on maps this appears as reasonable extension of the road that runs along I-25.Unfortunately, for us, it was not. What is not easy to see, until we were on the road, are the steep arroyo crossings, the deep sand, the narrow track and the overall crappy condition of this unmaintained road. Balking at one  particularly  gnarly crossing, we realized we couldn't  turn around. We  forged ahead and made it through that one, parking at one of the very few spots wide enough shortly thereafter, not wanting to press our luck with our 2 wheel drive truck any further.
 All this road wrangling not only left our nerves a little jangled, but also ate up quite a bit of the time allotted for our hike. We started off quickly turning down a road that intersected from the east. Going cross country we made our way  through a narrow little canyon to some higher ground overlooking the basin and  several of the arroyos that feed it. We climbed a little peak whose ridge line was thick with heavily silicified boulders of limestone.
We got a few  better views,but now, because of our after lunch start and the road problems, both those that had already happened and the ones we were anticipating on the return trip, we  thought it prudent to head back.  I took a few more longing looks at the area that was my intended destination and then we headed back now walking down a different arroyo flowing to the east . Four beautiful deer crossed in front of us,but happily we were able to  talk the off leash Seamus out of a chase.That canyon ended abruptly at a dry waterfall, so we  climbed over to the next one to the north which is also the one  with the road.
I've used this road many times for hikes over the years and have watched this canyon section,which is the only alternative on the east side for getting up onto the plateau that leads to Tonuco Peak, deteriorate from usable by factory four wheel drive vehicles to  its current nearly impassable(except perhaps for those heavily customized rock crawling Jeeps) condition. It won't be long before it washes away altogether or is blocked by a massive movement of rock and soil.
 The return auto trip had its own bit of anxiety, as we spun our tires in the deep sand while climbing a steep hill. We had to roll back down and go a longer way round on a  route with better traction.
Alas, our hike  was  only a short one of a couple of miles.  Perhaps it was for the best as it was  the first desert outing for Nessie( our Scottie puppy). She did very well.
  I have accepted the fact(again)  that I will just have to  make a long hike to visit the area.Which is fine.

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