Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lower Gallinas Campground, Dry Gallinas Canyon- Gila National Forest

We went on Sunday to look at the snow at Iron Creek Campground in the Black Range, something we've been doing for years.  The warm weather had melted most of it,but there was still a little  left on the north side of the canyon. We had a picnic and did a slippery little walk on the road there.  We drove the couple miles down NM152 and parked across from the closed Lower Gallinas Campground at the mouth of Dry Gallinas Canyon. The road in that canyon continued for a short ways, transforming into a vague trail through a rather generic,but still lovely swath of untouched( by fire) forest of junipers, pines and both deciduous and live oaks, which is nice to find these days since the 2013 Silver Fire.  We found a more obvious trail on the west side of the canyon created by cattle, horses and wildlife. The dry gray boulders attested to the canyon's name,but I was still hoping for trickle as we hadn't brought a bit  of water for ourselves or our dogs.Happily, as I later discovered looking at Google Earth, we turned around after less than a mile out, right before the canyon was about to change into a particularly severe bit of scorched earth.
 We turned around walked back and then across the highway to the closed Lower Gallinas Campground to let the dogs drink from the creek. It was wonderfully( and unseasonably) warm December afternoon so we strolled along the creek to the end of the road. The golden grass was high among the huge junipers and we wondered if this pretty spot which has been closed since the fire would ever be open to camping again. It seems that there could be a liability issue that the Forest Service would just as soon avoid due to the area's increased susceptibility to flash flooding.
The whole Gallinas, Iron Creek corridor is still beautiful,but could really be the best of the Gila camping areas with a few improvements and probably should  be changed into a fee area with a campground host to prevent further degradation and to keep it family friendly.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Purple Hill- Tonuco Uplift

View of Tonuco peak from the hidden canyon that cuts through the hill.

 I've named this little mountain that's about 1.25 miles long by .25 miles wide with 400 feet of relief (maximum) Purple Hill, well, because it looks purple. It gets its color from the extensive coating of gravel that is  a weathering product derived from an underlying layer of very purple andesite. Lying just southeast of Tonuco Peak( San Diego Mountain),  it is part of the Tonuco Uplift.
 We started out from the locked gate on  the power line road, after driving in from the Upham exit  and heading south. We began by walking cross country toward a little gap carved by a sandy arroyo at the very southern tip of the mountain. It's always interesting to keep an eye to the ground out here. The ancient river lain sedimentary rocks have been eroded and reduced to sand and a dizzying variety of stones,pebbles and gravel.  Crystalline  and cryptocrystalline quartz of many colors are the most eye catching, but it would interesting to  sift out a few square yards just to see what can be found.
 After passing through the little gap, we explored the valley on the west side of the hill. There, isolated mounds of the same conglomerate that have not been washed away completely( yet) give rise to sphinx like formations.

The cliffs  of the distant mesa have been dissolved into badlands.We followed the arroyo back into a narrow passage, where we were stopped by a dry waterfall. It might have climbable,but we went around and came down into the hidden little canyon from above on the north side. Following it back, we climbed out and went around its head and then proceeded north and then east off of the mountain, heading back toward our vehicle. We briefly walked  on  couple of  very old roads that see little to no vehicle use these days, to get us back. We saw blue birds flitting about in the creosote and mesquite, one joy of hiking the desert in the winter that I had forgotten about, but was happy to be reminded of.
Nothing to report as far as rock art, but this area is very scenic would definitely be more of destination were it not for the vagaries of property "ownership", albeit in this case by a publicly funded entity.
 Note:  Purple Hill and the surrounding basin are almost entirely within NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Research Center land. The property is not posted along every fence line,but it is at intersections and entrances that are along dirt roads on the east side of I-25 and at the north and south entrances along the power line road.This is not public land, although the land was once open to public use. It appears that roads and arroyos  along the mesas and in the canyons still receive some use( we saw a few recent vehicle tracks),but mostly likely these are people that are coming from private property along the east side of the river. For the present, entering without permission  should be considered trespassing.
Tomato like fruits hanging from a vine growing on creosote bush.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lower Faulkner Box Canyons- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 We hiked in these canyons many years ago on very long outing to Lookout Peak. This time I did a much more reasonable 3 mile loop.  I parked the 4 Runner under some desert willows after driving a little less than a mile and a half on Faulkner Canyon Road. Past the gate there is some deep sand, so 4 wheel drive may be desirable. At first I got off into the canyon that was one over on the west by accident, but I realized it pretty quickly and climbed a hill and went down the other side to reach the one I wanted. The "big" box  canyon with the high waterfall is the very first one on the south side of Faulkner. This northernmost part of the Robledos, in contrast to the sedimentary limestones and mudstones that make up much of the range, is made up of  thick layers of volcanic rocks: andesites, rhyolites and welded ash tuffs.
 I noticed some vehicle tracks in the sand at first,but soon, around the time I saw the "wilderness study area" sign,boulders and brush made it impassable to any sort of vehicle.The first larger waterfall has a noticeable, and useful trail  that goes around the east side.  The canyon soon took a turn and was bounded  on the west by a  two toned( red and gray) wall of cobble and earth deposits overlaying the gray tuff breccia. On the east were very steep slopes topped with pointed cliffs.

 It was dark in the narrowest reaches and pools of water lingered. Seamus got in and started drinking. I had to lift him up, and then scramble up myself to climb the two lower falls. Water does run through here. The smooth, almost slick surfaces of these slides attest to it, and I'd love to come in here when it is flowing. The big waterfall  with its jutting, angular, hard, and contrasting light and dark rock looks to be close to 100 feet  high and is a very impressive feature. It is definitely worth the little scramble to get back there.

 We backtracked to where there was an easy access point on the east side and climbed up onto the mesa of golden grass on gentle hills. It seemed so wonderfully remote and untouched in the bright sunshine, I just wanted to amble along for awhile, but it was Thanksgiving Day and I had promised it would only be a short hike. Some distant deer watched us briefly and then headed up and around a hillside. Luckily Seamus did not notice. We worked our way down into the very next canyon to the west, which has its own big overhanging waterfall where it cuts through a wall of rock that extends on either side. We had to climb up the hillside quite  a ways in order to go around and come down( very steeply) on the other side. From there it was mostly easy walking back to Faulkner Canyon, where we came out about a 1/2 mile west of where we had parked. The weather when we had started out was cloudy,cool and windy but then transformed into another gorgeous,warm(enough) fall day that makes me fall in love with my little corner of the Land of Enchantment all over again.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Rocotillo Box Canyons-Prehistoric Trackways National Monument

     These two canyons( North and South Rocotillo) were once a part of the annual Chile Challenge rock crawling( with heavily modified Jeeps and such) event, but now,since National Monument designation in 2009, are more of a destination for quieter recreation.  I parked about a mile  west of the trailhead for the Discovery Site. I probably would've gotten a little closer still but for a washout that I didn't want to try. From the car I headed southwest on the road and then south walking out onto an “ arm” that juts toward the confluence of the two canyons.  I discovered a rough" trail " back in the summer that took me down to the confluence.   Saturday, I met a quail hunter named Josh at the bottom, who was surprised to be meeting someone in the canyon. We talked for a bit and then went on our separate ways. I then headed upstream in the canyon on the left ( south canyon). In the late summer there was water running over the limestone bedrock cascades and the usually dry falls about 1/4 mile from the fork was dripping as well. 
The reason it’s best to start this loop in the south canyon is these sheer falls are more easily climbed up than down. I had no trouble but if you want to bypass the scramble, you will have to backtrack and find a way up onto the west side of the canyon. Once, above the falls, it  was easy walking. This very scenic canyon is carved into tilted fossiliferous beds of gray and white limestone and reddish brown mudstone.
After close to 4/10 of a mile, I took the road on the right( north) side of the canyon.  I was now steeply climbing, heading northwest, on the flank of the flat topped mountain that sits in between the south and north canyons. Just before the road disappears and plunges into a ravine, there is a trail that heads north (right).  At first I couldn't find it but then I realized it was above me. I continued up to the saddle just west of the flat topped peak. On this clear sunny day, there was just a slight breeze, but it wasn't warm enough to even work up a sweat, so I didn't miss it. From the saddle  I could see many of the old bicycle trails, one of which I hiked down many, many years ago. I could also see the road, the old gravel operation,plus the inviting upper reaches of both canyons.
 It was an easy pitch up to the peak from that point, and now I had views of the whole river valley as well.   I found  some old cairns and a triangle of boulders on the far southeast end of the  little mountain. I returned to the saddIe and slowly made my way down into the rugged North Rocotillo Canyon.
The canyon walls of rough conglomerate have shed many a boulder into the streamed here, so  it  was a much slower little scramble down canyon back to the trail that brought me in. Right where I had met Josh the quail hunter  about an hour and a half before, I flushed out 12-15 quail.This was a nice,quick hike on beautiful afternoon in desert. I  think next time I'll make it longer  by hiking further upstream in the canyons.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Apple Tree Canyon Trails( FT 5601,5601A) Fall Hike- Lincoln National Forest

 I visited Apple Tree Canyon in the the spring of  2015, and decided then it would a wonderful place to revisit in the fall because of the big tooth maple trees. Well, I went back this past Saturday, and hit it right at the peak of color. I don't know why,but I get positively giddy when this happens, perhaps due to a nostalgia for my Connecticut upbringing that is less consciously cultivated but  rather something more primal.But who knows?
 The maples( at least the big tooths) seem to be more prevalent on the west side of Sacramentos in west flowing canyons and ravines as far as  I can tell,but I've seen a few here and there all over the range. Another great canyon that is loaded with them is San Andres Canyon which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  Funny thing is many people don't know the maples are there in the forest in great numbers, even in fall, because they are only rarely seen along roads, and don't grow in solid stands like aspens so the tall evergreens block them from view.
Anyway it was a perfect fall day that gladdened my heart and sent all the bad things away to hide as my dogs and  I marched through this forest that is nothing if not a precious gift for all who enter it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cañoncito Seco in Fall- Santa Fe National Forest

When we visited the Cañoncito Seco house in the summer, I thought it would be an awesome place, because of all the deciduous trees, to  return to in the Fall. So we did, and it was. Besides a lot of walking around the beautiful environs of the property itself, we once again ventured up Cañoncito Seco onto national forest land. There, the oaks,aspens,maple were all in full autumnal hue. We probably got about a mile farther than our hike in the summer. We stopped where the trail began to be very marginal in the increasingly thicker vegetation in the narrow stream bottom.