Sunday, January 31, 2016

West Tub Arroyos,West Potrillo Highpoint- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument


Wildflowers in January

Florida Mountains in the distance

The West Potrillo Mountains actually look more interesting on Google Earth, where the chain of volcanic cinder cones on a plateau of lava flows looks positively un-earthly. At ground level, they are a much more mundane mostly scattered, but frequently clustered, low desert hills that don't exactly inspire or impress. The north facing slopes are blond with dried grasses,while the south facing slopes with much sparser vegetation appear red and black- the colors of the cinders.Flats in between are mostly creosote and other low desert shrubs,although there is some good sized cholla here and there.
    David and Nancy Soules and I started out from Las Cruces at around 7  and by 9 we were parking their truck a short ways past the West Tub tank and corral. Don't look for that name on newer maps or Google Earth. It isn't there. The route is similar  to one I took to Providence Cone, with a turn  to the south, instead of proceeding towards the cone. From there it's a very slow drive on a narrow road that is way down on the maintenance schedule. We  passed one very modest,but still occupied ranch house  with accompanying corrals, where we turned  east onto an even slower road toward the West Tub tank on the western fringe of the Potrillos at  about the halfway point of the length of the north south range.Regulations now specify there is no parking or camping within 300 feet of corrals or cattle tanks out here, so our final leg was on an even slower sub-standard set of tracks that roughly crossed the arroyo. Nancy parked on a higher flat spot in hopes of increased visibility,but on our return it was impossible to see the truck until we were very close. A two hour driving approach to an area that's probably somewhere between 40 and 50 to miles from my house, with half the distance being covered by city streets, the highway and the maintained county road that runs past the Aden Hills to the railroad tracks. I haven't done the math  to calculate our average speed, but things slow way,way down after crossing the tracks. Is it worth it? Probably not.
 We started off looking at the arroyo nearby with its twisting bed of smooth gray basalt bedrock. Eventually I stayed in the arroyo, while  Nancy and David stayed up top, and we both move toward low ridge. The arroyo was nice enough, with grass, and when the rocky walls narrowed and rose up to about 15 or twenty feet on both sides there were good sized trees as well. As always, we were all looking for signs of ancient peoples, but found none. I did, much too my surprised delight,flush out a veritable flock of  barn owls from the cliff side roosts. I am going to say there was  a dozen, there may have been more,but I feel safe in saying there was not less. We kept herding them along and they were  probably getting annoying after landing and taking off several times.

 Up on the ridge in between the two arroyos. We rested a bit, and just as we were beginning to hike again, spotted several dark javelinas on a rocky out cropping ahead of us. I counted seven,but there may have been more. One large one lingered a bit before trotting off. I leashed up Seamus and we gave them a lot of time to relocate before we trudged on.
 I won't go into a lot of detail, but let's just say poor research on my part, relying on an old map(as in the 1940's), instead printing a newer one( although the highpoint is not indicated  or a named peak on either, only on Google Earth) , and the fact that I was completely unconvinced that  the unimpressive hill in front of us could be the highpoint, let to me believe we had not yet made visual contact with the with the tallest "mountain" in the range. So now, as the wind really started to blow we found ourselves on the flank of the hill looking off to the south in hope of seeing something.But there was nothing,except more of the same low hills. Nothing that screamed" I'm the highpoint,stupid."
 I was stupid. I turned on my handheld GPS in hope of finding out later where I stood in relation to the highpoint.And later I would I find I had been standing about 300 feet directly below it. We had been heading directly to it. I understand  now that most of the 1000 feet or so of  elevation gained to get to the highpoint from where we started is the lava and buildup of volcanic rocks and cinders that surround it. Most of the cones look more or less the same. We didn't ascend because we didn't know. And now I think I wouldn't have even tried it if I had.The wind was getting rather unpleasant.

     We were on the divide of the range. We could now see, and quickly got into an arroyo/ canyon that flowed off to the east. We did a little exploring and lingered a bit, enjoying being out of the wind.
But soon we marched back over the divide and into arroyos that would lead us back to the truck.The wind was not resting, except for once while ate and chatted before our final push.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Selden Canyon- " Dancing Man Canyon"

The dancing man

Seamus and I got out and did this little hike on  MLK Day. Last year, when I hiked up Lytten Canyon I had intended to come down the canyon just to south,but since Lytten curves around significantly to the southeast, I overshot it by two canyons and ended up coming down the one I'm calling " Flying V." My plan this time was going up Flying V, find the faded road on top that would lead down to  the canyon just south of Lytten.
A "maybe" glyph in Mushroom Canyon
Well, it all worked out,  though not quite like  I planned. First, I ended up, after a big climb and descent in the one I call Mushroom Canyon that I'd been in last year. I realized it pretty quickly and had to correct the mistake with an even bigger climb and descent into the next canyon on the north. It was all beautiful, so I didn't mind. The high bouldery mesa,the north facing hillside gray with a good growth of bunch grass, the distant views of our desert mountains, the deep V shaped ravine where far below among the  rocks and formations a quiet,sandy path awaited my exploration,all played wonderfully in my mind like music.

Yes, since finding a fantastic panel (really a large individual petroglyph) in Flying V Canyon last year, I'd been hoping to make lightning strike twice and find some more rock art in my several explorations of the Selden Hills this year. I'd been unlucky so far but that changed on Monday.
 I was delighted as always  to oh so casually come upon the first panel on a gray boulder, as if it was meant to happen.

 I had refrained from a lot of fruitless searching rocks on the hillsides,because as I looked back in my mind, the odds come down hard on the rock art being along, or in the arroyo itself. Now,this isn't true  in every instance, but it almost always has to be the place to start.
  I didn't find a lot of petroglyphs, but what I did find  struck me as odd, because of the seemingly wide disparity in styles. Someone out there with the experience and knowledge is welcome to explain.

 Seamus and I returned to our car going up several little ridges and plateaus, and down into their intervening arroyos, always on the look out for any signs of the people who went before, the ones who left behind the art on the rocks.
Note: I must, as I have before, tell everyone that this is NMSU property. Although, the area is not posted, enter with the knowledge that you may be considered a trespasser. Railroad property may be posted as well. It can be easier walking along( not on, please) the tracks,but I don't recommend it. Walk in the river bed  or up and down the brushy ridges like we did and cross where you need to. It's harder ,but more fun and less dangerous.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Foster Canyon- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Two years ago as I stood on the mighty summit of the Cedar Hills Highpoint, I looked out to the east and south and wished I had time to explore the broken country below me of  colorful craggy cliffs, along box arroyos running off in many directions. This area, the headwaters of Foster Canyon and the immediate surroundings of  the usually water less McCall Reservoir, despite its scenic qualities,  seems to be a  mostly overlooked destination( with the exception, perhaps, of those intrepid Ocotillo Hikers) and I, too, overlooked it for  many years after initially visiting the area back in the early 2000's looking for the travertine,onyx and marble deposits I had read about in a rockhounding guide.  Even after seeing the area with new eyes in 2013, I still didn't get out there until this past Sunday.
 The access road is right before Foster Canyon Trail on the west side of NM 185. There are a couple of rough hills which one should have high clearance for, but otherwise, the couple of miles to our trailhead was  an unremarkable drive. We set off to the north on a side road. In less than a mile, we came to the arroyo crossing and now headed downstream in the arroyo itself, which is larger tributary to the main Foster Canyon.

It quickly boxed up on us with tall cliffs banded rock, and just as quickly, after climbing down a small, polished waterfall, opened up again. Soon we were on the leg of our loop ( with a lollipop stick)in Foster Canyon itself,heading west. We were mostly walking in gravel( which beats sand) with a wall of desert  brush on either side of us. At a sharp bend, a very narrow canyon came in from the south. It looked intriguing,but I  wanted to stay on course. I'll have to check it out another day. We went up a side channel and then out of Foster Canyon and onto the hilly banks to shortcut to the canyon we wanted go up. We glanced at an old corral and then turned to the south  and headed upstream into the red rock  box canyon that I was hoping would be the highlight of the hike. First, though, we ate our lunch in the deep shade of a thriving scrub live oak growing where the canyon bottlenecks at a dry waterfall.

We negotiated going up this waterfall, and soon found ourselves in a little gem of a box canyon with 100 foot walls of alcove pocked volcanic rock. Large junipers grew, and isolated fins of the rough rock protruded from the hillsides. Seamus and I climbed up to an alcove with an overhang like a tongue that was almost at the top of canyon, but found nothing remarkable except the incredible views. Further  on we  were enchanted by  20 foot crack in the rock that formed an archway through which the blue sky radiated like a gemstone.


Just past the deepest part of canyon, we were stopped by a much higher,steeper and smoother dry waterfall. We had to backtrack a bit and found an exit,steep but manageable,on the east side, Now we walked along the mesa looking down into the more shallow upper part of the box.

Where the box ended we began walking in the arroyo again, just in time to have four deer bound away up the mountain to the south. The canyon was now just a shallow desert streambed that had curved around so that we were now headed east on the last leg of our loop. The country was open again, and both humans and canines were hot on this 65 degree(!) January day. We took our rest under  a lone juniper at the very head of the dry creek.


 We went over a saddle and down to an old silted in, and breached cattle tank. We walked on an old road that was headed to the road our truck was parked on,but then changed course and headed down a long tilted mesa to the portion of our original box canyon( with the banded rock) that was on the west side of the road. It had a few little boxy sections before opening up into a wide desert wash. We took our last rest and water in the only shade available provided by the steep walls. At the spur road we turned back south and climbed the hill to our truck. Note: I have refrained from naming this two canyons. You may see one of these canyons referred  to  on Panoramio photos as "Mini Grand Canyon " or  " Robledo Grand Canyon. It is not in the Robledo Mountains, but the Cedar Hills which is part of chain of low volcanic mountains ( that also includes the Sleeping Lady, Rough and Ready and the Selden Hills) that trend northeast and run in between the Sierra de las Uvas and the Robledos. That being said, I am indebted to Les Mckee who took those photos, provided the names and took the trouble to put them on Google Earth for sparking my interest in another wonderful, but unheralded place right in our own backyard.