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.