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.

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