Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cañoncito Seco Trail- Santa Fe National Forest


The house we were renting, the Canoncito Seco Retreat, is situated  on Cañoncito Seco just above the its  confluence with Cañones Creek. The property also has two other houses and a small orchard with frontage on Cañones Creek, and erstwhile trout stream, which I investigated and found no fish and the water quite warm.

 Out the backdoor is the Santa Fe National Forest and a trail leading up Cañoncito Seco. The property blocks entry from the bottom and it is highly unlikely anyone will make their way very far down from the upper end, so it essentially is private trail for the property's owners and visitors.  I'm not sure that's the best situation. In the past I've lamented about small parcels of private property here in southern New Mexico that block convenient access to huge tracts of BLM land. And it did bother me that adjacent  private property  blocks access to upstream to the box canyon of Cañones Creek where I'm sure that what few trout are left in the stream still dwell. But, that's life. In this case I took it as little gift and proceeded on.
  The path runs along a very lush section of the Cañoncito Seco, which flows here fed by several springs. A wide variety of deciduous trees and shrubs including locust, water birch, narrow leaf cottonwood, ash, and oak grow here. The droopy evegreen ( or gray in this case) Rocky Mountain juniper is mixed in as well.
 Just a short ways past the gate, where we entered the Santa Fe National Forest, we passed the last of the springs and the canyon became more to true to the seco( dry) part of its name. Now there was juniper,ponderosa and piñon pines.We made the last damp crossing and continued up the west side on a clear trail running between lichen covered boulders of volcanic rock. Above us was the rough, peak like termination of Cañoncito Mesa. To the east  were the modest cliffs, and long slopes of Polvadera

 The trail crossed back over the dry bed, and became very rough as we ascended onto a bench on the east side. I was having doubts about the whole adventure, given my recent problems with my knee, and the difficulty of managing Scottie #2, Nessie, who must be on a leash. Also, the heat of the day was rising rapidly which meant our black dogs would be needing our water, as my hopes of finding anymore in the cañoncito dwindled.
Up on the bench,we were exposed to the sun, but at least it was level,smooth walking. Eventually the trail went down again, where we walked anywhere from 5 to 25 feet above and right along the dry creek bed. As we traveled higher the vegetation changed, at least right along the water course. Pines gave way to firs, and even a few aspen showed up.

There was Rocky Mountain maple, and deciduous oaks  as well. This propped up my hopes that water would appear again, and it may very well be  that it does run most years through this section, but just not this year in this very dry July we have had.The trail which is used by wildlife, and maybe a few cattle, is clear below, but not above chest height through some thickest of  shrubs and vines in this section as well. We just had to push through.
 What kept us going despite all of the problems, were the spectacular views of the sheer cliffs on the west side of the canyon. Made of the reddish orange volcanic rock found throughout the region and growing to hundreds of feet of high, we knew we were traveling through the deep box and the most scenic section of the Cañoncito Seco. Where the cliffs began coming back down to earth. We stopped and rested on some boulders right in the still dry streambed. If one were to continue on, the cañoncito become meadow creek with surrounded by a spruce/fir forest in its upper reaches similar to, but most likely with even less water than Cañones Creek.

 It wasn't  what we expected. We had both been picturing something like the  stroll on a grassy path in lush riparian shade that started the hike, for the duration. After all, it's not that unusual for streams in New Mexico called dry or seco to have plenty of water in them. Big Dry Creek, which is a trout stream in the Gila, comes to mind.  Anyway we still enjoyed it and will return  in cooler times when there will be abundant fall color and maybe  some more water.

Forest Roads 100,99- Santa Fe National Forest ( Coyote Ranger District)

     As it turns out getting to the trailhead for the Cañones Creek Trail( see previous blog) was more than half the fun. Forest Road 100 starts just east of Youngsville and took us up from the  desert and chaparral country to a high mountain plateau with forests of spruce and fir, and huge open meadows. There were abundant views to the redrock cliffs across the Chama Valley, Pedernal Peak and down into the box of Cañones Creek.

 Forest Road 99 continued  the journey past  many lovely, shaded campsites adjacent to more meadows that had shallow depressions where water could gather naturally, after summer rains and the spring snow melt. They were dry at present, though, because of the failure of our monsoon season  to actually start. 
 Both these roads are wide and well maintained and could be driven by any vehicle under dry conditions.

Cañones Creek Trail( FT 82)- Santa Fe National Forest

Even though the lower end of this trail was just a couple of miles up the road from the house were renting, access is blocked by private property, so we had  to take the long way around( 20 miles) using NM 96 to Youngsville and then Forest Roads 100 and 99 to the upper trail head.
 We started off  at around 10,000 feet up on the huge dissected plateau that is the north side of the Jemez Mountains. The trail took us gradually and then increasingly more steeply down a side drainage that was dry( I expected at least a trickle)  and was full of dead conifers.

We emerged after less than a mile in the open meadows of upper Cañones Creek. We went down to the stream so our dogs could drink and cool off. Unfortunately what we found was mostly trampled mud and close cropped grass with only the occasional puddle of clear water. The never-ending drought in New Mexico continues. It was very reminiscent of our trip to the upper meadows of Canjilon Creek four years ago.

 We hiked downstream and where the stream entered a more forested section, it dried up altogether leaving only gray rocks and gravel. We continued down a little more where it acquired a weak flow from  a couple of feeble springs. That's where we called it quits, sat in the grass and  ate lunch. I had had plans of doing a little fishing. So much for that. There may be better water  and at least a few fish in the box canyon section lower down, but that will have to wait for another trip.  More direct access to this middle reach is had using FR 100, FR 173 and FT 102. As it turns out,I had left my reel behind,  which would have been very frustrating had there been anything to catch.
  On the way back, our dogs were giving us fits, as we tried to wrangle them up the trail. All they wanted to do chase the many, many chipmunks that emerged from every nook and cranny among the boulders in the meadow. When we got back in the woods, we picked and ate the many tiny wild strawberries that grew at our feet. When I would pop a good one into my mouth it tasted like the distilled essence of a larger berry- all gone in the briefest of seconds.
 Getting back to the level ground at the trailhead, we heard our first thunder, got in the 4Runner and head back off the mountain.
NOTE: There is what appears to be an abandoned project to fence the upper reaches of this creek, with gates( I assume that  cattle could be let in to drink or cross the stream at these junctures) and posts installed but no wire. If anyone has any information about this,please comment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pumphouse Ridge Trail 5( FT 5661Q)- Lincoln National Forest

We thought we would get out of the heat,but we were unsuccessful. An arrival time at noon, temperatures in the 80's even at the nearly 9000 foot altitude up on the ridge, and the fact that this trail, an old logging road, is almost entirely open to the sun made this little hike of less than 2 miles something to be endured, not enjoyed. We were hot, our black dogs were very hot. The clouds would not cooperate in covering the sun. Breezes blew, but they were hot.  We did enjoy our lunch in the shade of some pines at the trail's end,but the original plan to do this trail and the Pumphouse Ridge 4( FT 5661H) was scrapped without a word spoken. We drove to the end of the road to kill some time  instead and then headed home. What we needed was a hike with shade, or a running stream, but really both. Altitude alone did not help in the end.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Tale of the Schofield Canyon Trail ( FT 5007A)- Lincoln National Forest

    Once upon time, your truly, The Explorer, decided to go on a little hike, the day before he was scheduled to begin a series of family visits to Magnolia, Texas; Danbury, Connecticut and Putney, Vermont. His knees had felt a little creaky lately( foreshadowing here), but he figured it was okay, as he wasn't planning anything too epic, just a little jaunt in the forest on actual trails. Well, everything started off alright that Monday morning in June. He arrived at Schofield Canyon, an unassuming  upper tributary of the Rio Penasco, and off he went with his two Scotties, Nessie and Seamus, on a pleasant, clear morning. There was trickle of water in the tiny stream, and the trail side grasses were greening up nicely already, due to a steady diet of late spring rains.He snapped a photo looking back down the steep,but not ridiculously steep hill he had come up,and continued the peaceful hike on what was once an old road now turned trail.
  About 3/4 of a mile in, they all came to the intersection with FT 5007C  and took a water break.That's when the explorer realized he did not have his keys.He panicked a little,but then quickly came to the conclusion that in all likelihood they were on the ground somewhere very close to his vehicle. The reason he thought this was because about a 11 months previous, in another national forest, he had realized he didn't have his keys, and after much anxiety ridden searching up and down the trail, had found them 3 feet from the passenger side door.
Of course he couldn't be totally sure that was case, and since they had only come less than a mile, he thought it prudent to backtrack now, retrieve them, and then re- start the hike with peace of mind. Ha! Fate had a different sort of adventure in mind. For good measure, he did the best he could to check the gravelly trail and its environs, even as Nessie pulled him downhill with all her tiny might. Back at his wonderfully white 2016 Toyota 4Runner, the keys were not  to be found.It was locked,so even though he was 99% positive that that meant they were not in the vehicle, he looked inside every window. They were not to be seen. The day, himself and his dogs were rapidly becoming hot at this un-shaded trailhead,but what choice did they have but go  back up the trail in search, and then back down, and then back up and then down.  Oh,in case you are wondering, there is no cell service in this part of the Lincoln, and the only other keys were with his wife in Virginia.
 On one of his returns,  right across the Rio Penasco Road( County 17, or FS 164),some rancher folk were unloading horses and rounding up cattle that had gotten inside the electric fence that enclosed a  section of the Rio Penasco. He knew how the ranchers felt about this fence, put in place by the Forest Service to protect habitat for the Meadow Jumping Mouse. He decided to not ask for their help, not because he thought they wouldn't have given it to him, but because they were not having the best of days either.
 Shortly thereafter, some plainclothes forest service personnel arrived, and agreed to help once they returned from checking with the above mentioned rancher folk. The Explorer sat in the shade on banks of the Penasco which was flowing nicely, ate some snacks and rested with his pups. Some more forest service personnel arrived, and he told them his plight as well. When the original ones he had contacted returned, there was much talk about what to do if the damnable keys could not be found. He was already intimately aware of what had to be done because, almost exactly a year ago his wife had flown to Virginia with both sets of keys, necessitating a call to locksmith who came and made keys  for him in the parking lot of an Albuquerque hotel( cost: in excess of $300!). He could scarcely wrap his mind around the idea that this bizarre circumstance, which he felt so certain would happen only once in his life was happening again only one year later.
 There was much discussion, about the many steps involved in extricating himself from the situation. He would have to be driven the ranger station, to call a locksmith down in Alamogordo to come out and make keys. Besides the expense,  humiliation, and his two long suffering but obviously miserable dogs, there was something else eating at him: the keys had to be on the trail somewhere. He had stayed within five feet of the path the whole time.Even as he had been looking, now hours, earlier, he did realize that  every time he looked away,for even a fraction of second to control his dogs or mind his footing,  was a perhaps a lost opportunity for  finding the keys.
 He decided to hold off on the most drastic solution, and the group,all volunteers and employees  of the National Forest Service, cheerfully decided to help him look for the cursed keys. First, they looked all around and in( as best they could) the car and then headed up the trail. His heart was lightened  by the companionship of these strangers as he talked and laughed with them. 15 minutes later one  of them found the janglers of steel and plastic that were the key to his happiness.
The Explorer was overjoyed as he thanked them all profusely. All's well that ends well.  Except fate had one more twist( literally and figuratively).
  The helpers went on their way and he, he took his dogs down to the  little Rito Penasco for a dip in the cooling waters.He was relieved, but exhausted like they were, and he stepped a little strangely as he was pulled by Nessie down the bank. That's when something went sideways in his knee, his leg buckled and a searing pain almost brought him to the ground. He hobbled with them over to the stream, as  the pain grew steady and persistent, and the muscles and tendons stiffened to stone. Things like this had happened before so despite the pain, he subsequently  drove down the road to look at the waterfall at Bluff Springs and the trail head for Taylor Canyon( FT 5007) and then drove the very scenic Karr Canyon Road down to NM 82 on his return trip.
Upon returning home,however, he had the creeping suspicion, due to being barely able to walk, that  this pain was  not  going away any time soon.  His adventures on more or less one leg while traveling by car and plane over the next several days fall outside the purview of this blog
Torn medial meniscus.