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.

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