Monday, September 26, 2016

Kemado Canyon Box - Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

This heretofore nameless arroyo and canyon that runs between Broad Canyon and Horse Canyon, I am christening Kemado Canyon because it starts its run as grassy troughs, rocky ravines and sandy stream beds gather on the west flanks of Sierro Kemado Mountain. It continues east gradually cutting down into the plateau for a little over three and a half miles. It then boxes up for about a half mile in a tight little canyon before opening up into some horseshoe bends after which it becomes a wide multi- channeled wash as it makes its way to the Rio Grande.

 My hike consisted mainly of exploring the box.  I had intended to check out  the bends just beyond,but it was a little too warm and time was running short. Perhaps I'll get back there this winter because it really is a neat place.
 Getting there is relatively simple, although it would be much easier just to walk upstream from NM 185. Unfortunately, it looks like that route is blocked by private property. So, I had to take the Barksdale Road ( E-006) for about 7 miles and then take a left onto E-006A. After about  three and a half  miles, there is a  fork where a  sign says  that the county maintenance ends. I continued straight( left) onto a primitive,but decent road for another mile or so and parked where it comes very close to the edge of Kemado Canyon.
Down the rocky hillside I went, and then into the arroyo itself. Initially the bedrock and cliffs were  the pebble, cobble, boulder conglomerate mixed with crossbedded sandstone layers that is so common around the area. But as the strata changed to igneous, the exciting little box began.
It is similar to the narrow passages in Angostura, Valles and Broad Canyons that cut through the same type of rock, but this one has that truly closed in feeling that made it special. It also has 5 or 6 dry waterfalls that must be negotiated. Happily, all but one can be safely managed by either going left or right. The highest one, I had to go down the long chute itself but it really was a minor scramble in both directions.

 In the canyon bottom were hackberry and soapberry trees, lemon verbena and apache plume which softened the  rough appearance of the canyon walls considerably. Water lingered in natural cisterns carved into the gray basalt with streaks of white agate which looks uncannily  like someone has tossed paint onto the rocks. A good sized mule deer bounced up the hills above me. Nests of large twigs were set on a ledge in an alcove and hawks circled above. No snakes were encountered,but lizards did hurry to and fro.

 When I had approached the trailhead, it was overcast, but as soon as I had started hiking the clouds parted and the sun beat down. When the box opened up, I only walked a few shadeless steps before deciding to turn around. Then, as I got to the car, the blanket of  clouds returned. Oh well, so will I, but in the winter months.

Soledad Canyon, Bar Canyon Trail - Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 I took a group of  Las Cruces Public School employees plus a few of their family members on the Soledad Canyon, Bar Canyon loop trail on Saturday. I've been there many times before, but it's  been a  few years since I've gone and it's always nice to see a place with fresh eyes. Several people had never been there before, which also makes it fun. It really was beautiful to see  the basin there lush and green.  The weather was perfect. Morning glories popped out  in the grass and shrubs which was a treat. Other wildflowers while not abundant, still kept things colorful and we even saw one hummingbird in attendance. Unfortunately, the waterfall was barely a trickle, but I have a good feeling that folks will be coming back to see it in better form. I didn't take any pictures, but it inspired me to dig through the archives  and this is what I found.

This old rock homestead has crumbled considerably since this picture was taken

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Prestridge Trail West ( FT 9611 A) - Lincoln National Forest

 We went out and did this short( 2.4 mile roundtrip) hike on Sunday. We had tried to do it a few weeks ago,but were turned back by lightning and rain. The  trail follows an rapidly disappearing road full of chunks of gray limestone. It goes down steeply at first, but eventually levels out where a side canyon comes in from the south.
Here,we found a beautiful meadow with widely spaced old growth trees, including some truly massive ponderosa pines.  We sat on a log here and ate our sandwiches and chili cheese Fritos. A little further on, there was a livestock tank with a small amount of muddy water in it. There is no other water source in the canyon. Past the tank there were huge oak trees and eventually an " end" sign, along some others prohibiting unauthorized vehicle use which marked the beginning of Camp Mary White and private property.

 On the way back up deep blue Stellar's Jays glided with wings outstretched from tree to tree. A nut hatch couple moved up and down a fir trunk before flitting away. Red backed squirrels easily climbed high up into the pines to the consternation of my earth bound dogs. The breezes also stopped,the humidity soared and the sweat poured. I  had planned to hike the nearby Prestridge East Trail ( FT 9611 B) but that humidity had it seeming like a less than pleasant prospect, so when we returned we explored along the road( FR 551), which has wonderful views to the east, before getting in our vehicle and heading back. It was too much driving( around 4 hours) for such a short hike( around 2 hours), but at least I can recommend the trail as  a nice place to get away from the crowds( well, there was one group camping nearby) in the Lincoln National Forest.NOTE; you may find a loose sign at the trailhead that says FT 9611 B. It's not. The sign at the end of the trail  that was sunk into the ground indicated that this was indeed FT 9611 A.  Although I didn't see it while there, FT 9611 B looks to be( on maps) about 4/10 of  a mile further south on FR 551.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Box Canyon revisited- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

I had  only done this hike once before about eighteen years ago. Over the ensuing years, I've only visited the Box Canyon Recreation Area a  handful of times even though it's so very close to Las Cruces. That nearness may be part of the reason I've shied away  because it brings city folk whose idea of outdoor recreation is drinking beer, shooting guns, and building fires- all of which the BLM now prohibits in this area. This is a shame because this little piece of broken country is wonderfully scenic  and it may be that the party people put off many folks( myself included at times) because with the exception of a few jeep enthusiasts and groups climbing Picacho Peak the area is frequently devoid of people. For sure the scale of things isn't jaw dropping, but that also makes it an easy place for the less experienced hiker to begin taking on some off trail exploring.
 I parked on the dam, but it's also available to park just below it.  I walked down the little trail. Water was flowing from  an opening in near the bottom of  dam and water in the desert always makes me happy.

I  continued on downstream noticing there were a few scrub oaks mixed in with the mesquite that lines the sandy creek bottom. There is also the non-native salt cedar as well, but it hasn't taken over here as it has in many places along the Rio Grande. Desert shrubs were blooming and bees were humming everywhere. It was a tolerable 80 degrees, so I didn't feel too weird about hiking in desert while the summer is still on. Soon, I entered the twisty little section of real box canyon, which was much nicer than I remember, with rough, protruding walls that were high enough to cast deep shadows in the early afternoon. I spied a couple of ancient grinding holes in the bedrock near where I'm sure seeps in the cliffs have caused a profusion of stinging nettle to grow.

A little further down there are remnants of an old road the will help you around a small dry waterfall( although it's very easy to manage if one wants to continue in the streambed). There is also a opening in the cliffs on the south side here as well.

 I turned to the north  where the canyon met with Spring Canyon and explored upstream for awhile before turning around. There are many pockets of teal colored rock through out this area which I'm sure would have interested old time prospectors,but no metal deposits have ever been confirmed. I was also curious about the many areas of gray and brown rocks and gravelly soil that  are completely devoid of vegetation. Is this result of persistent overgrazing, inhospitable soil types, recurring droughts or all of the above?
 On my return trip I ventured a short ways past the confluence so I could return to Box Canyon via the little window in the cliffs I has seen earlier. A barn owl was flying among the trees and cliffs,but like the owl that I saw a few years ago in nearby Spring Canyon's box, he wouldn't co-operate for a photo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Arroyo Hondo Creek( FR 79) - Santa Fe National Forest

 One of the problems with researching hikes on the internet is forgetting to mind the dates when the various trip reports were published. This past Saturday I had the mistaken notion that we could  use the old Glorieta Baldy Trail ( FT 272)  from its lower end either to hike to  the peak or the old ghost town site in Glorieta Canyon. It used to be one could park at the Glorieta Conference Center. The locked gate at the entrance dictated otherwise. We searched around on County Road 63 and Forest Road 375 thinking there was an alternate trail down to the canyon. There isn't, although the very rough FR 375 used to go all the way to Glorieta Baldy Peak, and may still be able to get you close. We gave up that day, but a began to devise another forest hike that would still be close to the house we were renting in Galisteo and far from the Labor Day Weekend crowds.
I settled on the trail head for the "new" Glorieta Baldy Trails ( FT 175 and FT 176) on Forest Road 79 as the place to start our exploration. I didn't intend to use the trails to climb the peak as they are quite long( over six miles one way to the top), but I thought we could find something nice to sustain us for a morning's walk.

 FR 79 is heavily eroded in many places with deep ruts that run across the roadway. On several steep inclines it is nothing more than bedrock and in situ gravel. Although we saw one sedan that made it to the trail head, I'm still going to strongly recommend high clearance and if it's even a tiny bit wet four wheel drive as well.
 FT 175 takes off to the east from the parking area,but it didn't appeal to me for some reason so we continued walking on the very,very sub-standard FR 79 down a extremely steep section of washed out road. Although, we did see motorized vehicle tracks along the road further along, I 'm sure from which direction they originated, but I will say that driving this section of road is not for the casual four wheel drive operator, and if you plan on biking or hiking just park at the top like a sensible person.
 At the bottom, a small running stream was being fed by springs from a side canyon and a lush growth of grass  and willows crowded its banks. I didn't  know it at the time, but we were in the headwaters of Arroyo Hondo, where it turns from heading south to southwest. The flowing water,wet meadows of grass and wildflowers were unexpected delights. We continued on the road congratulating ourselves on our good fortune. Also unexpected, since we were so close to Santa Fe was the fact that we saw only five bicycle riders and one hiker during the three hours or so we were hiking. There was quite a contrast between wet and green environs of the creek bottom lands and the dry red dirt and needles of the second growth pine forest, mostly less than two foot diameter trees. There were oaks as well, here and there, along the edges of the pines.
Next to stream were just the occasional willows, a few elms and just one boxelder. Even though this is a relatively dry part of the forest the recent rains had brought out all manner of mushroom and fungi pushing up through the dirt and pine straw.

A mile or so in, the canyon , which had been series of open meadows, narrowed, and the stream and road became one for a short ways. At a rocky passage was an old gate, propped open. It said private,but had some other silliness like little skulls  and "keep out - this means you" carved in the wooden sign, which made it hard to take too seriously, given that the gate was open and had no lock on it.We saw the  bikers tracks and other vehicle tracks had come through so we went through also.
 About a mile and a half from where we started the road forked  and we chose the left branch.Aspens began showing up along the streambed  as the the valley narrowed even more. To our surprise the road ended at a huge abandoned house, guarded  by a shot up propane tank sitting atop a rusty 50 gallon drum, which frightened my little Nessie. I would guess it was built, and most likely never finished sometime in late 70's or 80's. I wondered if it was one of those projects taken on by folks who were of the mind to try and live on old mining claims for the minimal yearly fee, but I really have no idea what the history of the place is, although it seemed likely to both of us that it revolved around drugs.

On our way back we explored up the other fork as well, which had some beautiful camping spots. That fork quickly forked as well with the left branch going up steep rutted hill, while the right continued along the stream course. It was a beautiful day in this seemingly obscure corner of this very popular forest.