Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Arroyo Hondo Creek( FR 79) - Santa Fe National Forest
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.