Friday, June 23, 2017

Rim Trail, Heart Attack Canyon to Atkinson Field( FT 105,9629) - Lincoln National Forest

I've been chipping away at my goal of hiking all of the Rim Trail section by section for many years now. The parts closer to Cloudcroft, I did many years ago.  I did the section from Alamo Peak Road to Atkinson Field as part of loop using trails 111 and 109 a few years before starting this blog.  In 2011  I hiked  around 3 miles of the trail that winds around the heads of Nelson and Sawmill Canyons.Two years ago I did a section in the southern segment from Apache Point to the Moonshine Trail.Last year we did a loop involving the Cathey Canyon trail and the Rim Trail, which we extended to the San Andres Trail intersection. And three years ago I did the Heart Attack , San Andres loop using the Rim Trail( really FR 640) as the upper crossover. So, what's left? Mainly, it's the section from the southern trail head up to Hornbuckle Hill and on to the Moonshine Trail( a 6 or 7 mile hike one way that I'll split into two walks), and then two very short sections that total less than 2 miles.
 This was a pleasant little 4 to 5 mile out and back. It was probably nearly 85 degrees even over 9000 feet,but this section was shady enough to keep it fun. I parked along NM 6563 (Sunspot Highway) in a spot barely wide enough get my little Corolla all the way off the road. FT  9629 is not signed,but there was a path through an old downed gate threading through the trees by the highway and then a second old gate where the tread disappeared. It was easy enough just to walk up the open meadow( a small tributary of Rice Canyon) bearing northwest. It was an uphill third of a mile to the saddle and a sign marking the intersection with the Rim Trail, FR 640, and the Heart Attack Trail. FR 640 turns back to the east here, and  I  headed north on the Rim Trail( FT 105).
The next 4/10 of a mile are probably the least appealing part  of  this little hike. The trail is mostly wide( so open to the sun) and rocky as it makes a steady 400 foot climb to a flat topped little peak which afforded us our first and only open views to the west.

From there the trail becomes a rustic single track ( a rarity in the Sacramento Ranger District)as it descends and  then winds around the upper end of the west flowing Cherry Canyon.  The forest here is mostly firs with a few pines in the sunnier spots. There is quite a bit of new conifer growth. The aspens all seem to be very mature, although I did see a few sprouts here there, that have avoided being consumed. Oaks are filling in where they can. Most maps show the trail directly on FR 640 through part of this route, but it really follows it's own  way mostly as single lane hiking path as it passes a trick tank and some large aspens on its way to the intersection  with FT111 and FT109 and Atkinson Field,  a huge open meadow that's slopes toward the center where a small ephemeral pond forms after rains and spring snow melt. It does cross a long abandoned road which may be FR 2023 where there is sign pointing to FR 640.

It's always a bit  hard to tell when hiking on a week day,but it seems the entire 2 mile section I hiked receives only light use. It had no bike or motorcycle tracks, or even footprints( except the wapiti kind) that I could see,but recent rains could've erased them.  A small group of elk, and a couple of turkeys were my only fellow travelers on this trek.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dark Canyon Trail loop hike( FT 5700,FR 223)- Lincoln National Forest

This hike was on the Dark Canyon Trail and shouldn't be confused with the off-trail hike I did a couple of years ago in Dark Canyon itself. Overall, I would definitely recommend the canyon hike over this one, which, despite its name stays high on a ridge with nary a peep to be seen of its namesake canyon below. The reasons are several. Unfortunately, the Dark Canyon Trail, like many trails in the Sacramento District is really a retired timber road. It is wide and open to the sun,something my black dogs didn't appreciate.  I think I've finally learned after this outing, that  an ambient  temperature of 75 degrees doesn't really count for much if you're nearly continually in the sun wearing a black fur coat. Of course the canyon hike is open to the sun as well,but the cattle/wildlife path you follow( where you can find it) provides a much more intimate and natural setting for your walk. Even when you come upon an old road at the bottom, it's so overgrown with grass, that it hardly detracts. The  Dark Canyon Trail  on the other hand, has seen relatively recent logging activity so unsightly slash piles are common. This is especially true once the trail reaches a point on the ridge and heads back to the west, now above Wilmeth Canyon.
 We detoured for bit in upper Wilmeth to get in some deep shade provided by some of the few massive Douglas- firs there. I was hoping to find an errant spring,but we were already well above the ones that I visited a couple of years back. Which brings me to the  biggest  advantage the canyon hikes( Dark or Wilmeth) have on hiking up on the ridge: water. Both canyons have several perennial, strong springs. Even though I lugged along plenty of water for my dogs to drink( and my shoulders are feeling it now), they really need some water to get into to really to cool down. That all being said the last couple of miles of our trek were a bit of trial.
After  our detour we easily rejoined the  road a bit further up the valley,but then came upon a sign indicating we were on  FR 223F. I had never seen anything that would even vaguely lead me to believe we  had gotten off of, or that there was even an option of getting off of  FT 5700. But, I thought, wouldn't it just be my luck that there was a fork somewhere in the short section of trail we had bypassed to walk in the canyon.  I really didn't need the hike to any longer,but we backtracked to check and be sure.  None of us were happy now.  I was especially displeased with the Forest Service for leaving what I decided had to be an old sign from before the trails were renumbered and signed. Then despite being overheated and tired Seamus took off up a hill after something I never did see. I always panic when he does this, sometime it's bad,sometimes it's not. This time was a little bid bad but luckily, he returned quickly, so the duration was mercifully short. He did it again soon after, I was calmer, and he came back even more quickly the second time.
We rested in the shade for quite a while at the southern( Wilmeth) trailhead, and then rested frequently in the patches of shade along the last leg of our loop on FR 223, arriving back at the 4Runner after a  three  and a half hour hike. The main thing this walk had going for it is that it was relatively level, which is a rarity in the Lincoln, where most of the trails run from valleys up to ridges.
 Here are few recommendations if you choose to do this one despite the preceding tale.
 Hike real early on sunny summer days or when the sun has gone behind the ridge. Overcast days would work too, unless t-storms are coming, and then the huge, open to sky corridor you're walking in is not a good thing at all. Otherwise, don't bring the four legged friends. Finally as you may have guessed, this is not great foot trail,but I think it would probably be great beginners trail for ATV riding, or mountain biking.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Taylor,Schofield Canyon Loop( FT 5007,5007A,5007C,5007D) - Lincoln National Forest

This loop was my intended hike 11 months ago, when a lost set of key along the trail turned my day into an ordeal that I related in the blog entry " The Tale of the Schofield Canyon Trail."
This past  Sunday was similarly lovely day as the one in June, if a bit cooler, thankfully.
    We started out going up Schofield Canyon( FT 5007A). The steady climb over the first 3/4 mile took the chill off of us quickly. Most trees were leafed out with exception of the oaks. The creek almost entirely dry, but there was one mud puddle recently visited by elk. At the second intersection we headed east on FT 5007 D.
The next intersection is a bit confusing. Trail 5007C comes at you from two directions. Take the left branch that heads east. Taking the right will send on a winding path downhill and back to Schofield Canyon. When FT5007C drops down into a  head of stream valley, Forest Trail 5007( Taylor Canyon trail) is on your right, however, it is not marked which is highly unusual,  given the great links that have been gone to sign almost every trail in the Lincoln over the last decade or so. We walked by it, and then realized our mistake when the trail  we were on topped out on the ridge with no option for  FT 5007. We headed back down to what we now knew was  Taylor Canyon and the trail, which had dead, bloated,fly infested cow on it,that we gave a wide berth.

   Rather than stay with the trail( FT 5007) as  it  went up on the hillside to the left, we stayed in Taylor Canyon itself, which has a nice livestock/wildlife trail to follow through a narrow,mostly forested little valley. A short ways  down in a clearing,there was a  live spring emerging from the western hillside giving birth to a sweet little stream, which made me glad we had come this way instead of the trail that would have taken us much farther to the east and had us walking back on the frequently busy Upper Rio Peñasco Road.

  Seamus took  out up the hillside through this stretch after what we don't know,but returned in a few minutes. We saw the "road" that we  would use for our return trip on our right, but weren't sure if it was the one we wanted. Shortly afterward, we could see the paved road below us, and knew we had to backtrack to that very same road, which is really just a grass bottomed corridor through the forest.
Even though it appears on the forest map, it is no longer used by vehicles of any kind and was a very pretty bit of easy walking to finish up the 4- 5 mile loop. Despite the fact that these trails are just up the road from the very popular Bluff Springs area, we only encountered a couple of groups of turkey hunters moseying along very quietly on their ATVs.
NOTE: right above  the Upper Rio Peñasco Road, Taylor Canyon has a rugged little cascade that flows over limestone bedrock. The stream had dried up before reaching it when we visited( the spring is small and is also pumped and piped for livestock use) but I'm sure it does flow earlier in the Spring and in late Summer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

North Percha Creek (FT 757) - Aldo Leopold Wilderness( Gila NF)

It's probably been close to 10 years since we hiked here last and this was either the third or fourth time we've done this trail. The last time we tried, there was no place to park past the private property and before the first creek crossing which we did not attempt in our two wheel drive truck. There was much unhappiness backing up the narrow road and turning around that day( read about it in this blog's entry for April 21, 2014 " Black Range East Side"). The first part of road was clear this past Sunday( April 17,2017) and there was enough room to park  a hundred yards in or so,but I had forgotten completely about the treacherous first crossing and even though I had four wheel drive this time, I ended up doing the backing up trick again. I might've gone for it at the crossing, if my wife hadn't been with me. There is a fairly large camping and parking area on the other side, which would be the main advantage,because shortly afterward there is the second crossing which no one appears to be crossing at all, so  hiking time  added round trip amounts to something less than 10 minutes.
 Off we went with Seamus and Nessie. The creek was flowing nicely still, which was great for Seamus who loves to get right in, but bad for little Nessie who would rather not get even her feet wet.
 The streamside was delightfully overgrown with bright green bunches of willows and alder saplings, so sometimes it was easier to  just step from rock to rock in the stream rather  than look for a trail that wasn't there.  The Silver Fire did not touch the first couple of miles.It was nice to see all the firs and pines doing well on the steep hillsides. Along the stream besides the willows and alders were fully leafed out chokecherry, box elder and walnut. At the big horseshoe bend where you realize you're in canyon about a 1,000 feet deep there is small waterfall and every pool above it,as elsewhere in the stream, was alive with insects both on and below the surface of the crystal clear water.

 Past the  Virginia Mine the old road becomes easier to  follow  on the benches in the much widened stream valley. It was easy walking on  rapidly disappearing tread  that continued through grassy clearinsg and shady conifers.

There is nothing left of the large wooden building that I photographed almost 20 years ago, except for the sheets of tin that were once its roof and parts of an old woodstove.  It had collapsed on subsequent trip, and now there's not even a a trace of old  dried lumber which was surely instantly turned to ash and blown on the breeze as stringers from the Silver Fire made their way down the mountain.Another nearby  building that's built into the hillside and still had its glass window and tin roof back then is just the cobblestone walls now.

Effects of the fire are most obvious as we approached the gorge. Where once a lush forest concealed all but the tops of the 500 foot high cliffs of bare igneous rock from view, now the entire  buttress of stone  that is the north wall is visible from quite a ways back. There are surviving trees however, so the view isn't entirely bleak ( see my blog " North Percha Creek" from 5/26/10 to compare images).

 The gorge is one of the most spectacular places that I know of in the Black Range,and  making it even better, as if  in confirmation of how special this place is, are ancient pictographs on the overhanging walls at the base of the cliffs.

As we walked further up the narrow canyon, I spied a tom turkey walking up the steep hillside on my left. Seamus clued in, and even as I tried to discourage him, went in pursuit. Well, we were all more than a bit surprised when this huge bird took to the air and flew over our heads back down the canyon. The stream runs over bedrock  through most of this section and I was hoping to see a little cascade further upstream  I  remembered from years ago but, we turned around before finding it. Walking back, with our necks craning at the immense rock towers on either side of the canyon, we took many photographs, but I knew that none would really do this place justice. You would need much better photography equipment,  but really it's better to just be there.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Diablo Canyon-BLM Taos District, Santa Fe National Forest

We went out to hike this canyon west of Santa Fe last Saturday (3/25/17). Rock climbing on the  towering columns of basalt seems to be the main draw here. Folks with ropes and helmets easily outnumbered the handful of day hikers we met along the way, even though it was a very pleasant first weekend of Spring.

The short box section is the real attraction here, and it had us craning necks with the requisite amount of awe. Unfortunately,once past the box, the hike became a rather monotonous trudge in the much widened, thick sands of the shadeless Buckman Wash.

We had planned to hike down to the river which would have made a roundtrip journey between 5 and 6 miles,but the bright sunshine and open terrain had us taking our black dogs for refuge under one too many scraggly juniper, so we made the decision to turn back with about 3/4 of mile still left to go.The clouds came soon afterwards which made our walk back much more pleasant.

 On our return we saw many chains dangling from one overhang, and I wasn't sure I entirely I approved of the practice of installing permanent anchors.
 After arriving back at the parking area, we drove the remaining couple of miles of the Buckman Road down to the river, where the wash creates a break in the rugged cliffs. It was high, brown,  and foamy with a large rapid that was running backwards just downstream from us. A very raw and uninviting time and place to contemplate our beloved Rio.

The Taos BLM website had great directions to the Diablo Canyon and other attractions on BLM land in the northern New Mexico. Check it out.