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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Organ Eye-Peña Blanca Wilderness Study Area

The Peña Blanca Wilderness Study Area, I would guess, is the least visited of the Organ Mountains three WSA's.  The only trails are the unofficial ones in Achenbach and Ladera Canyons. Private property along Ladera Canyon Road and Peña Blanca Loop blocks access from maintained roads. Two unmaintained roads, one on the southern boundary and one on  the eastern leave a lot to be desired.  All these reasons, plus the fact that it lacks a "destination" feature combine to keep it's nearly 5,000 acres very wild. Why it is still just a study area, I'm not really sure.
  I've known about the Organ Eye for several years and finally took the plunge to find it on the second day of my spring break. The eastern boudary road into the trailhead  starts just past the Sierra Vista trailhead on the county road. It was my first adventure of several that day. Let's just say it's not great and if you don't have high clearance and the option of four wheel drive, find someone who does.
 I haven't been out to this area in several years, and had forgotten how scenic the southern Organs are. Massive ribs of pock-marked volcanic tuff, immense rusty red towers and jagged formations that puncture the soft curves of the hillsides, though not comparable to the world class Needles a few miles to the north,make the ridgeline south of Achenbach impressive as a desert range on its own.

 I started out from the trailhead  situated between the foothills of the ridge and a small detached mountain. There was a trail patted down in the grass and still curled poppies. It followed and crossed the arroyo and then headed up a ridge between the main canyon on the south and smaller  side branch. The the trail disappeared. For reasons( other than the lack trail, which the readers of this blog  know doesn't deter me in slightest) that don't reflect well on your author, I  ended up going back downhill. I  decided subsequently  to climb a steep hillside on the south, thinking there was natural arch there to be seen. Nothing doing, but nice views, although none of the Organ Eye. I then angled my way down  and began up the main canyon, which I thought of dubbing " Fool's Canyon" because only a fool would want to go up it through the spanish dagger, catclaw, whitethorn, mesquite and octotillo without even a trace of trail.There was an odd sort of dwarf forest of soapberry trees just beginning to leaf out which brought some sweetness to the unrelenting thorniness of the vegetation.

 I spotted a very small arch and climbed up,around and then behind it to get a look. I thought there was a larger arch beneath, but no dice. Now I continued up the hillside and got my first look of what I thought was the Organ Eye, looking from that vantage point like the entrance to large cave.

 It was getting hot already and I still had 500 feet of elevation gain to go, but I decided to give it shot. I sidehilled on  deer trails, in and out of gullies, careful not lose any significant elevation as made my way toward the dry cascade just below the "cave." Eventually I was directly across from the massive fin of rock and the Organ Eye, at its base, was visible for the first time. I edged my way slowly across the bedrock of the waterfall and a ledge and then I was in the Eye, grateful for the first shade of the day.

 The Organ Eye is the largest arch formation I know of in the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.  It is not well known, and from the lack of graffiti, trash and evidence of campfires it seems to have very few visitors. I was happy to be there and took many photos to commemorate the occasion.

I decided to go out the northern entrance and then down the steep slope. When walking down rough, treacherous terrain like this, it's best to forget taking anything resembling a straight route. Any direction that allows a few free steps that aren't uphill works. Just keep moving  generally where you want to go and  don't be afraid to find a better option.
 I went over a low saddle and found  a couple of cairns and soon was back on my original path from several hours before. The poppies were open now and it made me smile to see them after so many years absent.