Sunday, December 31, 2017

Coyote Tank Canyon-Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 Seamus and I went out to explore the upper reaches of this canyon that's cut into the escarpment on the south side of the Uvas Mountains. It was a breezy,but sunny winter afternoon as we started out just short ways west of the Corralitos Road. I had wanted to find a way to drive out to the water tank on the low mesa, but the road situation in this area is a mess. Wash-outs and brush, disappearing tread, and alternate routes that go nowhere all add up to a very confusing bit of ground. There still may be a way to drive out to the tank yet,but this, shortest day of the year, was not the day to look for it. We hiked  on the road and made it to the tank in short order,and then it was northwest cross country toward some junipers in the distance that mark where the canyon comes onto the flatlands.
I saw a deer that Seamus luckily didn't. He did chase a couple of jackrabbits though. We flushed out one good sized covey of quail as well.
 There is fantastic boulder field on the benches of the east side of the steep canyon where we explored, looking for rock art. We found none.

 In the highest sections of the stream courses on either side of the main canyon  were lines of junipers leading up to the plateau above us. The ultra-rugged qualities of this highest section of the canyon would seem to preclude its use by ancient peoples,but we still looked a little longer. We then made our way to the creek bed for bit.

 Eventually we got out of the creek to  head back to the tank, which was brimming with water,but must be for storage and distribution only, as it was too high for cattle to use. We got off the road at one point to walk straight to our vehicle.Unfortunately, this more direct line of our return approach was made difficult by the myriad of dessicated, but still potently thorny weeds that covered the much of the territory. Just a few hours out in our desert, another of my many quick-hikes done.
NOTE:I'm calling this Coyote Tank Canyon because the stream leads right to Coyote Tank on the east side of the Corralitos Road. It is a tributary of Silva Canyon. This is not Coyote Canyon a short distance to south.

Monday, December 18, 2017

San Lorenzo Canyon

  This canyon is a wide wash where I-25 crosses it, but a few miles to the east it has wonderful box section with towering formations and cliffs. There is a many nook and cranny to explore in the numerous side channels as well. Unfortunately we only had time for  quick picnic, while returning home from a trip to Santa Fe. After eating we drove to where vehicles of all kinds must turn around, but now that I've had a first look at this little gem, I will be back for a hike. It's easy enough to get to, just take exit 156 ( Lemitar) and then follow the signs on  the west side frontage road. Once the driving in the canyon itself begins, four wheel drive may be needed, but the dirt roads heading there are excellent. Perhaps because it's so easy to get to, it appears this place is pretty popular, so don't expect to be alone, especially on a weekend.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fillmore Canyon, In-Between Peak- Organ Mountains

Organ Peak

Baldy Peak

 Believe it or not, I really am a fan of taking the path of least resistance. It just happens that frequently for the destinations I choose there is no such path. I'm also very much in favor of avoiding danger in the routes that I choose. I'm happy to take the long way to forego anything too risky. I also prefer, if I can, to find a way to make the journey as rewarding as the ultimate destination.
 I wanted to climb Baldy Peak( or Organ Baldy) in the Organ Mountains. My research had turned up two routes. The first one involves climbing around the waterfall in Bar Canyon, and then continuing on in the upper canyon until reaching the massive scree slopes on the southwest side, where
 the serious trudging begins. After that, the intrepid hiker who supplied this information, accessed the burnt-over, sun baked ridge for a walk to the top. This is probably the most expedient route, and it certainly does not appear too dangerous, but to my mind it sounded like a means to an end, with little to recommend it, except that it does get you to the top of the mountain.
 A second  route that I found that has been by used the Jornada Hikers meetup group is a loop using Ice and Little Ice Canyons.  I actually tried ascending both of these a couple of years ago on foggy and damp November day. I just gave up in Ice after climbing around several flowing little water falls where every step must be carefully chosen. I just plopped down beneath a small ponderosa, where I rested, drank and snacked, and then made my way back down with equal time consuming care. I then tried Little Ice, where I  fell into a waterfall (see the story in "Little Ice Canyon" in this blog). A maneuver that gave me pause, about trying either of these routes alone or when they are not bone dry, ever again. To their credit the  Jornada hiking group is abundantly explicit about the treachery involved, and in fact they appear to have cancelled this years hike because of lingering wet conditions.  Now, this second route is certainly replete with imposing and awe-inspiring scenery, even if,  it appears ( from their description and my own failed attempts) that one can hardly relax enough to enjoy it.
 I devised  a third route of going up the Fillmore Canyon trail, then onto a ridge on the south side  a short ways before the Narrows. That ridge connects with the U shaped ridge that surrounds the  headwaters of Ice Canyon and culminates in a lesser peak where it connects to the ridge that  runs between Organ Peak and Baldy Peak. From there I would descend to the east  face of Baldy and then up a tree filled gully on the southeast side that would hopefully connect to a walk up on the southwest sided.
 I got started a little later than I wanted at 8:30. I plowed through the catclaw, and up and down several  gullies taking a short cut straight out the back of the visitor center over towards Fillmore.
 I hadn't been back on the upper part of Fillmore Canyon in a number of years, and lost the trail by going down into the creek bed much sooner than I should've. I knew I would find it again eventually so I just enjoyed the ash trees in fall color and the sweet little trickles of water that flowed here and there. I got back to the trail and continued on along the south bank until the real crossing onto the north side. I lost the trail again, but only momentarily, in some thick shrubbery, just before the trail crossed back over to the south again.

 I met a couple in the rocky dry stream there, who said they were on the way to the "peak." I asked which peak, but they didn't seem to be sure.  I met then again as I rested before my ascent of the first ridge on my planned route.They were using a route on their  AllTrails app. I assumed it was Organ Peak, after explaining that they were now on military land, not on an official trail and that the trail would most likely disappear long before their ascent to the peak was complete. They told me that when the going got too steep they would most likely turn around. I chuckled inwardly, because, for most people, it would only take about 5 steps out of the canyon bottom  before they decided it was too steep. They seemed young  and fit enough,  and I did not discourage them. I didn't see or hear them again,but would've been curious as to how the rest of their hike turned out.
 I now began to climb the stupidly steep, although reasonably open ridge in front of me. The obstacles; low piñon and juniper branches branches, lechugilla spines, prickly pear, and the occasional jumping cholla, multiplied as I continued upward. When I hit the bedrock backbone jutting out from center line, I was happy to find easy passage through with only minimal scrambling. Eventually there was merciful leveling off, and some easy walking through golden grass and over fallen trees where I could catch my breath. The ravine on my left had been extensively burned. On the right was some of largest acreage of conifer forest in the entire mountain range.

Up and up, picking a path and clearing my way I steadily ascended to the first junction of ridges. From there, the climb to the In-Between Peak seemed like cake walk to what had preceded. I slowed down and enjoyed the views of Organ Peak,  and down the upper reaches of Ice Canyon and the un-named peaks on its north side. On top,  after noticing the abundant,dessicated mountain lion scat at my feet,I had unobstructed views down into North Canyon and beyond to the massive and rugged Rattlesnake Ridge.  I started down the slope toward Baldy Peak, just 1/2 mile away,  and realized, since it was already 12:10, that I was unlikely to summit before my ultimate turnaround time of 12:30.

I sat down and ate my lunch, mentally calculating how long it might take to plow through the low growing, now leafless oaks that grew in the gully I had planned on ascending.  I thought I spied a few aspen against the cliffs, but couldn't be sure from that distance. Despite knowing I wasn't going to reach my destination, I was happy to be up high in the Organs and to know that all that was needed to accomplish my goal was more time and daylight.
 It  had been hard, but it hadn't been that hard.
  A  curious stellar's jay hopped through the undergrowth to get a closer look at me. I packed up and began my return trip. I  didn't re-climb the peak but skirted around the head of Ice Canyon. It was a little slippery, but it cut off some distance and elevation gain. Now, instead of descending the same ridge, I opted to go down the wooded canyon immediately to the west. I slipped,slid and scooted on the thick bed of pine needles that covered the very, very steep slopes. It was delightful to be in a forest of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and Gambel oak even if it was nearly vertical.
Eventually I was in the rocky stream bottom, stepping over fallen trees, heading back to Fillmore Canyon. Close to the canyon's mouth there was a long bedrock cascade, that actually had some flow provided by a spring at its top.

Back in Fillmore I marveled at the massive boulders, the huge cliffs on its south side, and began to resent the fact that most of this  beautiful hike was not on our Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, but senselessly  still part of military land.

I saw and heard folks coming down from what I assume was a climb to Organ Needle high on opposite hillside. I didn't lose the trail. Someone had pitched a tent, that had not been there on my way up. I met a man looking for a way to the Yellow Rocks, and an extended family with crying toddlers looking for the waterfall. I snapped a photo of a lovely little ash tree, then made my way through the catclaw back to my car.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Indian Hollow, Dripping Springs- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Last Friday I took a group of 11 Las Cruces Public Schools staff and family members for a hike on the Indian Hollow trail on the east side of the Organ Mountains. It was probably my 10th time back there,but I hadn't been in at least 5 years. That, and being able to see it through the eyes of those who have never been, made the experience fresh and vibrant. Not that the imposing views of Sugarloaf and the high peaks of main ridgeline ever get old, especially when, on the slopes below, the ash, oaks, maples, and aspen are in their full autumn color.
It was beautiful day, if a bit warm. The trail was easy to follow,if not easy, as ever. Everything looked much the same as it always has in the 20 or so years I've been hiking there with just one exception. Right where the trail parallels and then crosses the main canyon that comes out of Indian Hollow, the Abrams Fire did extensive initial damage burning large live oak and juniper trees plus all the shrubs and smaller trees that once lined the stream banks. Secondary damage from flooding has stripped the soils away and exposed a wide stream bed of large bare boulders.  We didn't make it to the conifer forest behind Artemis Temple,but instead took our rest in the grove of Gambel oaks that sometimes serves as campsite for the rock climbers visiting Sugarloaf.

 On Saturday morning I went out solo on the east side of the Organs, starting out at the Dripping Springs visitor center with the main trail and then turning off north onto the Crawford Trail.Shortly thereafter I struck out east off trail, passing by some old wooden ruins early on that were almost completely hidden in the high golden grass. From there it was up to the piles of loose rock deposited by the rock glaciers descending from the wall of peaks directly east.

I began a trudge on a slope heading southeast. It was steep and slippery, but mostly shady, which was a good thing given my slow pace. Using an ash walking stick I had brought and a dried sotol stalk in tandem I leveraged myself  up to the saddle, and then continued climbing on the increasingly narrow,rocky little ridge.

Eventually, I found a deer trail that led me through some pinons,live oaks, and mountain mahogany clustered tightly against the rocks all the way up to a second saddle where there were views  both to the south and north. Nearly a thousand feet below me was the old hotel, sanitarium and stage stop of the  19th century Van Patten mountain camp.

To the south and southwest were Squaw Mountain and the ridges and peaks that extend eastward from the southern Organs. To the northeast, the views extended across the east mesa to the Dona Anas, Robledos, and Uvas Mountains all the way to the Black Range 100 miles away.

 I might've gone a little farther,but I felt a little unsure without a companion so I called it the turnaround point at around 10:15. Initially, I followed the same route down,but then wandered out onto a ridge that extended to the southwest  all the way down to the Dripping Springs trail. It was rough here and there, but I came out  with relatively few holes and scratches, certainly far fewer than I was expecting from the cholla, prickly pear and lechugilla. All along I could see and hear practically every word( sometimes they sounded so close I was sure another hiker was nearby) from the many people taking advantage of the entrance fee being waived for Veteran's Dan weekend. None seem to notice me, a small lone figure, on the side of huge mountain.
NOTE: After checking on Google Earth and topo maps, the Dripping Springs hike that I did appears to crossover onto to military lands.