Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Gallinas Creek - Gila National Forest

I've now section hiked Gallinas Creek from its uppermost headwaters down to its confluence with Silver Creek, which more or less covers the length within the Gila National Forest boundaries. I know it crosses onto private land a little lower down from where I turned around, but the beyond Silver Creek, and actually perhaps  mile or so before, Gallinas becomes the typical extremely over- utilized, lower elevation Gila stream  and is a sad sight to behold, so to me there was no point in prolonging the misery.
 I started out this trip parking just outside the now closed Lower Gallinas Campground. I walked past the gate and down the fading two track.  Nature is taking over here the last four years, and it won't be much longer before FR 984, and most other traces that there ever was campground here will be concealed by grasses,wildflowers,shrubs and weeds. The old outhouses will last for a long time ( if they aren't moved), but in the future folks might wonder about their placement.
 It's bit sad,because Lower Gallinas was a lovely place to camp or picnic, as was the section of Upper Gallinas on the north side of the creek where we've stayed several times, also  now closed. I will check with the Forest Service but it seems that both have no immediate plans to be reopened. I guess the old roads can still be used for nice little creekside walks.
I  crossed the creek for the second time and followed the use trail past where road ended. Soon, the  lowermost of Gallinas' three boxy sections began. It's easy to forget, but the most significant of the three, the middle one, starts just below Upper Gallinas Campground, and is where you drive your car on NM 152. That part of the canyon is so narrow that the stream is mostly hidden from view from the highway, but it  can be hiked. It's a scramble in spots,but my wife and made it through a few years back and discovered a rookery along the way. The upper box starts just past the confluence with Railroad Canyon. It is short and rugged with a few small waterfalls. I hiked it with Seamus  two years ago. We got wet.
 I walked down the shady trail and soon met a dog and then a  woman who was setting up a wildlife  camera. We chatted a bit and then I was on my way downstream. Many years ago my wife and I had hiked down this way and were stopped in our progress by an extremely narrow passage through the rocks and  the  six foot waterfall within. I remember little green and red toads covering the water worn boulders. Now I was at the same waterfall. The only way around was a sketchy line up to a short but sufficiently level traverse across the cliff on the north side. I went slowly and it worked just fine.

 On the other side was a boulder strewn stream course with a lush growth of willows. Above towered bare formations of volcanic rock. Further down the canyon widened just a bit and there were walnut and alder trees, as well as the occasional massive old cottonwood.

A large cairn marks the spot where FT 795 goes up to the highway. In retrospect, because of the dicey little climb around the waterfall, this is probably the better option for most folks who want see the lower end of the canyon. Just as I was thinking how the little box I had just come through perhaps could be a site for restoring trout to the stream, the stream dimensions changed to 10 feet wide by one inch deep, the shading greenery retreated, and the cow patties appeared. I didn't have time to be disappointed too long, as the creek soon entered another narrow passage, and lo and behold there were fish in murky pools carved in the bedrock, not trout mind you, but shiners and small dace ( I think), but any kind of fish surviving  here seemed like a little miracle. New Mexico Game Fish maps and pamphlets  from the 1970's list this stream as having trout, but I think it's been a long time since anyone has seen one in there. I threw a few rocks in the deep pools,well, because you never know.

 Past this section of the creek the valley opened up more.The riparian trees and even the box elders grew scarce. Just alligator junipers now, baking in the heat. Willows, growing well back of the current channel, were trimmed into shrubs.  It was no surprise at all  when I saw my first cows of the day, and contemplated turning around right then, but I trudged on down to the confluence with Silver Creek, which was running.
I looked around for spring that's in the vicinity but couldn't find it.  I thought for several minutes about my original plan to head up Silver Creek and then up Bull Trap Canyon, and finally climb over the little mountain to hike back to  Lower Gallinas. But, just getting to this point had taken longer than I had expected, and I didn't relish trudging up over the ridge, first, because it was warm and humid, second, because I didn't want to be up there when the inevitable thunderstorm hit, and third, because I was plain old tired. So, the walk became and out and back. I met a man on the way out. So that was a total of 2 other human beings and a dog encountered,which by Black Range standards nearly constitutes a crowd. I  thought of  the book No Life for a Lady when she mistakenly thinks the bear tracks she's looking at are those of a barefoot human. I had seen plenty of those same kind of prints in the mud throughout the day and bear scat as well. I gave the hiker a heads up. He probably resented it. People would rather not be reminded they're in bear country.
 It had been a good day, but I was in store for a little more Gila magic. As I walked up the road, scoping out how to best climb that ridge for a future hike into Bull Trap Canyon, several of the creeks namesake "gallinas"(wild turkey hens) and about 20 chicks moved quietly through the tall grass directly in front of me. I moved slowly and they stayed calm going down along the creek.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

East Red Canyon- San Mateo Mountains, Cibola National Forest

 Sometimes I spend a little too much time scanning Google Earth. All the places I want to explore are right there in front of me, getting more and more ripe for the visiting each time I look.  In the end it can actually start to make me anxious and cognitive dissonance occurs,  as my desires and the practical logistics of getting out to any of  the destinations begin to battle in my mind.
 I had noticed the dark shadowy gash of the box of East Red Canyon several months ago and the itch started. I 'm not sure why I was looking at the San Mateos, but there it was with the two obvious, similarly shadowed box canyons of tributaries Deep and Cold Spring Canyon right nearby. Over the last few days I finally  worked out how get there, including  the rough distance from my home( approximately 135 miles). It became clear that since  most of driving would be at 80 mph on I-25, the time involved wouldn't be any more than traveling to places like the Lake Roberts area or Bonito Creek: places I've been to many time for day trips. This realization led to a more generalized epiphany. The way my mind works, there are always many, many reasons not to go; it's too far for a day trip, the weather could turn bad, it's too hot, it will be disappointing, it's too remote, the roads will be horrible, you shouldn't go alone,the snakes will be out etc, etc, etc and there's only one reason to go: because I want to.
 Well,  I'm beginning to let the one reason win more lately, and it's not been a bad thing yet. This was especially true on my recent visit to the impressive box canyon of East Red Canyon.  I saw a mama antelope and baby close to where I turned off NM 107 onto FR 378 which, since it seems I see antelope so infrequently these days, I took as sign of good luck. I found the rough but reasonable FR 86 easily which took me right to the canyon bottom, and I was off and walking around 9:15 after having left my house a little after seven.

I first noticed mud and puddles from recent rains in the center of the shallow creek bottom of dry gray dust, but still had hope that there might be at least a short perennial stretch of stream within the box.

There wasn't, and it became clear that there was little left of what surely had to have been a wonderful riparian area. Vegetation such as hackberry trees, juniper,live oak more closely resembled desert box canyons( such as Broad Canyon) close to my home here in Las Cruces. There were no willows, or cottonwoods streamside and what little grass there was had been nibbled to the nub. Persistent drought conditions and little rest from grazing may have brought this on,but perhaps  because the canyon remains dark much of the time  due to fact that is only 20-25 feet wide and several hundred feet deep,  a more typical riparian area for its 6000 foot elevation has never developed.
 In the deeper parts of the box, a few box elder showed up as well as as few walnut trees( including one large specimen right at the mouth of Deep Canyon). Grapevines  spread luxuriantly over large expanses of the volcanic rock on north facing cliffs as well.

When I first entered the mouth of the box at least  three different species of raptor screeched at my approached to tell me I was not welcome. Later, a hair raising hissing sound made me aware of a vulture chick pressed against the trunk of hackberry that was growing from a  crack in the base of the cliffs. I was little wary that mama vulture might show up so I gave it wide berth.

 I must say I was not prepared, but wonderfully surprised when the height of the canyon's cliffs began to exceed my expectations as I penetrated further. The brown and black walls were least 200 feet high and I wouldn't be surprised if someone informed me that the north edge was closer to 300 feet or more from top to bottom.

Near the western edge of the box, on the south side,there is a short slot that is mouth of Deep Canyon. I walked up it and then climbed out briefly to look longingly at that canyon's box further upstream. Unfortunately to reach it would have meant crossing a wide shade-less stretch of open valley. It had been hot and humid when I started, and being the box was less relief than I expected. Being unsure of the weather conditions also gave me pause to add additional hour to the hike, so I opted to return another, perhaps cooler, day.

 Back in the main canyon and shortly before I turned around, I noticed a small arch formation, then the cliffs began to diminish into softer hillsides of gravel and grass.

On my return I took the time explore several alcoves in the rock.   At one, I found manos, obsidian and chert flakes and nice fragment of red pottery. I found metates and more pottery further down,but no rock art was evident at any of the sites.

 Once again, it seemed, I had come to a place that would be a destination, if not for it being so remote; smack dab in the middle  of  what I call New Mexico's " empty quarter."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Rim Trail (FR 634 to FR 64D)- Lincoln National Forest

We did this little section of the Rim Trail last Friday. It only took a couple of hours of slightly damp, overcast late morning to early afternoon,but that's all we were allotted, as the rains started just as we were returning to the 4Runner parked along FR 634.
  The first 1.25 miles of this section is a very nice, relatively level walk. The single track is almost entirely closed in by second growth pines and firs, although there are occasional  openings with nice stands of aspen, which would recommend it as a fall color hike. The trail is only stony at its initial ascent and the later at the descent to Karr Canyon. Otherwise, our feet were treading soft brown dirt, or even softer needles and decayed cones as we passed moss covered stumps and  watched tiny wrens flit about fallen trees.
 We saw a substantial elk herd of at least 25 individual up on the low ridge above us and had to wait for awhile ( I'm sure it seemed like a very long while to our excited Scotties) for them to all make up their mines to cross the trail in front us,but eventually they did and weren't seen again.
Unsightly randomly piled logs,  and sawdust and wood chips covering acres of ground, all evidence of recent logging that precluded the notices posted on several trees made most of the half-mile section past Karr Canyon an eyesore and probably not worth doing unless you're hiking through, or,like me just doing it for the sake of completeness.

We picknicked on log on the other side of FR 64D in less than ideal surroundings. A few drops fell, and we were quickly on the move .On the return of this out and back, we  detoured a bit at the end to walk in a parallel grassy meadow that was staked with wildflowers and aspen trees; a nice finish to a mostly pleasant trek.
 After our hike we drove FR 634 to its end looking for any future campsites.  There are a very few,but be forewarned: this road is very narrow and its quality deteriorates the farther along you travel ( although it is still quite good as forest service roads go).

Las Uvas Canyons- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 Had to get out last Thursday, so I did this morning hike out in the Sierra de las Uvas. It was already pretty hot at about a quarter past eight when I arrived,but I pushed on. I went up livestock trail in one grassy little canyon, crossed over a ridge and down into a much larger canyon, This one was scraped down to clean bedrock in its box section and pools of water lingered from recent rains. Patches of vibrant green grass growing at their edges, huge dragonflies buzzing back and forth, and the desert skies reflecting on their surfaces brought a smile to my face, and seem to make braving the heat worth the trip, at least for a little while.

I hiked further down past huge junipers, over boulders, and through scrubby oaks and even a few mountain mahogany ( common in the Organs,but not so much here),but by 9:30 it was time to turn around. I had my eyes on some interesting places high up on the ridge,but it was just not going to happen today. On the way back, I soaked my tee shirt in one of the puddles, which helped on my hike back up to the saddle, which was nothing but hot and slow. Once on level ground, and then even better, going downhill, I realized it wasn't so much the heat and the sun, as the going uphill the really had been getting to me. Still, back at my vehicle, I felt like it had been a nice couple of hours out with the lizards, quail, bunnies and jackrabbits. Any longer would have just become an exercise in endurance.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sacramento North Trailhead- Lincoln National Forest

We camped at the Sacramento North  Trailhead last week. It's one of the many spots on the high ridge section of the Agua Chiquita Road (FR 64) that I've had my eye on for the past few years. It's a beautiful place situated below the level of road( which makes it much more secluded than all the other nearby camps) that is relatively flat with room for several camps.   There's a small meadow at the head of  the  nameless valley here, ringed with huge firs that provide ample shade throughout the day.

 Unfortunately, its obvious appeal has caused  this area  to suffer some abuse. Several campfire rings with huge piles of ash detracts from the setting's naturalness, as does the many bits and pieces of trash. It also appears that several camping parties, dug latrines that were insufficiently deep, so toilet paper has resurfaced. Bones,  and a  branches of a lean-to made from recently living trees hacked near by, both perhaps remnants from hunting season, are strewn about as well.
 Still, the good aspects of camping here, coupled with the near perfect weather with temperatures in the mid 70's and cloudless skies, far outweighed  the obviously careless attitudes of previous visitors.
 We tidied up the place as  best we  could and then just enjoyed.
This was first trip in our new to us vintage (1994) Casita trailer. Everything went astonishingly smooth with the set up, with the glaring exception encountered when  pulling out the awning, which was a ridiculous contraption from a bygone era. We did get it out and up and enjoyed its amenities while making and eating our lunch. It would turn out to be the first and last time  that we would do so.
 We hiked down the Sacramento North Trail ( FT5008) catching sight of young elk as we went. We stopped and rested at the edge of the big meadow before turning around. It was just a bit too warm for walking in open spaces, and we guided our dogs to the shade as much as we could on the return trip.
 Back at camp, we got to know of the ins and outs of using our  new camping trailer which had many features our T@B teardrop( which we sold several years ago) did not, including a toilet,shower and hot water heater. Around dusk, we did short hike down Deadman Canyon across the road.

 We hadn't been trailer camping since 2012 and hadn't been camping at all in two years, so we were a little rusty. Overnight, I heard unmistakable sounds of animal activity( raccoons I'm guessing) at our site. I didn't think about it much when I later looked up at the stars and Milky Way in the crystal clear night. In the morning I found my backpack torn open and its former contents strewn across the camp. I had left a few Kashi bars in there, which is what they had been after, as the empty wrappers testified. Luckily. I found everything else, maps, water bottles, keys  and  even a few spare AA batteries with teeth marks that had been liberated.
 We set out hiking the next morning down the nameless canyon in front of us.  There was a wildlife trail here and there,but also many downed trees to deal with. Near a magical little clearing,Nessie came up lame. Since it had been, a bit steep and rough coming down, I didn't relish the idea of carrying her back up. So we continued on our planned loop, meeting up with the Sacramento River Road in about 15 minutes. It was a bit warm walking in meadow along the road, carrying Nessie much of the way, to get to the Corral Canyon trailhead, but we made it in good shape and a reasonable amount of time.

 I  was charmed by the Corral Canyon trail ( FT 537) when I visited and wrote about it a couple of years ago. It still impressed, a rustic, winding  two track in the shade of big timber. It's steep for sure,but not straight up like the trails between the Rim and the West Side Road ( FR 90).
Hawks and ravens glided between the trees and songbirds sang. Seamus  and Nessie clued in to the chipmunks and squirrels that chatted at them.This went a long ways towards  speeding up Nessie's recovery, which was mostly complete by the time we rested at the old ( and empty) concrete water trough half way through.
 Reaching the top, the level walking along the road seemed blissfully easy as we headed back to camp one mile distant. We debated shortly whether stay for another night when we saw several large RVs coming down the main road,  to add to the two that had been staked out across the road. They went past us, bu we knew it would be only a matter of time before desperate folks availed themselves of large amount of unused space under the trees with us.
 Packing and hitching up would have been a complete breeze if not for the awning. All I will say is that it now awaits big trash day back in Las Cruces and leave at that. We made our way over to the Silver Campground to have our first try at emptying the tanks. It went wonderfully smooth, and not at all what I had been envisioning: something along the lines of Robin Williams getting shit all over himself in the movie "RV".