Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Selden Hills, Tonuco Basin Escarpment- Tonuco Uplift

  I'd been thinking  for a couple of years about visiting a couple of canyons on the southwest corner of the large basin that lies south of Tonuco Peak. The reason why: on Google Earth they strongly resemble some of the slot canyons I've visited near Lake Roberts.  Unfortunately, since NMSU has locked the gates that would have  allowed closer vehicle access to the entire Tonuco, Selden Hills region, getting to these canyons means a long approach hike over less than scintillating terrain. So, I've continued to put it off. Well, on Monday afternoon, I just bit the bullet, and headed out at a blistering pace  from my parking spot  on NM 85 across from the Broad Canyon Dam.
 I crossed the river and hiked up Flying V Canyon. Staying to the left, I angled my way up arroyos and down ridges to the upper end of Lytten Canyon. I then  pushed my way, with one hiking pole and one yucca stalk for leverage, up on the ridge overlooking the basin, with the canyons  that were my objective lying directly below me.
 Let me say right now that the canyons were a disappointment. They were very small and only mildly slot -like. One was thick with dwarf hackberry trees which would make it bit more attractive come spring, and  the alcove pocked sandstone and conglomerate cliffs had a modicum of charm, but that hardly made the two mile approach through monotonous sand and shrubs worth it.
 Afterwards I went back through Dancing Man Canyon, where I found a couple more petroglyphs I hadn't spotted last year.

This  canyon is deep, peaceful and secluded and made me feel happy to be there despite the wind which had begun its steady, forceful afternoon blow. Rhyolite boulders, and boulders of a conglomerate  made of boulders line the sides and lie in  the canyon bottom of gray pebbles and sand. It's rough and narrow, even if the grass covered north facing hillside softens the scene and left me wondering why ancient folks would venture up there in the first place.  I was reminded as  I listened, to cars driving along  NM 85, how close I was to  the river and that it wouldn't be much of venture for those who lived along the river in ancient times, more like a walk in the backyard.

 I walked back through the low growing mesquite and  creosote across benches and down into short arroyos. On top of one small bluff above the river and the railroad tracks,hidden by a small berm,  I first spotted  a perfect triangular prism of igneous rock that gave off the  distinct aura of being a prehistoric tool. Then bits and flakes of chert were found in the soft sand.  Then, confirming that this was a habitation site, I spotted large pieces of pottery, red and brown, one after another. I slowed down, for the first time that afternoon. I felt  connected.

Note: Although the pottery site appears to at least be partially on small  bit of BLM land, the Selden Hills and Tonuco Basin are almost entirely within NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Research Center land. The property is not posted along every fence line,but it is at intersections and entrances that are along dirt roads on the east side of I-25 and at the north and south entrances along the power line road.This is not public land, although the land was once open to public use. It appears that roads and arroyos  along the mesas and in the canyons still receive some use( I saw many recent vehicle tracks),but mostly likely these are people that are coming from private property along the east side of the river. For the present, entering without permission  should be considered trespassing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

East Potrillo Mountains- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 I've never really done a hike in the East Potrillo Mountains. I've visited  more popular features; Cox Peak, Kilbourne Hole, Aden Crater and lava flow that are nearby,but the time investment involved in reaching the region, and the East Potrillos lack, at first and perhaps at several glances, of any outstanding feature to draw one in, meant it was always pushed to the back of my list of places to visit. I probably still wouldn't have gone for awhile longer, if it weren't for the hiking guidebook for the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument that I'm working on. The section on the remote and difficult to  visit West Potrillo Unit( which includes the East Potrillos),  is thin and I really felt I needed at least one hike in the East Potrillos, just for the sake of some measure of completeness.
So, this past Monday(2/20/17)  I ventured out with David Soules to see what we could see on both sides of the mountain by doing a ridgeline hike. Because the range is basically a fault block  that runs a straight line( from northwest to southeast) with a ridge that has relatively minor elevation changes for most of its seven or so miles, it is well suited to walk along its spine, something that can't be said about most of the other mountains in the county.
 We used NM 9 to access Doña Ana County roads A-8, A-10 and A-7. In the gap between  East Potrillos and Mount Riley, we headed south on an unsigned, unmaintained road just past a cattleguard which heads south into Desert Rat Canyon. It was a pretty little place where we parked at  the very end of the road in the secluded canyon, with  scattered junipers,  red rocks that jutted from the hillside, old mines in the distance and steep peaks of  folded sedimentary rock surrounding us.

 On foot we headed up the canyon. It was pretty easy walking to gain  more than half of 750 feet or so we needed to get up to the range's highpoint. We occasionally looked backed for views of the towering Mount Riley framed by the canyon sides.

 At a saddle we took in views all around, rested a bit then began our pitch up to the peak. Shortly thereafter we found an old mining  prospect,really just a 10x5 hole in the side of the peak, where there was barite, quartz, and calcite. We made it up to the peak and then began walking southeast along the ridgeline. In just a short distance we had to make a maneuver to the west to avoid walking off a cliff,but then we were soon back on the ridgeline doing some easy walking through low growing desert shrubs, sparse( but varied) cactus species, and widely spaced lechugilla, ocotillo and sotol.

The limestone layers here are thick with marine fossils which gave us interesting views close up to  go with the magnificent views to the distance all  around. Far ranges in New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico could all be seen in stark silhouette, while closer by  and wonderfully clear, the West Potrillos, Cox Peak and Mount Riley and the volcanic maars, Hunts Hole and Kilbourne Hole were constant companions, as was the ruggedly scenic East Potrillos themselves as they stretched out before us.

  In a short while we came to a natural arch, which David had spotted on a previous trip. It's about 20 feet wide, but the height  of the opening is only 4- 7 feet. Still it's a fun feature, and we realized later it can be see from the road down in the flatlands if you know where to look.

 On we walked,and the  limestone beds gave way to a sandstone layer that tilted skyward. These rocks, as with several other sedimentary ranges around our region, are abrasive and sharp and can draw blood quite easily as I was reminded in my only spill of the day. Gloves are good idea for any maneuvering out here and a hiking staff or a pair of poles( I had one pole and one sotol stalk) are recommended. The cloudless late winter sky allowed the sun to redden my face and neck. The breeze only kicked up occasionally. The temperature in the low sixties was perfect. It became apparent that while the unrelentingly steep hillsides on east side had little in the way of canyons to explore, the west side had several that beckoned for further consideration, with alcoves, overhangs, old mines and long forgotten trails and roads.
This was  a shuttle hike. We had left one vehicle on the east side at the end of the unmaintained road that leads to the Pure Oil Number one drilling platform. Yes, there was some oil exploration,albeit unsuccessful, out here, which few people know about.

We  didn't  take the best route down,  but in truth, there may not  be good way down the truly rough and steep east face of the  range unless one were to walk all the way to very southern end of the mountains. We got off somewhere between mile 4 and 5( of 7), picking our way very slowly, finding another old mine, a stone foundation and an old ski pole along the way down to and then  along a second road which runs parallel and just north of the one our vehicle was parked on.  We encountered our first fence and first cow pie of the day on the short walk to our terminal trailhead as we contemplated the continued feasibility of cattle ranching in the virtually grassless, and waterless   environs of the East Potrillos.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

In Between Ridge- Sierra de las Uvas

Andrea, Seamus, Nessie and I did this little morning into afternoon hike on a sunny February Sunday. It was  a lollipop loop where we went around a little rocky ridge that sits between( and much lower down) Tailholt Mountain and a high mesa to the north. We parked and started out  about 1/2 mile off of the Corralitos Road. We walked along the dirt road  that heads north past Valles Tank. This road has been much improved as of late, the so even though we parked just before the first crossing of Valles Canyon,it is possible to drive most vehicles carefully down to the tanks about a mile north
Just past the tanks we picked up a good cow trail on east side of Valles and began walking uptream on the bank of a tributary canyon. We ate lunch under a juniper soon after.
Continuing upstream, our trail all but disappeared past where the two little arroyos become a bigger one at the base of the In Between Ridge. We went cross country now straight up the hill to investigate the boulders and cliffs on the spine of the ridge, and then continued on all the way to the little plateau at the top.
Here, the views opened up east to the Robledos and onto the Organ Mountains. At the edge of the cliffs, this spot had a wonderful "top of the world" feeling  that was achieved with only a minimum of effort.The wind picked up quite a bit as we looked around. It was a little annoying, but truth be told, the day would have been a bit too much on the warm side without it.

We headed down the opposite side, investigating  more cliffs,boulders and the top of the ridge.The views over canyons and mesas all the way to Big White Gap were impressive. Walking back on the road again we scoped out some places for camping along the way. I've often wanted to camp in the Sierra de las Uvas. There are certainly many attractive spots,  and perhaps now that the range is part of a national monument I'll feel more obligated to promote the area as a destination for tents, small trailers and maybe even a bit of backpacking.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Doña Ana Mountains

I made a couple of trips out to the Doña Anas the last two weekends. It seems that over the last few years  I've been getting out there at least couple of times every winter, after having put the whole area way back on the backburner for many years previous. I still love it out there. The many problems I've written about over the years seem to melt away at least for a few moments with the incredible views in the glowing light of a winter afternoon.
 We  visited several areas  within Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and also within the restricted USDA's Jornada Experimental Range and similarly restricted lands belonging to NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center.  Locked gates block vehicle access to entire northern half of the range which is controlled by these two publicly funded entities, so travel is entirely on foot.
 I'll let you make up your mind on whether you want to participate in a little civil disobedience, just remember to respect the land, if not the policies of the institutions that control it.  On the first trip we parked near the locked gate  on the west side of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park. REMEMBER, THEY LOCK THE EAST GATE AT 5:00 PM
 On the second visit we used one of the two dirt roads off of Jornada Road that are part of the Monument, and then used the  very rough powerline road to access the  areas on the north and northeast side  of Doña Ana Peak. High clearance and four wheel drive are strongly recommended.