Monday, July 31, 2017

Outlaw Rock, Faulkner Canyon - Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

Outlaw Rock

 I first visited Outlaw Rock when  an article about it appeared in New Mexico Magazine. My wife and I drove out to Faulkner Canyon, where finding the " Rock" was pretty easy, but finding where the names of Billy the Kid and his compadres were etched wasn't. We did eventually, and then I didn't think too much about, or bother to visit the Faulkner Canyon area for many years.
 I set out on this trip hoping to find the road that leaves off of Faulkner Canyon to ascend and traverse the mesa on the west side of the Robledos. We used it several times years ago to get us to a reasonable starting point for climbing Robledo Peak. Well, years ago there was an old windmill that was nearby that served to  as a beacon for finding the turn-off. It appears to be gone, or merely laying down in brush now. With the thick green growth of desert willows that line Faulkner, I couldn't see the opening for the the road  either. After I turned around in the mushy sand,  I did catch a glimpse of the road up on a hill, and realized the entrance must be in a little side channel. I would find it the next day, but for the present I was off to do other things.
 First, I decided to walk up the bottom half of the Upper Faulkner Box Canyon (a tributary on the north side). We had hiked down from the top two winters ago and were stopped  by the substantial dry waterfall which is barrier to a continuous walk in the canyon to its mouth. We didn't explore the lower section that day, so I've been wanting to get out there to see it close up, and thought this was my chance. I parked my car just off  of the  section of Faulkner Canyon Road that leaves the arroyo completely to go around Faulkner's own dry waterfall. I began walking upstream admiring some mature hackberry trees as I went. This canyon is wide and the walking was pretty easy in the clear channel of the stream bottom. This is doubly nice as it provided an avenue where getting a visual on a rattler would come well before the arrival of your feet. Slabs of orange volcanic rock form bluffs on the both sides of the canyon,but it did not appear to have any rock art.

After a little over half a mile the canyon narrowed  and pools of rainwater appeared and soon I was standing in the dark little recesses below the dry waterfall that stopped our progress. I backtracked  a bit and went up and around look down on the canyon and saw there was steep passage on the south side that could be used to go around the waterfall.

Now I headed back,but I wasn't quite satisfied.  I got in the car and drove east and when I saw Outlaw Rock, I parked  and decided to climb it. That was quickly accomplished  via an only slightly sketchy route on the southeast side.  I tested the theory that this prominence on which I stood was useful to outlaws and perhaps Apaches as well for watching the movements of the soldiers at Old Fort Selden. Indeed, I could see the fort's crumbling abode walls several miles in the distance. After coming down, I did a little more wandering on top of some ridges and down in some canyons for 45 minutes or so, and was on bare hilltop when I heard my first thunder of the day. The storms that  were  off to the east all morning seemed to be backing to the west now, so I though it best to return to my vehicle.

Faulkner Canyon

This is an interesting and scenic area,but be forewarned, Faulkner Canyon Road ends at the iron gate. After that you will be driving almost entirely in the sandy,  occasionally rocky wash itself.  In dry winter conditions, it can be handled by two wheel drive vehicles with reasonable clearance all the way to the natural weir of gray basalt. In wet conditions, as we have currently, 4 wheel drive is necessary.

Friday, July 28, 2017

North Foster Box- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument


 I have such a backlog of places I want to go in my head, I'm not always sure where exactly I'm going to hike, I just head out in a direction and see what comes to mind. On Wednesday morning, I ended up on the road ( after passing it once) that goes up on the ridge south of Foster Canyon. I took a little spur road that heads north and downhill, and parked just before the it crossed into Foster Canyon itself.
From there I began my wandering, first up the wash and then off to a red rock ridge on the north side. I looked over to some cliffs and formations  to the northeast,but decided my destination would be a little box canyon further west, that sits almost directly opposite the more well known box canyon we explored a year and a half year ago ( see " Foster Canyon" from January, 2016 in this blog).

 I stayed up high, climbing over a couple of weedy, green hills and then headed down to the open upper end of the canyon.  I walked downstream, clacking my hiking poles on rocks as I went to give the snakes something to rattle about ahead of the arrival of feet and legs.  Unlike the box across the way this one has cliffs and formations of dark gray, not red, rock. It is also much more narrow. Unfortunately, it is much shorter, but it was still the highlight of this outing.
 At one point I noticed an old wooden stake on a low cliff above me.  I thought "mining claim", but didn't investigate any closer.There were several shallow excavations in the cliffs that coincided with it. There were pods and veins of gray chert and white quartz nearby, which could have been the reason for the digging,but I don't know.

Further on the cliffs rose as the canyon deepened. Twisted trunks and roots of junipers wrapped around rocks and as the branches reached for the sun. I spied a couple of pinhole arches in rock towers on the canyon sides. A couple of dry waterfalls were easily descended, and it was wonderfully dark even as we approached the eleventh hour of the day.

 It was all over a bit too soon. Now, back out in the sun, as I looked down to the bright white ash conglomerate that looks like coarse concrete, I  realized it was going to be nothing but hot from now on. Still, I made  over to the full McCall Reservoir and the eccentric formations of bare rock, turned a sickly yellow by lichen growth, that surround it.

 I hiked back in the heat along the road, much to the consternation of three black cows, who seemed to  think I was after them. I admired the cliffs of red against the green summertime growth, a combination which never gets old, and noticed a larger arch I had not seen before. It was time to leave so I didn't investigate it fully, but I'll be back.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Upper Meander Canyon-Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

This was short morning hike to upper end of Meander Canyon, and as with my walk in the lower end this winter, it was much more pleasant to hike along the grassy benches above the canyon than in the stream bottom itself. I started out by parking right off the paved Corralitos Road just before it heads up to higher ground. I walked east,scrambling over the low ridge that divides an upper Silva Canyon tributary from Meander Canyon, I then just went from bench to bench and in out of few ravines on the west side, going higher toward the very head of the canyon.

 I finally made my way over to the east side to check out the boulders over there, and then worked my back in the canyon itself, before heading back to  my vehicle. A kind of small change hike,but it was pleasant to see all the ocotillo fat and green and views up to Bell Top and nearby peaks, and across the desert grassland were wonderful as always.

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.