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 at 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."