Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bailey Canyon- Lincoln National Forest

 We did this beautiful hike a week ago( 8/2/17). After looking at all the official trails near to Cloudcroft, and crossing off those we've already done, I decided that just hiking up Bailey Canyon was the best option. I didn't know it before I got there but there is a trail here in the form of a long closed road. Oddly enough, and I'm  not sure why given that many less appealing old roads are now in the numbered trail system of the Lincoln, this particular route has not become an official trail even though it receives moderate use from both hikers and bicyclists. What's even nicer is that unlike most other official trails in the Sacramentos, this one is closed to all motorized traffic and it appears the closure is being minded. May it always be thus. There is a good parking area off of FR 206C which is the first turn off of FR 206 after leaving  US 82.
 We waited a bit before heading out to give another couple a head start with their three dogs, then we  began walking with our two. Even though this was a road, it's old enough,narrow enough and been closed long enough that it is taking on the aspect of a rustic single track trail, something to be relished in the Sacramentos. The forest of  deciduous oaks, pines, the occasional Rocky Mountain maple and even a single apple tree is interspersed with several thick stands of aspen on the hillsides. There are fewer firs and spruce here, and only a very few granddaddy trees of any kind.

 Elegantly constructed gabion dams( probably CCC work) cross the stream bottom at regular intervals for first mile or so above the trailhead. They seemed to have done their job well  in the fight against  erosion. As we walked along we listened to  birds, and chased a huge yellow and black butterfly as he drifted  among  the thistles. I was surprised, as always by the flash of brilliant blue that is a stellars jay as it moved from branch to branch. I was not surprised by some very fresh bear scat when we detoured off the trail to admire an aspen grove, and think about this place's potential for a fall color hike. We took our picnic early in  a shady spot across the swale of the grassy stream bottom from the trail.

We had to step aside for the couple with the three dogs coming back down much sooner than expected. It was a bit muggy and almost hot in the sun, but drier than it has been. The stream, however,is not blessed by any perennial springs and had no water, and they probably couldn't carry enough for three pitbull/boxer mixes, so that  could be the reason for the hasty return. After a little maneuvering to minimize dog to dog interactions we were on our way.
The canyon eventually opens up into a series of meadows where there are a couple of dry impoundments. It becomes narrow and  forested briefly before we finally reached FR 568 and a spectacular mountaintop meadow. As we walked through the gate toward an old shack at the far end, a red tailed hawk left its perch on fence post to take to the sky. In the center of the meadow was muddy pool that we had steer our dogs away from.

When we reached the lumber constructed building, with an old wood stove, a few benches along the walls  and the rest open space, I thought it looked primarily like a place for keeping horses warm, and any accompanying humans would just have to rough it. On the west side of the meadow was large water tank of riveted iron,some rusty farm machinery, and old cement foundations. On the stony ground lay scattered railroad ties, rolls of cloth and disassembled concrete Forest Service picnic tables. Bits and pieces of  bygone china and old bottles lay in the dirt as well.

Nearby was an obvious passage of the old railroad where piles of limestone rock formed a narrow corridor. Back by the road,there was also a platform  of limestone boulders which may have been  where the trains took on water.
 One map I have indicated that this was the location for USFS corral and indeed there was one, although it appears to receive little use. Another map shows this as site for a heli-pad.We explored this fascinating place for a long while. It was the icing on the cake,but eventually we headed back down the way we came.

Nessie remembered and looked longingly up the tree where a Darwin Award squirrel had nearly jumped into her mouth on the hike up.
I noticed the elevation loss much more than the elevation gain, which should give you an idea of just how gradual the climb ( about 600 feet spread over 2 miles) up this canyon was, especially when compared to many other trails in the Sacramentos.
 We met one woman going up and another couple and their puppy back at the trailhead about to embark. Now it was  a Wednesday, so this might not be indicative of this trail's weekend use especially summer weekends, and but given that it is so close to Cloudcroft, I was expecting more people. There were plenty of bicycle tracks to be seen, which is another factor to consider if one is walking with pets or looking for solitude on a Saturday or Sunday.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Valles Canyon- Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

After wasting a bunch of time driving around on a hideous road near Silva Tank, I opted to go up to the higher country and do this hike in the ever-greening Sierra de las Uvas last week. In the winter I had explored two canyons on the east side of the middle reach of Valles Canyon. A few weeks ago I explored another two, also on the east side ( see "In Between Ridge," and "Las Uvas Canyons" in this blog). This time I did some wandering around  in some canyons on the west side. I found some secret pools of water full of tadpoles, many cow paths and one nice piece of pottery. Wrens and sparrows flitted in the junipers and bushy little oaks, while beetles pushed a ball of dung in the sand.  My late start and the humidity really got to me to sweating, but I didn't mind. Only when I had gotten my fill for the day of these hills and valleys did I head back to my vehicle parked at the base of Tailholt Mountain.It wasn't the most exciting trip but it's  good just to get out and it's always good to see our desert so green.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Robledo Mountains - Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument

 I got the correct distance to the road I had been looking for the previous day from Google Earth, and the next morning I was once again driving in the thick sand of Faulkner Canyon. As I had guessed the turn-off was in a side channel concealed by a thick growth of desert willow. The first 100 feet of this road are not good and had me thinking twice about about this whole little adventure. Luckily things improved, not a lot, but enough to let me continue. The going is pretty rough up a couple of hills to get onto the mesa. Years ago, I was able to make in a two wheel drive Izusu Rodeo. I'm pretty sure that would not be the case now. Which got me to wondering: are these un-maintained roads only getting worse, or do they self-correct over time?
 Up on the flat terrain of the plateau, driving conditions were much more benign. I parked near the intersection where another primitive road heads off to the south. I looked a the hill that goes down into East Faulkner Canyon, where the road continues east and then north to the top of Lookout Mountain, and thought it wasn't any worse than what I've come through already,but I've always parked on top so I stuck with tradition. Anyway, my plan for this day, was to head downstream in East Faulkner then head upstream in its tributary to the north, so driving to the bottom of the hill wouldn't have helped much.
 I set off at a  fast pace, clanging my two hiking poles on rocks in an effort to wake up any sleeping snakes and induce them to move off or at least giving a warning rattle. The arroyo was thick with snakeweed, mesquite, verbena and even grass: plenty of places for the proverbial snake to conceal itself. The walking in the tributary arroyo was even tougher with no clear path in the channel, and a pavement of loose football sized boulders on the banks.
It was clear where all the rocks came from. The steep north side of the canyon was  almost entirely made up of a series of rock glaciers.When I came to a side gully, cut in bedrock and seeping a little water, I decided to climb up and walk along the hills on the south side. Junipers were bushy and green, and hopefully quite happy with the recent rainy conditions,as the flycatchers,sparrows and quail seemed to be. From  above, I could see the canyon transition into bedrock with nice little pools of water, so I headed down to the bottom. Once there I could the stream was actually trickling along for several hundred yards. Running water is always a magical moment in the desert.

 I rested a bit. The road crossing was just ahead of me and I could see the top of Lookout Mountains, which seemed tantalizingly close. I cut out cross country to the southeast and picked the road up at the low saddle between the two highest mountain masses of  the range. Views across the river to the Doña Ana Mountains were spectacular, as were those closer in, up to Robledo Peak. This is really a beautiful spot and worth the price of admission, even one doesn't decide to climb the peaks.
 I now walked along the road, which taking me south and then east would be the return leg of my loop hike.

As I walked I was puzzled by mounds of dirt, obviously human work, along the road side. If someone out there knows what they are, clue me in.
Where the road descends back down to the canyon, it is nothing but rocks, and must make for an extremely uncomfortable ride. I don't think I would do it,but  I believe there are people who occasionally make the trip  in a suitable vehicle all the way to the top of the mountain.
 In the wash of East Faulkner Canyon, there are several oddities to observe. First, even though the canyon sides  are blocky, red,black and brown volcanic rocks, the gravel in the streambed is almost entirely gray limestone. Second, there are occasional xenoliths of this same Permian limestone to be seen encased in the Tertiary volcanics. I did some cursory looking about for any artifacts or rock art, as I have in the past,but found none. It seems like this canyon is absolutely ripe for finding evidence of ancient use,but so far has been disappointing, as has the main Faulkner Canyon.

 Back at the vehicle, I walked down the road to the south for a bit.  A few more observations came to mind. The steep west face of the highest parts of the Robledos  seems to have been created by a relatively recent ( in geologic time) long fault that runs along the base and has only two  canyons  of any size that have penetrated it. The canyon I was walking in ( the one I'm calling East Faulkner) and Indian Springs Canyon further to the south. East Faulkner divides the sedimentary and igneous parts of the range, while Indian Springs is at the transition point between the higher ridges and peaks, and the long swath of low hills that runs all the way down to Picacho Peak.

Driving back down, I spied an alternate route to reconnect to Faulkner Canyon,but there was no guarantee it was  any better( and may have been worse) so I stuck with what I knew. It had been a beautiful morning in the mountains, why take a chance of screwing up it up on the ride back to the pavement.