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.