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 ridgeline of the East Potrillos as it 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 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.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Meander Canyon-Sierra de las Uvas

After finishing my Las Cruces Public Schools hiking group's trip to Box Canyon, I set out to the Sierra de las Uvas for a quick afternoon incursion. Once again I was in the Bell Top Peak area, in this case directly below the mountain  in a sinuous little arroyo that I'm calling Meander Canyon. This desert creek starts  on the west side of Bell Top heading south and then makes a big turn to the east, where it begins its series of  deep horseshoe bends. The stream is mostly cut through soft,gray ash tuff and whitish conglomerates, but toward its mouth it winds through boulders of denser rock( which may also be ash derived).

After hiking in the canyon bottom,for my return, I climbed up to the bench lands on the north side that hang high above the arroyo,but hundreds of feet below the steeply rising Bell Top Peak. Huge boulders and junpers that rose from the pale grass, along with the views down into Meander Canyon beyond made this part of the hike much more scenic  than the first leg down in the trenches. Having found much of interest the vicinity in recent weeks, I looked, but in vain, for rock art and others signs of prehistoric habitation.

Looking across the canyon to the mesa where I had parked, it was hard pick out my vehicle. Recently dyed brown from its brillliant Toyota white, it now blended in with the desert earth. Warning to those driving through those low water spots along the Corralitos Road: some  of those puddles are deeper than you think and they all should be taken slowly,very slowly.
Sometimes I like doing this quick little hikes with very specific itinerary, instead of long walkabouts.They're well suited to winter days, when you may not want to start hiking when the sun has barely come up and temps are still in the 20's.