Thursday, February 8, 2018

Southwest Canyon- Gila National Forest

As it was going to be a sunny 75 degrees down here in our desert, we headed up to the Gila's Black Range to do a wintertime forest hike. Originally, we were heading up and over Emory Pass to Lower Gallinas, when I remembered I've been wanting to do a hike in Southwest Canyon which  is less than a mile from Kingston. This option had the distinct advantage of not having to negotiate the worst of the twist and turns of NM 152 .
I drove past the old road I had scoped out many months ago that would provide easy access to the canyon,but we quickly found it after turning around. We parked just off the highway, but there is parking at some nice dispersed camping spots just a short ways down the road to the south. Initially we crossed the creek  and investigated an old mine or gravel pit, but then began heading upstream. The canyon bottom was quite narrow through almost the entire stretch we hiked, and well forested with large piñons and junipers on the south facing slopes, and douglas firs and larger pines on the north facing side. Along the creek there were deciduous and evergreen oaks, ash, boxelder and a few walnut,but my inspection of the fallen leaves found bigtooth maple lacking.

 Early  on we saw an animal clinging to small pine ahead of us. At first I thought it was raccoon,but as it escaped up the hillside, I realized it was a coatimundi. When the Scotties reached the spot, their sniffers went wild, and from then on they were continually trying to pull  us up the hillside to pursue the wild beastie.

 We then came to section of  frozen creek which the dogs enjoyed walking on, but the humans tried to avoid as much as possible. Further above, were several spring areas, with the many smells of all the animals that have come to drink, which Seamus and Nessie found extremely interesting as well.
The canyon was shady and cool, what we had come for, but when it came time for our picnic we found some warm bedrock in the sun. Afterwards we came upon one of the few open areas: a lovely sloping meadow of  golden grass and junipers on the creek's north side.

Although we occasionally would hear cars along  NM 152, which was never more than a few hundred feet away, we were in our own little forest paradise, and hardly paid them any mind. As the canyon steepened, we climbed up,over and around a  series of small. trickling waterfalls carved into  what appeared to be limestone bedrock. The last and tallest was about 15 feet high. I climbed around and above that one, while Andrea and the dogs waited and rested. Shortly thereafter the  highway guardrail came into view and canyon made  right turn towards a culvert and it's uppermost branch on the north side of NM 152.

It felt like a rare spring day with blue sky and no wind, even thought it was only the first week of February. I was glad to see the creek had smidgen of water, but scared about the continuing dry conditions in the Gila this year.
 We were very happy to have come, and on the return trip we stopped for a glass of wine on the deck at Shattuck Vineyard in Caballo. We  admired the view of Caballo Mountains, and reminisced  about our many adventures there. It was perfect cap to a beautiful day.

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