Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Alamo Canyon Trail ( FT 104) - Lincoln National Forest

 I continue to try and hike at least some worthy portion of every named and numbered trail in the Sacramento District of the Lincoln National Forest. Most recently we ventured out to the upper trailhead for the Alamo Canyon Trail ( FT 104) for an out and back hike of 4 to 5 miles.
There was a large camping group on the west side of FR 90, so we parked across the road near the old fireplace. It was late morning on what was becoming a warm day. We knew the temperature would be dropping over the next few days, so the hike had that bittersweet feeling of the last of Fall.
 The trail winds through some junipers initially and then brought us out into an open meadow area that is unusual for this elevation (7,000 feet) on the east side of the Sacramentos.
 It may have been a wet meadow at one time, but now the water from the springs is captured and sent via pipeline to the city of Alamogordo. Nevertheless, there is still  enough rainfall and seepage to support a thicket of shrubs and vines, grasses  and a few deciduous trees ( both native and invasive). There were cow pies aplenty on either side of the trail, and a few ornery looking cows and steers grazing the clumps of grass that had already been nibbled to the nub, as well. We gave them a wide berth as we had our dogs with us, because it's not exactly a mutual admiration society between the bovine and canine.
 At the western end of the meadow the trail begins to really drop down into canyon country where piñons dominate along the trail side. We could now see pipeline and hear the water flowing inside it. As we walked farther east and farther down, the scenery opened up with huge limestone cliffs on the north and a series of very scenic forested ridges on south.

 Even though the trail was wide enough for the early twentieth century automobiles that surely once traveled here, it became more and more steep, and of course the steepest sections made for the most slippery walking with loose gravel and rock.The scotties who love to pull downhill didn't help matters either.
Down below us I could see one last pocket of forest with ponderosa pines and a few cottonwoods, right after which the canyon appeared to begin cutting through the desert terrain that would last all the way to its mouth on the outskirts of Alamogordo. The tall trees seemed like a good destination for us.

Right where Gordon Canyon comes in from the south to meet Alamo, there were still a few bigtooth maples that had yet to shed all their leaves, and soon after the stream began to flow, however meagerly, over  several small waterfalls in the carbonate bedrock.

Enjoying our lunch on blanket of pine needles had not been expected at the outset, but was most welcome anyway. Afterwards we walked down to where the old road and the trail split where there is a small meadow with a foundation and a fireplace from an old cabin in its center.

We visited the muddy little stream, investigated a nice camping spot and then began  the trek back up the hill. We had come down over a thousand feet in a short distance, still the hike back up did not seem overly taxing. We gave the bellowing cattle a wide berth again and were soon back at our vehicle.
 I will return to this trail one day, either to do a shuttle hike all the way from top to bottom, or to do a backpacking loop using the Caballero Trail with which it intersects about half-way down.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hidden Canyon-Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

 I went here so you don't have to. That may sound like a bit of ego, but it's really only a little bit. Really, you don't want to do what I did a couple of Saturdays ago.
A long time ago while driving over to Aguirre Springs, I briefly spied some splashes of fall color tucked away beneath Baylor Peak and ever since I've had a small, but lingering desire to go and investigate. Well, back on the 3rd( 11/3/2018) I did just that. It seems like I have to do at least one crazy off-trail hike in the Organs each year. Some years it's been more than one, but I think it averages out over the twenty years I've lived here. I used to Google Earth to figure out the best place to park the car. Unfortunately there is no shoulder and almost no  parking at all on the road up to Aguirre Springs. I ended up  at a lone pullout more than a 1/2 mile from where I wanted to start. I crossed the road and jauntily began striding back to the northwest. My energy was  high and at first I didn't think much about pushing through the grasses and thorny acacia. I didn't mind rock hopping on the protruding boulders which provided a respite from the desert thicket either. But eventually it all began to wear me down. There was no wildlife or cattle path. Nothing. Rarely was there even an obvious choice about which might be a better way to proceed, but I just kept pushing on. And I do mean pushing. It was a very few times when I took more than ten or so steps unimpeded. I thought when I reach my first arroyo, I'll just follow the clear path in the bottom on upward. Wrong. The arroyos were even thicker than the flats or the ridges in between.

The smart thing to do would have been to quit, but early on. Once I was an hour or more into the hike, I had invested too much time to turn back without reaching my destination. I had invited my friend David, but luckily he didn't come. I'm sure he would've quit on me, and he would have been right to do so.
 Up on the ridges there were juniper branches to dodge and did I mention the prickly pear? I continued to wear my denim jacket even though the day had gotten rather warm and my sweat was soaking through, just to minimize the punctures. Even so my hands were bloody and my knees, ankles and thighs were thick with un-removed cholla and cactus spines.
Alas, as if all the preceding were not enough, this sojourn had one additional problem. From the direction I was approaching, the entrance to the upper canyon remained completely hidden. There was also "false canyon" similar to a false summit, which appeared to drain from the upper canyon but was actually cut off by low dividing ridge. Luckily I wasn't fooled, I got on the right ridge and made it to the "gate" of the upper canyon which was almost completely blockaded by grapevine strung across hackberry trees.
 I began to hear water running and for the first time since I left the truck, my heart felt a little lighter with just a bit of mountain joy. I broke through and beheld a tiny stream of water trickling over the whitish gray bedrock.  I was at the bottom of a two tiered waterfall of 40 or 50 feet. There was crack on the left side that I easily scrambled up to the small pool of water in between the drops. There was a second seam to follow also on the left side, only this one required bending back the sharp points of several intervening lechuguilla plants along the way. Once that was all negotiated there was some easy walking on bedrock along the stream where several more flowing( but barely) cascades appeared.

A lovely lone cottonwood with leaves in full fall color stood in the middle of the canyon, and just bit further, a spidery old maple denuded of leaves sat in the stream bottom as well.

After climbing a large boulder to get a better look around, I continued up stream where the going got really thick again. The grapevine that grew everywhere was particularly troublesome and at times seemed determined to not let me through. There were ash and oak trees now, and in the very back of the canyon huge junipers seemed to be pasted against the steep hillsides just below the orange and pink cliffs. I finally decided I'd had enough at a copse of maples( that patch of red I had seen so many years ago) that seemed virtually impenetrable although perhaps not significantly more so than the rest of the hike.


Now for the return. A trip made worse, not better, by working with gravity instead of against. Grapevine constantly snared my ankles threatening to send me headlong down the canyon. Once back in the desert and chaparral country, fallen sotol stalks hidden in the high grass were a near constant obstacle. Once again I made the mistake of believing I could find some easier passage in the canyon bottom itself. Right when things were getting their thickest, including the stream of expletives flowing over my lips, I took a tumble in some shrubs that I was trying to push through and proceeded to do a nice little roll in their sweet arms. All I could do was laugh at my predicament as I lay my on my back still buoyed up off the ground by the plant life.
 I was hoping to find a direct route out to the road and then hike back however far was necessary on the merciful pavement. It didn't work out. I was tired now, with no decent energy left so that all the impediments I had encountered on the way in now seemed vastly multiplied in their degree of annoyance.  Falling was more frequent. It felt like it was taking an inordinate amount time and as it turns out, it was. The three and a half hour hike I had initially estimated was now in its fifth hour threatening to go over six.
 I did make it back to the road. I wrapped my flannel shirt around my head for additional protection from the sun and did the what turned out to be thankfully short walk back to the truck.  It seems I do at least one of these crazy off-trail hikes in Organs each year, and this one, like almost all the others, is never to be repeated.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Southwest Canyon downstream-Gila National Forest

Southwest Canyon

Seamus on a tailings pile


We just needed to get away for few hours two Sundays ago, so we drove up to the foothills of the Black Range and did this little hike.  We had been to Southwest Canyon in February and hiked upstream. This time we decided to head downstream. Both times this hike has the advantage of being right off of NM 152 just a short ways past Kingston. No drive on the twist turns to get over Emory Pass and no bumping down the rough FR 157 were necessary.
The hike in the streambed was mostly clear. There was a trickle of water in a few spots. Unfortunately there were very few deciduous trees, save for a few small oaks and lone cottonwood, to provide Fall color.

Still it was a pleasant enough walk passing through the layers of limestone, shale and sandstone. There was one old mine, that was flooded at the bottom of its shaft, but little else to show that people come here or came here.
When we reached a fence, which is just a short ways up from the Forest Service's Kingston Work Center, we turned around

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Exploring Organ Mountains- Desert Peaks National Monument Book

 To those of you who follow and visit this blog, I just wanted to let you know that my book "Exploring Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument" is now available on Amazon.com and the Kindle Store in three versions: ebook, paperback with black and white interior, and full color paperback. Thanks for your support.

Noonday Canyon Box-Gila National Forest

 There's access to this hike off of NM 152 a little less than 1.5 miles west of the now closed Lower Gallinas Camground. A rough road on the north side will take you down to the parking for the Rabb Park Trail (FT 747). I've hiked upstream from this point along Noonday Canyon three times before. Once we hiked on the old road to the older cabin after deeming it too hot to conquer the Rabb Park Trail.  A second time, on cloudy and cool day, we did make the climb over into Rabb Park. Last fall, we hiked in the stream bed past the cabin for a couple of miles or so.

 October 20th found me out there again, this time with a plan to hike downstream to Noonday's box section, similar to my hikes in Gallinas, Bulltrap and Silver Canyons last year. It had been raining all week, but Saturday was supposed to mercifully precipitation free. I had my doubts though. It was cloudy, windy and much cooler than I expected as I started out.
 The first part of this walk  is in fairly wide little valley that has been beaten down with grazing, wet years and drought, for long time. A few colorful oaks were mixed in with the pines and junipers along the banks.

The stream was wet, but silent with an imperceptible flow in the shallow pools.
The road along the stream disappeared shortly, but further down another road came in from the south where there was a denuded meadow that has been used for camping( although by the looks of the fire rings, not too recently). At the confluence with Rabb Canyon, the valley widens considerably. Rabb Canyon had a very small flow as well. I still have plans to explore upstream in Rabb to the junction with the forest trail, but for today I was heading downstream into Noonday's little box which starts immediately after the two streams join.

The scrambling is not too hard and it's a fun 1/4 mile or so through the narrowest parts where the water runs over bedrock and into deep willow lined pools. There was one large alcove that I  investigated in but found no artifacts and where the canyon opened up again there was this little cave that could hold two or three people with juniper timbers and a stone box in front of it.

 I don't how old it is, but from the state of dessication on the timbers, I would have to say it wasn't done anytime recently. I continued on through a bend below a pine covered hillside where a large side canyon comes in from the east. Downstream the fall display of ash, cottonwood, walnut and willow was right at its peak. I found a shady resting place and ate my lunch, but my heart was already content from being in this beautiful canyon.

Afterwards, I walked down around a few more bends. I was expecting to run into a fence marking the boundary between Forest Service and private property, but never did. I did come to a little two tiered waterfall at the head of mini- canyon carved in the  bedrock.
 Nearby was little used road coming in from the west that reached its dead end. I later discovered, looking at my maps and Google Earth that this spot is just over the boundary and not on  Forest Service land.
The sun had arrived for my return trip to buoy me up for my long return walk. I was glad for the companion.