Monday, June 17, 2024

Apache (Gila) National Forest - Mangas Creek (San Antone Canyon)

Mangas Creek

JD Pit Tank

The spring

Church ruin at Mangas NM.

It was going to be another hot one, but I didn't want to hang around the cabin all day, so this ( what turned out to be) all day adventure to Mangas Creek and beyond ended up filling the daylight hours very nicely. We headed out from the cabin on Horse Mountain and after about a half hour turned off of NM 12 onto  Catron County Rd. A0 95. It's narrow, and once we started heading up and up out of the flatlands, a bit rough. It's also a very scenic drive as it follows the twist and turns of Patterson Canyon. At the top is a large meadow area where we drove past a couple of bicyclists on the road. We saw one camper at Valle Tio Vinces on this Thursday morning among the huge ponderosa pines. Soon after we pulled off onto the road that mostly parallels Mangas and then parked at a dispersed camping area.

 I could already feel the the warmth even at 8200 feet when we emerged from the car, but as began walking we were happy to see water as we passed JD Pit Tank. On the first half of this hike before reaching a second larger tank it was pretty easy to stay in the shade even though Mangas Creek is very much a wet meadow type of stream and similar to the many drainages of the Lincoln National Forest in that there are few trees growing in the middle of the canyon. There were many pale purple and variegated wild irises everywhere though. The very narrow actual watercourse, 1-3 feet wide in most places had no flow except a meager amount in a few short stretches but we could tell it had been flowing nicely earlier in the spring.

Aspens began showing up as we kept a slow pace up the trail-less canyon. It had been awhile since I had laid eyes on any and they were a sweet sight and kept our spirits up even as the heat of midday settled upon us. 

Approaching the second man-made pond (tank) the stream had a bit of flow in its channel and there were areas of saturated grass as well. Just past the tank we rested for a bit and ate some snacks. I was still hoping to get to at least the first of two springs that are indicated on maps. The problem was now the canyon was much wider and very open. We clung to the tree lined edges as best  we could but it was hot and the stream was completely dry now.

When we arrived at where the first spring should be, we had some difficulty at first finding it, but I eventually located it emerging from the dry hillside and flowing very weakly across the old road for  about 25 feet  before completely disappearing under and old fallen log. It was hard to even fill two small water bottles for my dogs for the hot return trip. We used the somewhat shaded road for the first leg of our return trip. At the larger tank where I wet my older scottie down, which gave him new life for the rest of the walk.

A couple of things I noticed about Mangas Creek. It is not currently being used by livestock and doesn't appear to have been for a while. The tanks were fenced, I believe, to keep straying cattle out while continuing to be a source of water for wildlife. The old road does not appear to get much use. 

We decided after getting back to the 4Runner that we would drive north instead of  going back the way we came. The road followed Mangas Creek in a more or less straight shot eventually passing the  forest service work center just before leaving  national forest lands. Shortly thereafter, we encountered a couple of tumbledown buildings next to two small ponds. Across the road was the stone and adobe ruin of a church. Further down the road an abandoned tin roofed house stood sat on a treeless hill. This is what remains of Mangas, NM.

Beyond Mangas were a few more very old stone and adobe buildings along the road with the more modern ranch houses and sheds back behind. Miles and miles of low rolling hills followed, populated with sagebrush, weeds and maybe a bit of grass. The only trees were tucked against the lonely ranch houses or shading a livestock first, via the South Pie Town Road, which is twenty miles of roller coaster country road, before turning onto the more reasonable Green Gap Road.

UPDATE (6/7/24): Within hours after we left Mangas Creek, a lightning strike on a nearby ridge started the Antone Fire.  It is being managed  for beneficial effects within a contained perimeter. Where we hiked is currently closed. The area may look quite different from what is pictured here.

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