28 June 2019

Santa Fe Baldy

Santa Fe National Forest

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I've been given a short list of unsolicited you-must-go-tos, and one of them is the Pecos Wilderness. Besides, it's about time for another grand peak and New Mexico's 4th highest county high point should qualify. The shortest way there is a 7 mile hike on Winsor Trail, an old supply route, but I have decided to go along the far less practical route via the Skyline Trail for 10 miles. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure how I'm supposed to get to the start of it. It seems to start at the top of the ski runs and the sanctioned approaches seem to be from Aspen Vista or Big Tesuque Campground down the road a bit. It's not an attractive option, but I bet there's ways on the ski runs themselves, so I'm going that way. Right past a sign warning of man made and natural dangers ahead. It's not like there's any skiers coming down and they don't seem to be catering to mountain bikers and Frisbee golfers for a bit of summer cash. As long as I don't play with the 480V outlets every few hundred feet, it should be no more dangerous than usual.

danger sign in the trees
Following in the footsteps of many others right past the danger sign.

There's paths forming up the slopes, but also paths cut through the trees for a little more pleasant walk. I go for the in the trees routes but avoid where there are buildings. Apparently this is "Adventure Land" although it has the feel of a petting zoo. Halfway up, there's even a little very sheltered snow. It is easy to direct myself toward a little peak marked with a benchmark on the map. There is no benchmark, but there are sighting tubes, which can also be fun. They are all numbered and a sign says what you're looking at. Unfortunately, it's a little grey for actually seeing much.

ski lift coming up the mountain
Up under the ski lifts to the top.

a series of tubes
Sighting tubes and Santa Fe.

Still not high enough to catch the start of the trail, though. There is supposed to be a trail from here to it, but I'm not betting on it really being there. There are a couple other hikers up here, so there will be something. It's a popular place to walk. So, down through a shallow saddle and then up some more ski runs. Signs point the way, but not very well. The higher runs have drift fences to keep the snow in place and reduce the hiker options. I just climb on a faint track that might have once been the power line road. It seems to eventually be trail until just before it hits the road to an electronics site at the top of the current local bump. There's supposed to be some trail going roughly with the road, but I don't see it, just a lot of evidence and a few people hiking the road. Anyway, I found the start of Skyline, sort of. It'll definitely break off at a junction a short way ahead.

road to electronics site
On the road briefly with a preview of coming attractions. First the treeless bump to the right which is on the way to Lake Peak, then the bump toward the left, which is the grand prize for today.

The trail does break off at the junction although no sign marks it. Long snow banks cross it as it settles in on the top of the ridge under trees. They are not quite enough to lose the trail, which is good because I see no markings for it other than the path generated by travel. Once I'm rolling along, there is a old, worn sign I'll need further clues to decipher to "impassable for stock". Like I said, this is the more impractical route.

25 June 2019

La Ventana Arch

El Malpais National Conservation Area

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I find myself rushing north and passing areas that look like they really ought to be explored, but it's already a bit hot out here. Still, I can do some quick sightseeing for a particularly fun feature along the way. The stop has bathrooms, picnic tables, interpretive signs along a paved path, and very little shade. Oh, and the cholla are in bloom. It's been a while since I was trying to get through the dense stands of teddy bear cholla of the Gila Bend Mountains, for instance, so I can stand to see cholla again, especially in bloom. The ones here aren't plastered with flowers like some, but there's still a pretty bloom or two. Meanwhile, high up in the rocks, is the whole point of it all: a massive natural arch.

La Ventana Arch and the path to it
La Ventana Arch as it appears from near the parking lot. It is visible from the road, so can get a lot of viewers.

one purple cholla flower
One cholla flower out on this plant, but there's two more getting ready.

24 June 2019

Quemado Lake

Apache National Forest

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I decided Timmy should get a little stroll out to the lake. I don't want it to be too late in the day because the poor boy seems to start feeling the heat around 70°F with all that fur. It's the same start on Largo Trail #14 as before, and this time I'll get those benchmarks along the way. When the road tops out on a little hill, it'll be time to turn down a use trail and wander toward the lake.

road with a few trees
Following the road, driveway really. The overlook is above, but we'll not go that far.

trail at the top
The little bit of use trail at the top of the tiny hill.

cat ignoring the benchmark
Timmy knows benchmarks are boring. He gave it a sniff at least.

22 June 2019

Escondido Mountain

Apache National Forest

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What struck my fancy to hike while at Quemado Lake was Escondido Mountain, although I'm not sure how one can get away with calling a 1800 foot prominence peak "hidden" is beyond me. It has no trails up it, so I have to determine my own route. Escondido Trail caught my eye first, but it really doesn't go high up the mountain and it doesn't do it on one of the steeper slopes. The road it starts from looks like a better bet, follow it up as far as it goes then grab the ridge tot the right. The easiest way up, though, looks like a 4WD road that starts further south on the (should be) Scion friendly Baca Road #13D. This one climbs high up to a saddle west of the peak leaving less than a mile of ridge walking to the top. Although it means a couple miles road walking on something I can drive, I think I'll combine the two into a loop. I just have to find parking near the intersection of 13D and 4018J, which is pretty easy although I may have been better to dodge a few rocks and park a little further down 4018J, which is heavily impacted by dispersed camping along the first quarter mile or so.

soft dirt road
Just a road marked with a numbered slapstick, much like any other, to start.

a peak above the trees above the road
The goal and the means. Escondido Mountain looks small from here.

The road is a smooth, easy, gentle walk. Ruts have formed a few places, but mostly it is nice enough to drive with the little car. There are some spots that would require creativity. There aren't many tire marks. Although it seems to be a busy weekend, I have no motorized accompaniment. Lots of trees, not too thick, line the way, giving plenty of shade. It's mostly shallow canyon with a gentle curve with a little bit that is sharper and rockier. After three easy miles just swinging my legs along, it all changes into steep, rocky, direct climbing to the saddle in a 0.8 mile stretch that is most definitely for the 4WD and ATV crowd. The reward that the top ain't too shabby.

rough road and easy canyon
Getting into the climb, which gets rather rough and steep, looking back over the easy hills below.

short, white hills below
Over the top, it is a whole new type of landscape.

Besides an area to turn around and probably once or twice someone trying to continue over the top, the road stops at the saddle like it's supposed to. I have a mild inclination to go bag the lesser peak on the other side of the saddle, but the forested top doesn't call too strongly. The ridge I want is a little chocked with trees and brush right at the start, but I can pick up game trails that hug to the ridge quickly enough. The ones here are almost as good as people trails as they lead me through one rocky outcrop and around another and ever upward.

20 June 2019

El Caso Lookout

Apache National Forest

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It's probably about time I made it out of Gila National Forest, but I didn't get all that far. I decided to hike up to yet another lookout from Quemado Lake and whatever else might catch my fancy. Hey, lookouts should have grand views. It's nice to be away from burn warnings, although I have spotted a few around looking exactly the same as the Gila ones, right down to the "Gila National Forest" at the bottom. I might be in Apache, but only the oldest signs say so. The area is administered by Gila. And it's smoky. It wasn't smoky yesterday when I sat and wrote, but now my view is grey. I sure hope it clears out by the time I get to the top. The trail starts at the west end of the first unit of El Caso Campground. (This campground is free. The two closer to the lake are pay, but come with much better views.) It is signed Largo Trail #14 and starts off along a pair of ruts that are the driveway for an inholding further up Largo Creek. At some point, someone put up information signs, one so basic it basically says, "Hey, there's animals out there! Wouldn't it be fun to spot one?" It shows some charismatic mega fauna. A second admits you probably won't see animals, but you certainly will see their tracks pictures some more common tracks. It all sits in a wide canyon with a shallow creek bed contributing absolutely nothing to the very low lake downstream.

signs and gate
At the start of the trail. A flattened rectangle for parking is on the right in front of the signs, but the grass hides it from those who might use it. The trail starts behind the gate to the left.

big trees, ruts, and a mesa
Diverse trees dot the sides of the dry canyon. The mesa ahead is the north end of the bump with the lookout.

Posts start marking the trail along the side of the road as it crosses the creek bed and turns up along Largo Creek, then start marching out across the flats away from the road. It looks like there was once a bridge to cross it, but now it is long gone, as are a pair of signs. "Bridge out" is my only guess. The creek is a huge pool between them, so I round it at a distance to try to avoid marshiness around it. It almost works, but one foot comes up a bit muddy. The trail is easy the rest of the way to a junction with the Lakeshore Trail.

posts across the grass by Largo Creek
The trail from the road to the vanished bridge is mostly noticeable by the change in color of the grass.

Quemado Lake is very low
A smoky Quemado Lake from the far end from the dam.

The junction is well signed but with extremely deflated mileages. It says 2 miles to the lookout but I will be surprised if it is less than 3. Through a real gate for some range land and then onward and upward. The posts still mark the trail that appears to be an old road as it crosses the grasses, then as it resolves into definite old road as it climbs higher.

17 June 2019

Pinon Knob

Gila National Forest

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That bit of southbound Continental Divide Trail still awaits some walking, so that is for today. This bit of trail is, again, in its purest form just about exactly following that great divide. I picked out Pinon Knob as a destination, which should be a little less than 10 miles on the trail and then a short ramble up to stand on the named peak. It's quite a bit lower than the start, but it sticks out a bit so might have some good views. I think I'll go up an unnamed peak 9403 on the way out, too, for the high point of the day. The Forest Service claims I'll be going there anyway but OpenStreetMap thinks I'll more sensibly go around the side of it, but still mostly up it. It'll be another long day.

southbound CDT
Warnings about the dangers of entering burned areas, but nothing saying the CDT is here except the crest nailed to a tree a little way in.

So I start the same direction as northbound, but on the other side of the fence. Some nice, fresh crests have been nailed to the trees to aid the blazes in showing the way, but the trail seems visible enough. I wouldn't be worried, except that everyone seems to take the "Gila alternate" through here and it reconnects with the real trail right where I started. They could jaunt a short way to the east earlier and reduce the road walking by about 15 miles, but most don't get beyond navigating either the trail or well known alternates, so this bit of trail does not get the benefit of 400 through hikers and however many section hikers to keep it established.

trees with a backdrop of mountain
The trail swings easterly before finally turning south along the ridge of Tularosa Mountains.

a blaze that is partly made distinct by the fire and partly burned away
After a fire, blazes can sometimes be a little bit difficult to follow.

An open space, a little more open after the fire, briefly presents a challenge for finding trail, but eventually I can spot some old cuts and new cuts, little cairns and big cairns. The crew that came through nailing crests to the trees did a bit more than that to provide clues as to where the trail goes and meadow areas can be hard to keep a good footpath through. The rest is fine as it runs along more fence, crosses one old road with at least 10 years of tree growth sprouting out of it but a nice gate to serve it, then drops onto a slightly used road next to a massive cairn.

Elk Mountain
Elk Mountain to the south. I should have found a way up that one.

The road leaves no doubt where to go and the crests follow along to reassure me. It passes near Spurgeon Tank, which has water covered in green although it is not that large. It must be brought in the for the cows, which are definitely on this side of the fence. Today's lesser spotted predator is a fox. This one looks up at me a moment, then back down. In movements and posture, it seems to say, "Ah, human. Yes. I am afraid I can't quite give you much attention. You see, I have a hole here to watch and it is a fair bit more important than you." The head swings up and back a few times as I continue past down the road.

fox with a hole to watch
One fox determined to keep on watching its hole rather than run off from the hiker.

Eagle Peak
Eagle Peak is just visible over Buzzard Peak at the right. The little box of a lookout is visible too.

Just before the road comes to another gate, there is another big cairn to show where the trail breaks off. It looks like this spot has been used as a campsite for both hikers and drivers. A tiny green tree sits across the road just past the gate, so drivers are probably not going any further this way either. The map shows a spring a short way down the other side of the mountain, so I expect the road goes there. I can't say for sure since none of my maps shows it. It's short enough to check, but my mind right now is on the high point of the day, that unnamed peak 9403. The trail climbs a little too directly but the rotting wood water bars indicate it is the one I want and not cattle trying to confuse me.

faint but visible trail with crest and blaze
Trail is faint, but visible, beside a blaze with an old fiberglass crest nailed in the top.

I suspect the peak might be on the far side of the fence, so leave the trail to take advantage of a spot where it is down, then follow up along the ridge. The peak is not on the far side of the fence, but it doesn't matter because I can fairly freely cross it as I go up. The cows seem to have noticed this freedom too. The excursion gives some fine northerly views I would not have gotten staying to the trail.

north to east
Some fine northerly views from near the top and on around to the easterly.

The little peak is tree covered with a little bit of view. The Department of Agriculture has dropped a benchmark simply labeled "AAS 10" in 1938. Someone else has left a little vitamin bottle register which survived the fire last year. They call this the Tularosa Mountains high point, but since Eagle Peak is 383 feet higher and seems to also be part of the Tularosa Mountains, I suspect that is wrong.

little register on peak 9403
Maybe it's trying to say it's the Long Canyon Mountains high point, which could be true. Four entries since 2001 in this little register, and Bob Packard got here first. Five once I've added mine.

Then down along another ridge to catch the trail again. There is actually a little bit of trail up here... and a couple of blazes! My Forest Service map isn't lying to me about where the trail goes, it's just really out of date! It shows the trail missing Pinon Knob, so I won't get any old trail up that. The new trail is obvious when I reach it, especially with its flashy plastic crests and old stamped wood piece crests. And now, there is a lot of down.

marker for old trail
A blaze to mark the old trail off peak 9403. If there were crests here, they have been removed.

Too bad the trail doesn't stay any more visible than the old route is coming down off the peak. Bits and pieces can be found. The rocky, uneven ground has not yet had enough feet to even kick away the looser of the rocks, it seems. I find myself more and more heavily relying on those plastic crests to say where and then they start thinning out as though they are being rationed. It does help that I am following a ridge, but it's rather flat topped and it does split from time to time.

fat, squat juniper
Taking an interest in a tree along the way.

very clear trail
Nothing like following blazes over the top of something only to find clear trail around the side of it at the bottom. I'll try this one on the way up.

Collins Park and Elk Mountain
Getting to see more of Collins Park between here and O Bar O Mountain.

There are four roads that come up to the ridge top and stop, according to my map. I am rather surprised to find that three of them actually seem to exist. They vary from barely used to vanishing, but there is at least a hint of each one. One climbs a little way and the trail seems to follow the bulldozer track that is the road, faint as it is. Seems to, because I really can't see trail but markers keep popping up along the side. The bulldozer track is only visible at its edges itself. Man, oh man, could this trail have used the 400 feet or so this year and however many in each previous year.

elk butts
Accidentally chasing elk on the trail. Well, there's a crest anyway. Some of the crests in this area have been mildly eaten by something.

Pinon Knob with much burned tree
Lots of burned trees up on Pinon Knob.

As I set eye on Pinon Knob, I am all out of desire to actually find this trail. I can see my goal and there isn't trail up to the top of it, so I can just got there. Oddly, as I make my way along my own zig-zag on that last down, I seem to be more on trail than during the previous mile. The trail would carry me up again halfway or so, but I just don't care and go my own way, only to run into markings again. It doesn't matter, because I am climbing and it is mostly not. There are a few trees down on the climb, but none that are very big. It is not too bad an obstacle course.

hills from on the hill
The surrounding hills to the east from halfway up Pinon Knob.

The top still has a few trees and gained a little view. The Forest Service dropped one of their "visible area map point" benchmarks, which is the same as the one above except it took a lot more pounding to mark it with everything back on 10-22-1938. Even the date takes more pounding. The register here must not have survived the fire because there is a new one with entries only from last year. I'm the fifth to sign, but that represents quite a bit more frequent visits.

Elk Mountain
The imposing bulk of Elk Mountain.

from around Buzzard Peak
Looking up at Eagle Peak with its lookout.

Cox Canyon
Looking down into Cox Canyon, which is not as nice a place to hike.

more hills
Those baldies might be out that way, which is roughly southwest.

Down again, I aim at the east side of the mountain that sort of had a little bit of trail on it. It doesn't really help much for the getting down, so I end up rounding the mountain to bump into the trail again. It is really tempting to follow down to the saddle and then cross country down to the road. It sure would be a lot easier. But I drove that road already and I know it's kind of miserable. Also, I'm getting a little grumpy about all these hikers who are supposedly hiking this trail but can't be bothered to hike this trail. Not THIS part. It should be getting the feet it needs to be a good trail. Don't Panic said the alternate is about going along the "more interesting" bit, but along here it is just a shortcut and they're missing out on something much better than the road down there. A divide is a crest and crests are nice bits. So I won't do it. I'll make another attempt at following this trail which is really only a route between cairns, blazes, and crests. So up I go, missing at least as much of the trail as I did coming down, but often different bits.

mountains to the east
Mountains to the east of Collins Park giving a much better view than can be found along a dusty road through a dusty canyon.

dispersed trees in the grass
Plenty of spots that are a bit like a park full of trees to wander through too.

I really did these trails in order from easiest to hardest to find. As I lose and regain trail over and over, I am ready to claim anyone skipping this bit didn't hike it in its entirety. Especially not Mr. "You're going the wrong way." Okay, it's hard to pick on all of them, but that guy... what a twerp. You're on the wrong trail!

tiny bit of trail
Hey, look, a bit of trail! Real CDT right on the divide!

I chug along, hoping to get up by peak 9403 before sunset. After that, there are only a few short tough spots to find. But really, it would be something to get lost climbing a ridge line that I've already been along earlier in the day. There was one spot I noticed with trail around something I had just come down from, so I try it on the way up. Huge cairns and super obvious blazes call me from above, but I keep with the trail and the trail keeps on going with a gentle climb until almost at the next saddle where it just dissipates. It was actually difficult steps above where all the trail markers are, but easy around the side with no trail markers at all. I don't know if someone built it or it is just cows, but it is much nicer trail. Then it is back to clambering over each bump except that very highest.

dark trees against the light sky
Silhouettes of the trees, and lack of trees, along the ridge that Trail 15 follows.

One bit of nasty burn area tries to get me, even with the light. I know I'm way off the route I came down on, but I'm not sure where that was. It was closer to correct than my route up. I end up with a bit of extra climb, but am back on the "trail" as it dips again. Then more climb. It really is a lot of climbing for the second half of the day. So it goes. I am back to the road section with some light remaining and the short difficult bits do offer some stumbling, but then the huge moon rising makes me happy to still be out and get to hike under it.

moon rising in dark trees
The rising of a great big moon. Not that I would dare have my tripod along to actually be able to take the picture.

There is not much left to hike. I did have to run a few cows off it to pass, they seem to get high up when the day gets late. Someone has left a memorial poster on the back of a tree. Why here? It doesn't say. Then I am back at the road and there is nothing more to do than get some food and sleep and then away from danger camp.

©2019 Valerie Norton
Written 7 Jul 2019

15 June 2019

Eagle Peak

Gila National Forest

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Eagle Peak stands with a little over 2000 feet prominence and is reachable in a long day hike along ridges via Trail 15. The fact that trail is only called by a number is not the greatest anti-enticement to actually walking it. From what I can see from the trailhead, the forest it goes through experienced devastating crown fire that killed and partly consumed every tree near it. Then, someone went through with chain saws and cut down every obviously dead tree that might fall upon the trail or the nearby fence. It is hard to say which they were trying to save. I've never seen that done for a trail, so probably the fence. The trail is cleared, so at least they were thinking about it. Since Eagle Peak is the tallest thing in the local area, I'm just going to try it anyway. Maybe the next mile gets better. Perhaps I'm letting the end justify the means.

trail 15 sign
The start of Trail 15. It is not the road, although the salvage logging operation seems to have made the first short bit into road.

There is a sign to warn me of the dangers of traveling in burned areas although it looks like someone made it a lot safer. The first part of trail has become road, probably from the salvage logging that is going on. There is not supposed to be a road there according to my map and it plunges through the fence where there is no gate only a short way up. Above that, the trail has been driven on, but it has not become a road. Above that, a long dirt depression in a single track is visible. There really is a trail here and it is one that gets used a bit, or did before the fire. Higher still, the long stretch of cut trees in a wide swath is visible.

Elk Peak across Collins Park
There are some stands of trees with green between here and Elk Peak across Collins Park

trail through nothing but burn
There is trail here and with so many clues it will be hard to get lost.

I find myself at a loss as to which is worse, the burned trees or the swath of cut trees. I tend to think the cut trees, but at least its safe and clears out the views even more than the burn? The effort that must have gone into this is amazing. The trees were tall once and the trail and fence sometimes diverge, so it's a swath hundreds of feet wide of trees cut down. It was not the salvage logging, the trees are all still here, so after they were downed the trail and fence had to be cleared and the fence repaired. Some spots the cleared logs are actually on the trail, but there is a route left and a trail developing. I suspect it is mostly elk causing the new trail to develop, but they're doing a good job so far.

more clearing of trees
Wide swath of cut trees. It just goes on and on.

It takes more than a mile, but there is green forest. The whirlwind of chainsaws only took the definitely dead leaving everything else to make a try at living. Some of the singed trees aren't going to make it and a few have fallen over in the wind. Deeper into the green, I start to wonder if the chainsaws quit. Then there is another felled tree or two. At least they didn't have much work.

trees with green tops
Green ahead! Although the edges are a bit brown.

There is an island of burn within the green and logs lay everywhere with a line cut through them. The level of burn is constantly changing. The level of green of the forest is constantly changing. The green of the ground cover is constantly changing too. Some burned areas are just black while others have growth. Mostly it looks like the fire was too hot and the stored seeds of the opportunistic plants waiting for something just like this died too. A felled tree blocks my path and there are a few indications of incomplete work. End of the work day? So the clearing of the trail is not perfect, but probably better than usual and certainly better than it could have been. Then there is a mystery road complete with gate where is passes the fence. All my maps are incomplete.

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