Monday, June 29, 2020

Enough With the Bad! Let's Find the Good!

The current times are challenging!

More for some than others.

And I acknowledge (Which I'm trying to do without being smug about it - but normally I have so little to be smug about in the social life-style realm, so it's hard not to.) that I fit firmly in the latter group - you know - the "others".

After all, it's not like I sat around a table playing cards every second Wednesday while indiscriminately sharing a bowl full of Chex-mix, or gathered with friends in a too-crowded booth at the local watering hole most Friday evenings before all this pandemic stuff happened. Prior to February of this year you would have been hard pressed to find me at a parade, or amusement park, or mall, or any other place with more than a handful of people, so not being able to get out there and do that sort of stuff today is no skin off my nose.

We're blessed out here with a decent-sized, isolated bit of property where we can roam without fear of encountering any of the dreaded infected. (At this point in time everybody, including us, should be considered as infected, whether showing symptoms or not.)

And when this all kicked off we didn't have jobs to lose. We didn't run out of toilet paper and disinfectants. We weren't caught short on basic food supplies, or even masks and hand-sanitizer. (Still haven't had to buy any of the latter two items.) That's because we are always stocked up and prepared for a disruption in our oh-so fragile manufacturing and distribution network to ensure that we can just sit back, stay home and keep out of the way during the panic buying phase that is inevitable.

But! (OK, cue the teeny-tiny violin because here comes the whining) It hasn't been all sunshine, peaches, and pealed grapes either. I have, after all, missed the entire spring camping season. (Which means The Wife has had to put up with me being home the whole time, and that's no picnic for her either!) And I'm not going to be surprised if my summer plans and next fall's camping season are trashed as well. Hell, at this point I'm not even going to be surprised if next winter-spring are also a bust, traveling wise. Devastated yes, surprised, no.

But there is some good to be found in all this.

For instance, because of The Virus (I can say that now and everyone knows what I'm talking about, but in 5 years it may be too ambiguous. We can hope anyway!) I can show off the splendid results of my extensive beauty regime without compromising my social-media security!!

(Hummm. Maybe I should have put on my go-to-town hat. That ragged-out barn hat is riding a little low on my ears there. . .)

Monday, June 22, 2020

Guadalupe Mountains: McKittrick Canyon Nature Trail

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is technically interconnected with a web of back-country trails, but it's a long ways to walk over these mountains from one end of the park to the other, so functionally the park is split into three main zones.

Pine Springs, in green, is the easiest to reach and the most visited, Dog Canyon, in yellow, is the most remote, and McKittric Canyon, in blue is a day-use only area.

I've already written several posts from the Pine Springs area, so far I have no firsthand knowledge of the Dog Canyon area, but now I'm going to venture into the McKittrick Canyon "zone".for a couple posts.

Getting here is pretty easy - once the gate finally opens at 0800 mountain time that is.

From Pine Springs turn left on US-62, drive down the north side of the pass about 7 miles, (Slowly in pretty dense fog the day I did this.) passing the Nickle Creek Station, which may have been a "station" in the past but now is the scattered infrastructure of the Ligon Ranch, wait in the north-bound median turn lane until the ranger comes by and unlocks the gate across McKittrick Canyon Road because there isn't enough room in front of the gate for both of you, (0800 is pretty late for me and I had already killed all the time back at camp that I could stand this morning and apparently my watch was running faster than the ranger's) then it's another 4 miles up a narrow but paved road to the McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center.

By the way, don't forget that the gate is locked again at 1630 (4:30) because finding yourself on the wrong side of it is serious business. There is a full page of instructions posted back at the visitor center on what to do if you get locked in. It starts with calling 911 which will connect you to a call center in the next county, they will then call the Culberson County sheriffs office, who will then contact the on-call - - - well, you get the idea.

Apparently people have been living here in this canyon for at least some 12,000 years, and from the 1500's until they were carted off like so much cattle to the reservation northeast of Alamogordo NM the Mescalero Apache called the place home, but today the canyon is named for a rancher that showed up around 1870, even though the most notable "modern" remains to be found in the canyon today are attributable to Wallace Pratt who, after a 100 mile "road-less trek" from Pecos TX, first saw the place in 1921.

By the 1930's Pratt had started buying land and built a stone and timber cabin up the canyon where the north and south McKittrick rivers come together, as well as a hunters cabin up there a few miles further.

When I got here, on a Friday morning, the Visitor Center Office, with a sign saying "ask here if you have questions" was shuttered and locked, but if you go through the breezeway between the office on the right and the bathrooms (Flush toilets) on the left, there is a covered seating area back there and if you push the button below the screen tucked in behind the office a 10 minute video of Pratt describing what attracted him to the area, the geology, (that was his profession) and his reasoning behind donating over 5000 acres to the park, will play.

Maybe you will feel different, but I thought it was worth watching and makes a good start to a visit here.

There are three main trails that originate just behind the Visitor Center.

The Permian Reef Trail earns a Strenuous rating for the 2000' climb required.

Since I don't really consider myself a serious geology buff , and the brochure necessary for decoding the interpretive markers along the trail was unobtainable at the unmanned visitor center, I thought that was a better sounding excuse for skipping this trail than pure laziness. So I decided I could focus on the other two trails instead without too much guilt clawing at me.

At barely a mile long (1.3 by the time I quit messing around.) it's debatable whether the Nature Loop qualifies as a trail or a stroll,

but I thought it was worth an hour.

Besides, that would give the fog a little more time to lift out of the canyon before I hiked the longer trail. (OK, OK, so I didn't have to be quite so hard on the ranger showing up a few minutes late to unlock the gate. . .)

The Nature Trail is populated with a lot of information, both geologic and flora/fauna wise.

Don't worry, I won't inflict any more than this one on y'all, I just wanted to show that the plaques are clear and easy to read, which is not always the case after prolonged exposure.

By the way, this was one of the two or three plaques that are this wordy, making them like kryptonite to the easily bored and distracted - you know, like kids - the rest were shorter and more to-the-point.

That's the Visitor Center under the arrow

Though not a difficult trail at all, you will need a pair of functional legs to manage the rocky path and the 200' of elevation change of this nature loop.

I did my usual counterclockwise orienteering which had me returning towards the visitor center down one side of a ravine with views to the northeast but not of the canyon itself,

but I would be on the trail up the canyon soon enough.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Back at Guadalupe Mountains; The El Capitan Hike

As I said in the previous post, weather not only chased me out of southeast Arizona, but it also threw a crimp into my vague plans to head up through Silver City and from there across to the Sacramento Mountains.

But to be honest, I'd been screwing around out here long enough that, even though Thanksgiving was late this year, I was running out of time to get back home before the hordes were released.

It may have been inadvertent, but I started this trip on a holiday, and now I wasn't too keen on ending it the same way.

So at this point it really wasn't a great sacrifice to retreat right back to Guadalupe Mountain National Park for a couple more nights in my old campsite, site 31.

Though the sky had cleared nicely by the next morning, with no hint of the snow and ice predicted for the Sacramento Mountains a little further north, the winds, even in the shadow of the mountain, were still fierce. Bad enough that even with chinstrap cinched tight enough to leave a mark, (Though with my old-man-turkey-neck one more mark is pretty hard to see.) my hat blew off a couple of times, nearly taking my head with it!

For this reason I decided to forgo any of the high hikes, such as the peak or bowl trails, and stick to lower elevations instead.

Which is how I ended up trying out the El Capitan trail.

Despite it's name, this trail does NOT climb up El Capitan, for that you would have to take the Guadalupe Peak Trail to the end then do some serious bushwhacking along a scary looking ridge, which you will not find me doing anytime soon. Instead the El Capitan trail sweeps around below El Capitan and opens up some views around the southern end of the Guadalupes and across the salt-flats to the west.

If you make the recommended 11 mile round-trip hike out to Salt Basin Overlook that is. . .

And while I was still in the campground, in the partial wind-shadow of the mountain, that was a possibility, but - well - you'll see.

I didn't get a particularly early start this morning.

I could probably come up with a number of excuses for lazing around camp the way I did instead of getting to it, but even I'm not sure any of them are really legitimate.

At any rate, as you can see, by the time I shrugged into my backpack and slipped my hands through the straps on the hiking-sticks the sun was halfway up the trees.

Even so, I was still able to get a few decent back-lit shots.

OK, before I get into the hike I have to make this small detour.

That group down there

 arrived this morning in two F-150 super-cabs, yep all 10 of them in two trucks. Trucks which have Arizona tags

with New Mexico Conservation Corps signs plastered on the sides,

and, of course, we are in Texas. . . 

They are down there doing a series of warm-ups before donning gear, including picks, shovels, and climbing helmets, and heading up the trail somewhere, (Not anywhere I was) presumably to do some tail-work given the gear they carried, and not returning until late in the afternoon. They did this for the two days I was there.

Now back to our regularly scheduled hike.

Soon after hitting the trail I have a little peek of El Capitan.

But while I was looking at that, you see that nondescript shrub sitting there leaning out over the trail just enough

to snag the distracted?

It has the rather descriptive name of Catclaw Mimosa, also known by the exasperated hiker as the Wait-a-Minute! bush.

Because once you're tangled up in the damn thing you're not going anywhere until you ease those claws out of skin and clothing while surreptitiously looking around to see if anyone is close enough to hear you whimpering.

Go ahead, ask me how I know. . .

Though the elevation change on this hike is only about 400'

 I'm still at around 6000' so there are some nice views.

Speaking of views, as I continue around the flank of the mountain my view of El Capitan slowly increases.

But when I get to about where the black arrow is, with an even better view of El Capitan, and I look across the canyon/ravine/wash to where the red arrow is,

I see this and can't quite figure out what the heck I'm looking at.

My first thought was a really tall century plant, but one that tall didn't seem very likely. And this being an antenna of some sort was equally unlikely because you don't put one of those down in the bottom of a wash.

Zooming the camera in didn't help much. Now it looked like some sort of giant cat's cradle gone horribly wrong.

It wasn't until I panned down to the base and zoomed way in that it became clear this was a fence, one leg of which is going almost straight up the slope over there.

Kinda glad I'm not the guy that had to unroll all that wire!

Anyway, onward as El Capitan gets closer and closer.

By the way, I think I probably did, but did I mention the wind?

It was bad in the campground.

Out here it's brutal!

And by the time I round a ridge and get a glimpse of this hike's supposed destination, the little peak that is the Salt Basin Overlook, (which is really only the halfway point since I still have to get back) I was getting a little tired of my ears flapping so much I couldn't hear the perpetual whine of the tinnitus that is my lot in life. Besides, my hat, my go-to-town hat, was getting all twisted up by this mega-bully of a breeze.

When I zoomed in from where I was and realized, even though I was only halfway to the overlook, I could a tiny little glimpse of the salt-flats out there I decided an afternoon lolling around camp with a book sounded really good about now, and I turned around.

Decision made, with no small sense of relief, I headed back to the shelter of a wash I had come through not too long ago, climbed up it a ways to get clear of the trail, passing this well-worn antler along the way,

and settled in for a little snack before letting the wind push me the rest of the way back to camp.

Setting the wind aside, if I was grading the El Capitan Trail using a curve set by all the other trails I hiked here in the Guadalupe Mountains, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a C-minus.

It's a nice enough hike, and in another location might rate a B-plus, but there are better hikes around here. That's my opinion anyway.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Hiking Parker Canyon Lake - Then Running For Cover!

The following events occurred on November 19 2019

After a peaceful night as the solitary resident of the Parker Canyon Lake campground tent loop (There were some rigs in the RV section) I was up early

because, though for the optimistic there was hope in the form of some holes in the cloud-cover, for the realists the forecast was calling for deteriorating conditions with a rough afternoon predicted, to be followed by several days of nasty weather,

and I really wanted to get a hike in before the predicted sky, and wind, and cold, came crashing down on me.

The lake is about 125 acres and there is a trail around the perimeter, which is the obvious choice for this morning's hike.

As you can imagine, this is one of the few places in the state where lake-fishing is available.

You can fish from the shore, bring you own boat (10 HP max if powered), or rent kayaks or fishing boats at the marina.

There were no people around, but by the looks of it shore-fishing is a pretty popular activity here and there are a number of these fishing-line recycling stations along the easier-to-reach shoreline near the campground and marina.

As you can also see - people suck!

Despite the good intentions, and the sign saying no cans, no bottles, no trash, every one of these things was stuffed to the gills with cans, bottles, and trash, leaving no room for the deadly tangles of fishing line.

 Anyway, after negotiating the 100' drop from campsite to lake-shore, which was the greatest elevation change of the hike, I turned counterclockwise and by the time the sun was coming up over the trees, I was around that first inlet on the shore-hugging trail and well on my way to the pointy upper end of the lake.

The end with the more rugged shore-line,

though the hiking was never difficult.

This is also the end where most the shore-birds hang out, though they made a point of moving out of my way as I went. I guess the birds here are just camera-shy.

As I approached the north end of the lake where I would turn the corner and start back down the other side I saw this thing up ahead.

At first I thought it might be some sort of dare-devil bridge to get across Collin's Canyon,

but it turned out to be a suspended pipeline and not at all suitable for walking across.

Instead the trail crosses up-canyon from here a couple hundred feet.

and right after that I came across this.

It's completely fenced in, including roof, and my first thought was of a prison exercise yard. (Not that I have any first-hand knowledge of prison exercise yards mind you!) But there were no guard towers so I still don't know what it was all about, though, just beyond this thing - whatever it is -

there is this.

A building which, despite it's "bathroom" look, apparently houses well number D23-19-17-1 or is that 55-642729?

Whichever, I'm clearly not allowed.

There's a propane powered generator on the back-side of the building and I'm figuring this must be where that pipeline originates.

This is also where some trail-markers make things a little confusing.

Standing in front of the well-house there are two different trail-markers visible. Those little backpacker-with-hiking-stick diamonds tacked to a post.

One seems to point down the near-side of Collin's Canyon, which makes sense, but then that way soon dead-ends in a maze of brush and diminishing game trails.

The other marker seems to point up along an unmarked road that's more track than road (the MVUM doesn't even show it though I think it's an extension of 48C and is probably used to get a truck in here to fill the propane tank.) that is heading north, away from the lake and away from where I expected the trail to be.

But eventually this wrong-way option does a U-turn as it crosses a wash and heads back towards the lake again.

At this point I've only covered about a third of the 5 mile loop around the lake

but, despite the lack of any real light, the sky is looking a little less ominous with larger patches of blue in my vicinity so I'm not feeling rushed.

Mind you, though I may have some bits of sun coming down on my head once in a while, the Huachuca Mountains to the east are looking a little rough, so maybe the forecast isn't completely wrong. . .

But as long as I keep my back to the mountains and look west and north, as here just after I crossed the lake's earthen dam, things are looking pretty good.

The spillway here at Parker Canyon Lake is a little different than what I'm used to seeing.

Instead of being incorporated into the dam this spillway is about 500' south of the dam and has been cut deep into the surrounding rock.

Just there in the bottom right corner of the photo you can see a bit of  the fence designed to keep hikers from falling the 30 feet or so from trail into the cut.

Instead you have to detour to the down-stream end of the cut to get across it.

Here I'm standing in the bottom of the cut looking back up towards the lake

and here I've turned around and am looking down the spillway towards where this wash eventually joins the Santa Cruz River, but not before crossing the border into Mexico.

And yes, for those with good eyes, those are the skeletal remains of a deer. Judging by the lack of flesh or even tendons, they have been there a while.

From across the lake I can see The Van glaring at me. True, I had to zoom in quite a ways, but she sure does stand out in all her sunlit white glory!

Though eminently practical, reflecting heat rather than absorbing it, not showing dirt, and being highly visible on the road, white is not the best color for whispering. Maybe a nice stone-grey would make her a little less conspicuous out there. . .

Not long after crossing the spillway I turn the corner and am negotiating the south side of the lake where it is widest.

On the home stretch now and the weather has held, in fact it's even looking pretty dang good about now, but is apparently still lurking in the area waiting to catch the clueless and less than wary off guard.

In fact, by the time I finish the hike and get back to The Van where I can check in with NOAA weather radio things are starting to get a little more serious. Flash flood warnings are up for later in the afternoon and this is supposed to settle in for several days.

From here the road out to Sonita is paved, but it's still forest-roadish with 25 miles of narrow, twisting, dipping, climbing, and low-water crossing track from here to there, so I make the decision to get on out of here while the gettin's good and relocate back towards the east where the wet part of this weather has already passed through.

Nightfall found me back in New Mexico and on the backside of the rain, which hit me pretty hard between Wilcox and Lordsburg, but the front still had a strong hold and the wind from the south was fierce. Fierce enough that I found myself dodging refrigerator-sized tumbleweeds barreling out of the growing darkness as I bulled my way the last few miles to Deming where I planned on shutting down for the night.

(I managed to dodge all but one microwave-sized weed which went under The Van with a hearty thwack-crunch.)

Before dawn the next morning I was headed back towards Guadalupe Mountains, but only after I swept the thousands of willow-leaves  off the van that had been stripped from the trees last night in the Walmart parking-lot by the wind so I could see out the windshield. (Weeks later I'm still finding little dried curls of willow-leaf hiding in the cracks and crevices of The Van.)

A return to Guadalupe Mountains wasn't in my original plans.

When I left Arizona and headed back east I had intended to sweep north through Silver City and from there revisit Alamogordo, Cloudcroft, and the Sacramento Mountain area, maybe even tackle the Dog Canyon Trail again, but with the forecast last night calling for snow and ice down to the 6500' mark, and today's forecast calling for continued snowfall above 7500' in the Sacramento Mountains, I decided that wasn't such a good idea. . .