Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Round Mountain G

Round Mountain

The guilt from yesterday's illegal ascent of Sierra Blanca was really eating away at me this morning. While I had originally planned to attempt ascents of two different mountains today, I revised my plans a bit and decided to only make an ascent of Round Mountain G, another mountain (more of a hill really) that I had gotten details about on Summitpost.

I drove through the Mescalero reservation and out of it into the foothills. Today I was unsure about the land ownership of the area I planned to hike, but at least I knew Round Mountain was not on the reservation. There is a heavily used trail leading up Round Mountain and I decided I would take my chances. the trail was quite steep, but it was short and I soon found myself on Round Mountain's summit.
Round Mountain Cross

It was adorned with a large wooden cross and around the base of the cross were some river cobbles with words written on them.
Weird Painted Rocks

As far as I can tell it seems to me that locals write words that represent a failure in their lives or an area of their life which they would like to improve on on these rocks and carry them up Round Mountain as a sort of sacrifice.

After a few minutes on the summit I made my way off the mountain and back to the car. Then it was back to Carlsbad.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sierra Blanca

Sierra Blanca

For a long time now the possibility of ascending Sierra Blanca, the highest point in southern New Mexico, has intrigued me. While I fully understand that the peak is located on the Mescalero Apache reservation, the information which I have read on the internet including Summitpost.org has all made it seem as though the reservation officials tolerate people making the ascent up Sierra Blanca. And so last evening after work, I hit the road headed up into the mountains to give Sierra Blanca a try. Before I started my hike I created some conditions under which my ascent would end. These conditions stipulated that if I encountered anyone who told me that making the climb was not permissible, or if I saw any signs stating the area was closed, I would turn around without making the ascent.

The drive out of the desert last night was refreshing. I found a nice little campground at Oak Grove that was mostly deserted except for a few elk hunters. I even was treated to the sound of elk bugling as I set up my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. i checked my information from the Sierra Blanca page on Summitpost, one last time before drifting into sleep.

It was cold this morning when I awoke. I ate a quick breakfast then drove up towards Ski Apache. I parked my car just outside the ski area boundary at hit the trail at a little after 7.
Scenic Trailhead

The start of the hike was a gentle ascent up some long switchbacks in a grassy field. Soon I was at my first trail junction where I turned onto trail #25.
Trail Junction

The hiking continued to be mostly easy and soon I entered into the slopes at Ski Apache. I followed some ski slopes to the upper lodge where I rested for bit and enjoyed the amazing view from a nice Adirondack chair.

After my break the hiking got a bit steeper and more difficult. I took a side trail to Lookout Mountain with its circular concrete bench.
Lookout Peak

I rested again for a bit and enjoyed the view once again. In the distance I could see some workers preparing one of the ski lifts for the upcoming ski season. I guessed I would soon find out if I would be going up to the summit.

Upon passing the ski area workers, no one said a word to me. "I guess its okay to climb Sierra Blanca after all", I thought. I skirted to the right of a long wooden fence
Sierra Blanca from Ski Apache

through a small saddle and then began climbing in earnest.It was a steep ascent and I found myself stopping quite often as I made my way up higher and higher. Soon I could see the summit, a jumble of boulders. I found the register and signed it. Then I relaxed for a bit and took a nap before taking a self-portrait on the summit.
Eric on Sierra Blanca

Sierra Blanca Benchmark

Finally I started to make my way back down the mountain.

Of course the descent went a lot faster than the climb. i decided to go a different way then the way in which I had come and followed a faint game trail to a gap in the wooden fence. As I made my way through the gap in the fence I looked at a sign I had missed on my ascent. The sign declared that access Sierra Blanca was closed.
No Access!

Immediately I felt my stomach sink. I had trespassed on private property. I felt so guilty. I was just another white American violating the rights of a Native American tribe. At that point though, there was nothing I could do about it, the damage was already done.

Somberly I made my way back to the car and then drove to the campground. I ended up going into Ruidoso to call Noelle before returning to Oak Grove for the night.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Atalaya Peak and Santa Fe

When I woke up in my tent this morning I decided that I was not in the mood for another strenuous hike above treeline. While I had originally planned to hike up 12,711 foot tall Gold Hill, I decided instead to head down to Santa Fe and hike the easier Atalaya Mountain.

And so, after a quick stop at Taos Plaza, I made my way south. I made a quick stop at Camel Rock
Camel Rock

and the nearby casino to use the restroom. Then, before I knew it I was in Santa Fe, one of the most interesting small cities in the United States. Using the directions in my guidebook, I made my way to St. John's college and the trailhead for my hike. The hike started out in an arroyo in a residential area, but soon started to move higher up into the mountains. There were lots of wildflowers in bloom and I stopped to admire many of them.
Purple Flower

Lupine

Paintbrush

Yellow Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

Soon The trail got steeper and the climbing got more difficult. I got my first scenic views of Santa Fe. At a junction I took the less difficult trail to ascend, but on the return trip I descended on the steeper trail. The summit area was quite amazing. There was an awesome overlook of the city. I found a boulder pile that I thought to be the highest point on the mountain and sure enough I found a register there.
Atalaya Register

I signed the register and posed for a photo
Atalaya Mountain Summit

before returning to the overlook to relax for a bit. 
Atalaya Overlook

Soon I was making my way back down the mountain to the arroyo. There was an old truck cab in the arroyo that now seemed to be used a s a place to practice graffiti.
Old Truck Cab

When I had returned to the car I decided that I wanted to explore Santa Fe a bit before getting back on the road. I drove to the plaza area and found a place to park. I ended up eating lunch at a pizza place Noelle and I had eaten at several years previously. Unfortunately it was not as good as I had remembered.

After filling up on pizza, i started to walk the streets again. I saw a large cross on a hill and was immediately intrigued. I made my way towards the cross and found that it was part of a heritage park. I ascended some stairs to the cross and read some interesting historical information along the way.
Martyrs' Cross

At the top the trail seemed to keep going past the cross and so I followed it into some sort of park that seems to have been forgotten long ago.
Grafitti Park

There were some walls covered in graffiti and some low mounds of rubble. The mounds reminded me of the ruins of some pueblos that I've seen in other parts of New Mexico. I decided to investigate.

Sure enough I found some pottery sherds near the mounds.
Potsherds

I also found a few flakes of chert that appear to be leftovers from some flint knapping and tool making. These discoveries sure made my walk worthwhile. I started to make my way back down the hill and back to my car, but I vowed to return to Santa Fe again soon. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wheeler Peak: New Mexico's Highpoint

I woke up at 4 am this morning, ate a quick breakfast and set out on the road for the trailhead for Wheeler Peak. Having never seen the trailhead area before, I had a bit of difficulty finding it in the dark. I ended up driving the rough road to the Williams Lake trailhead before backtracking to the correct trailhead down at the end of the Taos Ski Valley parking lot.
When I finally hit the trail I could hear, but not yet see moving water. It was dark for the first hour of my hike and as I approached Bull of the Woods Pasture I momentarily lost my way in a maze of old roads and ski trails. Finally back on track I reached an overlook just in time to see the first hint of sunrise.
First Light

Sunrise from the Slopes
Soon I found myself near treeline and the early alpenglow really bathed the surrounding mountains and hills with a wonderful warm glow.
Golden Light

Alpenglow

As I rested and admired the early morning light I heard the sound of some companions that would hike with me for a bit, a herd of cows.
Cows on Trail

I closely followed these cows for about a mile before parting ways with them near the boundary with the Wheeler Peak Wilderness.
Wheeler Peak Wilderness

Once I passed into the wilderness the hiking was nearly all above treeline and the winds grew cold and relentless.
Cold Wind

The summit appeared bathed in fog and cloaked with snow.
Approaching the Summit

It was tough walking in the non-stop wind. The wind coupled with the altitude really slowed my flatlander pace a bit, but soon I could see my destination, the top of New Mexico.
Wheeler Summit View

At the summit I rested in the shelter of a low rock wall and tried to enjoy the scene as best I could.
Eric on Wheeler Summit


By the time I started to make my way back down it seemed the wind was finally starting to relent a bit.
Of course the decent went much more quickly than the ascent. I spied a few marmots above treeline
Hiding Marmot

and was able to enjoy the scenery a bit more.
Mountain Trail

It was a 14 mile round-trip hike with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. A tough hike for sure, but worth every ounce of effort. As a reward for my toils I decided to head into Arroyo Secco after my hike for lunch at the delicious Taos Cow. It was the perfect end to a great New Mexico adventure!   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Carson National Forest: Lobo Peak Loop Hike

Mountain View

Last evening after work I hit the road and headed for northern New Mexico. While I’ve lived in New Mexico before, having worked three previous seasons at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, I’ve never been in New Mexico in the summer when the high northern mountains are safe and accessible for someone like me (without technical mountaineering skills) to climb them.

I woke up this morning at a small and free campground along the road to Taos Ski Valley, ready to hit the trail and get above treeline for the first time since the summer of 2009. I parked the car at Manzanita Canyon and started to make my way higher in elevation. It was a pleasantly cool morning with some fog and low clouds in that air. The scene with the cool weather, cascading stream
Cascading Creek

and pine/spruce forests reminded me of my old northern Minnesota home.    

Lobo Fog
When I first viewed Lobo Peak, my destination for the hike, she was bathed in fog.
The hiking was steep and difficult, especially as I ascended the last section of trail above treeline.
Lobo Peak

Eric on Lobo Peak

I took a nice little nap at the summit
Lobo Peak Nap

and then started to make my way down off the mountain via Italianos Canyon. Because of the canyon's name I got that stupid song "Mambo Italiano" in my head. It was quite annoying! Finally I reached the road and after a short road walk
Road Walk

I was back to my car. It was an excellent first hike in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jose Maria Polancio Grave Search

El Capitan from Old Rest Area

A few weeks ago, after learning that I would be moving to New Mexico, I began searching for some areas to explore in the Carlsbad area that I hadn’t been to before. As I was researching a bit about the Butterfield Overland Mail on the internet, I learned of the grave of a Butterfield Trail traveler who was killed in the vicinity of Guadalupe Canyon. I jotted down some information and made mental notes about where I believed the location to be. 

This morning I headed down into Texas to see if I could find the grave of Jose Maria Polancio based on my memory of the information found on that website. I parked at the wide gravel parking area in Guadalupe Canyon along highway 62/180. From there I headed up the old highway into Guadalupe Mountains National Park with my destination being the old highway rest area.
Guadalupe Canyon Entrance

I had been to the old rest area several years previous and figured that from the high vantage point there I would be able to find the grave.

Along the old road I passed a makeshift shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and crossed into the park boundary via a gate and stile.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine

There was a park sign there that was not there during my last visit. The old road bed here is not holding up well. The cactus and other desert plants are slowly reclaiming the asphalt. Soon I climbed over a fence and back out of the park. Eventually I made my way up to the old rest area.
Old Rest Area

Like the road bed itself, the shade ramadas under which travelers once ate picnic lunches are slowly falling apart.  
El Capitan Framed by Ramada
From the rest area I headed further up the old road until it seemed to vanish completely. I think that the new highway road cut has obliterated the old route. I turned around and decided to explore closer to see if I could find the grave. While I scanned the area below the old highway I didn’t see any trace of Polancio’s final resting place. I did find the rusting remains of an old car that appears to have been driven off the side of the old highway.
Old Car Wreck

Dodge Hubcap

I also saw an interesting set of initials carved into the sandstone.
FM in Sandstone

There actually appear to be traces of several old roads in this area. Is one of the traces perhaps that of the Butterfield Mail itself?
I never did find the old grave but I will be back again to explore this interesting area.