Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lincoln National Forest: North McKittrick Canyon

I'm always looking for new places to hike that aren't too far away. I've spent a lot of time on the Lincoln National Forest website looking for ideas about new places to go. There was a trail listed in the Guadalupe Ranger District that has particularly interested me: the North McKittrick Canyon Trail. Today I decided, was the day to check it out. I hit the road a little before 8 am and headed up to Queen and the Guadalupe Ridge Road.

My hike started out easy enough. I followed the rough road that Noelle, Parker and I had followed for our hike into Devil's Den Canyon. Most of the snow from the previous trip had melted and most of the mud had dried up as well.
Hiker Eric
I made quick time past the turnoffs to Devil's Den and Camp Wilderness Ridge.
McKittrick Sign
I followed the rocky, rough road until it dead-ended at a high spot overlooking El Paso Gap and the highest reaches of North McKittrick Canyon.
North McKittrick Canyon
There wasn't any trail there though. I did see a few cairns though, so I followed them for a bit before they seemed to disappear. It looked like I would be doing some bushwacking.

I quickly headed down into the drainage of North McKittrick Canyon. I found lots of animal bones there including a deer skull complete with a nice set of antlers.
Deer Skull
It was rough walking in the canyon because of the thick vegetation. Eventually, as the canyon got deeper and side canyons joined it, there was less vegetation and hiking got a bit easier.
Inside North McKittrick

It was still not a "walk in the Park" though. The hike involved a lot of boulder hopping and I found my feet hurting a little bit after just a short while. I did find a few Permian age fossils on some of the limestone boulders though.

As I made my way further down canyon the scene got a bit more interesting. There were several springs, seeps and tinajas. One of the more interesting ones was a deep tinaja filled with blood-red water.
Red Tinaja
Further down-canyon still was the most interesting spot of the hike. There was a large rock shelter that evidence told me is frequently used as a campsite. There were some pictographs inside the shelter.
Faded Pictographs
Just past the shelter was a false arch, a huge slab of limestone leaning against the canyon wall.
False Arch
Here I also found a nice flowing spring seeping out of a crack in the rock. I wanted to spend some more time exploring, but the day was starting to get late and I didn't want to get caught in the canyon after sunset. Reluctantly, I turned around and headed back up the canyon.

The hiking up the canyon went surprisingly quickly. I stopped a few times to take breaks, but generally I moved at a nice steady pace.
Madrone Chair
I was making great time and hopping over some boulders when I realized that my camera was no longer in my pocket. I checked my pack even though I didn't remember putting it in there, but there was no camera. I figured that the camera was lost forever. Finding it in the long, boulder-choked canyon would be like finding I needle in a haystack. Should I even bother going back to look for it? I thought about for two minutes and decided to go back. I left my pack and ran. After about a quarter of a mile I saw my blue camera hanging from the branch of a small maple tree. I guess as I was tramping through the vegetation the loop got caught in the branch and slipped out of my pocket without me even feeling it. I felt great relief as I slipped the camera back into my pocket and made my way back to the car.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Bear Canyon & The Outer Bowl

Noelle, Chris, Robby, Erin, Tess, Nigel and I had a great breakfast at Pecos River Cafe this morning before we bid farewell to Erin and the kids and hit the road and heading for Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Our objective was to hike up Bear Canyon, a trail so ferocious that it made Noelle cry the first time we hiked it in late 2002. Once we made it to the top of the ridge we figured we would hike the outer loop of the Bowl on the Juniper, Tejas, and Bowl Trails. We figured it would complement last week's hike well.

The hike started out with an easy ascent along the base of the escarpment on the Frijoles Trail.
When we hit the Bear Canyon Trail the hiking got a bit more difficult.
Robby Hiking Up Bear Canyon
It was a steep uphill climb. Much of the trail followed a pipe that I presume once carried water from the top of the mountain to the desert below.
We stopped to take our first break in a nice sheltered spot amongst some rocks.
Taking a Break
Nearby was an interesting little tunnel that the trail traveled through.
Then it was more steep hiking and switchbacks up to the ridge.

When we arrived on top of the ridge we followed the Bowl Trail that we had hiked last weekend. There was a little less snow than last week, but in some sections there was still enough left that it made the hiking a bit more difficult.
In the Trees
Chris put on his ice spikes, mostly just to say he finally got to use them.
Ice Spikes
We stopped at a nice grassy spot along the Juniper Trail and ate some snacks and rested.
I even fell asleep for a few minutes in the warm sun. Noelle enjoyed the break and felt refreshed.
Refection in Glasses
Then it was back into the trees, shade and snow.
More Snow

We passed by several old stock tanks on our hike.
There were lots of great views!
Robby Hiking Away
We even found a few fossils in the limestone.

Eventually we made it back to Bear Canyon and started to make our way down.
Looking Down Canyon
Climbing Over Pipe
The descent went much faster than the climb and before we knew it we could see Nipple Hill and the cars.
Hiking to Nipple Hill
Altogether it was a great 11.5 mile hike!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Carlsbad Cemetery

It was a busy day today, and so I didn't have a whole lot of time for a real adventure. I did, however, take the time to explore the Carlsbad Cemetery a little bit. The goal of my exploration was to see the graves of a few local celebrities that played an important role in the development of my workplace: Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

My first stop was a search for the grave of James Larkin White.
Jim White Grave

His headstone declares that he was the discoverer of Carlsbad Cavern, but Native Americans had known about the cave entrance long before Jim White ever happened upon it. Still, he deserves a great deal of credit for discovering many of the rooms and chambers in the cave's dark zone.

My second visit was to the grave of Colonel Thomas Boles, the first superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Colonel Boles Grave

Colonel Boles is well known for his dramatic methods of encouraging visitation to the caverns and lobbying for funding.

Finally, I attempted to find the grave of Enis Creed "Tex" Helm. Tex was a well known photographer who is famous for his 1952 photo, called the "Big Shot", of the Big Room of Carlsbad Caverns. This photo used over 2,400 flash bulbs to illuminate the Big Room and was sponsored by the Sylvania Company. unfortunately I was unable to find his grave. I guess it gives me another chance for a micro-adventure on another busy day when I'm stuck in Carlsbad. 

Thanks to former park historian Bob Hoff, who inspired me to embark on this adventure via his Carlsbad Caverns History Blog.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Bowl

This morning at 7:45 Robby arrived at our house for our trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. After a stop to pick up Helen, we were on our way into Texas and the beckoning trails of GUMO. We arrived at the trailhead parking lot at about 9:00 and quickly hit the trail. It was an easy start to the hike, but things got a bit tougher as the trail steepened.
Three Hikers
GUMO Hikers

After about 45 minutes on the Tejas Trail, Helen decided that she didn't want to slow us down and so Robby, Noelle and I moved ahead without her. We decided we would reunite at the junction of the Tejas and Juniper Trails after we had hiked the inner loop of the Bowl.

We missed Helen's companionship, but we were able to move a little bit more quickly without her. It was a perfect day for hiking. Not too hot and not too windy. Soon we passed above the Hiker's Staircase where Noelle and I had hiked with my brother Kris about 2 weeks ago. 
Limestone Tower

We got lots of great views of Guadalupe Peak and the other peaks of the Guadalupes.
Robby on the Trail
Noelle on the Trail

Soon we were at the top of the escarpment. We had anticipated hiking in the snow, but there was more than we had expected.
Hiking a Snowwy Bowl

After some time alternately sliding and slogging through the snow, we found ourselves at the top of the very steep Bear Canyon Trail.
At the Top of Bear Canyon

Noelle and I had hiked that trail nearly 10 years ago, and the trails steepness left Noelle in tears. I think she would agree that she is a much tougher hiker now than she was back then. After passing the trail junction we found an old stock tank.
Robby Tanking Up

Then we moved onto a high meadow area dotted with ponderosa pines that I found reminiscent of the Black Hills.
Robby in the Bowl

Robby, Noelle and I found a nice dry section of grass, sheltered from the wind that made a great spot to relax for a few moments.
Robby & Eric Resting

When we resumed our hiking we had some more snow to contend with. Soon we could see Helen again. We stopped and rested with her and ate some snacks before heading back down.

The hike down was nice and easy.
Hiking Down

The miles seemed to fly by. We still stopped to take another rest at about the halfway point of our descent.
Hiking Break

Before we knew it we were back at the parking lot. The whole hike was, in the words of Robby, incredi-bowl!        

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leaving Santa Fe

Today Noelle and I enjoyed another delicious breakfast. We then packed up and vacated our little room. We headed up Museum Hill. We got up there before the museums actually opened and so we killed some time with a visit to a nice little park. 
Walking Under Shelter
There was a Santa Fe Trail interpretive sign, an interesting modern art sculpture, 
White Park Shelter
 and the Korean War Memorial.
Korean War Memorial
After we left the park we headed back to Museum Hill and an interesting Santa Fe Trail sculpture. 
Sculpture 2
Santa Fe Trail
We then headed to the International Museum of Folk Art. There were lots of interesting exhibits. I enjoyed looking at the folk art of the Andes. 
Andes Scene
Festival Dancer

There was also an exhibit about the wedding attire of some obscure region of Europe. Noelle tried on one of their costumes.
Noelle in Traditional Garb
There was also an interesting exhibit on folk art created in the aftermath of natural disaster.
As we headed out of Santa Fe we stopped at the Santa Fe Brewing Company where I sampled a few of their beers and bought a new pint glass for our collection. We didn't have time to see everything we wanted in this interesting city. We will return someday.