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.

1 comment:

Abigail Austin said...

Glad you got your camera back! Your captured great shots, and it's cool to have seen them. I've hiked the more populated side of McKittrick Canyon in the national park, but the trail is heavily used and well groomed. Thank you for taking us down the trail less traveled to see these parts of the canyon!