Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Tree Peak: The Highpoint of Chaves County, New Mexico

Noelle let me have a day to myself and so I headed up into the mountains to do some peak-bagging. I had intended to ascend three different peaks, but only ended up hiking up one: One Tree Peak. One Tree Peak is the highest point in Chaves County and located within the Sacramento Ranger District of Lincoln National Forest. To get there I drove up to Artesia, past Hope and turned US 82 onto NM 24 where I passed through the "town" of Dunken (don't blink) and then into the hills on Cuevo Canyon Road.

I took Cuevo Canyon Road to the intersection with FR 176 where I turned left and followed some cryptic directions I printed off the internet to a two-track road on the left and near a sign indicating the Otero/Chaves County Line.
County Line
I parked my car off the side of this road and started hiking up the two-track past some campers/hunters who were enjoying a morning in camp. It was a cool morning and I wore my fleece jacket for most of the beginning of the hike.

Eventually the road faded away and I was forced to start bushwacking.
One Tree Peak
I had brought the GPS unit and used it to find my way up the mountain slopes to the summit of One Tree Peak. I took my photo on the summit and signed the register.
Eric on One Tree Peak
After eating a snack I decided it was time to head down. I figured I would hike down a different route from the one I hiked up. This, along with not setting the location of the car as a GPS waypoint, proved to be a mistake.

I hiked downhill for some time and soon spotted a two-track road. I figured this road would take me back to FR 176 which I could then hike back to the car. The road went on and on with no sign of FR 176. Eventually I figured that I must be going the wrong way. I decided to hike up a ridge to get my bearings. As I looked in the direction I had been traveling I realized that I was headed down to the plains between the  mountains and Artesia. Not good. After a break to think and drink some of my precious, dwindling water, I decided I would have to head back to the peak and see if I could remember the route I had taken from there.

And so I headed back up to One Tree Peak over ridges and back down into canyons. As I neared the peak I noticed a road that looked promising. It appeared to be FR 176. Better yet, there was a two-track leading to it. My new course was set. I hiked down to the two-track
Tired and Dehydrated Eric
and followed it to what was indeed FR 176. From FR 176 it was a long road walk back to the car. It was a long day and I ran out of water, but I learned some valuable lessons about the limits of relying on GPS. I also got to see some interesting fossils as a result of my detour.
Ammonoid Fossil

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Salt Creek Wilderness

Today I headed up to Roswell again to see if I could find more of the water-filled sinkholes of the North Unit of Bitter Lake NWR. Unlike last trip, I spent almost the entire time hiking in the wilderness. I also came better prepared for finding the sinkholes. I bought a GPS unit off Amazon.
GPS Unit
I used Google maps to find the sinkholes and added the GPS coordinates to my new GPS unit to better find them.

I parked my car off US 70, just like last week and followed the road that forms the east boundary of the wilderness. I used the trail I found last visit to head into the wilderness and turned the GPS unit on to find the first sinkhole I had logged. My GPS unit led me right to the sinkhole, but it turned out to be dry. I knew when looking at the sink on Google maps that it might be dry and so I wasn't too disappointed. In fact, I was quite happy that everything seemed to be going according to plan.

Nest I went to the coordinates for a sinkhole called the Inkpot. I was led across the shrubby desert plains into some red soils and rocks. I was noticing how many dead centipedes were scattered around
Dead Centipede
when it then appeared: the Inkpot.
The Inkpot
It reminded me of the sinkholes that you might find at nearby Bottomless Lakes State Park. I rested there for a bit and ate a snack before setting off again for my next sinkhole. The next one turned out to be very small with just a little bit of water inside.
Small Sinkhole
Still, my trek had brought me close to an interesting red bluff with a few clay badlands formations at the bottom. As I headed towards the bluff to investigate I saw something that completely caught me off-guard: a person up on the bluff.
Man on Bluff
It appeared to be a man out hunting. He was probably annoyed at me for scaring the game. Oh well. I ran across another dry sinkhole as I neared the bluff.
Dry Sinkhole
Eric and Badlands

 From the bluff I headed to my next sinkhole, actually a pair of two sinkholes very close to each other. The first was wide with water close to the top.
Eric and Sinkhole
The second was much deeper.
Both were interesting. After the twin sinks, it was time to start heading back towards the car. I still had one more sinkhole to investigate though. It was a long hike to the last sink. The walk traversed through large areas of dead dry brush. With just one spark the whole area would be ablaze. Eventually I reached the final sinkhole. It turned out to be the widest of the bunch.
Big Sinkhole
A waterfowl swam around inside, possibly an Eared Grebe.
From the last sinkhole I followed the mostly dry Salt Creek for a bit. There were lots of pieces of bone and shells embedded in the banks of the creek.
Bones and Shells
Eventually I headed out of the creek bed and moved across the shrubs and grasses to the road and my car.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: North Unit

Noelle gave me permission to go on an adventure today and so I headed up to Roswell to Bitter Lake NWR. I wanted to explore the Salt Creek Wilderness a bit.
Salt Creek Wilderness
Since I had very little information about it I headed to the visitor center and asked the volunteer about it. he had no idea what I was talking about but luckily got the assistance of one of the paid staff who gave me directions to the trailhead off US70.

I drove the Old Clovis Highway to the trailhead and headed out on the trail which was really a road.
The road marked the eastern boundary of the wilderness area.
Capitan Peak and Wilderness Sign
My intention for this hike was to see if I could find some of the sinkhole ponds that are said to be found here. Along my hike I saw lots of late season flowers in bloom
Interesting Red Flowers
White Flower Cluster
Yellow Flowers
and some wildlife as well. I saw a coyote sun away as I approached it, some sandhill cranes flying overhead, and lots of lizards.

Eventually I even found one of the sinkhole ponds.
On a hot October day the water looked refreshing and I thought about jumping in, but thought that getting out of it might prove to be difficult. Just past the sinkhole was a flagged trail. I followed it into the wilderness a bit hoping it might lead to something interesting. Instead it seemed to dead end as a mound of clay and pebbles. I bushwacked back to the road and continued to follow it north until it came to the boundary fence. I then followed the boundary fence east to the completely dry Pecos River.
The Pecos River
I turned around there and retraced my steps back to the car.
On the Trail (Road)

After leaving the refuge I drove east a short distance to the ghost town of Acme. The most obvious evidence of the former town is the ruins of the Frazier Schoolhouse.
Frazier School Ruins
I checked out the schoolhouse and surrounding buildings for a bit and then headed into Roswell to buy a few things before heading home.
Water Building

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Sierra's First Outdoor Adventure

This afternoon Noelle, Sierra, Mom, Dad and myself packed up the diaper bag and headed up to Roswell. We had two things on the agenda: lunch and Big D's Downtown Dive and birding at Bitter Lake. Unfortunately Big D's was closed due to the Eastern New Mexico State Fair. Instead we ate at Red Brick Pizza.
Yellow Flowers
After lunch we headed over to the refuge and saw some of the first sandhill cranes of the season.
Birding Mom
We drove the entire wildlife loop and even looked for some birds at the blind.