Well, we're finally getting more organized about what we're doing here. A couple weekends ago Jason and I borrowed a jeep and drove out to our proposed trail start. We weren't sure how long it would take or how far we would actually be able to drive before having to walk.
Turns out the drive takes absolutely forever. You drive south on I-25 from Socorro for about 50 miles and then exit onto the frontage road (Hwy 1) on the west side of the interstate. Continue south for a bit, then head west on FR 139. This is a dirt road, but it is well marked on Hwy 1. From here you drive over 20 miles on dirt road, much of it driving slowly. At some point you head off north again on FR 377 (The Burma Rd.). Unfortunately, the turn off of 139 onto 377 is entirely unmarked. There is a well marked turn off from 139 to, I think it was FR 225 or some such. 377 is the NEXT turn after that as it turns out. Luckily, while ON 377 you see signs confirming that it is indeed FR 377.
From here you basically follow 377 twisting and turning forever until it joins another forest road. I forget the name of that one, 76 maybe? 79? I don't know. You follow that for a short distance until it dead ends and you're there!
All told, the driving took 3 hours! To put this in perspective, I could have just about driven up to the Pecos in that time.
The roads weren't too bad really. You definitely need a high clearance vehicle to get through some spots, but you don't ever really need 4wd. There are a few washes that could wash out worse by the end of May though, and depending on how bad it is, I could see needing 4wd for short spurts there.
The scenery on the drive is pretty typical New Mexico desert. On these dirt roads, you have yet to actually get up to or into the mountains that we'll be hiking through. You see dirt and brush and the occasional scraggly bush that thought once about being a tree. I'm not saying it was ugly or a bad place to be. On the contrary, having grown up and lived and played my whole life out here, I've developed a certain fondness for the locale. The end of the drive did a very good job of instilling a feeling of remoteness and solitude. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Moreover, the desert there is not really a lifeless pile of dirt, but more of an "arid grassland" as it were. For instance, we drove past a whole herd of deer. They were, at least initially, entirely unconcerned by our presence. We stopped the jeep and got out Jason's camera and the whole time we were sitting there digging in bags and putting the lens on the camera, they just stood and watched us. We took several pictures and eventually they decided that they had had enough of our scrutiny and walked calmly over the side of a hill out of sight.
Later, I also saw a gray bird of prey sitting in a bush. I say "bird of prey" because I don't really know what it was. I barely noticed it as we drove by. It was very well camouflaged in the bush. When it flew away it flew almost directly away from us so we couldn't get a good look at it. It was almost owlish I guess, but that didn't quite fit the profile. I would expect a hawk to be more red/brown and this was definitely gray so that didn't fit either. I don't know. It flew away too quickly to get a good look at it. No pictures this time.
Oh! And let us not forget that we saw and took pictures of Shipman Canyon! Hopefully Jason will get those put up online somewhere so John can see them. A whole canyon with his name on it.
Once we finally made it to the trail head, there was a fallen down forest service sign noting 2 trails. Since the sign was on the ground thrown off to one side, it didn't do us much good except to confirm that the trail we wanted was somewhere around here. Luckily the map and compass made it fairly obvious which way we needed to walk whether we were actually on a trail or not.
The trails out there are very seldom used and are faint and fading away in many places. I actually love this aspect of the hike. We're not off on some well groomed and manicured trail that sees thousands of hikers every summer. We're alone out in the wilderness seeing something that may only be seen by a dozen people this summer. Maybe 50. It lends to a strong sense of discovery albeit only truly rediscovery. It takes you back in time to a simpler life. A much quieter life. Even though it can be quite difficult hiking, it is also very soothing and calming.
We only hiked for probably less than a mile since it took far longer to drive to the trail head than we anticipated (a very important lesson learned in this trial run). That was a damn fine mile, however! Once we scrambled down the hills into San Mateo Canyon, there was a note on our map that said "vague trail". As we approached the canyon, Jason and I laughed openly at this. "As opposed to the rest of the trail?" we said. Ha!
Turns out he wasn't kidding. Upon getting off the talus and rock slide of a trail down, we entered the canyon or little valley and that was the last we saw of our trail for quite some time. We meandered aimlessly up the valley heading toward Cook's Cabin (as was marked on our map), but we seldom found anything truly trail like. Luckily the valley had a couple land marks that were hard to miss and they were marked on the map. Hiking up the valley was a very easy and enjoyable walk. No real need for a trail.
The first big land mark is an old windmill and tank. There was still water below the windmill, but it was disconnected and didn't pump water anymore. The tank was dry and there was a pine tree growing through the concrete inside the tank. Rather surreal. It was neat to see this little bit of history. There was also a faucet in the ground. Not sure what it was supposed to open or close, but it was rusted to the point of no turning. Maybe if we had a cheater bar, we could have turned it, but we didn't try very hard. We couldn't find any markings that would date the windmill, but we may look harder next time we're out there.
It was funny. We were wandering around looking for any clue of where the hell we were supposed to be going and then all of a sudden we noticed this big ass clearing and windmill standing right there staring us in the face. How the hell didn't we see that sooner? The same thing happened when we finally found Cook's Cabin. We were wandering around and then looked to the side and wham, hey look! There's a corral right there! And look, a cabin!
The cabin was rather old and falling down. There were all sorts of bits of history hidden in there. A couple box springs from mattresses, the metal rim of what used to be a canteen. 2 gas tanks from old vehicles? Not sure what that was about. The old bed frame was still there. You could see old cloth wall paper bits on the table inside (it had been covered to keep it smoother and cleaner I guess). It was just really neat seeing the evidence of how people used to live out here. Made me nostalgic for a time I never got to live in myself.
Another interesting indication of age was an old barbwire fence. When they built it, they were lazy and just nailed it up to a tree and used that handy tree as a post. It had been there long enough that the tree grew around the wire of the fence by several inches, then died, had the top crack off and fall over and rot on the ground. So, not only was it old enough that the tree grew around it, but after that happened, it was there long enough for the tree to fall over and rot on the ground. In this arid climate, that takes awhile. I was impressed.
We hiked past the cabin for a little while until we found a definitive trail. Following that back, it was much more obvious where the trail had been the whole time, but having missed a section back in the beginning, it was very difficult to see and get back on it. On our way back we added some more rock cairns to hopefully mark the trail better. Again though, a trail isn't really necessary during this section anyway as long as you understand that the trail just follows the canyon. Looking at our gps track afterward it was pretty funny to note that we had made figure 8's over the trail on our way out. We had actually crossed it 2 or 3 times and not noticed it.
Moral of the story: heed the vague trail warning on the map. The man did not lie.
I can't wait until the end of May. Carrying a 50lb backpack up and down some of the steeper parts is going to be a pain in the ass, but I still can't wait. It's going to be amazing.
Current Mood: wistful