Archives for category: Sacramento Mountains

Overview:

Dry Falls in Beeman Canyon  (the turn-around point) from Spectacle Trail

Dry Falls in Beeman Canyon (the turn-around point) from Sentinel Trail

Are you yearning for a morning in the mountains complete with canyon scenery, numerous small bouldering problems, blue sky, variegated rock and a desert-dominated biome? This is the hike for you! Nestled into the corner where US-82 departs west from US-70, this small canyon brings you into some lonesome terrain. The highlight of this off-trail scramble is a bouldery segment of canyon known as the Jumble. Wending your way up, over and around this boulder barrier is a fun and mildly athletic challenge. At the upper end of the Jumble is a dry waterfall, which might be climbable but is characterized by seriously rotten rock. A better alternative is to ascend the steep canyon wall and discover an unlikely horse path called the Sentinel Trail. On this date we turned west and headed back towards the basin on the trail. A longer day could be made by following the canyon as it reaches towards the sky on the flanks of Horse Ridge.

Driving Directions:

  • From University Avenue in Las Cruces, enter Interstate-25 going north
  • After 4.3 miles, take exit 6 for US-70E to Alamogordo (the exit splits into three roads, stay in the center for US-70E)
  • After 63.6 miles, immediately after the third stoplight entering Alamogordo, take the exit ramp for the Charlie Lee Memorial Relief Route (CLMRR).
  • After 0.2 miles, at the end of the ramp, turn left onto the CLMRR (going north).
  • After 5.0 miles, at a lighted intersection, turn right onto US-70.
  • After 0.4 miles, at a lighted intersection, turn left onto Scenic Drive.
  • After 1.5 miles turn left into the parking lot for the Christ Community Church.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry and Mike (in front of his truck) in the Christ Community Church parking lot.

The mighty Camry and Mike (in front of his truck) in the Christ Community Church parking lot.

As you enter the grounds for the Christ Community Church there is a small gravel pad immediately on your right (east of the entry lane). Park in the gravel lot.

You will need to find alternative parking on Sundays or whenever there is any sign that the church has need of these parking spaces. We did not test this, but a possible alternative might be found immediately uphill of the church. On Scenic Drive, go past the church to the next opening in the concrete center-strip. There turn left and enter onto a dirt road. This dirt road takes you about 0.1 miles east, turns 90-degrees to due north and travels towards Beeman Canyon. After driving past four houses on your right (and just past the church on your left) you should be able to find a suitable parking space on the side of the road. There are no trailhead amenities at either trailhead. There are no fees.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 4560 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 5600 feet
  • Net Gain: 1040 feet
  • Distance: 6.1 miles (round trip)
  • Maps: USGS Alamogordo North

Hike Description:

Mike on the limestone floor of lower Beeman Canyon

Mike on the limestone floor of lower Beeman Canyon

From the trailhead, head north and walk past the church towards a water tank at the rear of the property. Just past the water tank is a small dirt berm that blocks vehicular traffic. Cross the berm and join up with a dirt road headed north. (This is the same dirt road that is suggested as an alternative trailhead).

At 0.5 miles the road crosses a broad and stoney wash that is the outflow of Beeman Canyon. Past the wash (actually, teetering on the edge of its far bank) a second dirt road departs to the right. Go right as this road swings northeast towards the mountains and then shyly turns back to a northerly course. In little over 0.1 miles from the first turn come to a four-way intersection of dirt roads and go right. On this new road you will be heading directly east. Go boldly into the mountains. A plethora of possible roads come in on your left, but ignore them. As long as you keep the wash on your right you can’t miss the canyon. At about 0.9 miles from the trailhead the wash makes a sharp S-bend and rock walls arise on the outside curves. Welcome to Beeman Canyon.

Twin, trailer-sized boulders announce the approach of the Jumble.

Twin, trailer-sized boulders announce the approach of the Jumble.

The hike into the lower canyon is a very mellow stroll. The bottom switches between scrubbed bedrock and stretches of sand and small rock. Layered limestone lines the walls. The available soils are so thin that you might expect to the canyon to be completely barren, yet cacti cling to crevices and both yucca and sotol will sprout where-ever a cup of earth has been deposited. There are no navigation problems – you simply stay in the canyon bottom. At about 1.7 miles from the trailhead, come to a pair of trailer-sized boulders that serve notice that the Jumble is nearby. The hike immediately above this portal is fairly open. There may be a few isolated, easy boulder blocks in the canyon bed, but it will be another 0.4 miles to get to the continuous heap-o-boulders that characterizes the Jumble.

Mike bouldering above the gateway to the Jumble

Mike bouldering above the gateway to the Jumble

At about 2.1 miles from the trailhead the bed of the canyon becomes thick with person-sized, roughly egg-shaped boulders. It is a puzzle to explain how the huge, angular rocks that protrude from the canyon walls become so markedly rounded on the canyon floor. Wind and water doubtlessly have central roles. Both factors, however, are at play in nearby places like Ortega Canyon, North Marble Canyon and South Marble Canyon. None of these nearby canyons present similar boulder playgrounds. Is the rock softer in Beeman? Does the lower angle of the grade allow for longer weathering? Regardless, the playground is there in front of you. Enjoy the challenge.

Mike on an exposed spot in mid-Jumble

Mike on an exposed spot in mid-Jumble

In most places the climbing moves are straightforward and scramblers will have little problem getting past them. There are a few spots, however, where boulder has piled upon boulder and climbing brings exposure. Scramblers who are not comfortable with these moves need only look around. There is almost always a side trail that will take you up the canyon wall and around the climbing problem, although with new challenges in the form of “shin stabbers” and prickly pear. You can’t avoid those problematic plants by climbing. Several of the hardest moves in the canyon are complicated by vegetation that is every bit as prickly as it is inconveniently placed.

This dry waterfall is where we turned around. The waterfall looks climbable, but some of its shelves are supported by exceptionally friable stone.

This dry waterfall is where we turned around. The waterfall looks climbable, but some of its shelves are supported by exceptionally friable stone.

The canyon ascent ends at a tall waterfall at about 3.3 miles from the trailhead. Be careful around this waterfall as the rock is notably rotten and there are huge boulders hanging overhead. You will find freshly fallen rock right at the base of the falls. Unlike their rounded downstream relatives, each new-fallen rock looks as though it had been had been squared by quarrymen. This dry waterfall is an outstanding place for a break. Have a snack and take in views across the Tularosa Basin to the San Andreas Mountains or scope out the high canyon walls above you.

Sample of the faint track on the steep side of Beeman Canyon.

Sample of the faint track on the steep side of Beeman Canyon.

Although it seems improbable, there is an old horse trail on the steep southern wall of Beeman Canyon (looking up-canyon it will be the right wall). Ascend on loose gravel, past sotol and yucca, in the direction of the cliff that forms the canyon top. Less than 50 feet above the floor of the waterfall you should encounter a faint old track. (Keep checking over your shoulder since it is easier to see the trail from above than from below). You could turn uphill and follow the track as it climbs into the upper end of Beeman Canyon. On this date, however, we turned right to gain the ridge and then begin a descent.

Sloping shelf below the cliff line above Beeman Canyon.

Sloping shelf below the cliffs above Beeman Canyon.

This trail, called the Sentinel Trail, makes a brief and gentle climb to just above 5600 feet. There it contours below the cliffs on a sloping shelf.  The cliffs are being slowly worn into hoodoos – several free-standing stone towers become apparent as you near them. The shelf itself is a desert wonderland of brown grasses, chaparral and stuff that prickles or stabs. If the grasses have grown over the trail then walk along at mid-shelf until you regain the tread. Great views open to the northern ridge above Beeman (Horse Ridge) and beyond to the northern Tularosa Basin. Don’t forget to look down into the canyon bottom, the view of the waterfall and the top of the Jumble is extraordinary.

One of the taller hoodoos in the Spectacle.

One of the taller hoodoos in the Sentinels.

While you walk west on a nearly level path, the rocky rim above you is descending. The top of the ridge approaches the level of the trail at about 3.8 miles from the trailhead. Here you will find a cluster of house-tall hoodoos known as the Sentinels. There are views past these towering rocks and across the basin to White Sands National Monument. We had an exceptionally clear day for this hike and the individual sand dunes in the Monument were clearly visible. The tread becomes more obvious beyond this spot as it eases out onto the broad top of Beeman Ridge. The trail is rubbly and in places rather deeply cut into ridge-top soils. From the ridge you can look south across the Sacramento Mountains as they tower above Alamogordo.

View of the knoll where the main trail departs north, but a useful side trail trends east back to the trailhead.

View of the knoll where the main trail departs north (right), but a useful side trail trends east back to the trailhead. Double click for larger image.

As you get close to the basin watch for a junction where the main trail diverts north to skirt around a knoll. You will want to find a secondary trail that goes east (left, looking downhill) and descends a rib in the direction of the trailhead. In ordinary weather the large building of Christ Community Church will be in sight. While descending the rib you may spot an old well on a flanking arroyo wall. The well appears to have been dug into a seep above the arroyo, years ago. Since that time the walls of the arroyo have worn down and opened the well like a cut-away diagram.

Return to the trailhead having hiked 6.1 miles.

Recommendations:

Half cut-away view into an old well on the side of the arroyo below the

Half cut-away view into an old well on the side of the arroyo below the knoll

♦This is a great hike for folks who are comfortable being off trail and in good enough shape to do small bouldering problems. Beeman Canyon is probably too difficult for young children, risk-adverse parents or the strongly acrophobic. Just about anyone, however, may find that the road and the broad canyon bed in the lower part of the canyon makes for a very enjoyable stroll. An easy hike can be had by turning back at the “gates” for the Jumble.

♦This was a terrific mid-winter scramble. On this date the weather was very mild, so I only went through a liter of water. Under warmer conditions this west-facing canyon would get toasty. Adjust your water load accordingly.

♦The Sacramento Mountains do rattle and they are home to various stinging insects. Especially in warmer weather, be careful about where you place your hands. Even the plants can sting, so gloves are strongly recommended.

♦This hike crosses private land. Please keep these kind folks happy by treating their property respectfully.

Links:

View of cliff-tops above the dry falls in Beeman Canyon.

View of cliff-tops above the dry falls in Beeman Canyon.

♦Mike, who led this hike, has a description on the Hike Arizona site that takes you all the way into the upper part of Beeman Canyon and its North Fork.

♦That’s about it! This fun little scramble seems to be almost unknown on the web.

Overview:

White Horse Hill and headwaters of Bonito Creek

White Horse Hill and headwaters of Bonito Creek

This is a mellow hike into spectacular high country near Sierra Blanca (southern New Mexico’s highest peak). The trail follows a creek up the gentle easterly slopes of the Sierra Blanca Range to the crest. On you way, you tread through forests of pine and fir that that transition to aspen and oak and then abruptly opens onto montane grassland. A productive monsoon season and rain from Hurricane Odile have left this corner of New Mexico implausibly green; the streams are brimming. Enjoy the photos but recognize that the forests are rarely so lush.

Driving Directions:

  • From Lohman Drive in Las Cruces, turn onto I-25 North.
  • After 2.5 miles, take the exit for US 70-East.
  • After  62.5 miles, immediately after the third traffic light on US 70 in Alamagordo, go right on the ramp for the Charlie Lee Memorial Relief Route.
  • After 0.3 miles, at the end of the ramp, go left (north) on the CLMR Route.
  • After  4.9 miles, at a stoplight, go left (north) on US 54-N/US 70-E.
  • After  43.2 miles, at a stoplight, go left (west, initially) onto NM 48.
  • After 12.8 miles go left (west, initially) onto NM 37 (signed)
  • After 1.2 miles, go left (west) onto Forest Road 107. This is a gravel road with occassional stretches of pavement and in good enough shape for a sedan. Watch for quite large potholes even in those stretches that are paved. The road wends it way through the Bonito Stables at about the 5 mile point. There the buildings, horses and dogs are situated very close to, and sometimes within, the extremely rocky roadbed. It pays to go very, very slowly for that 200 yard stretch.
  • After 8.3 miles, at the end of FR 107, park your car at the trailhead.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry, parked beneath signs for Trail 36 Big Bonito Creek

The mighty Camry, parked beneath signs for Trail 36 Big Bonito Creek

The trailhead is found at the end of a loop that terminates FR 107. It is an active spot, with much car camping along Bonito Creek. Several trails leave from this loop, look for a sign for Big Bonito Trail No 36 at the far end of the loop. There are pit toilets and at least one corral (the area is a favorite for riders). Water is available from Bonito Creek, but given the heavy horse and human usage you will want to sterilize it. Also, the river is running a dark brown these days. Presumably, that the color comes from trees burned in the Little Bear Fire of 2012. Consider bringing a bucket to the trailhead and allowing some time for the murk to settle out before trying to use a filter.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 7850 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 10,250 feet
  • Net Gain: 2400 feet
  • Distance: 11.2 miles
  • Map: USGS Nogal Peak quadrangle

Hike Description:

Brown and energetic water at one of the many stream crossings. (Note hiking pole, for perspective).

Brown and energetic water at one of the many stream crossings. (Note hiking pole, for perspective).

From the trailhead, follow trail 36 as it crosses a tributary stream and enters the Wilderness Area (signed). The hike starts along the right side of Bonito Creek (looking uphill), but canyon walls soon force a crossing. In the post-monsoon season the waters were fast, brown and broad. You will get your feet wet. For most of the rest of the year the stream is probably too small to be much of a barrier. The terrain is very gently inclined, limiting the power of the water. There are, however, eight or nine creek crossings. In between the crossings the trail tends to make small upward leaps and then levels off again to return to the creek bank. The forest is dense and shows considerable sign of recovering from the Little Bear fire. A lot of nice work has gone into cutting up the deadfall and keeping the trail open.

Sign at confluence of Aspen and Bonito Creek.

Sign at confluence of Aspen and Bonito Creek.

A trail junction is reached at about 1 mile, where Little Bonito Creek Trail 37 departs to the right. Stay left and follow trail 36 as it continues along Big Bonito Creek. In another mile come to a second trail junction where Aspen Creek joins Big Bonito Creek. This is the start of the loop. Craig Martin, in “100 Hikes In New Mexico” describes the clockwise loop going up Aspen Creek Trail Number 35. This guide describes the counterclockwise option, selected so as to get creek crossings out of the way. (As it turns out, the crossing over Big Bonito Creek to get to Aspen Creek No 35 is almost the last of the creek crossings). To go counterclockwise, stay to the right on Trail 36 as the cliffy aspect of the terrain falls away. The hike becomes a stroll in high mountain valley, deep in Ponderosa and Douglas firs, with only occasional glimpses of rolling hills on either side and above you. The comparison between this lush forest and the desert biome of the Tularosa Basin defies belief. It could be a contrast between continents rather than adjacent landforms.

Path through forest in the  hanging valley that contains Big Bonito Creek

Path through forest in the hanging valley that contains Big Bonito Creek

The grade remains very mild as you rise through the forest and enter a domain of aspen and scrub oak The reason for the shallow incline is that Bonito Creek does not descend straight from the Crest to the east. Instead, the stream begins by descending from White Horse Hill to the west, soon changes it’s course to the north and, tentatively, begins a commitment to a easterly course towards the Pecos basin. The long, looping nature of the stream gentles it greatly. The terrain is home to much wild life. The trail presented several garter snakes and innumerable young horn toad, elk tracks were everywhere and the sound of elk bugling was common. If you watch carefully you may find cougar prints as well. Oddly for a New Mexico hike the grasses were very wet. Boots, gaiters and pants, already be soaked by the creek crossings, may remain soaked for as long as the tread stays within the forest.

Cloud shrouded crest

Cloud shrouded crest

At 4.7 miles and 9200 feet, reach a saddle on the crest. Normally you encounter nice views west into the Tularosa Basin and the far San Andreas range. On this date rapidly thickening cumulus clouds had nestled against the western slopes and blocked views in that direction. Views north to Nogal Peak and beyond to the Capitan range were fantastic.  The clouds were kind enough to stay off White Horse Hill, but whiteout conditions could make grassland navigation a bit dicey.

Open grasslands surrounding Bonito Seep

Open grasslands surrounding Bonito Seep

The trail side-hills off of the crest and even descends a little into the upper reaches of Bonito Creek. Wet seasons produce an exuberant grassland and the vegetation frequently obscures long stretches of trail. In the photo to the left, there is a small copse of oak near the center, between a gentle depression (holding Bonito Seep) on the left and a deeper swale coming in from the right.  The trail descends toward that copse, rises briefing along the right hand swale, crosses into the copse and then across the stream from Bonito Seep. After that, it is so grass-obscured that there are only traces of trail until just above the cliff band at the top-right of the picture. Do not count on the trail bed for navigation!

Elk serenade on the Sierra Blanca crest.

Elk serenade on the Sierra Blanca crest.

From the cliff top, the trail makes a decisive turn north (left in the picture above) to rise to a rib that separates two branches of Bonito Creek. As you rise above 9,000 feet the air gets pretty thin. Take your time. This time of year the elk bulls advertise their presence by “bugling“, a loud and seemingly dismal brand of screeching that may make you wonder if a rescue operation needs commencing. Wild terrain.  After reaching the rib the tread contours to the east, directly beneath the summit of White Horse Hill. You can ascend to the summit (off trail) at any time, although there is something to be said for first regaining the crest on the east side of White Horse where the terrain is slightly less steep.

View to White Horse HIll summit from the east side.

View to White Horse Hill summit from a sign post on the east side.

Arrive at the summit at 6.5 miles. You get a glimpse of Sierra Blanca to the south, views east to the Pecos basin, north to the Capitan Mountains, and west (on a less cloudy day) down Three Rivers Canyon to the Tularosa Basin. In September at 10,000 feet the winds can make the grassy summit a chilly spot. Take some photos, sign in on the summit register (inside a small cairn), and perhaps grab a bite to eat on the lee side of the hill.  The way off of the summit is due east – look about for a broad saddle between White Horse Hill and an adjacent crest prominence that is partially blanketed with burned trees.

Horned toad alongside Trail 35

Horned toad alongside Trail 35

Descending from the summit towards the saddle you enter a patch of widely spaced pines, two of which are snags. Near one of those snags there is an old sign post (see picture above). The trail is just a few feet away from the post. If the grasses have obscured the trail, simply continue east to the saddle where a Forest Service sign advertises the intersection of the Crest Trail No 25 with Three Rivers Trail No 44 (going to the west) and Aspen Creek Trail No 35 (going east, and back to the trailhead). Take the Aspen Creek Trail as it follows the top of a rib, nearly flat, to the northwest. After short descent you will come to a second saddle that is currently covered with exceptionally short grass. It may be a preferred dining spot for elk. The trail was overgrown here, but you want to descend towards the southeast (right, looking downhill). The trail makes a high contour across the bowl and then begins switchbacking down towards the waters of Aspen Creek. Look for garter snakes, horned toads, and raptors aplenty.

After reaching the woods at the bottom of the bowl the tread gentles considerably. The remaining descent along Aspen Creek is much like the ascent – an easy tread in pine and fir forest. Eventually Aspen Creek rejoins Big Bonito Creek and you begin to reverse all the creek crossings you made earlier. Arrive back at the trailhead having gone about 11.2 miles. (Milage may vary, depending on how much switchbacking you do in the grasslands near Bonito Seep).

 Recommendations:

Author on White Horse Hill.

Author on White Horse Hill.

Do this hike!

Ordinarily, New Mexico conditions are too dry to support the extraordinary greens and the the exceptional rush of water described here. Still, hikers with small children or pets might want to remain watchful in snowmelt or monsoon conditions.

Summer is over. Two liters of water was plenty on this date. (August hikes will be different).

Whiteout conditions can be very disorienting – note the clouds in some of the photos! Bring a map up to the crest grasslands and keep it oriented to the surrounding terrain. An inadvertant westerly descent into the Tularosa Basin could rob your day of its glory.

Bow season has started and there was no shortage of hunters at the campground. One hunter reported that the area was so popular that you could only get a license through a lottery process. This is a good time of the year to own some orange clothing.

Links:

♦The folks at ruidoso.net have a good overview of the trail. They comment that Big Bonito Creek ordinarily has water, although it is not reliable in the last half mile up to Bonito Seep.

♦Pobrist at TrimbleOutdoors.com has photos and a description of a similar hike. in this variation you ascend Big Bonito Creek #36, staying close to the creek bed all the way to Bonito Seep, where you meet the Crest Trail Number 25. Rather than going north and east towards White Horse Hill, you head west on the Crest Trail towards Argentina Peak. Just below Argentina Peak, pick up and descend Little Bonito Creek Trail #37, which takes you to Big Bonito and then back to the trailhead. It is just as long, but doesn’t gain as much altitude. It sounds great.

♦SouthernNewMexicoExplorer considers Big Bonito Creek from a fisherman’s perspective. While the fishing sounded pretty good in 2007, more recent reports suggest that the fish population suffered badly in the Little Baldy fire.

Dawn silhouette of Ortega Peak (left) and Hershberger Peak (right) from Alamogordo

Dawn silhouette of Ortega Peak (left) and Hershberger Peak (right) from Alamogordo

The head of Marble Canyon South arises close to the summit of Hershberger Peak and descends the west face towards Alamogordo, NM. The ascent of Marble Canyon South is entirely off-trail and physically demanding, markedly more so than last week’s description of routes off of the main canyon. Beginning hikers, the strongly acrophobic and those who dread feeling lost should look elsewhere for an enjoyable outdoors stroll. That said, there is much to induce a curious canyoneer to venture up onto the deeply carved westerly face in the Sacramento Mountains. There is a brief  section of slot canyon, steep stretches of scrubbed bedrock, overhanging canyon walls, dry waterfalls and an ascent to a sky-island forest of pinyon pine, alligator juniper and rocky  mountain juniper. There is an option to ascend to Hershberger summit (and possibly descend by the “A Trail“), but on this date we opted to descend by way of the The Mesa and the Goat Springs Trail. On the descent you have great views south to the promising terrain dominated by The Roundup Grounds mesa, Alamo Canyon and Caballero Canyon.

Driving Directions:

The drive to Marble Canyon South is exactly the same as the drive to Marble Canyon N3-N4 and N2.

Trailhead:

02 gravel pad parking

Gravel pad to south of Marble Estates Road, with parking that is closest to the mouth of Marble Canyon

The trailhead is a parking lot for a playground/park in Alamogordo. Some of our group parked a little further along Marble Estates Road, which seems advisable. Drive 250 feet on Marble Estates and turn right onto a large, level gravel pad with room for many cars. Looking south you will see a dirt road leading from the gravel pad to a second gravel pad at the mouth of Marble Canyon. Note that the second gravel pad is signed for Alamogordo City vehicles only.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 4800 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 7300 feet
  • Net Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
  • Distance: 8.1 miles
  • Maps: Most of the hike is shown near the bottom edge of the USGS Alamogordo North quadrangle. A small part of the descent along rib descending from Hershberger Peak to The Mesa lies on the top edge of the Alamogordo South quadrangle (which is also very handy for identifying southerly features like Alamo Canyon). If you are going to summit Hershberger and try to descend by way of the A-Trail then you will also want the map to the east, the High Rolls quadrangle.

Description:

Mouth to Marble Canyon viewed from above the large concrete flume

Mouth to Marble Canyon viewed from above the large concrete flume

From the playground parking lot follow Marble Estates Road as it goes briefly south and swings east. In about 250 feet from the trailhead there will be a large gravel pad to your right (south). Cross the pad and pick up a dirt road at the far end. The road will take you to a second gravel pad less than a quarter mile from the trailhead. (This is the site signed for official Alamogordo vehicles only). At the south end of the pad, about a quarter mile from the trailhead, is a large concrete flume set into the stream bed of Marble Canyon. Ascend along the edge of the flume and then drop into the bed of Marble Canyon.

05 entrance to South Marble CanyonFollow Marble Canyon into the mountains, crossing a dirt driveway that crosses the canyon above the flume and then upper Marble Canyon Road at three-quarters of a mile. Take special note of the canyon walls above your head to the south (to your right, headed up hill) as sticking too close to the northern wall might cause you to miss the mouth of Marble Canyon South. The floor of the canyon is nearly level here and composed of loose gravel and occasional piles of boulders. It is easy going (for now). At 0.9 miles pass the last house on Marble Canyon Road and begin traversing below the old marble mine. Large blocks of cut stone are scattered all the way to the canyon bed. At 1.0 miles, reach the mouth of South Marble Canyon.

View into North Branch, South Marble Creek Canyon from the bed of South Marble Creek Canyon

View into North Branch, South Marble Creek Canyon from the bed of South Marble Creek Canyon

Head south (right) into Marble Canyon South following the canyon bed as it traverses below tall canyon walls. The footing remains gravelly, although there are a few steps that require a climbing move or two.  Often there are paths around these blockages, most often to the bank on the west side (right hand) of the canyon bed. At 1.4 miles from the trailhead, pass the mouth of a side canyon (I don’t know its name). It gets little attention since the mouth of the brief slot canyon is only 200 feet further upstream. There was a trifle of water running in the bottom of the slots, surprising in so dry a set of years. Clamber through this terrain –  all too quickly, maybe 150 feet – and resume the upward tread on loose gravel.

07 ice on scrubbed bedrock

Ice coating the scrubbed bedrock floor of South Marble Canyon

At 1.9 miles the canyon turns sharply to the east, aimed more directly uphill. At 2.0 miles come to a confluence of canyons. The one of the left (to the north of the other) is called “North Spur, Marble Canyon South”. It also climbs steeply up the west face of Hershberger Peak. Stay right, taking the more southerly of the branches to remain in South Marble Canyon. The canyon acquires a tighter feel, partly due to the smaller flow of water above the other mouths, partly due to the increasing incline of the bed and much due to the increasingly close canyon walls.

View down waterfall to water pan at the base.

View down waterfall to water pot at the base.

As you climb higher the floor of the canyon tends to become scrubbed bedrock and the climbing problems become more demanding. As before, each of these can be skirted by retreating down-canyon for a dozen (or so) feet and looking for faint treads that climb the debris slopes at the base of the canyon walls. Rock in the canyon can be rotten. That is, it shows a tendency to break away under pressure. Test your hand holds and foot holds. Most of the climbing problems arise where the canyon walls have pinched together and trapped boulders or where abrasion-resistant strata have produced waterfalls.

View into the upper canyon were it diverges left from a broad bedrock floor.

DJ standing below the upper canyon (above him to his right) at a confluence on a broad bedrock floor.

There are two places where the route becomes notably ambiguous. At 2.7 miles from the trailhead a hint of a forest appears. The alligator juniper and pinion pine are beautiful but they obscure views to the surrounding terrain. Watch that you stay left in the brush-obscured canyon bed rather than diverting upwards in a steep but relatively open side cut coming down from the south rim. At 3.0 miles, in an expanse of very steep but open bedrock, come to the reverse problem. A very appealing cut, floored with scrubbed bedrock, comes down from the north ridge and appears to be the obvious route for Marble Canyon South. It isn’t. Turn your eyes right, to what appears to be a forested cut coming down from the south canyon rim. That is the actual bed.  Up there the canyon is rising aggressively.

Looking down South Marble Canyon from the top of the most difficult waterfall climb.

Looking down South Marble Canyon from the top of the most exposed waterfall climb.

Up and up and steeply up! There is one particular waterfall in this area that is climbable (one of our party ascended directly up the right-side of the face) but is also somewhat rotten and notably exposed. Look for a faint tread up the north (left) side to get get around the waterfall if your climbing skills are not of that caliber. At the top of the fall, turn back and enjoy the view (only feebly captured on the photo to the left). From US 70 in Alamogordo you could not have known that this canyon wonderland existed on the bland face of Hershberger Peak.

Looking up-canyon to the overhanging rock wall that forms the upper amphitheaters.

Looking up-canyon to the overhanging rock wall that forms the upper amphitheaters.

Finally, at 3.3 miles, enter an amphitheater beneath tall and overhanging rock. This is the high point in the canyon bed.  Find shade beneath the evergreens that thrive in the amphitheater, have lunch and admire the distant San Andreas Mountains across the broad Tularosa Basin. The cliff band above your head extends way across the west face of Hershberger and appears to give rise to the amphitheater above the North Branch, Marble Canyon South.

View to Roundup Mesa and Alamogordo Canyon from Mesa Rib on Hershberger Peak

View to The Roundup Grounds Mesa and Alamo Canyon from Mesa Rib on Hershberger Peak

Once rested, traverse below the overhanging rock towards the south wall of the canyon. (To the right, looking up hill). Climb the south wall on loose dirt amid well spaced trees in the lowest reaches of the Lincoln National Forest. Resist the temptation to descend towards The Mesa below you as there are some cliff bands between you and the mesa. Maintain a steeply rising traverse, and at 3.7 miles hit the fall line of the rib that descends from Hershberger Peak to The Mesa. Look west for a clear view of the terrain that will take you down to The Mesa. Look north into depths of Marble Canyon and marvel at the ascent you have just made. Look south into the rugged terrain of Alamo Canyon and it’s innumerable tributaries.

12 Goat Canyon mouth

Waterfall in mouth of Goat Canyon immediately above Alamogordo

Descend to The Mesa at 5.3 miles and follow Goat Springs Trail above the northern cliffs to a gully that cuts the cliff bands. Follow Goat Springs Trail as it descends this gully and then turns west to traverse below the cliff bands that support The Mesa. At 6.5 miles the trail reaches upper Goat Springs (which was flowing) and then descends into the damp bed of Goat Springs Canyon. The trail makes a brief climb to the south rim of the canyon and leads to a trail junction just below a large home at 6.9 miles. Go left to descend into the spectacular lower reaches of Goat Springs Canyon or go right for a more direct return to the trailhead. We opted for Goat Springs Canyon.

Evening view of mouth of Marble Canyon from the aqueduct

Evening view of mouth of Marble Canyon seen from the aqueduct

At 7.25 miles strike a dirt road and go right, downhill towards the Alamogordo aqueduct. Follow the road beside the concrete aqueduct north to return to the mouth of Marble Canyon at 7.8 miles. The road will return you to the trailhead at 8.1 miles.

Recommendations:

We had a surprising February day; the temperature would rise above 80 degrees in the Tularosa Basin and I suspect it was close to 70 degrees in the sunnier canyon locations. I went through all three liters of water in my pack. If you go summer, bring a lot of water. Consider making this a dawn hike, as the canyons will remain out of the suns rays for much of the morning.

I found it hard to retain a clear idea of my map position as we ascended. It was not always easy to know which stream bed was the main canyon and which was a “side cut”. Fortunately Mike lead this trip and he was familiar with the terrain. If your group does not have a local expert in it, then get everyone to maintain a good attitude towards exploration rather than merely covering ground.

If your party intends to climb to Hershberger Summit then you could have a long day in front of you. It would be a good excuse for getting new batteries into your headlamp, particularly for short wintertime days.

Links:

Mike has written up Marble Canyon South here and here, with a particularly useful focus on the variety of terrain you can find in this scramble. If you are interested in the North Spur of Marble Canyon South, you can read about his ascent  here.

Samat has a brief writeup of the hike over at AllTrails.

A photographer identified only as “Wilkie” has posted a photo looking down the waterfall to the water pot that is almost identical to the one shown seven photos above. It was taken only week before, but Wilkie has very usefully included a subject in the photograph to give you a much clearer sense of perspective.