Archives for posts with tag: 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.

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.

Overview:

01 View of Tularoas from Slab Canyon

View down N4 (Slab Canyon) to White Sands and San Andreas Mountains

Marble Canyon is in the Sacramento Mountains above the town of Alamogordo.  It divides Ortega Peak to the north from Hershberger Peak to the south. The head of the main canyon begins high on the east face of Hershberger Peak, swiftly wraps to the north face and then tumbles a long ways straight west towards the Tularosa Basin. There are many side canyons that drain into the main canyon. This scramble begins at the mouth of the main canyon but diverts north, leaving the main canyon and ascending side canyons that descend from Ortega Peak. These northerly cuts are designated N1, N2, N3 and N4.  (The first three join together and share a single drainage into the main canyon, while N4 connects directly to the main canyon). This report describes a combination of two distinct ascents. The first ascent goes up cut N4 (also called Slab Canyon), climbs over a ridge top and then descends in cut N3. The second ascent is in cut N2. It climbs to a waterfall high in N2 and then descends N2 all the way back to the main canyon.

You can hardly get lost since Alamogordo is often in sight and always directly below you. Still, this is not a beginner’s trip into the mountains. It is off-trail, poking through gnarled terrain, brushy, boulder-blocked, strenuous and steep. Occasional rock climbing moves are needed although the exposure is never very high.

Driving Directions:

Follow the driving directions for Ortega Canyon South until you are almost at end of East 10th Street in Alamogordo. Just before the fire station at the upper end of East 10th, turn right onto Marble Estates Road. (Marble Estates road turns into Marble Canyon Road, but the road sign on upper end of East 10th Street just says Marble Estates). There is parking on your left just after you turn.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry at Alamogordo playground park (and Marble Canyon trailhead)

The mighty Camry at Alamogordo playground park (and Marble Canyon trailhead)

The trailhead we used is a playground parking lot. There is no trail sign and I did not see a water fountain. There are trash cans but no other amenities.

It should possible to drive on Marble Estates Road a few hundred more feet and park in a large, flat, open area south of the paved road. That would leave the playground parking open and also trim off a little of the least interesting part of the hike.

Data:

  • Start Elevation: 4800 feet
  • Top of N4: 6640 feet
  • Elevation Gained to top of N4: 1840 feet
  • Elevation Gained in N2: 700 feet
  • Total Elevation Gained: 2540 feet
  • Distance: 5.5 miles round trip
  • Maps: The Alamogordo North quadrangle shows the trailhead and canyons described in this report. The local summits (Ortega Peak and Hersherberger Peak) are on the quadrangle to the east, High Rolls.

A note on nomenclature. The main Marble Canyon drainage descends from a peak called Hershberger on Google Maps and Alamo/Hershberger Peak on both USGS and Acme Mapper 2.1 maps. Since this report uses Google Maps to show the route it will stick with Hershberger. The side-canyon designations (N1, N2 etc) are those used by the folks at the Alamogordo Trails meetup group.

Trail:

House-dwarfing flume below mouth of Marble Canyon

House-dwarfing flume below mouth of Marble Canyon

Ascend along Marble Estates/Marble Canyon road for about 250 feet and turn right onto a flat, open gravel pad. Cross the pad south and enter a dirt road that will take you, at about 1200 feet from the trailhead, to an enormously wide concrete flume.  Ascend along the north edge of the flume and then enter the stream bed above it. Stay in the canyon bed, crossing Marble Canyon Road at three quarters of a mile and enter the mouth of the canyon in under one mile (just past the uppermost home built in the canyon).

Boulder hopping in main Marble Canyon drainage

Boulder hopping in main Marble Canyon drainage

At one mile from the trailhead note a major side canyon coming in from the south (called South Marble Canyon). Reportedly, South Canyon is a strenuous and more technical ascent than the N4-N3-N2 outing described here. Staying in the main canyon, the bed begins to incline more steeply and the way becomes occasionally clotted with boulders and tree branches. At 1.3 miles from the trailhead come to the mouth of the drainage on your left that includes cuts N1, N2 and N3. Your descent route will return to this point. There is a prominent cliff band above this mouth called Marble Bluff. It is a useful landmark for taking your position at various points along the scramble.

Steep and bouldery entrance into N4 (Slab Canyon)

Mike leading the steep and bouldery entrance into N4 (Slab Canyon)

Go past the mouth of N1, continue boulder hopping and pushing past occasional thickets until you reach the mouth of N4 (Slab Canyon) on your left at 1.6 miles.  The entrance is somewhat obscured by a berm-like pile of rock and gravel so keep your eyes open for a cut breaking open the north wall (your left, ascending). It is very easy to walk past it. The N4 entrance is steep, piled with boulders and rather heavily vegetated. Heavy gloves are recommended. At 1.8 miles from the trailhead N4 opens up and the canyon floor becomes a smoothly rounded gully carved into bedrock. Steep in places, the canyon is a pleasure to ascend. The canyon walls are sometimes vertical, there is abundant (often prickly) vegetation. It was our good fortunate that Mike, who lead the scramble, had been up earlier in the week and cleared openings in the thickest brush.

Evergreen tree obscuring the exit to rim of N4

Evergreen tree obscuring the exit to rim of N4

On a mid-winter day the canyon bottom held numerous small pots of water but we saw no wildlife.  The presence of a neighboring Airforce Base (Holloman) was advertised by occasional sonic booms. Look over your shoulder because there are great views to the distant San Andreas, the White Sands National Monument, and the gnarled terrain of the Marble Canyon drainage. At 2.2 miles the canyon seems to top out like a box canyon. A gully in the cliff line, slightly obscured by an evergreen tree, offers a way out of the box. N4 actually continues up above this point, but instead of following it we contoured north, crossing a gentle depression and gathering to look down into cut N2. There is a view to the top of a waterfall that will be the end point of the (later) N2 ascent.

Terry (above) and DJ (within) negotiating the large step in N3

Terry (above) and DJ (within) negotiating the large step in N3

Turn down hill and descend east-south-east into the “gentle depression” mentioned above. It slowly acquires walls and firms up as a very small canyon – N3. (You could argue for ravine status – you would have to hike hunched over if you wanted to keep your head below the canyon rim). At about 2.6 miles from the trailhead there is an 10 foot drop that marks the “crux” move for this canyon. Don’t worry as there are abundant foot and hand holds. The terrain is again quite bushy and very prickly. Even with leather gloves on you will want to place your gloves carefully.

Terry, Summer and John leading up N3

Terry, Summer and John leading up N2

At 2.9 miles you will come to the mouth of N3 as it enters into the larger bed of canyon N2. You could continue your descent in the common drainage of N1, N2 and N3 to get back to the main canyon. Or, you can head upwards in cut N2. We chose the latter.

View down N3 from top of 2-step waterfall

View down N2 from top of 2-step waterfall

Push upwards in bushy and boulder-strewn terrain. In 100 yards find a much more open canyon bottom. There are numerous places where the bottom is made up by ledge systems (staircases) or smoothly scoured bedrock. One boulder problem had an overhang that made me regret my thick day pack. There is a second problem at a two-step waterfall. The lower step is an 8-ft wall that is conveniently solved by stemming off of a tree growing from the base of the step. The upper step is undercut, so we went to the right (looking uphill) and ascended on loose scree to get around the upper step.

John beneath large slab just before the upper waterfall

John beneath large slab just before the upper waterfall

At 3.3 miles from the trailhead the canyon bottom becomes unexpectedly forested (the canyon rim must be shading the trees) and at 3.4 miles you come to a point where a large rock slab leans against the canyon wall. The opening between the wall and slab is large enough to walk through, and you will find yourself in a cool grotto with hanging plants growing on the face of the waterfall that you had previously viewed above N4. The waterfall seems climbable (John in our group did some exploration) but we turned back down canyon at this point. The canyon is a pleasure to descend, as the staircases and scrubbed canyon bed make footing very easy. Enjoy the odd feeling of being able to look about on descent – the views into the Tularosa Basin are grand.

11 N2 Juniper

Possible Rocky Mountain Juniper (has brown bark that exfoliates in thin strips).

Return to the mouth of N3 at 3.9 miles and descend in the N1/N2/N3 bed. Watch for Marble Bluff to signal the distance to the main canyon. The angle lowers but the amount of debris under foot becomes greater as you return to the main drainage in Marble Canyon at 4.2 miles. Return down the main canyon and remain in the stream bed until striking the concrete flume. At the bottom of the flume turn north (right looking downhill) to return to Marble Estate Road. Reach the trailhead after traveling a total of just 5.5  incredible miles.

Recommendations:

The route is short but gains a great deal of altitude. I would not bring young children, out of shape hikers or new hikers on this trip. The waterfall and boulder problems could be hard on dogs.

Author in Slab Canyon with the Tularosa Basin in the background

Author in Slab Canyon with the Tularosa Basin in the background

We enjoyed a surprisingly warm winter’s day (it was expected to hit 61 degrees). I went through a 2 liter Platypus bag and would have finished the 1 liter bottle in my pack had it not been so inconvenient to get out.

The footing is “unnaturally good” in parts of the canyons and the downhill vistas are wide. It would have been useful to have along pair of binoculars on this hike. I could have used a larger zoom on my camera as well.

It would be easy to get misplaced in this jumbled terrain. There is no trail. View lines are often short. Nothing is signed. It can be difficult to know which cut is “N1”. If, for example, you accidentally wandered into South Marble Canyon it would be a while before the error was obvious. A GPS could be handy. Keep an eye out for Marble Bluff. At least the return route is always obvious. My thanks to Mike who both lead the group and who has previously spent a lot of time clearing small passages through the most impenetrable brush.

Links:

Interested in getting out into the Sacramento Mountains (or beyond)? Check out the Alamogordo Trails Meetup site.

Mike has detail descriptions of his hikes at ArizonaHiking.com (now a central source for hiking in all the states). Check out his N4 description.

Here is the Usual Internet Caveat: there are several trip reports for “Marble Canyon” that only describe the easiest and lowest section of the main canyon. E.g. MapMyHike. Don’t be fooled!  The hike described here gains a great deal more than 150 feet.