Monday, March 28, 2011

Backside of the Guadalupes (and Hackberry Lake)

This weekend it was time to head west, toward Carlsbad, New Mexico and the Guadalupe Mountains.  I've been going down to Big Bend lately, about four hours south of Midland.  Carlsbad-on-the-Pecos is only 2.5 hours west of Midland, and the Guadalupes are just beyond.  A bit closer.  And almost two hours closer than high-mountain Cloudcroft, NM.

My original plan was to drive out Saturday morning and drive the Guadalupe Scenic Drive, or NM 137.  This paved road traverses the Guadalupe Mountains west of Carlsbad and leads to Dog Canyon in Guadalupe National Park, which is of course in Texas.  On Friday night I got a text message from a dirt-biking friend and former colleague from ConocoPhillips.  We arranged to ride on Saturday afternoon at Hackberry Lake OHV area, which is ~50,000 acres of BLM land in New Mexico about 25 miles NE of Carlsbad. 

I've never put my motorcycle in the back of my new truck.  I ran to Lowe's to get a board to use as a ramp, andI found they have Werner aluminum ramps for $99, which is cheaper than anything I could find on  Amazon is not always the bomb...  Loaded up, drove out about 2.5 hours to Hackberry.  It's free, and there is a little camping/picnic area with nice shelters and picnic tables.  Almost completely deserted on a nice spring Saturday.  We rode for about four hours.  The trails are pretty sandy, and we rode a lot of two-track.  There is potash mining and oil drilling activity in the area, and we actually stumbled upon a well staked by my new employer.  Many of the roads we drove were oilfield roads, many surfaced in gravel.  The trails we did find were sandy.  One fun trail led down a hill into a wash, then following the twisty wash.  After a short break we went out again, south this time, past a marshy lake area.  The sand was worse down in this area and I was having trouble riding, keeping up speed.  And I thought I had sand all figured out after riding at Kermit Dunes!  Like I said in previous posts, sand is okay if you don't need to stay on a defined trail.  Finally I lost control and did a mild crash into some vegetation.  Pokeys in my arm, back, and a big scratch on my neck.  I realized I was nearly exhausted.  

Overall, Hackberry was so-so.  There are some dunes areas and a rockier hill that we didn't get onto.  I think the key is to find the varying terrain.  It's a big place; I will be back.  Some of the most fun was riding my friend's bike, which is a Honda 2-stroke MX bike.  Standover was 2-3 inches higher than my "little" 230F (which I used to think was huge).  Perfect height.  Great power and "pop" above a certain RPM.  It reminded me of my MX-5 -- the torque really kicks in above a certain RPM.  It also reminded me of my Yamaha in size.  My Honda 230F doesn't have that pop, but once again reminded me that's it's fast enough to maim or kill, and it's fast enough for me.  I need to improve as a rider before I can wring everything out of that bike.  Sorry, no pictures from Hackberry Lake... like skiing, it's hard to ride and take photos.  The first thing to fatigue on me was my clutch hand/arm! 

Sabkha and I continued west toward Carlsbad as the sun set.  We found NM 137 north of Carlsbad and headed SW into the Guadalupes.  No we did not stop at Lucy's Mexican Restaurant.  Lots of ranchland, gradually going up... then low, scrubby juniper-type forest.  The sun dropped and we pulled off onto a side road out of sight of 137 and got ready to camp.  Take out the bike, unload the bed.... kind of a pain, but the truck bed is my (night-night, sleepy-sleepy) bed.  This was night #3 in the back of the truck.  The bed is nominally 5' long, but I can jjjjust fit diagonally.  Actually I can't, so I have to sleep with the tailgate down.  It was really windy and gusty, so tough to sleep.  But it was gorgeous... the stars were bright and clear, and I could easily see the glowing cloud of the Milky Way.  A relaxing and nice evening.  Made Ramen with canned chicken chunks -- yum!  Sabkha helped me eat it.
Next morning the sun rose and lit up my truck bed.  Got up and made some breakfast and anti-headache, caffeine-addiction imported-from-England-by-Debi Tetley tea.  That was the last of my water.  Why do I always forget water?  Luckily we found a water source just up the road.  Another mile or two brought us to the turn off for the Sitting Bull Falls trailhead.  Followed by another mile or so of quite high-clearance road, and two closed gates (ahhhh! annoying!) brought us to the trailhead, where I spent about 20 minutes getting ready to hike.

No signs of anyone around.  Off we went down the trail, which was more like a road for the first one mile.  It was "paved" with outcrops of smooth limestone, which would've made a very bumpy road.  At one-point-oh miles we crossed a fenceline and began heading down into a canyon.  The scenery was nice, although I prefer the Arizona-style intrusive-rock scenery.  Something about flat-lying limestone just doesn't do it for me, although this canyon did surprise me...
Sabkha poses on the way down the trail

The trail seemed very mountain-lion prone, and of course I'd left my knife in the truck.  It was still very windy, in big gusts, which is a bit unsettling -- and we'd seen no one.  Finally we found some water in the canyon along with lots of vegetation.  Sabkha got a good drink and a bit of a wallow.

Another mile or so and we came to a point with a view of the Sitting Bull Falls picnic area.  Nice!  We were actually at the top of the falls, but couldn't really see them.  So we headed down to the land of parking lots, picnic tables, sippy cups, and park rangers.

Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area.  $5 entry.  Ha ha, I fooled them! I avoided the $5 fee with a simple six-mile hike!  SCORE!

Pools below Sitting Bull Falls (SBF)

SBF, tufa, vegetation

The falls were cool-looking.  High and hard to photograph.  As the base were mazes of little channels and deep blue pools of water.  People pushed strollers around and dropped trash and empty water bottles all over.  All around is tufa, the calcareous deposited rock.  Just like the stuff you find in caves.  On the sides of the waterfall you could see the "deserted" falls areas where the water isn't currently flowing.  I like how you can almost see faces in the rock.  Like Easter Island-ish faces.  Tiki-like.  Do you see them?

SBF pool

Clear and deep and blue

The area was beautiful, cool, and calming.  I wanted to stay for hours.  But I had 3.5 miles to hike back to the truck, all uphill.  And I'm impatient and I like to keep moving.  So we headed back up the steep, rock trail.  We passed some people just up from the parking area.  You can't climb around on the falls:

Ok, I get the top two.  I get the lower left.  But the lower right?  No families standing together?  I think they just needed a fourth picture to complete the sign.  Sheesh, interns...

Flowering yucca observed on way up

Everywhere we saw flowers.  Not blanketing the landscape, but hidden here and there.  This flowering yucca was creepy and cool.  

About two miles up the trail, Sabkha slowed down.  She looked tired and was panting despite it being a cool, breezy day.  She dropped behind me (rare), and I looked back to see her suddenly veer back down the trail, like a drunken person.  She stumbled around, with a crazy look in her eyes, and suddenly was frothing at the mouth.  One of her "new type" seizures.  She then turned around and walked up the trail, mouth still foaming, eyes still wild, and I managed to snap on her leash before she dropped onto a prickly pear or something.  The entire episode lasted only 10-15 seconds.  We took it easy the rest of the way to the car, where I gave her a valium to "calm [her] brain activity".

I checked work email (all looked good on my wells) and we drove into the little community of Queen, NM.  This used to be a ghost town and is now being repopulated, more by the retiree crowd than the hippy-desert crowd like in Terlingua.  I saw a roadside sign for Sunday lunch and stopped in at Kit's Mountain Store.  I didn't have any cash, but the owners offered to take a check in the mail and I had a yummy and filling smoked-meatloaf lunch, topped off with chocolate cake.  About three times more than I normally eat at lunch!  Chas, owner, sat and talked with me while I ate.  He had a career as a potash miner and showed me a chunk of potash.  When he heard I'd just bought 20 acres in the Big Bend, he walked me around his property and showed me his water tank and pump setup. Useful info for planning my system.

Continued down 137 with Dog Canyon, TX as my goal.  This is some deserted and faraway territory.  Dropped down into a valley and followed south along a ridge off to my east:

Dog Canyon corrals

Sabkha was enjoying a post-hike, post-Valium nap, so I snapped a few photos and looked around.  No dogs allowed on the trails in Guad NP anyway.  Back we went on 137.  I briefly entertained heading down a dirt road toward Dell City, but decided to go back on 137.  Once back on top of the mesa, we took a Chas-recommended detour down a forest road.  At first it was no problem, but eventually we found a washed-out canyon with some "serious" high-clearance 4x4 (not pictured).  I didn't want to drive any really rough stuff due to having a dirt bike in the bed.  It wasn't anything really bad, but the Subaru never would've made it.

Recent scouring of this wash took out the road in many places.

Nice feeling place, pines, breezy, cozy canyon.  Just limestone but still a good place.

Back to Midland, about three hours.  A close place.  Lots of forest roads where one can ride motorcycles or ATVs.  Probably lots of 4x4.  And lots of trails.  Only limestone, but that's ok.  Lots of pretty country to explore.  Not high enough to be really comfortable in summer, but good for nine months of the year.  We'll be back!


Tonia said...

Dang, I drove two hours on Monday to go camping and still no elevation. Midland is looking better, although maybe we wouldn't be allowed. Did that sign mean no children on the trail?

stratovolcano said...

It's nothing but fun in the sun out here in West Texas.