Thursday, December 18, 2014

Brownstone Canyon Loop via Small Canyon and Brownstone Dam - 12/18/14

Fogged In Brownstone Canyon from Sandstone Plateau Above

In the beginning, the blue skies showed us the snow dusting on the La Madre Range.
 As we climbed out of our cars at Sandstone Quarry trailhead, many of us were saying that the residual clouds and fog would soon burn off ....

Climbing Through the Small Slot while Dodging Pools of Water

Scrambling to the Rattlesnake Trail
 So, we began our hike down the Calico Tanks Trail until we reached the small wash to the left. Here, we stepped over the boundary rocks and walked by the "the trail goes the other way, silly" sign and hiked out to the small slot canyon knowing that there were probably pools of water inside the slot. There was, indeed, water and we managed to squiggle around the pools in different ways. From there, we hiked up the rock over to the Rattlesnake Trail.

The Rattlesnake Trail (Gray Cap in Clouds)
 The Rattlesnake Trail took us to the northern base of Red Cap, down past Ash Canyon Overlook and on down to junction with Gateway Canyon.

Climbing the Dry Falls of Upper Gateway
 The temperature was cool but the scrambling warmed us up quickly. Our one concern of the day was the wet slippery limestone of Upper Gateway Canyon that we were about to embark upon.

The wet limestone made this endeavor even more adventurous!

Upper Gateway's Terraces
 Being aware of the possible danger, we made our way up the canyon and its many dry falls, ... or should we say moist falls .... There were no accidents. When we got to the terrace section (seen in the photo to the left), pools of water began to appear. We gathered at the top of Gateway for a small break. When we looked back at where we had just come, we saw fog or clouds floating within the canyon in our direction. There was no longer any blue sky to be seen.

The Left Turn from the Top of Upper Gateway
 We turned to our left and headed into the low lying clouds. The view of the red and yellow sandstone in this direction was gorgeous! We climbed just a bit before a small canyon opened up to the right.

The Right Turn into the Small Scramble Canyon
 A trail that led up this small canyon beckoned us and we turned. Good scrambling ensued.

Scrambling Up the Small Canyon

Climbing Out of the Small Canyon
 After we passed a water-slide on our left, we climbed on up to a wide opening and began our hike across the sandstone plateau. We were now in the clouds and landmarks were very difficult to see. Nevertheless, the scenery was beautiful. The pink color in the sandstone came out with the dampness and there were many tanks and puddles strewn about. We happened upon a particularly large shallow tank that we marveled at for a minute.

Many Small Pools of Water on the Sandstone Plateau
 Although our route was not a straight shot over to the large deep tank alley, we did find it in the fog. The tank was dry! So, we continued our way down toward the drop crack that we could see coming up.

Jim Prepares for his Back Double Flip in the Layout Position

The Bottom of the Drop Crack
 We dropped down the crack like pros. There's not a whole lot that today's hikers don't mind trying ... as long as it doesn't involve ropes! At the bottom of the crack, we walked right up to the pictograph wall that Brownstone Canyon is famous for. We sat and enjoyed our lunch break while we studied the pictographs. The damp wall did not show off the paint very well so the following collages were taken out of the writer's archives of 2011.

Collage Arranged in 2011
 These paintings are protected by law as are the petroglyphs found further down the canyon. Today, we did not visit the petroglyph site.

Collage Arranged in 2011

Mark Didn't get the Memo
 We took as long a break as we could but we were also getting chilly. So, soon, we began our hike up Brownstone Canyon Trail. No one in the group, today, had visited the large dam that someone had built for their livestock in the sandstone hills on the other side on up the wash. Today was the day. The probability of there being water behind the dam was high. So when the second set of sandstone hills neared the wash we were in, we forked off to the right to follow the base of the rock.

Starting Up Brownstone Canyon Wash
 A trail appeared at times but it is not well-trod. Finally, after rounding a point, we came upon an old water trough that is now filled in with dirt and plants. We could see pipe fittings on either end.

Right Turn Along Base of Sandstone Hills
 Beyond the trough, the short rock wall of the dam was built onto the red rock. The dam is quite long and is ten to twenty feet high at the outlet. The group braved a walk across the wall at its highest point to please the photographer for a picture.

Old Water Trough for Livestock

The Dam
 After the dam visit, ... ha ha ..., we took off across the desert washes in a more or less due west direction. This would bring us to the Brownstone Trail / Limestone Trail junction. We found a couple of trails and a couple of roads to aid our trek and magically ended up at the said junction. (Just a note: the trails and roads were preferable to climb than the wash typically used for this hike which is located close to the Turtlehead base.)

Balancing on the Dam (Large Pond Behind Dam)
 Here, we dropped down a little to enter a wash that headed up the nearby canyon. We recognized the ridge to our left as the one that we usually use to reach the saddle we sought.

Our Target Canyon (Limestone Trail)
 This canyon was fairly short-lived and we made sure to turn left at a small wash before the canyon headed up into the La Madre Mountain Range! Next, a steep climb up a slippery hill brought us to the high point saddle.

Finally, the Descent!

The Middle Descent Wash
 Downhill began here! Two and a half miles of downhill! Down through the small wash. Down through a larger wash. And, finally, down through the really wide wash that flows at the base of Turtlehead Peak on this side of the mountain. At the end of the trek, we junctioned with the Turtlehead Trail and followed it back to the cars. The clouds still hung low but, oh, what a display du jour!

8 miles; 1930 feet elevation gain; 4 hours

Evidence of Flooding

Dropping into the Wide Wash on Limestone Trail

Turtlehead finally comes out from the clouds as we hike below it.

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