Saturday, March 11, 2017

Wildhorse Pass via Picture Canyon (DNWR) - 3/10/17

Little Joe May Canyon from Wildhorse Pass

Traverse Terrain near Wildhorse Pass

Large Slot of Picture Canyon

Cow Camp Road at Black Hills Pass
 There are two ways to get to Wildhorse Pass in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. One way would be to drive out Alamo Road, turn onto Joe May Road and hike up Little Joe May Canyon (a wide canyon) to the Pass at the top. The other way is via Picture Canyon. This canyon is reached by driving out Alamo Road and turning right onto Cow Camp Road. This high clearance road passes through the Black Hills at a narrow spot between well pipes and rocks. Afterwards, the road deteriorates and leads up toward the escarpment of the mountains.

Cave Trailhead on Cow Camp Road
 The first trailhead parking circle is located just below a cave seen from the road. This is the closest that a car can come to the entrance of Picture Canyon that is still a couple of miles away.

Ridge Approach (Red winterized Desert Trumpet)
 The canyon entrance can be seen from the trailhead. Nine hikers arrived in 3 cars and began hiking toward the canyon choosing to take the ridge approach. We marched through the red-orange (winterized) desert trumpets with views of the still snowy Spring Mountains.

Snowy Willow Peak from Ridge Approach

Mouth of Picture Canyon Slot
 The elevation gain of the ridge was constant until we reached arroyos made by the alluvial fan of the large canyon slot. A few small undulations brought us to a steep hill that led to the canyon's main wash. There is a faint trail that leads down near the escarpment wall. As we neared the entrance to Picture Canyon narrows, our mouths fell agape! With very high walls on either side, we entered a slot that ranged from ten to thirty feet wide.

Entering Picture Canyon
 As we hiked in, our first question was answered. Yes, the dark space on Google Earth is hikable! There were no dry falls blocking our path ... yet.

Picture Canyon Narrows
 A big part of Picture Canyon narrows is the many caves located there. With each cave we passed, we wondered if there were wild eyes watching us from within.

Large "Lookout" Cave in Picture Canyon

Cave at Bend in Narrows
 There was one particular huge cave high up on the left. With a little imagination, it could have been a great lookout point since it faced toward anyone who could be entering the slot. We learned throughout our hike that Picture Canyon is of cultural significance. Perhaps there was a small community of early Americans that lived in this canyon. It was certainly well-protected by the slot and the high mountains all around.

Early American Evidence
 We stumbled upon a few paintings made on the walls. Didn't expect it!

Wide Wash?
 For the most part, the paintings are faded and washed away. It is very difficult to decipher what they were paintings of in their original form. Please help preserve what is left of them by not touching them. We left them the way we found them.

The First and Climbable Dry Fall

Up and Around Slippery Slot
 The slot narrowed as we reached the first obstacle dry fall. This obstacle was climbable with a little grunting and groaning! But, right after that, there is a series of obstacles that begin with a slippery ten foot dry fall. Jerry was able to get up the fall by chimneying and reported that there was a rabbit hole to negotiate after that. The rest of the group turned to the right and began a precarious up and around that contained scrambling and exposure on a pre-used path covered with loose rock. We warned each other repeatedly to "make every step count!"

Exposure at Slippery Slot
 There was a cairn located on the rock where we dropped back into the slot. We used this cairn on the way back out.

Hoodoos above Widening Wash
 After the slippery up and around at Slippery Slot, the wash began widening until it was around 200 feet wide.

Very Large Agave Roasting Pit at Jumbo Hoodoo Junction

Wide Wash before Right Fork to Pass
 At a junction of our wide wash and another wide wash, we looked up to the left and saw a humongous agave roasting pit! We climbed up until we were about twenty or thirty feet away from the pit and looked around. We were in the center of a very large area nestled within the high mountains. Imagination told us that this could have been a village site. High up on the hill across from the pit, the end of a rock outcropping appeared as a jumbo hoodoo. The name stuck as a landmark.

Continuation of Picture Canyon Forking to Left
 Returning to the wide wash, we continued our slog up the gravel. Some of us chose the less washy side of the canyon over the loose gravel of the main wash.

Strangely "Burnt" Bighorn Horns
 Soon, we came to a forked area. Picture Canyon veered up to the left in a wide beautiful expanse. Straight and slightly right, the wash continued up through a narrow V-shaped gap.

Icy Waterfall

Climbing up to Rita's Ridge
 Our route turned to the less wide wash area on the right. Although we could not see Wildhorse Pass directly from this angle, we knew that it was just beyond the ridge in between this ravine and the ravine further up. This ridge became known as Rita's Ridge since she pioneered the route that climbed to the top. After passing or climbing a limestone rock shelf that, at this time, contained an icy waterfall, five hikers made our way up to the left to the top of the ridge. The remaining four hikers chose a more difficult route up the ridges on the right side of the ravine.

A Rock with Small Seabed Fossils
 On the way up to the top of Rita's Ridge, the writer came across a limestone rock with many small seabed fossils embedded in it. A second rock was found with two more fossils.

Climbing Rita's Ridge
 Wildhorse Pass was in sight to the left so when we got high enough on the ridge, we followed a faint game trail on a traverse over to the flat area.

Wildhorse Pass Views

Nine Hikers take a Well-Deserved Break
 All nine hikers converged at the pass and took a very well-deserved lunch break. On the "other" side of the pass, we saw Little Joe May Canyon gently descending. At eye level, in the distance, we saw an old mining tripod still standing on the top of a hill. There was still snow on the higher mountains beyond the pass and when we turned around to look from whence we came, we saw the Hoodoo Forest ridge that we had explored in the previous month.
There was a strange "pit" near the saddle that we didn't understand.

Descending Rita's Ridge
 After our nice long break, we welcomed the descent starting with a traverse over to Rita's Ridge. The ridge took us down to the Icy Waterfall then we followed the ravine out to the main wide wash.

Agave Roasting Pit at Jumbo Hoodoo Junction
 We made good time hiking down the gravel of the wide wash and passed the village site.

Descending into Narrows

Climbing up for Up & Around Slippery Slot
 Entering the narrowing canyon, we had to go up and around the Slippery Slot again then chimney our way down the next dry fall obstacle. As we passed back through the narrows of Picture Canyon, we were no less impressed! Then, we climbed up onto the alluvial fan and hiked straight toward the cars that we could barely see in the distance. It was a wonderful day of strenuous hiking with interesting things to see and learn.

9 miles; 2100 feet elevation gain; 5.25 hours

Narrows of Picture Canyon

Starting down through the Arroyos

Trailhead in View

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