I had an uneventful drive starting early Saturday (2/20) morning. I reached the park around 4 p.m. and stopped at Sauceda Ranch to check in and ask a few questions. I got confusing and incorrect information. I was told I couldn't backpack to a canyon I was interested in because "there was no trail" to it. When I reminded the ranger that back country zone camping was encouraged in their publications, he handed me off to fill out my scant paper work. I will say he had just gotten off the the phone with a group of retired ladies with a satellite phone. They were not where they were supposed to be and wanted someone to come get them. I understood them to be somewhere in the Solitario. It was 20 minutes before quitting time. I figured that little adventure was going to set him back close to 3 hours. I supposed naysaying ranger didn't want any more "rescue missions" when he told me no.
My first night was at La Mota #2 at the very north end of the park. You have a close square view of the mountain. The moon was shielding Taurus. The stars were unhindered by first quarter light. A roaring fire.
La Mota mountain is prominent, rising about 1000 feet from the desert floor in isolation. It is almost always visible in the relatively flat area around Sauceda. I wanted to climb it, or see how far up I could get. I studied it all evening and in the morning before I took off. Starting out with a plan around 8 a.m., I headed north on the jeep road. Maps show the park including all of La Mota mountain. On the ground, sadly, a boundary fence bisects the east face of the mountain. I followed the fence line as it mightily and stubbornly climbed the talus slope higher and steeper. I decided to traverse to the south and try a seemingly gentler incline from a saddle. I got as far as the first scarps and some truly sketchy footing. Not wanting compound fractures or busted ankles, I sat and pondered the canyons of Leyva and Yedra visible to the south from my perch.
La Mota morning
the gentle approach
I climbed down to a drainage that leads to Leyva Canyon. I followed it for a couple of hours, finding a few trees, pools, seeps, springs, a couple of boulder tumbles and a pour-off. I was still in the "little canyons" and not Leyva proper. It was cool and quiet and La Mota was nearly always in sight. Time didn't permit me to get too far back into the deeper canyon, but it didn't matter.
looking west to Leyva/Yedra canyons from La Mota perch
various Leyva drainage/canyon shots
Night two was fire, stars, and deep sleep.
The second full day I travelled back down La Mota road, stopping at Escondido campsite to check it out. The views are big and the site is slightly exposed. A trailhead for Leyva Canyon is nearby. I continued to Sauceda and stopped and spoke with Rick Thompson, park superintendent. Rick was very helpful and provided me with correct and, as it turned out, crucial extra information on my Auras Canyon hike. I also found out the chance of rain had become 50% for the next day. I drove down Madrid Falls Road to my next campsite at Tascate. After setting up my tent, I drove further south and checked out Javelin Pens and Javelin campsite. After a lunch I hiked the area. I followed a wash south for a couple of miles toward a hill. Not a big big hill, but one well situated for views. From here I could see west toward Guale Mesa, south into Madera Canyon, east to the Solitario and back north to Panther Mountain. I could also see jeep trails heading across ridges, to water tanks and into canyons.
looking into Madera Canyon
north to a water tank and Panther Mountain
Back at Tascate campsite, I put the fly on my tent and watched clouds gather and wind pick up a bit. Another fire. This is truly an advantage of the state park. Fire. Checking the sky at midnight, I found long loaves of clouds breaking up an inky star flecked sky.
Early morning cold woke me. The temperature had dropped considerably with the passing front. I peered out of the tent for a most unexpected and beautiful sight. Snow. Hard falling fat lumps fogging up the surround hills. It was snowing and snowing. Too hard (not really) for immediate hiking, but perfect for hot tea and Cherry's homemade chocolate-almond-cranberry-oatmeal cookies in a warm sleeping bag. I spent the morning knocking snow off the fly and looking out excitedly at the sight. By 11 a.m., it let up enough to put on my boots and hike a desert winter wonderland.
I followed the jeep trail as it headed back through volcanic hills to a wash confluence in a canyon. Here is another Tascate campsite. This site, like many others in the park, has a windmill. White tufts hanging on creosote, catclaw, sotol, yucca and ferrous rock. I walked the wash behind the papalote, and marveled at the silence, happy in the ephemeral scene. At one point, I literally stood in a broad valley for 30 minutes just staring ahead of me at the now white flanks of the Panther Mountain complex. It seemed the snow wasn't actually melting, but sublimating. I know that's not true, but it disappeared slowly before my eyes. I was four hours out and by the time I made it back to camp, most of snow gone. This called for another roaring fire and one of my friend Heidi's tasty pralines. I took in the changing light on the flatirons fronting Fresno Peak. Another cold, starry night. The moon was now fattening up, so to keep it out of my eyes, the fly stayed on the tent.
flatirons at 11 a.m.
flatirons at 6:30 p.m.
My last full day started with breakfast at the Bunkhouse. I wanted someone else to cook some hot grub, so I dined on tacos and coffee. I filled my backpack for an overnighter and headed west on the main road to the pull-out Rick had mentioned. He had (and here are the two bits of info that made the hike) mentioned finding a horse trail (which I did) and to take the right hand saddle when dropping into Auras Canyon proper. I found and lost the horse trail several times, walked the sandy washes and bushwhacked where bushwhacking was needed. It was about 3.5 miles to my destination; not long, but not easy. Auras Canyon is below Bofecillos Peak and full of intrusions and conglomerations. At one point a large pour off (~30 ft) is bypassed. It is a great spot, and it was this area that I set up camp. I spent the afternoon with a lighter load exploring down canyon, climbing boulders, exploring cuevas, and generally soaking up electric skies and sheer walls. Zone camping yields no fires, so I made an early evening of it. Also, I was driving home the next day, so I had an early morning ahead.
Pour-off in Auras Canyon
My only witch about this particular hike was the lack of water. I only found a few small rock pockets in which snow had melted. Most of the other canyons in the park have seemingly reliable springs, making extended explorations quite possible. I think there is ample opportunity for some serious back country adventure here.
I made a happily quiet drive home early next day. I even joked with the boys at the inspection station. Snagged a burrito and cinnamon roll in Alpine. A damn good cinnamon roll. Made it home before rush hour.