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May 232010

We were fortunate to be invited to hike Ed Wagner’s Rincon Ranch along with the Arizona Trailblazers, a Phoenix based hiking club, www.azhikers.org. Kay Lyons, Ed’s significant other, is a friend and knew we’d enjoy the outing. We had heard about Ed’s ranch for a while now. This was the opportunity we had been waiting for.Rincon Ranch evolved over many years when Bert Cox, the original rancher, began acquiring land in the early 1900s. He accumulated and consolidated a number of ranches in eastern New Mexico. Ed bought it in 2000 primarily as a retreat; thirty-two square miles of retreat. Ed spent his career in factory management, principally for Intel. Upon retirement, he began looking for land in the west and through a friend, happened upon this vast stretch of canyons and mesas just east of the Arizona border.The view from the lodge.

The land is dry; no year round or seasonal creeks, but it contains abundant flora and fauna. Piñons, Junipers, Ponderosas and Cypress grow profusely in the canyons and on the mesas. Fox, Badger, Bobcat, Bear, Coyote, Deer, and Mountain Lions, even Mexican Wolves, call it home. Herds of Elk roam freely, allowing Ed to bag a huge, six point bull last fall.

Ed is working to return the flatlands of the ranch from over-grazed ranch land into a wildlife preserve. He’s adding dirt tanks, wells, and access roads. Ed’s dream is to develop the ranch as a destination for hiking, mountain biking and trail riding as well as a hunting destination during the fall hunting seasons.

Rincon Ranch Lodge

At night, not a single light can be seen from the spacious lodge Ed built to host groups. The night sky at 7,000 feet is as black and star-filled as anywhere in the west. As well, silence is profound. Not a sound can be heard save that of the occasional breeze moving among the trees or the distant calls of a pack of coyotes.

Matate, Mano and Pottery Shards atop Porter’s Knob

For centuries, Indians from the Membres and Zuni tribes lived on and migrated across this land of abundant wildlife, berries and roots. Their footpaths enabled trading between villages.

Rincon Ranch lies on the Colorado Plateau, once sea floor millennia ago. It is now uplifted over a mile above sea level. Hikers have come across pieces of petrified wood from the ancient forests that covered the area when it was not covered by oceans.

Erosion has created vertical cliffs of red and golden sandstone and exposed deposits of coal and pure white limestone. Relatively recent volcanic activity can be found in volcanic pipes that spewed lava and pyroclastic flows across the landscape millennia ago.

Zuni Canyon

Looking into Zuni Canyon with Porter’s Knob in the distance

A six-hour drive finishing with eight miles of good gravel road brought us to the lodge. Having car pooled, a group already was ensconced in the kitchen preparing dinner or going over topo maps, planning tomorrow’s hike. From the first, everybody was convivial. Kay showed Yolanda and I our room whose windows took in a dramatic panorama looking down into a canyon and far out to distant mountains toward the southeast.

Everyone shared food as well as the cooking and cleaning. Kay had come up with a bit of a schedule as people offered to bring their favorite dishes. With dinner over and we turned in early in anticipation of tomorrows hike.

Breakfast was at seven but not realizing the time change, Yolanda and I made it down at eight. No worries. No one was upset and we quickly ate and prepared for our first day of scouting trails. The goal today was to hike Perry Canyon to where a wash came off the mesa; find a good way back up onto the mesa and then back to the lodge.

The beginning of the hike into Perry Canyon

Wendy checking her GPS and setting a waypoint.

Several of the group had GPS’s. They set waypoints as we hiked allowing our track to be saved and a map of the trail made. As we gradually descended, the richness and diversity of the land was evident. Large Ponderosa Pines towered over the wash, dense stands of Piñon Pines grew in wild profusion; a Bobcat’s delicate step left imprints in the sand.

Gary and Ed checking the map, trying to figure out where we turn to go up the correct wash.

Michael helping Carlton place a flag as Bill ties another at the entrance to the wash.

Turning up a small wash, not the one we were looking for as it turns out, we eventually climbed our way up to the expansive views provided by one of the mesas. It being lunchtime, we stopped, ate, and christened the spot Trailblazer Point.

Trailblazer Point

We made rock cairns and flagged the path along the mesa top through the maze of widely spaced trees. Tiring of the flats, we found a way down into another wash where we spotted a four-foot snake, not a rattler thank goodness. As the wash narrowed and got choked with fallen trees, we found our way out and onto one of the access roads Ed had built. This being the Windmill Road, leading to a site planned for a wind energy farm.

Michael, Wendy, Carlton Yolanda, Kay, Wendy, Bill and Linda at a dramatic overlook to the southeast as we connected to the Windmill Road.

A short mile walk took us back to the lodge. After our slow five miles and about five hours of hiking, many took naps or simply relaxed and read until dinner.

Soup is the planned meal. One woman brought a wonderful lentil and bean soup and I brought split pea soup. Along with salad, cornbread, wine and the wonderful company, we had a great meal. Especially when it was followed by Yolanda’s deliciously tart lemon chess pie. With the table cleared and dishes done, it was time for games before bed.

The next morning saw another beautiful, blue-sky day. Today’s hike was to be along the cliffs of the penisula above Zuni Canyon to a knob with panoramic views and Native American artifacts. From there we were to then find a way down into the canyon and end up in the small box canyon Kay calls the Swimming Pool.

Kay and Michael along the edge of Zuni Canyon at the beginning of the hike.

The weather was lovely, perfect temperature for hiking. We quickly found our way to the cliff edge, following its zigs and zags while watching the other side of the wide canyon for wildlife. Making cairns and tying trail markers on trees as we hiked led us to an interesting wave formation where the rocks had eroded in sweeping curves.Kay and Ed entering The Wave.

Gary, Carlton, Kay, Linda and Bill taking a snack break atop The Wave.

Looking to the northeast and The Hermitage (lower left), a cabin built for retreats, from the knob.

Lunchtime again brought us to Porter’s Knob, a spot with sweeping views. The Indians had obviously used this knob in the past. Several matates, grinding stones, lay about as did numerous pottery shards, some with intricate black and white designs and obvious very old. It is easy to imagine hunting parties coming to this spot over the centuries. With its panoramic views to the south, west and north, it would’ve been easy to spot game, while an abundance of nuts and berries provided sustenance.

Following lunch, we had to find a way off the knob and into the canyon. Again, marking trail as we went, I found a slight depression that led to a part of the cliff from which rock falls had filled in a way down. After only the smallest drop of 3-4 feet, we were able to pick our way among the rockfall eventually leading us to a nose of soft dirt and shale, allowing a relatively easy access to the canyon bottom.

Kay making the drop on the route down into Zuni Canyon.

Gary, with Wendy and Bill behing, negotiating the rockfall after the drop.

The nose of soft shales and the route into the canyon above.

From here, it was an easy, flat hike as the canyon gradually narrowed into a winding, sandy wash that took us to the swimming pool in no time. This is a true box canyon and the steep canyon end, though not very high, stopped our progress. Water from the previous week’s snowfall filled a small tank carved into the cliffs and forlorn pools beneath overhangs provided water for the animals.

Kay, as the canyon narrows, leading the way toward the Swimming Pool.

Bill, at the deep end of the Swimming Pool, trying to figure a way out.

Backtracking a hundred yards or so, led us to an easy route out of the Swimming Pool and onto the road above, where our vehicles waited, returning us to the lodge.

Michael and Bill looking into The Deep End. Rocks that Bill and Carlton carried and set up as a possible step are below the small tank of water.

Dinner that night was from Ed’s 6-point bull. Elk meat is so very lean. Not one bit of fat. Having been prepared properly immediately after it had been killed, there was not a hint of gaminess; just rich, flavorful protein.

The final morning, everyone gathered his or her things. Some were leaving later in the day staying to do another hike. We left after breakfast, making the long drive back to Scottsdale.

From left to right bottom to top: Debbie, me, Kay, Linda Gary, Ed, Bill, Wendy, Michael, Wendy, Yolanda and Carlton.

It was a truly rewarding few days. Not only did we experience a part of the west few people, other than the ancients, ever get to see, but we made good friends as well. Yolanda and I are looking forward to our next sojourn in Scottsdale and hooking up again with the Arizona Trailblazers. There are many new places to explore and new areas, reachable only by foot, to experience.

Ed and Kay along the rim of Zuni Canyon.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

May 112010

Spring in the Chiracuahuas

Sunset among the hoodoos of Chiracauhua National Monument

We spent three wonderful days in the amazing Chiracauhua mountains of southeast Arizona. Chiracauhua National Monument,http://www.nps.gov/chir/index.htm,  is a treasure trove of geological wonders. Created by a volcanic eruptions 11 million years ago, the rhyolite formations have eroded into a wonderland of massive pillars tinted by lovely chartreuse colored lichen.

A patina of chartreuse lichen covers the hoodoos

Hiking amongst the rock formations provides an ever-changing panorama of interesting shapes and vistas. Many of the hoodoos have eroded into each other creating bizarre formations. The weathered and twisted piñon pine, cedar and juniper trees add an other-worldly dimension to the landscape.

Trails are well marked, winding their way through the columns. Most are easily hiked in half a day but you can combine trails into 9-12 mile hikes and make a full day of it. A free shuttle from the visitor center and campground takes you to the trail heads of Echo Canyon and Massai Point at 6,870 feet, where most trails begin. From there, take your pick, and end up eventually descending by the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail to the visitor center. Along this trail, we watched a young or small female black bear forage on the opposite side of the valley.

Spectacular, panoramic views lay in all directions from Massai Point but those to the east and to the west descend far out into the surrounding valleys toward distant mountains.

Looking west toward the Dragoon Mountains and Cochise’s Stronghold

This being the land of Cochise, the Apache leader whose burial site is hidden within the chaos of enormous boulders in Cochise’s Stronghold across the valley to the west, it is very odd, and fitting that a mountain to the north takes on an uncanny likeness. Cochise’s Head appears as if sculpted into the craggy profile of the dead warrior. A 75-100 foot tall ponderosa pine is even poised perfectly as his eyelash. It is a strange and obvious resemblance.

Another trail to Natural Bridge takes us to a different area of the park. The five mile round trip rises through a forest of juniper, cedar and pine to a high plateau with views to the desert before dropping into Picket Park, a lovely forest of tall, widely spaced pines along a meandering, seasonal creek. At trail’s end lies Natural Bridge, a thirty feet span carved among the rocks above the small valley. This being early April, wildflowers were just beginning to blossom. Another few weeks and a little rain should bring about a spectacular display.

Bonita Canyon Campground is a lovely, peaceful spot nestled within a large grove of Oaks and Alligator Juniper. A seasonal creek runs through and trails lead to old Faraway Ranch, settled by a Swedish couple in the 1880’s, as well as to the impressive Organ Pipe Formation.

I was surprised at the availability of campsites. Spring is their high season. The campground filled up every night but with even an mid-afternoon arrival, a site could’ve been found.

This was our third trip to the Chiracauhuas.  Each trip brings something new. The entire surrounding area has much to offer and much to explore. We will return.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging
Mar 242010
Snakes and Other Deadly Critters

The gardens of the Veragua Hotel in Sierpe

It’s hot. It’s humid. I’m drenched with sweat, hiking up a mountain for a night in the jungle. Welcome to coastal Costa Rica. The beaches are gorgeous; miles and miles of wide, sand beaches broken occasionally by lovely, forested headlands.

After leaving Turrialba in the morning, I have to negotiate the unsigned streets of San Jose once again. It’s frustrating. The maps clearly show Ruta 2 ending on the outskirts of the city. What they don’t show is the highway disappearing into a warren of city streets. Oh well. Once again, my navigational skills get us through the city with only a couple of wrong turns and a little backtracking.

Passing the airport, we stop in at Tricolor, the car rental agency, to talk with them about the broken window and insurance. They’re very congenial and easy to work with. They’ve obviously dealt with this many times.

Our goal today is to return to Hacienda Barú with time in the afternoon to do some hiking. With the brand new highway from San Jose to the Coastanera, it shouldn’t be a problem. All we need is to get to the highway. The guys at Tricolor draw me a map and I’m off.

Once again, I’m astounded. There is no easy way to get from the airport to the highway! You would think that because this will now be THE route for tourists to take from the airport to the beaches, and that the highway runs quite close to the airport, there would be an obvious way to reach it. But no! Finding it requires miles of driving through busy, populated areas constantly wondering if the last turn you took was the correct one.

And once again, a total lack of signs. Call me arrogant, but it’s hard to believe.

Crocodiles congregated below the bridge over the Tarcoles River

The new highway is a beautiful road. Once I find it, it’s only forty-five minutes to the Costanera. It’s a lovely drive south past Jaco and Quepos, stopping at the bridge over the Rio Tárcoles to see the congregation of large Crocodiles below. (I swear they must feed them chickens to keep them there.)

We arrive at Hacienda Barú in the late afternoon and spend three wonderful days hiking the well-maintained trails and wandering the beach. Dinner is at their very good restaurant or a restaurant in Dominical. Excellent Thai food at Coconut Spice. After flying from one treetop platform to another on their zip line, Yolanda included, I make a reservation later in the week for a Night in the Jungle and head south.

Yolanda flying on the zip line at Hacienda Barú

Looking into the treetops at Hacienda Baru’

The Osa Peninsula, a large landmass jutting into the Pacific two hours south, contains Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica’s wildest and least visited. Access is difficult, lodging options limited. I want to check out logistics for the future.

The village of Sierpe is one access point.  The Veragua, a lovely B&B with charming cabins on the river, is a find! Benedetto, an Italian artist, built it twenty years ago and with the help of Ester, a lovely Swiss woman, provides European hospitality amidst beautifully landscaped grounds. Scarlet Macaws rule the trees during the day; a chorus birds wake us before dawn.

The terrace fronting the Estero Azul at the Veragua Hotel

Lacking enough time to do Corcovado justice, we settle for a half-day mangrove tour down the Rio Sierpe. Rafts of purple water-hyacinths float up and down the river with the tide. Monkeys, toucans, tree boas and crocodiles live among the mangroves. A walk along a gorgeous, deserted beach at the river mouth makes the trip especially rewarding.

Along the Rio Sierpe

A tree boa on the banks of the river

Low tide at the mouth of the Rio Sierpe

Yolanda wading along the deserted beach at the river mouth

A deserted tropical paradise

The Las Vegas Restaurant becomes our favorite. Very good food, excellent shrimp. Their deck overlooking the river is wonderful.

The village of Sierpe along the Rio Sierpe and the Las Vegas restaurant

After three, relaxing days, I need to return to Hacienda Barú by three PM when seven others plus two guides start up the mountain to the jungle camp. I’m quickly sweating profusely. It’s not a difficult hike, only a few miles, but it takes two hours. The guides stop frequently to explain the creatures and plants indigenous to the reserve.

Hiking to the jungle camp at Hacienda Baru’

Tall hardwood trees abound at Hacienda Baru’

Me on the roots of a pretty amazing though not yet fully grown tree in the secondary forest

It’s a wonderful experience. The forest is lush, verdant. Paths of Leaf-cutter Ants cross the trail. A sloth is sighted high up in a tree. Huge, thick-trunked trees climb to the sky. The guide points out the amazing eyebrows of a pair of Crested Owls. How they spot the them in all this density I’ll never know.

Male and female Crested Owls

The veranda of the jungle camp at Hacienda Baru’

My hut for the night

We reach the Jungle Camp spread out in a clearing at the boundary between the primary and secondary forest and relax to the sounds of cicadas, toucans and many other hidden birds.

Night descends quickly. After a typical Costa Rican dinner of fruit, rice, beans and chicken, we grab flashlights and VERY slowly move along a trail.

Somehow, the guide spots a tiny, red and green Poison Dart frog about the size of a nickel. Touch it, lick your finger, and you’ll become at least, very ill.

A Poison Dart Frog, a Costa Rican icon

He leads us up a boulder-strewn creek. Big, hairy tarantulas lurk in the nooks and crannies. Spiders, five inches across perch on rocks. I joke about this being the Valley of Death; Abandon hope all ye small reptiles and mammals who enter here.

As we climb out of the stream bed, coiled next to the trail, the guide finds a Terciopelo, Costa Rica’s deadliest snake. Just then, one of our group spots something slithering amongst the tree litter ten feet away. I chant, “Red and Black, Friend of Jack. Red and Yellow, Kill a Fellow.” Sure enough, a Coral Snake!  Too many creepy crawlers for me though you’re much more likely to be hit by lightening than bit by a snake.

A Terciopelo also known as the Fer de Lance, Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake

An interesting fact: many biologists of all stripes spent over 450,000 man-hours traipsing through the extreme wilds of Costa Rica before one was finally bit. He lived.

Nevertheless, upon returning to camp, I retire to my small, well-screened hut and, before crawling between the clean sheets of the freshly-made bed, carefully, unapologetically, check EVERYWHERE!

My very comfortable bed

Hiking out the next morning through the stream bed of the “Valley of Death”

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging



Nov 302008

Printed in the Vail Daily October 18, 2008

Newfoundland offers a world class setting for hiking.

Spectacular is clearly one adjective I would use. Others would be beautiful, lush, peaceful, varied and certainly breathtaking. Newfoundland’s 240 mile East Coast Trail, traversing the eastern edge of the Avalon peninsula, is all of these and more, much more.

Yolanda and I only explored part of the northern section. In that span, we walked along spectacular ocean cliffs and through lush, peaceful forests. We have emerged from a dark wood onto a promontory dropping a shear four hundred feet into the churning sea, literally taking our breath away.

A sheer 400 foot drop to the sea!

The East Coast Trail is the work of dedicated volunteers who  carved a world class trail system out of the rugged Atlantic coastal landscape. They built bridges across creeks, cut logs to span rivulets and arranged stepping stones through bogs. Their signage, cairns, posts and ribbons make trail finding a breeze.

A wooded section along the East Coast Trail.

A wooded section along the East Coast Trail.

All tolled, we hiked perhaps twenty five miles of the trail. Each bit is unique, though it might be only a few miles from another section.

We found rugged, wind-swept seascapes in the northern end towards Cape St. Frances. There, a separate two mile section to Big North Cove offers an altogether different experience of moss covered rocks and the abandoned village of Cripple Cove.

This being fall, blueberries, partridgeberries, and bunchberries grow in profusion. Some days we don’t get far, ending up picking berries instead.

A section of the trail heading north from Torbay.

A section of the trail heading north from Torbay.

Ten miles south of the cape, we hike the section from the idyllic pony pastures of lovely Torbay north to the historic fishing village of Flatrock. It’s just five miles, but we don’t make it because the scenery is so spectacular. Here, we discover the promontory that leaves us breathless. It’s not just the shear four hundred foot drop, but also the incredible panorama of coastline and bays to the south that is so captivating.

The dizzying drop at Church Cove.

The dizzying drop at Church Cove.

A second vertigo inducing cliff at Church Cove halts our progress again as one end of a rainbow from a passing squall forms delicately out to sea. I climb a bit further to where the land drops away to the north and find the other end of the rainbow materializing over Flatrock.

A rainbow materializes out of a passing squall over Flatrock.

A rainbow materializes out of a passing squall over Flatrock.

South of Torbay, the trail snakes along the coast around Middle Cove, Logy Cove and Outer Cove towards St. John’s. It passes through the tiny, picturesque village of Quidi Vidi. We stop for a beer at the Quidi Vidi Brewery before passing Mallard Cottage, said to be the oldest house in North America. Across the street is the very eccentric Inn of Olde, a Newfie institution for thirty four years. It’s bizarrely cluttered interior, replete with hockey memorabilia, hundreds of souvenir spoons and all manner of things dangling from the low ceiling force another beer upon me.

Quidi Vidi village near St. John's.

Quidi Vidi village near St. John

Linda, ready to pour a cold one at Inn of Olde in Quidi Vid.

Linda, ready to pour a cold one at the Inn of Olde in Quidi Vidi.

The trail then moves into St. John’s, circling iconic Signal Hill where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. The views of the coast and the city are awesome.
Just southeast of St. John’s lies Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America. The trail wends it’s way around the cape, past it’s historic lighthouse, the graves of numerous ships and through Petty Harbour, probably the most photographed port in Newfoundland.

Petty Harbour viewed from the East Coast Trail.

Petty Harbour viewed from the East Coast Trail.

While wandering the village looking for the trailhead, we meet two extremely friendly old men who would have told us their life story if we weren’t intent on hiking-Newfie friendliness again.

Excellent signage takes us to the trail which rises steeply above the cove. After climbing hundreds of feet, it levels out into gently undulating berry barrens with expansive views of the coastline.

The trail continues 12 miles to the next section at Shoal Bay but the day is coming to a close. We hike only a few miles for a view south to Motion Head several miles away.

The approach to Motion Head.

The approach to Motion Head.

There is so much left to explore. We must return. As well, there are beautiful trails in other parts of Newfoundland. The Bonavista Peninsula to the northwest, has another system of trails. The Skerwink Trail on Trinity Bay is one of the most beautiful on the island.
Gros Morne National Park in the Northwest has even more world class hiking.

Dennis and Yolanda somewhere on the East Coast Trail.

Dennis and Yolanda somewhere along the East Coast Trail.

For those looking for a truly world class hiking experience, the trails of Newfoundland are not to be missed. More information can be found at www.trailconnections.ca or by contacting the East Coast Trail Association at www.eastcoasttrail.com.

Copyright 2008 Dennis Jones dreamcatcherimaging.com