Thursday, September 24, 2009

Angel Peak Trails

The Angel Peak Scenic Area is a 10,000 acre badlands area about 15 miles south of Bloomfield along Highway 550 in northwest New Mexico. Most visitors will enjoy the views from the three rim overlook areas or the campground. There aren’t any official trails but there are some at least two reasonable routes for a hiker.

The small campground is at the end of the rim road. There is a short trail in the campground that leads along the rim to several view points toward 7000 foot Angel Peak. At the east end of the campground the trail leads through an odd turnstile and continues toward an eroded ridge with two fragment peaks of sandstone that is between the campground and Angel Peak.

The route approaching the two peak fragments is something of a knife edge. The way the two peaks line up is similar to the Chimney Rock formation and ruins site near Pagosa Springs, CO. I went as far as the first peak and thought it got too steep after that, but it may be possible to go further.

There are steep layers of sandstone below the clay layers and there is no established route to get to the canyon bottom. I saw a trail on the slopes back toward the campground that looked too steep for hikers and I thought it might be trail for Big Horn Sheep or other wildlife.

There are roads in at the bottom of the badlands but they don’t connect to the rim road in the Scenic Area. There are many gas or oil wells in the area and many service trucks traveling along these roads. My hike along the campground out to the eroded peak and back took about 1:15 hours.

There are other places in the campground area to hike a little below the rim on the clay layer but not many gaps in the sandstone layer and a descent anywhere toward the bottom will be steep.

I found another short hike at the Castle Rock Overlook and Picnic Area. Castle Rock is the second of the three overlooks. The first is named the Sage Overlook and the third is named the Cliffs Overlook. I didn’t find any interpretive signs or brochures in this area describing the geology or biology. The plant life in the badlands is very sparse. It looks there are scattered Junipers along the washes at the canyon bottom.

There is a short trail leading to a view point of a large Castle Rock far across the canyon and a smaller Castle Rock that can be reached by hiking. The trail is a little vague, but you can see where you are headed.

The views from Castle Rock extend beyond the immediate Angel Peak area. To the north the LaPlata Mountains near Durango, CO are visible. Also, Sleeping Ute Mountain and Mesa Verde can be sighted. This short hike takes only 30 minutes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cox Canyon Arch Trail

The Cox Canyon Arch Trail is in the canyon country in northwest New Mexico about 3.5 miles south of the Colorado border along Highway 550. The unmarked trail head is west along County Road 2300 for 1.2 miles, then a right turn on County Road 2310 for 2.5 miles, then a right on a dirt track past a gas compression facility.

At the end of the dirt track past the gas plant there are two short side canyons to the left or north and the arch isn’t visible. The unmarked trail starts up the side canyon that is more to the left or west. The arch sits in the area that is between the heads of these two short side canyons.

I walked up the wrong side canyon at first and came to a dead end. There is a shady alcove at the end but I didn’t see any way up to the rim. I retraced my steps and crossed the dry wash and looked over to the east. I spotted the arch in the distance from the sage brush field as I was returning.

There are two layers of short sandstone cliffs to climb past on the way up. I had to look around for a few minutes to find the first notch to climb through. It looks like a step has been carved to make the climb easier. The second cliff is a little trickier, but some handholds have been carved making that spot feasible.

There is an alcove at the head of this short canyon just below the arch. I looked briefly to see if there might be a ruins site there but didn’t see anything. This arch has a 42 ft. span and is 35 ft. high. It somewhat resembles Delicate Arch in Arches National Park and is easy to view from both sides. The return hike only took 15 minutes and my total hike was about 1:20 hours with much of that time spent trying to find the arch and the route.