Part 6: Gila Mountains to Grants, NM


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The Trip

From the Gila Mountains, we headed north, generally.  Our original plan was to take a forest road across the entire Gila Range, but we missed our turn and ended up in Truth or Consequences, NM.  The good news is that any road that you are on is the right road.  We got some unsolicited local intelligence on camping spots and headed toward a place called the Montecello Box (canyon).  She stated that we would have "no trouble" with that route.  It turned out that assertion was not totally correct.  It was great, likely better than the route that we had originally planned.  Sometimes, things happen for a reason.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We had already missed our turn, but by the time we discovered the issue (due to confusion with the navigator) we were many miles past the turn.  So, we just kept going.  All roads lead the same place eventually.  From the crest of the Gila Range, we could see the Caballo Range on the other side of the Rio Grande Valley.

Fortunes change fast in the west.  This appears to be left over from the mining days in the area.  We did a fuel/ice stop in T or C and the gal at the station gave us info on an interesting place called the Monticello Box canyon.  She stated that we would have no problems passing that route so we loaded and headed out.

The entrance to the box canyon was easy.  We traveled many miles of dirt to get to this point.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  The thunderheads brewing were a concern.  Getting caught in a box canyon in a flood might prove to be interesting, if not fatal.  In the end, we decided that there were sufficient places to escape, with or without the truck, so we pressed on.

The walls of the canyon were steep and the floor of the canyon was stream bed and brush.  For most of the canyon, the trail was the stream.  There were many, many water crossings.  The canyon, it seems, is fed by a set of springs on the other side and flows year around.  A rather rare commodity.

We did a stop for some photos.  The walls of the canyon are volcanic, perhaps a graben structure.

More steep walls.

There was plenty on game in the canyon, although getting a photo is challenging.

We spotted this herd of elk on the far ridge.  They were all watching the truck, no doubt alerted to the sound of the diesel.

Yet another water crossing.

As we got higher in the canyon, the brush got tighter and tighter.  The sides of the cab and camper were getting a good polishing from the brush.  I was starting to get concerned about the fixtures on the roof getting ripped off by the branches.

We finally hit a spot that required some actions on my part.

You can see the size of the branch that was blocking our progress.  The good news was that we had the bow saw with us.  It did not take too long to get the big branches out of the way and get them dragged to the side of the brushy trail.

The upper reaches of the box were really nice.  They were also on private land and passage was allowed only on the existing trail.  No hunting, fishing, camping or trespassing except on the trail.

We finally got out of the stream and hit the gate on the far side of the ranch.

The upstream entrance to the canyon went right through the a large volcanic ridge.

Just past the entrance to the canyon, we hit a side stream that was sourced by a hot springs.  Kathleen and I put on appropriate attire for the circumstances and hiked the 1/2 mile to the spring.

The pools at the spring were nice and clean.  But, the water was tepid not really hot.

Back at camp, the thunderheads continued to build.  I was somewhat concerned about flooding, but the streambed was very wide so it was not the same situation as in the box.

Next morning, we broke camp and headed north following the stream.  We saw plenty of game along the way including these ducks with ducklings that stay near the stream.

Further out on the state route (still dirt) we hit another herd of elk.  This fellow goes over the fence like it is not there.

This doe cleared the fence with ease and bounded into the neighboring field away from the noise of the truck.

If you leave a vehicle in a stream bed, it will get covered.

The road was laser-straight as it headed into the south end of the Plain of San Augustin.

The plain is about 7,000 feet and nary a tree to be found.

Near the center of the plain is the Very Large Array radio telescope facility.  There are 27 large high-gain dish antennas at the facility.

Since we had to go right past the visitor center, we stopped to check things out.  The dishes are big, but the real story is the red thing on the right of the photo above.  This is a transporter and is used to move the dishes from one configuration to another via a set of specially-constructed rails.  The whole dish assembly is picked up by the transporter and carried to the new mounting location.  The dishes weigh something on the order of 250 tons.

There was plenty of track maintenance equipment to support their quad-rail railroad.

The concrete mounts for the dish are fixed, and there are 4 sets of mounts per dish, one set at each "configuration" location.  The transporter moves underneath, picks up the dish and moves it to the next configuration.  The configurations are "plumbed" with electrical power and data connections and the locations are known with great precision (fractions of a wavelength).  The configurations are used to adjust the resolving power of the array.

From the VLA we did a supply stop at Datil, NM and had an awesome lunch -- a freshly ground hamburger.  We were so impressed, we purchased a 2 lb T-bone steak from them and had it for dinner than night.  A great steak.  If you EVER get to Datil, get some meat at the gas station market.  From Datil, we headed through Pie Town and back onto the dirt, then north toward Grants, NM.  Along the way, we passed this nice arch visible from a road-side stop.

The thunderstorms had been dogging us all afternoon.

We stayed at a newly-redone BLM camp site near the road, about 20 miles south of Grants.

The Monticello Box was the real deal.  The trip through there really polished my paint.  There was no damage that I could tell, but only because I cut the big offending branches.  The VLA is worth a trip if you are in the area.

Next: Grants, NM  for supplies then north.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2011, all rights reserved.
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