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Upper Lower San Andreas Canyon, NM

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Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southeast
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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Statistics
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 4 miles
Trailhead Elevation 7,718 feet
Elevation Gain -1,000 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,400 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 4 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 11
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall, Perennial Waterfall, Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
Post the 1st photoset!
Author imike
author avatar Guides 253
Routes 0
Photos 6,930
Trips 2,467 map ( 21,513 miles )
Age 69 Male Gender
Location Cloudcroft, NM
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Preferred   Oct, Nov, Feb, Mar → Any
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  5:52am - 5:59pm
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Water
I'm sure we're nearly there!!
by imike

Yep, it is the upper lower San Andreas canyon, as distinquished from the lower Lower San Andreas Canyon. The Canyon cuts in the Sacramentos run from the desert up to the ridges and peak over 9,000'. The west side of the mountain is bisected by Westside Road (FR 90)... running along generally between 7000' and 8,000' elevation. Normally, the trails split naturally upper and lower relative to Westside Road... except for San Andreas Canyon. Unlike it's proud brother canyon to the immediate south, Dog Canyon, and really all of the other drainages on the west side, there is no trail that allows egress on down to the desert base. Not only is there no through trail, the canyon access is effectively halted at the 6600' level by a waterfall and adjoining vertical, if not overhung, cliffs. You could repel down with enough rope, but why bother.

There is an old trail coming up the drainage from the desert floor... topping out on the map some ways below the waterfall, but there is enough drama and moment to be found above the falls. Make your day out of what is to be found up above.

There in no trail nor any real trailhead. Effectively this is an off trail hike that takes the term bushwhacking dead serious. The hike begins anywhere you decide to make your way off Forest Road 90E... moving to your right down into Lawrence Canyon. It is all dense scrub, denser the further you travel down FR 90E, so it is likely a better idea to commit to heading on down within the first mile off Westside road. Pick an elk trail and angle down... down is all you have to be concerned with... down and more down. Eventually, you'll hit the bottom of the drainage, narrow and overgrown if you headed down very early. Lawrence dumps into San Andreas after a short while, and even before then it turns into a pleasant riparian highway. Most of this upper drainage and all of the coming sections are flow with some gravel over mostly exposed bedrock, and with luck you'll be walking through sections that are best described by that old term "babbling brook". It is nice. The vines, shrubs and hardwoods create a parklike canapy that makes this ever winding and twisting stream/trail just a variable delight.

As you work your way down stream, the scope of San Andreas canyon never comes into play until you reach the terminating waterfall. Until then the walls immediately surrounding the stream bed are either solid tree lined or rock escarpment rising 60' to 150' vertically, blocking off views of the broader canyon expanse, and giving a very intimate effect to the hike. Once at the waterfall you will finally glimpse the towering cliffs and the full breadth of the upper canyon walls.

Of course, if you do more like I do than like I say, you will have not entered the canyon from the first miles of the forest road in the upper portion of the drainage but instead followed FR 90E to it's far terminus, and then moved even further west and around the ridgeline before starting your descent into the canyon bottom. This approach has the added drama of false descents, terminating if vertical wall cliffs blocking further progress, requiring backtracking and re-climbing back up to the mesa bench, then further lateral movement back up canyon moving through brush so dense that the 60 degree slope you are traversing/descending poses no real threat of falling because at any given time at least three body parts are securely bound into the flora. There was a saving grace to that hour or so of impossibly dense bushwhacking. I realized at one point that it was impossible for the plant growth to pose any thicker barrier... it could get thornier... it could not get denser. That was somehow reassuring.

I did get lucky in one respect... my chosen maiden route did drop down and come out on a bench 100' above the river bottom, and yet within a few hundred feet of a drainage cut that allowed me access to the bottom of the canyon. I was really hitting it nearly at the waterfall, just a few minutes walk down to that point. I was additionally rewarded with the pleasant discovery of the virtual roadway the riverbed provided for exiting the canyon... I worked my way up into the Lawrence canyon drainage and followed it until a promising elk trail exited to the right and up. I think/feel that the longer one stays in the drainage, the better. I'll check that out on another day. I had this day parked up on top of the mountain at the Solar Observatory, hiking trail 234 down to access Westside road, so I did not think I needed more exploratory.

This hike/trail is what you make of it... it is worth the effort. You will have privacy, views, intimacy. It is a great area to get lost in for a few hours.

Let someone know where you plan to go, and when you plan to be back... otherwise, they'll never find you in this mess! Don't get caught down near the waterfall if it is raining much on the peak... that would be one hard landing if you're swept over the edge.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2009-09-19 imike
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Review
    Upper Lower San Andreas Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    25# pack, off trail for much of the hike... cool to cold temps... muddy trail.



    I had planned to explore this canyon ever since I'd hiked the canyon to the south of it last year, Dog Canyon. Whereas Dog Canyon has a full state park and is known nationally both for it's setting and historic sites, San Andreas just sits next door, a silent relative. From the desert floor it is obvious, and looking at the topo maps, there is a trail indicated that begins at the bottom but terminates a few miles up canyon... and, there appeared to be a good reason: towering cliffs, suggesting a very tall waterfall shutting off the egress. But, those things are always hard to call... a map is just a map. To find out what is really there you have to get out the door and over on the trail....

    ... I decided this year to make the trek, but instead of approaching from the established trail shown on the map from the desert floor, I decided to approach from the top, bushwacking cross country. The obvious access appeared to be off one of the Forest Roads around the 7500' level, but to make the day stretch out a bit, I opted to drive to Sunspot, over 9,000'... parking at the Observatory Museum and hiking down the mountain to connect with the Forest roads. I did not go for a particulary early start, but even heading out a bit before 6am it was still dark out. It was getting light around 6:30am when I exited my truck and began the cold hike down the mountain trail.

    I began the day in nylon shorts and shirt with a storm parka and gloves and mitten cap... I knew I'd need full, heavy pants for the bushwack section but after a full 30 seconds of searching I decided, ah, what the heck... it's only skin. So, no pants this morning...

    I had studied the map for a general feel of the drainage patterns, but I had not looked closely. I figured they would likely not really give me all that much information that I could apply. I did note that the better access appeared to be about a couple miles in, a mile before the end of the Forest Road. Since I'd never been on that road before, once hiking along I decided why not simply walk all the way to the end, then simply hike back the mile to that nice egress point... of course, once all the way in that is not what I did. Instead I continued on further west and up and around a ridge, dropping over into the canyon's upper cliffs. I did not realize it at that point in time, but I was well past not only the good access areas, but I was into totally inaccessible areas. My first attempt to drop into the canyon bottom (which at this point was over 2,000' below me) resulted in "cliffing" out... getting to the top of a shear drop off. I had to retrace my route and climb back up to a bench, then move laterally back up the canyon to try to find another point to descend through. Complicating these manuevers were dense shrubbery... very dense shrubbery. Even though I was dropping down a 60 degree slope, there was no real fear of falling... at least three if not more body parts were constantly entangled in undergrowth! I would have to push two to four limbs apart just to begin to take a step... then repeat that process over and over again to move further and further down the hill. At one point I did finally take some comfort in the theoretical fact that the plant growth could not get any thicker. somehow, knowing that it would be impossible for the obstacles to get worse gave me some positive reassurance. Always the optimist!

    This bushwacking took hours, but finally I could see the bottom of the canyon and noted that I was getting ever nearer. I hit a bench about 80-100' above the drainage bottom, and realized that it was a sheer cliff down to the creek... but, I was rewarded with my first bit of real good luck... I came across a drainage defile that allowed me to scramble down that final distance, arriving at a wonderland of rock and water. I had some how managed to hit the bottom just above the massive waterfall that split the canyon access....those lower canyon trails could only make it up to the base of this towering obstacle, sheer cliffs surrounding the waterfall drop of 80 to 100 feet. Now, it was going to be interesting to see if hiking up this drainage would give me a nicer trip than the horrendous trip down did.

    It did.

    Not only was it easier, way easier... it was delightful. The combination of rock cliffs, boulders, waterfalls and ledges, combined with the beginnings of fall colors and the vast vista of the lower canyon was exceptional. Initially, the trek back had a closed in intimacy... the walls immediately surrounding the creek blocked off the broader, towering cliff sides from view. The creek was a virtual highway, lushly landscaped and easy to hike. I enjoyed every aspect of this part of the day. The character of the waterway changed as I worked my way up and out, turning itself into a very babbling brook kind of walkway. It grew narrower and narrower, but never became too obscured to really block passage.

    I did finally decide to leave the drainage and work my way back up the side hills, getting my last milder bit of bushwacking for the day... and hit the forest road about where I'd originally thought it might be nice to access the canyon.... from there I hiked the steep trail back to the Observatory and my truck.

    I got on the computer, added the hike into the registry for HikeArizona (I'm now listed as one of their top 10 authors!).... threw a chicken and yam into roast, and began to edit the pictures I'd taken. Now, I'm settling into the evening, eating my chicken and potato... and thinking about the next adventure.

    a good day.

    Permit $$
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    Directions
    Map Drive
    or
    Road
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    On Hiway 82 in High Rolls, NM (between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft) take FR 90 (Westside road) 11.7 miles to FR 90B and FR 90E, at the trail intersection for #234... turning right and following FR 90E as far as you choose. I suggest pulling off within the first mile, or parking on Westside road and walking from there.
    page created by imike on Sep 19 2009 1:43 pm
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