It's funny, I've always chosen my hikes (and timing of hikes) to avoid crowds, but it used to be just a mental health preference, not because I was trying to avoid a pandemic.
Anyway, the Anchas are gorgeous in the spring and always a beautiful place to escape city, heat, and crowds. I've been curious about this trail for a while, and we wanted an easy overnight, so this seemed like a good time. And it sure was! Since it's been a while since anyone posted a triplog, I figured I'd leave an update.
Overall good, although my standards may be low. As mentioned in other descriptions, the first couple miles are an old road, and even though the shrubbery is encroaching in some places, it's mostly nice doubletrack winding through a Ponderosa forest and ascending/descending ridges until, just about at the junction with Boyer trail (which seemed to me to be about 3 miles in), it comes up onto an exposed ridge, which is predominantly juniper. That section is rocky but easy to follow, with a few cairns to help, as it heads east for a quick quarter mile or so. The final descent is definitely more overgrown in places, especially with Shrub Live oak and manzanita, but as long as you're willing to push through, the trail itself is obvious and pretty well graded, with only a few short sections where it was unpleasantly steep. Reading other triplogs, I see that some people really hated that bit, but I was wearing pants and a long-sleeve shirt and using trekking poles, and I had no issues. In fact, the views up and down canyon were great and we saw a variety of blooms and had a lot of birds for company along the way. Soon enough we popped out next to the creek, where it was really lovely. Saw no trash, except a few burned out cans inside one of the three fire rings. There are three decent-sized campsites and the possibility of another one or two less ideal spots if you look around a bit. Water was clear and about three feet deep in the pools and we saw some toads and tiny fish. We continued downstream until we reached a choke point where dry hiking was no longer possible (or at least not without a lot of scrambling up and over). There are lovely sycamore and cottonwoods providing some shade even at mid-day, so it feels very lush. Lounged around by the creek, watched birds, ate lunch, went for a (chilly but refreshing) swim, and then hiked back out. Again, I didn't find the steep climb all that bad and actually made better time going up than coming down. However, we camped back at the two-mile-mark and only carried small daypacks to the end, so I'm sure that colored my experience.
The juniper ridge is pretty exposed, so it was warm, but it's also not very long, and when we came through it was filled with rivers of blooming wildflowers (New Mexico groundsel and fleabane). Talk about super blooms! Then back into the woods, up and down, break down camp, cross the creek again, and follow the old road back to the car. Really nice. Actual total hiking time was about 5:45 at a moderate pace, and I estimate total distance at about 11 miles RT.
I presume most people would camp in the Hell's Hole area, at the end of the trail. As mentioned, there are three established sites down there. But, having read the reports of people complaining about the misery of schlepping into the canyon with camping gear, and not knowing how bad either the descent or the overgrowth would be, we decided to make our first visit a little easier. Frankly, I enjoyed this option so much that I'd do it again on purpose. Headed out on a Thursday afternoon and got to the trailhead at 3 p.m. Hiking for barely an hour got us to the first crossing of Workman Creek (just past the ranch), which was flowing strong and clear, making it easy to filter. (A point about that: There is a fire ring and a clearing big enough for a smallish tent right where the trail crosses the creek. We did not camp there. Frankly,
I don't think anyone should camp there because 1: It is literally right next to the creek. 2: It is also, literally, in the middle of the trail
.) So we hiked two whole minutes further up the hill and found several tent-sized level spots (as well as three existing fire rings, which we didn't need, but did note) in a lovely wooded area off the trail
with a cushy pine needle carpet, plenty of places to hang the hammock, and views of the canyon. The creek was both conveniently close (for water) and quite audible (for ambiance). Ahhhh. Fewer bugs up there, too.
Had a luxe night and a relaxed morning before we headed out at 8 a.m. with just daypacks. About a half-hour on, we noted a couple of very pretty dry-camping spots up on the juniper ridge, too. We were down in the Hell's Hole area before 10 a.m., so had plenty of time to enjoy the creek and canyon before we climbed back out and broke down camp, then hiked back to the car at a casual pace. Along the way we had to squeeze around a party of three (the only other people we saw the whole time) who had pitched their tent where? You guessed it! As I carefully maneuvered myself between their tent and the pricker bushes next to the creek (trying to maintain both a six-foot COVID buffer and a modicum of civility), they said: "Oh, gosh. Are we blocking the trail?"
Saw a nice selection of birds, including Red-tailed hawks, Stellar's jays, Painted Redstarts, Western Tanagers, Spotted Towhees, Black-throated Gray warbler, Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Northern flicker, etc, plus some toads and lizards and a few squirrels. Also spotted lots of deer and elk track on the trail, plus raccoon and skunk tracks near the first creek crossing. There were also a few tracks that might have been bear, but were too eroded to be sure.
For such a short hike, there's an amazing diversity of terrain and habitat, plus a lovely creek, great views, and excellent camping options. At this point in mid-May, Workman Creek is a viable water source at both the two-mile mark and end of trail. I'm already thinking of a fall visit.Wildflowers
Early on, there was a smattering of woodland blooms like lupine, larkspur, and New Mexico honey locust, and manzanita. Also some freaky-looking parasitic pinedrops. Some columbine along the creek. Up on the juniper ridge, all open ground was covered in New Mexico groundsel and fleabane, which was stunning. And on the final slope, we saw sego lilies, more larkspur, claret cup hedgehog cacti, prickly pear cacti, fleabane, and thistle.