I’m still writing up my stay at El Malpais, so this hike covers August 14. It was a visit to Lobo Canyon in the Cebolla (“Onion”) Wilderness and included seeing the Lobo Petroglyphs.
Here’s one of the official maps for El Malpais. It shows most of the relevant locations for my stay.
Getting to Lobo Canyon required driving a few miles required driving a few miles down a 2-rut dirt road. The problem with this is that, as I mentioned before, it was “monsoon” season in the Four Corners region, and I had heard from others that it had rained pretty hard recently down at the Cebolla Wilderness. (The “monsoon” comes with highly localized thunderstorms—when you hear about deaths at Zion National Park it’s usually from a flash flood down one of the slot canyons from these localized thunderstorms.)
For me, the only concern was the way the water could block the road, making a mucky, clayey mess that would get my car stuck. And then there is nobody around to make a rescue, and if/when there is, any tow truck has to come from at least 20 miles away.
There were a few mucky spots, but it did get through them safely.
After parking, I got out my maps and tried heading for the Lobo Petroglyphs. In my way was an arroyo that I’d been warned about.
All that muddy water at the bottom was a result of the rain.
It wasn’t too hard to cross, though.
On the other side I met two guys dressed in camos. They were looking for a different place to cross, though. (Didn’t want to muck up their boots.) When I asked them what they were doing, the answer was “glassing”. I’d never heard of that before.
It turns out that they were using binoculars (“glasses”) to try to spot elk and see what the population was like. It wasn’t hunting season, but I’m guessing they were getting ready for when it did start.
They of course noticed my bare feet. Their warning? They’d already seen rattlesnakes out there that morning (it was still pretty early), but they had assured me it was only in the grass off-trail.
I was a bit concerned about being able to find the Lobo Petroglyphs. I’d spent a fair bit of time at the El Malpais Visitor Center (not the Ranger Station on the map, but one right off I-40 in Grants, NM). I kept going there to get water (I did have a 4-gallon container with me), since the Joe Skeen Campground didn’t have any. We were supposed to get it at the Ranger Station, but due to budget cutbacks, they were only open on weekends. And then because their water system was broken, they weren’t open at all.
But in my visits to the Visitor Center, I kept having really nice talks with the Rangers there, and one of them gave me a written description on how to find them.
On top of that, I had my topo maps. Here’s the one I had with me.
I’d made that map in advance of my trip. All of the trails there (with the exception of the purplish one at the top) were visible on Google Maps (Satellite view) if you zoomed in pretty close. So I had added them to the map I carried with me. (This is how I work really hard not to get lost-lost.) The yellow lines mark the boundary with the Acoma Indian Reservation. You need special permission from them to enter their lands, so it is good to know where they are.
I needn’t have worried about finding the petroglyphs. The proper set of trails (the red trail at the bottom) was well-marked with cairns.
And here they are.
From there I headed up the canyon. The orange trail on the map is the route I took. Along the way, I walked a bit next to the arroyo.
You can also get a feel for what the trails looked like. Amazing that they show up on Google Maps.
Here’s a look at how the walls of the canyon appear, with a high spot to the west of me.
From that location, looking back south where I came from, you can see how the canyon floor is already rising, but so gradually you don’t notice it until you look back.
My car is parked down at the bottom there somewhere. Again you can see what the trail looked like.
By the way, this was really nice stuff to walk on. It was mostly just sand (eroded from the sandstone cliffs). Better yet, it didn’t have any cactus burs in it (!).
Farther along, and looking in the other direction, we can see the ends of the canyon.
You can also see that the trail is getting grassier and the grass is getting higher. And as you look ahead, you can see that the trail is getting much more overgrown (and even disappearing in spots).
I wasn’t worried about getting lost—But in the back of my mind I was hearing the voices of the glassers talking about rattlesnakes in the grass.
So I converted my hiking stick to a rattlesnake dowsing stick.
As I walked along I held it far out in front of me and swept it back and forth. That would get any rattlesnake to warn me in plenty of time.
I have to say I did not scare up any rattlesnakes (and I was a bit disappointed in that—I would have liked a picture or two). It was later in the day (and hotter) than when the glasses had hiked around, so by then I suspect the rattlers had all retreated into their dens.
I continued hiking to near the end of the canyon. Here’s a side canyon off to the northwest.
About this time I decided to do a bit of bushwhacking. I’d seen what looked like an interesting rock formation, and just wanted to get a bit closer to it. So, the purplish line near the top of the topo map shows my bushwhack. It was definitely a fair bit higher than the trail in the valley, and you can see there were a fair bit of trees.
It was uneventful, but fun (and I got to do more rattlesnake dowsing).
At the end of the hike (total of about 8 miles) I had to cross the arroyo again.
That’s where bare feet really, really come in handy.
The drive back down the dirt road entailed crossing a different arroyo (yes, I crossed it on the way there; I just didn’t mention it because I didn’t stop to that a picture going that way).
Fortunately, despite the rain, this particular arroyo was dry. You can see my car on the other side on its way to the bottom. Behind that you can see the valley of Lobo Canyon, with the east wall in the far distance, and the west wall in front of it (and a bit to the left). The petroglyphs are right about there where the west wall peters out.
This was a really fun hike, probably in the top 3 of my whole trip. It was a nice introduction to hiking and bushwhacking in an environment unfamiliar to me. It was also pretty easy hiking and gave me a nice chance to relax and absorb what was around me.