First, let me locate us on the map. We are in the Black Range of the Gila National Forest, just shy of Emory Pass. Here is the full hike loop from NMWild’s new Hiking Guide. While the trail loop is a total of 10+ miles, we didn’t go the distance. We hiked up past the juncture shown on the map of Gallinas and Railroad Canyons, taking the Railroad Canyon trail to the right, to a not-shown juncture with East Railroad Canyon trail. That’s about 2 ½ miles from the campground/trailhead or about 5 miles round trip.
Every summer, when my favorite trails get too warm – or rather, when the summer temperatures are too warm for my favorite trails at lower elevations and exposure, I “head for the hills.” On this day, a friend, Dog and I were grateful to leave an already 70°-something morning at 7:30 am to arrive at the trailhead at something closer to 60° about an hour later.
One half of the canyon follows Gallinas creek (Guy-ē-nas). The creek was running full, though not as full as it would have been earlier in the Spring with snow melt and will be again with monsoons. The trail crossed the creek any number of times but given the lower level of the water, the stepping stones were raised and dry.
We were canopied by Ponderosa pine and mixed hardwoods, mostly oak. Along the creek, willow and coyote willow hosted Robins, Hermit Thrushes and smaller, shyer birds. Monkeyflower and lupine bloomed in the moisture among the rocks and in the duff under the pines. Bird song followed us though the canopy hid the singers. We were fortunate enough to see Red-faced Warblers and Painted Redstarts darting among the Ponderosa boughs.
One half of the canyon is Empire-sized stone shoulders and wind-and-rain-carved hoodoos. In the lower part of the canyon, we only glimpsed the heights through openings in the dominant green. As the trail and creek climbed the canyon, though, where the oak thinned and Ponderosa mixed with fir trees, we had views of the massive rock sides. We passed large boulders balanced on each other. Our trail zigged, switchbacking up rocky slopes and zagged back down to the creek and a respite of tree cover. Here, we found wild rose, delicately scenting the air. On the sunnier side of the trail, there was cactus blooming and other wildflowers providing color. Banana yucca held up cream-colored stalks on far rock slopes.
One half of the canyon burned in a major wildfire that tore through the Black Range a few years go. The higher we climbed up the canyon, the more the burn scars became apparent. We walked through patches of standing forest into patches of stark burned trunks. There were places where we could see the fire behavior had rolled through the underbrush leaving trunks of healthy Ponderosa blackened up 10 or 12 feet. This is as it should be in a “good” wildfire. Another hundred feet and we’d step into a clearing created by a hot spot that crowned and destroyed the pine and fir. A natural post-fire rehabber, the New Mexico locust covered the hillsides, just now fully in bloom.
And one half of the canyon is deeply shaded glades surrounding pools and riffles of the creek. On the way back down the canyon, as the rising heat of the day hurried us below the rocks and scars back to tree cover, we stopped for lunch to sit on rocks, dangling our feet over the water as it burbled below us. Dog stood chest deep, slurping and dribbling cool water, then climbing on my rock to lean on me and request a share of my apple and then another and another.