Sunday, August 22, 2010

Costilla Trip - Rio Costilla and the Valle Vidal

So with our tummies full, we were ready to head off to drive through the Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest. 

From Costilla, NM (on NM/CO state line) at the intersection of NM  522 and NM  196 to NM 64 just east of Cimarron is about 65 miles.  However only about the first 12 miles are paved.  After that you are on FR 1950 - a dirt/gravel road maintained by the Forest Service. The estimated travel time is 3-8 hours.  This route is open July through October.  I discovered that the reason it isn't open prior to July is because it is the calving season for elk and this area has the largest herd of elk in New Mexico  - numbering around 2,000.

From Costilla to the Valle Vidal – about 17 miles – we traveled through beautiful mountain valleys that are the lands of the Rio Costilla Cooperative Livestock Association.   The road follows the Rio Costilla, continuing  eastward through the community of Amalia.  At this point it is classified as a mountain valley stream that is anywhere from 5-10 feet wide.

The Rio Costilla flows out of the private Costilla Reservoir (owned by Ted Turner and part of his Vermejo Park Ranch) into the Valle Vidal Unit of the Carson National Forest. From the Valle Vidal the stream flows into the Rio Costilla Cattle and Livestock Association  land.  Flows are regulated so that Friday, Saturday and Sunday are low flow and Monday through Thursday flows are higher. Weekdays are always better for viewing and fishing!

As we drove, this stream became even more beautiful.  Unlike the Cimarron River that flows out of  Eagle Nest Lake and runs along the road to  Cimarron, this river had easy access from the road.  Often there was very little vegetation between the stream and the roadway so we could easily walk right to the edge of the stream. 

Of course we all had to see how cold the water was - yup, very cold!!!

After following along side the river for 2.4 miles, we crossed over the cattle guard and entered the Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest. 

The stream wasn't the only thing of beauty.  The rock formations were stunning.

As the canyon narrowed, the stream was now rushing over the rocks.

We came across a guy who was fishing.  We learned that he caught 5 trout within 100 yards.  He gave the guys lots of good tips.

Waiting on the guys...

I was busy taking pictures...

After going through the narrow, spectacular canyon of the Rio Costilla, the valley opened into a broad meadow along the river.  I later learned that this is a 'true meadow' as there are no stumps anywhere which would indicate trees  had been cut down at some point in time to allow for grazing.

At the road leading to the Costilla Lake, we came to the confluence of the Rio Costilla  and Comanche Creek.  Hereafter we would be following the Comanche Creek.
Comanche Creek is a tributary to Rio Costilla. The headwaters of Comanche Creek lie at an elevation of roughly 10,400 feet. It flows north for 11.80 miles to empty into the Rio Costilla at an elevation of 8,940 feet.  The area has a long history of grazing, mining, and logging. These activities left the uplands, Comanche Creek and its tributaries in a highly degraded state.
The  Comanche Creek Habitat Restoration Project hopes to improve the condition of the Comanche Creek watershed to meet current water quality standards  while improving habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

This creek is much smaller than the Rio Costilla.

We saw wide meadows and forested mountains to the south as we climbed into the high country above the stream.

We stopped to read signs that were out in the field by the water.  Learned that this area is the Comanche Creek Habitat Restoration Project.

This is one of the highest points on this road - we are over 9,000 feet and in the sub-alpine zone.

Finally we see a wild animal - this is a mule deer.

First and only snow we have seen on a mountain in New Mexico.

This is the old Shuree Hunting Lodge, now abandoned.

The Shuree ponds are regularly stocked with 15 inch or larger rainbow trout.  One pond is reserved for anglers under 12.  The daily bag is two 15 inch or longer fish.  These ponds are the only place where you can keep the trout.  All the streams in Valle Vidal are catch and release only.  

View from the side of the road...

At some point we left the Valle Vidal and entered onto the Vermejo Park Ranch owned by Ted Turner.  This ranch encompasses  590,823 acres (923 square miles) and is said to be the largest privately owned, contiguous tract of land in the U.S.

The landscape quickly changed and once more we saw lots of rocks and sagebrush.

 Finally, almost four hours after leaving the town of Costilla, we got to the intersection with NM 64 just to the east of Cimarron. 

All in all, we were gone for 8 hours.  We all agreed that we drove through some of the most beautiful land we have ever seen.... and then there was the awesome Rio Castilla and Comanche Creek.

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