Ready Pay Gulch - Percha Box Loop

Ready Pay Gulch - Percha Creek Loop

This walk begins either at a parking area on NM-152 (east of Hillsboro) or at a parking area where two mine roads fork (blue arrowhead on map).  The loop, from arrowhead to arrowhead is 5.4 miles.  This loop starts at the same parking area as the “Pink Canyon” trail and follows that canyon until it terminates at Percha Creek.  Along the way it passes (as of March 11, 2015) a bee hive which is still active (photo below) and was first reported on in April 2014.

Pink Canyon, east of Hillsboro (Ready Pay Gulch Area) - Bee Hive

One of the first stories that James Rutledge (J. R.), of Kingston, told me was how he encountered a hive of bees while trimming a tree.  High in the air, and with the bucket truck controls not working, he jumped - shattering ankle and other bones.  When J. R. and I tell stories there is a lot of laughing.  The occasion of this story telling was no different and perhaps established the tradition.  

The story worked at many levels.  The image of J. R.’s  6’ 9” frame (or whatever he is) in a small bucket thirty or more feet in the air was a start.  Watching the bucket jerk back and forth as he tried to lower it, while trying to get away from the bees, was a fine second act.  The finale, lurching from a bucket high in the air made no sense and was a great ending.  It was the laughter of, “yea - I’ve been there - how did we ever live to be this age”.  Great laughter, the kind were the tears roll down my cheeks.

None-the-less, there has always been an element of - “Come on, J. R..”, you could have toughed it out, when I recall the story.

Until April 9, 2014.  Now I really understand the story.  It is still a good story and in the weird world where old men tell stories and laugh heartedly as they shake their heads, it is a great story.

But on the 9th I found a bee hive (photo above) tucked backed in a rock alcove in “the Pink Canyon" wash.  A great photo opportunity if ever I saw one and the fact that I only had a wide-angle lens with me was not going to stop me from getting a good shot.  So I crept forward until I was about two feet from the hive and framed the shot.  I could hear a significant roar from within the cliff, it was a big hive.  The outside of the hive looked like wet cow manure (and was probably made from the stuff).  As I snapped the first shot I felt excruciating pain in my upper lip and knew at that instance that these were not stingless bees.  I ran, flapping and cussing, for about a hundred yards up the wash until they stopped chasing me - and then ran some more for good measure.

The sting created a unique sensation, or rather set of sensations.  First of all, my whole upper lip and part of my right cheek and lower lip felt like they were full of novocain.  But at the same time it felt like dental work was being done without novocain.  The two sensations were quite odd.  I walked back to the car, returned home, removed the stinger and had a swollen lip for several days.

I learned two things at the moment the bee stung me in the wash.  The first is that I need to return to the hive with a zoom lens.  Secondly, I understand why J. R. jumped.

This walk is a great one for studying the flora and fauna of the area.  Major fauna like Mule Deer (photo below) and Coyote are quite possible, you will most certainly see sign of Javelina and Fox, possibly sign of Elk, Bear, and Bobcat.  The active hive above is interesting and there is a seep on the west wall of the canyon about 200 yards before you reach Percha Creek.  There are often bird nests to be found, like the one in a cholla, pictured below.

Pink Canyon, east of Hillsboro (Ready Pay Gulch Area) - Mule Deer

The walk down Pink Canyon and up Percha Creek is characterized by sand, rock, and sometimes bedrock.  In places, the trail down Pink Canyon follows a route which will eventually be a slot canyon (photo below).

Pink Canyon East of Hillsboro (Ready Pay Gulch Area)

This walk turns right as you exit Pink Canyon and follows Percha Creek upstream, past the area described as “The Percha Arches”.  Between the Percha Box and the Wick’s Canyon Slot, Percha Creek flows through a significant canyon which is 75 meters across in places and bounded by cliffs.  Downstream from a cabin (see below) there are several arches which have eroded out from the conglomerate. Photographs of the arches, the enclosure in the canyon wall, and the cabin were taken on January 5, 2014.

Given the matrix, these arches are quite remarkable, stunningly unexpected.  It is in this same area, what appears to be a larder has been constructed.  It’s exact use and age is unknown to me but I suspect that it was used to store a variety of food stuffs.  It is located not to far downstream from the cabin referenced above and I am not sure why an additional storage place was necessary.  Perhaps it was cooler in the larder than in the cabin.  (I am assuming that the cabin and larder date from the same time and were used by the same person [people] - other than proximity there is no reason to believe that assumption is accurate.)  The structure is simple, the right side walled in with stone and adobe, a lintel forms the top of the doorway.  There was no evidence of how the larder was closed, no framing which would have been useful if the door was wooden, for instance.  If stones were used to cover the opening then it would not have been a handy place to access.

I am ignoring the possibility that it was some type of burial chamber, a use that occurred to me at the site.  That type of burial was never very prevalent in this area and the interior (which sloped upward with a floor of rock) did not seem to be compatible with that use or with the cabin ruins below. 

There is an old rock cabin on the floor of the box just upstream from the alcove shown above.  The roof has fallen in, a good deal of the walls have crumbled, and its origins and use are unknown to me.  Although there are some accounts that it may have been inhabited by a “wood gatherer”, there does not seem to be anything known about its history which is indisputable.  Unlike Ft. Cummings, which has a relatively well documented history, this old cottage has none.  Unlike Ft. Cummings, where relatively little can be ferreted out by walking the grounds, quite a bit can be guessed at by walking around this cottage.

The walls seemed high for something of this period (and we are guessing that it is from the early 1900’s): the side walls appear to have been about 7+ feet high, the ridge line may have been 10 feet off the ground.  That may indicate that the person who lived here, or who used the cottage intermittently, was relatively tall.  There are bits of ceramic scattered on the ground.  That probably indicates that it was a permanent habitation: they appear to be from plates and jars.  There is a hand dug well near by, lined with rock.  It has a bottom at about thirty feet - dry, well above the stream bed of Percha Creek, which is dry at this point in the Canyon.  It was probably deeper when regularly used.  Like many homes of the time, it was small by today’s standards, not more than one hundred square feet.  It had a wood burning stove, I am sure, for heat and to cook on, a bed, most likely a chair or two, and some hooks in the wall (?).  The person(s) who lived here lived a hard and humble existence.  In the morning the sun would shine on the hut relatively early and leave the site late.  That would have been nice in the winter.  In the summer the thick walls and high roof would have helped mitigate the heat.  The view, at any time of year, would have been stunning, but the door faced the side of the canyon where a track comes down from above, not the other way which had stunning views.  There is no indication of an outhouse.  The occupant may have simply used the wash, waiting for the monsoons to flush for him.

Looking at that small cottage I could imagine the aching muscles, hands dry and cracked, feet that were sore, and boredom that was comprehensive in its oppression.  I can imagine the joy of a breeze coursing through the sweaty hair on his head (and most likely it was a he).  The disdain at the thought of beans again and the pleasant happiness that the stomach was full.  There may have been a donkey about.  If there was, there was the concern about the lion tracks in the wash.  There was probably a rifle in the cottage, but not a handgun.  Handguns are for people who want to kill people, rifles were a tool which was used regularly.

All of this from an area the size of the small reading room at the Hillsboro Community Library.  And much of what I imagined is probably true.  But like the piles of clay that were the adobe walls of Ft. Cummings, the history of this cottage will pass into time in a short while.

This section of the walk requires a number of stream crossings (photo above - 3/11/15).  The walls of the canyon often have standing spires which might crumble at any time, the arches, numerous alcoves in the walls, and many swallow nests.  It is along this section of the walk that we encountered a flock of turkeys (Merriam’s Wild Turkey) last December.

Cliff Swallow nests in the Percha Creek Drainage east of Hillsboro, NM, USA

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) in the Percha Box east of Hillsboro, NM, USA

After two miles or so the “trail” climbs up a slope and returns to the starting point on an old mining road.

The photo below is taken from midway up the slope you must slog up to exit the Percha Creek drainage (near the Macy Mine).  There are no technical requirements associated with this walk and this particular section is the most difficult physically.  The photo is of a portion of the Percha drainage that the trail follows.  It is an area with many tall old cottonwoods and willow and salt cedar along the creek proper.  There is no defined path when you enter the Percha drainage, walk cross country, the only (minor) route finding issues are determining where and when to cross the stream.  Your feet are likely to get wet and if that is okay with you it will make the walk easier.  

Percha Creek Drainage east of Hillsboro

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023