Friday, April 20, 2018

Sitting Bull Falls - Lincoln National Forest - Southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico

Sitting Bull Falls

Sitting Bull Falls is a series of spring-fed waterfalls located in a canyon in the Lincoln National Forest southwest of the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico.  It is located at GPS Coordinates 32.2432°  104.6963° (Copy and paste these coordinates into your GPS or google maps to get directions to the falls).

This is an unexpected place of beauty. We drove from Brantley Lake State Park (Make sure you see our campground review of Brantley Lake, it is on the right of this post) to the falls, leaving from the east side of Highway 285. The terrain changes abruptly from rolling desert to mountainous desert and you will know immediately that you have entered the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountain range.  It was about 40 miles from 285 to the falls.

Finally arriving at Sitting Bull Falls

The origin of the name Sitting Bull Falls still remains unknown. One version holds that it was named after a a Sioux Medicine man. The Apache name for the area was gostahanagunti which means hidden gulch.

"The falls are fed by springs located in the canyon above. The water flows through a series of streams and pools until reaching the falls where it drops 150 feet into the canyon below. Most of the water disappears into the gravel or cracks in the rocks and either reappears in springs further down the canyon or joins the Pecos Valley underground water supply."

The area was developed for day use by Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It is fully wheelchair accessible, with sidewalks, restrooms, picnic tables, rock cabanas, water fountains, trash bins, and a viewing deck for the waterfall. The hiking trails and water areas above and below Sitting Bull Falls can only be reached on foot.

Because of the obvious lack of water in the area, the water coming from the falls and the stream and the pond that feed the falls, wildlife is abundant in the area. Rabbits, prairie dogs, desert mice, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, snakes and birds of every description drink and bathe in the waters here. 

As you approach the falls you get an overwhelming sense that you have wasted your trip. It is simply too dry of a place to have a waterfall. You look at the surrounding mountains and conclude there is no way for water to percolate out of the ground and run over a precipice as a waterfall. But, like me, you'd be wrong.

As you approach the falls you notice the canyon bottom becoming greener.  

Your hike is on a cement concourse dotted with bridges and handrails that take you to the falls.  

Then you turn the final corner and are treated to this sight.

 Click on the photo to be taken to a video of the falls

A per-vehicle fee of $5 applies to the Recreation Area, which opens at 8:30am daily.  There was a self-pay station when we arrived, and they accept cash, checks or National Park passes.  Operating hours extend till 5 pm from October 1 to March 31 and until 6 pm the rest of the year. Please note that the entrance gate is locked 30 minutes prior to closing.

Sitting Bull Falls is literally an oasis in the desert and is a great place to go for an afternoon to relax and cool off. The falls themselves are beautiful and the water is crystal clear and a cool 65 degrees.
"If you explore a bit more you can find several pools of water where some smaller waterfalls are that are away from the more crowded areas." (source: Yelp)

Behind the falls is a system of caves, which can be entered and explored, but only by appointment and in the company of a ranger/guide. (source: US Forest Service)

Martha decided to hike to the top of the canyon to see where the source of the spring was

View from near the top

The stream that feeds the falls.  This is above the falls on the top of the canyon

The stream cascading to the head of the falls

If you are in Carlsbad this place is special. We were there during the week and there weren't many people there. I think it is really worth the trip to see it.  If you go, enjoy!

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