30 May 2019

Ben Lilly memorial

Gila National Forest



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The stop is one I wouldn't know about except that there is a geocache to mention "the little trail" and OpenStreetMap marks the memorial. It looks like there may have one been a little parking beside a sign to alert drivers to the presence of something along this hairpin turn. Now there is a sign post and if you drive off the road beside it, even a high clearance may not do well. It is possible to park inside the hairpin, even with a low vehicle. After parking, I head to find the first of three geocaches in the area, utterly fail to find a second even after a lot of looking, then decide not to even go after a third because there's a whole lot more terrain between me and it than indicated on the crude elevation information also contained on my OpenStreetMap. My goodness, but there is a lot of terrain hidden from the road behind a few trees. Of course, none of these are on any sort of trail. Priorities.

rounded rocks on tiny pedistals over Cherry Creek
Somewhere near these wild rock formations that sit above Cherry Creek, there is a geocache. Since it was found recently, it seems I'm just not very good at looking.

another rounded rock on a pedistal in front of some peaks above a canyon
A bit more of the view, down the canyon instead of up. Most the columns are up canyon from here.

28 May 2019

North Mesa from Middle Fork to East Fork Gila River

Gila National Forest



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I find myself in a state of waiting for a few more days and wanted another hike. I have gone into areas southeast as well as I can, northwest, and southwest leaving the northwest left to explore. I noted that if I head up the Middle Fork, there is quickly a trail heading out east over the North Mesa with a couple of possible routes to where the East Fork Gila River is not a collection of private property. It looks a little long, but measures about 18.7 miles. Probably will be 20 again if I go for a little bump labeled "Whiterocks" and a benchmark or two, so I tried for an early start. It's early enough at just after 8AM, especially for splashing through the river. Early enough starts are getting really easy with the lengthening days.

Middle Fork Gila River
Some of the Middle Fork Gila River that I missed out on when I took Little Bear Canyon to finish my backpacking trip.

So down into the river canyon I go on some old road that vanishes in the bottom. The first crossing comes quickly although there is trail off to the side from people trying to avoid it. Of course it is unavoidable, so my attempt down that trail just served to strengthen the wrong turn before just plunging into the water. Campers are still sleeping a fair distance from a hanging bag that looks more like a bear advertisement than a bear hang. Easy grabbing distance from the ground for me and I can't reach as high as a bear. Maybe it's only against rodents. The next crossing is deep in shade still and feels quite cold. Someone has splashed up the bank ahead of me and one set of footprints seems distinctly newer than the rest.

light ash among the other rocks
The canyon wall has some very striking layers of ash.

Steam alerts me that I have arrived at the hot springs that are the first destination on the sign at the trailhead. It is a little more than the half mile stated. There are lots of hot springs around here, but none noted on my maps. I expect some of the mystery trails that zip up the canyon side a short way get to more. If they are real trails. The map in this area has some curiosities that make me suspicious that it is a little wild.

steam below the trail
Steam below the trail and then a series of pools a few inches above the river. The water coming out the mountain is too hot to touch.

high cave in white rocks
The natural caves are fun to spot.

Just past the hot spring, the wilderness starts. In four more crossings, quite a bit short of where that wild map says to start climbing, there is a sign pointing out my first destination, Whiterocks. I'm not exactly sorry to have fewer river crossings than advertised although it is a pretty canyon. Hopefully I can see it from above instead. I turn away from the popular trail and the fresh footprints and even most the stale footprints and start to climb. One bit of wildness is manifest as real in the form of one of the extra trails that probably goes to an old tank. Except... who would go to a tank with the river so close at hand? The trail is well beaten, but only from the upper end. Anyone from the other direction would likely shortcut the sharp corner at least a little. Folks who don't want to descend all the way down for water, I suppose. The sign just says trail and points away from it.

trail along an intermediary level
The mesa is up ahead. One of the wild extra trails on the map goes off to the right.

24 May 2019

Little Creek and EE Canyon

Gila National Forest


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I decided to go on the EE Canyon Loop, except that's not long enough and there are a pair of trails along Little Creek and the ridge north of it (Ring Canyon Trail, but not named for that part) that have a few connecting trails to make a number of possible loop lengths. I settled on a connector only shown on OpenStreetMap, but it has been good to me so far and the Forest Service is definitely missing a number of trails on their maps.

trailhead kiosk
The trail start in Woody's Corral is easy to find.

The trail at Woody's Corral is easy to find at the west end and from there, I just climb up. There is soon a sign pointing out destinations. I'm on Granny Mountain Trail, although it is first "Miller Springs" until it reaches those on the map. There is no junction here, but one arrow points off in another direction and as I look that way, there is a trail down in the sage on the river flood plain heading off to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. That's the stock bypass and my way back so I don't have to take the road. For now, the way is up the hill until I can start peeking into some canyons from the top. There is actually a little one of surprising interest off to the side as I climb, but then there are some big ones each with its own character.

good trail and a weathered wilderness sign
Entering the Gila Wilderness on good, easy trail. A lot of stock come this way, but plenty of boots too.

Brushy Mountain in four tree covered humps
Brushy Mountain looks to be a little commanding, but the tree might make the view less so.

hills and breaks
All kinds of canyons to peek down into around the West Fork.

21 May 2019

Trail to the Past

Gila National Forest


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The little trail in Lower Scorpion Campground claims it will take you over seven hundred years into the past in a short quarter of a mile. It actually has two particularly short trails, a flat one that was once paved off to some pictographs and a work area, and a dirt one up the canyon to a small dwelling. The pictographs get the sunlight in the afternoon and the dwelling is situated to catch morning sun and afternoon shade.

a very simple trail
The sign and trail to start one off "to the past".

I actually walked the trail a few times, usually first to the painting then to the dwelling. Timmy even walked it a couple times, faithfully following even without a leash. (I don't really trust him to stick around in case of animals, so he gets a leash on a real hike. If the trail were any longer, he would have gotten uncomfortable with the distance from his home base and turned around anyway.) He seemed to like the work area best. There are more plants in that area to sniff about. One morning, I went up to the dwelling first to catch it in the light.

thin dirt trail to the dwelling
The canyon and trail really are both quite tiny.

morning sun on dwelling
The morning sun is already getting high enough to shade, but since this morning was a touch below freezing that initial sun would probably have been welcome.

19 May 2019

High and Low on the Gila River: Middle Fork and Little Bear Canyon

Gila National Forest


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3


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(Day 3 of 3) There is not the slightest hint of frost in the morning. It is much warmer down here than it was in the park. My shoes and socks aren't quite dry from yesterday and chilly to put on, but they'll get even wetter soon enough. I devour my breakfast a little easier than usual and pack it all up. With a quick look over to make sure the place is clean and nothing left, I turn to see exactly how soon. The sun is not even thinking of peeking over the top of the cliffs (besides, the sky seems a little overcast) at 7:11AM as a cliff ahead forces the trail across and I plunge into the water with almost no hesitation. The water is not bad, really. It's the evaporative cooling that starts as I step out that is annoying.

cliffs down to the water finish off the land
Here endeth the walkable land, so either I stop here forever or I cross the little river.

It is 3/4 of a mile before I get to a better camp site and just across the river is a particularly nice one. I could have got there before sunset, had I known. It's just impossible to know without having been here before.

distinct trail and cairn to help anyway
The trail is now very easy to find as it passes along the flood plains.

gentle slant of rock and then places where trees grow behind the cliff face
There are still secret passages everywhere.

The first pair of hikers coming the other way includes one that is finally happy about carrying dry socks all the way from the Mexico border. The water isn't that bad, but his glee now will be nothing compared to his glee when he hits all the snow melt in Colorado. I need to stop thinking of my neoprene socks as "for Colorado" so I can remember to grab them for likely cold water dealings in other states too. Mine are in the car.

18 May 2019

High and Low on the Gila River: Prior Creek and Middle Fork

Gila National Forest


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3


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(Day 2 of 3) I can't help but notice the frost and just a little bit of freezing around my campsite. I am somehow still warm enough with just jacket and down booties to supplement the summer quilt. I don't really care to face that cold without my puffy pants, but I also want to hike until the GPS clocks another 20 miles, so out into it I must go. I fool a little with trying to keep warm with the quilt while moving about, but it is just too awkward. As long as I am sitting folded up, it is not too bad. Anyway, the sun is here and it will warm fast.

Woodland Park Tank
Woodland Park Tank in the light.

Some of the trail feels frozen as I start, but it is so close to the warm, shallow water of the tank that it must be my imagination. There is another skeleton like the last just off the trail. This one is a little more intact including two legs with two toes at the end. Okay, not a horse. It is not stocky enough for cow and the skull is too narrow. Elk, maybe? Really big elk.

mummied skin around bones
Life in the park can be tough. One leg is still attached to the bulk of the body. The skull, jaw, and another leg are among the nearby scattered pieces of this former elk.

trail down gentle slope through the ponderosa
Gently drifting downward through the ponderosa. There are still quite a few lightning struck ones.

As the trail descends, it finds a few little rock structures to view. I quickly get to the next junction which was meant to be a decision point. If I am early enough, I can go along Prior Creek and down to a spot much further up the river. If not, I would turn for The Meadows and cut off about 5 miles of the loop. Of course, since I am just starting, I am early enough. There seems to be a bit of green by the creek as I get in sight of it. A little further and I can see that the "Trick Tank" marked on the map is a perfectly ordinary corrugated iron water tank. A little further and there is a cabin. It is signed as New Mexico Game and Fish and locked up night, but there is a well used campsite beside it and the thin running water of Prior Creek just a little further. Running water. This is what the folks not using the site at Woodland Park Tank knew that I didn't. There is a second site just up stream of the vanished corral marked on my map.

Prior Creek cabin
The cabin at Prior Creek with a camp site on its door step and lovely running water a few steps beyond.

The trail junction at the cabin isn't marked, but a cairn shows where it crosses the creek and continues upstream. My route is downstream a short way, then leaving the water again. There are multiple trails that way, one actually in the creek. After the tank, only one continues. I cross the creek and ignore the fork of the trail that continues down it. Prior Creek empties into a high sided Chicken Coop Canyon that looks like it could be interesting, maybe that trail goes down and takes a look. I wander along hills into the upper part of the same canyon where a lichen encrusted sign points out the official trail that follows it upward. It is just a little canyon here, but it is muddy as I get to the bottom. One could get water here with a little work. Or could just wait for the water to come up on its own, I realize, as the trail follows the canyon a short way to pools and a brief flow. It vanishes again as the bed gets rocky. The trail turns up a tributary that is flowing, too, but is sucked into the ground just short of the dry confluence. Ah, the antics of water. It seems like quite a lot after all the dry stuff yesterday.

17 May 2019

High and Low on the Gila River: West Fork to Woodland Park

Gila National Forest


DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3


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(Day 1 of 3) My cat sitter reappeared from nowhere! Well, from Woody's Corral after some half completed communication. She said I can have another backpacking trip, but there is a deadline of 3PM on Sunday to complete it. If the communication had finished earlier, I might have had a week to play with, but so it goes. The weather seems to be changing and the predictions seem unbelievable. (The highs and lows are too close together to be real.) Last night was a lot warmer (56°F) than things have been, so I expect I don't need any puffy pants. I got packed and moved and my backpack packed and things charged and a plan sorted by 1PM, just an hour later than hoped, so now I am ready to head out of PJ Corral (about a quarter mile from Woody's) intending to finish some 40-45 miles in the next 50 hours. First up is the slightest taste of the West Fork, then climbing up to Grave Tank.

kiosk at PJ Corral
The kiosk at PJ Corral warns that there are dangers involved in entering burned areas ahead. Also, Mexican wolves are being reintroduced to the area and a few other things. A sign behind it, almost unreadable with age, warns of brain eating amoebas in the hot springs.

The trail behind the kiosk is well used and easy to follow. The junction with Little Bear Canyon comes quickly and syphons off the hikers of the "CDTGR", which are most of who would be so close to a trailhead at such a late hour. I get to follow the trail paralleling the road except with a much longer path instead. At least I'm not on the road? Anyway, this gives a nice perspective of the canyon and the side canyons. Getting up close and personal with the side canyons is why it is so much longer.

side canyon with some character
The side canyons are little but have some big character.

west fork Gila River
Looking down on the West Fork. Lower Scorpion Campground is the turnout at the right.

high cliffs disgorging their space
Cliff Dwellers Canyon across the way is an impressive bit of verticality.

Once past the end of the road, it meets a connector from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and then the river. Splish-splash time! Actually, today is a very conservative day for cavorting with the river and there are actually only two crossings. I've been wading through too much of it, socks and all, in the past few days to bother with trying to keep anything dry now. It does look almost hopable via rocks, but not quite. I plunge in the ford just like the horses. Their shoes do seem to take up less water, though. Then wander the grasses and trees on the far side taking a moment to look for the Grudging cabin ruin one map says should be there. Not that I see.

16 May 2019

Down the Gila River stopping by Alum Camp

Gila National Forest



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Off the other direction from Grapevine Campground on a little spur of road is some day use only parking signed as a trailhead that does not appear on my Forest Service quad. What does appear is trail coming up the river just as far as a "spring (hot)" about two miles down. Besides the signs assuring me this is a trailhead, not just river access, there is not much indication as to where the trail goes. An information kiosk on the downstream side sits beside heavy trail to the water but nothing visible on the other side. Some trail wanders up a little to the confluence of east and west forks, but that way is private property. Asking OpenStreetMap for a second opinion indicates that not only is there trail here, but there is something too famous to bother to spell out: CDTGR. There are also a couple Continental Divide Trail through hikers splashing through one last crossing before heading up to Doc Campbell's, purveyors of homemade ice cream and shipping point for resupply boxes. Also supporters of getting blog posts out to the masses as the only means of internet (provided free) on NM-15 after Silver City fades from view. The actual CDT is a bunch of miles east and the divide itself is even further east, but the Gila Route alternate is quite popular. So that's CDTGR. Not that that is particularly important to me since I just want to make my way down the river, investigate the "spring (hot)" and whatever else strikes my fancy, until early afternoon when I shall turn on my heal and start back up. The map says just cross the river and start down along those rocks over there before promptly crossing again, then there will be trail to follow.

bridge over the river Gila
Just follow the wide path down to the wide river and it is already splish-splash time. Just go for it. Dunk those shoes. You don't want waterproof, you want easily drained.

sign along trail in the dirt
That sign is way too old for not having this trail on the current quad. Gila River Trail No. 724, Alum Camp 3, Sapillo Creek 15, Turkey Creek 32.

The river is cool, but not particularly cold, not even still somewhat early in the morning. Sure enough, after about a quarter mile and two crossings, there is trail with a sign to tell me how far to all the best destinations. The trail through the flood plain of the river is well established and doubles up sometimes. There are a few camp sites off to the sides, some nearly hidden. I am surprised by how much room there is between the canyon walls. Also by the downright religious fervor of the next CDT through hiker who tells me I am going the wrong way. The trail is solid northbound footprints. It needs some south (actually west a lot of the way) prints! No, I am going the wrong way and Doc Campbell's is that why. He hasn't even got there yet and he loves it. That was yesterday, try to live a little more in the moment! I should have just told him first thing he's hiking the wrong trail.

lots of green beside a cliff
Sometimes the trail goes by where there is not much space, too.

There are all kinds of big trees around. Ponderosa in the drier areas stretch up the highest while sycamores by the river seem to try to match them, but put too much into spreading. Cottonwoods and oaks fill in the lower spaces. Grapevines grow thick up some trees, but not on most. I ponder at one vine thickening the trunk of a ponderosa to three times its size going up 30 or 40 feet, then stopping abruptly. Maybe I'm just following the lead of the name of the camp to think they are grapevines, so I pause to examine them. Yep. Grapevines. Some even have pin head sized grapes starting up. It's a little early for eating them.

trees in the grass
Trees along the trail against the low cliffs of the river canyon.

Gila River is wide and shallow
Looking on down the Gila River.

The map with the trail shows that it crosses back over the river shortly before the spring. My enthusiasm to be almost there leads me to take a rather thin trail to the side instead of a crossing. It would seem to be a very little visited spring as the trail gets thinner, then just hard to see as there is a ledge of rock past a lovely display of yucca flowers, and I am finally almost forced into the river before the trail crosses back. So I missed a pair of crossings. As it crosses again, there is a wide, sandy trail to the spring. It gets plenty of visitation. It even has a pair of hikers sitting nearby chatting although the pools are empty. Hot water flows down the rocks in a thin sheet into the comfortable bathtub temperature pools. Just the way I like it, except it is already a bit warm for sitting in them even though they are still in the shade. The pair seem to think so too.

15 May 2019

grave on East Fork Gila River

Gila National Forest


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There is quite a lot of private property along the East Fork of the Gila River with a road running through it all and trail #708 at the end of it going out to another clump of private property and some more trails that failed to get on the Forest Service map even though I know they exist. Well, the other end of the one that climbs up to Military Road by Thirtytwo Tank certainly exists and looks used. My guess would be I can walk that road, but the ranger I asked wouldn't say for certain then indicated he'd been around long enough that he should know. Sounds like, "Yes, but the landowners would rather it not be so and I have to deal with them more." The river is clearly navigable, so that definitely exists as a right of way. If I wanted to do a big loop including the area (which is very possible to do), I would pursue it more. Instead, I will just get a taste of the area by searching for a grave that is west of the private property. I will just have to leave the road earlier to do it.

looking up the canyon of the east fork
Up the canyon on the East Fork Gila River.

So I start off along the road for the short section before it hits private property. The campground ends at the ford where a sign notes "no camping". People have made sites past it anyway and these have additional "no camping" signs on them. Another ford takes me to the locked vehicle gate and hiker gate without any locks at all. I still suspect there is a right of way on the road. Of course, the signs don't bother to mention it.

sedate river
The river generally seems pretty sedate but there is a lot of water.

I check where I am on the map and to my surprise, standing in front of the gate is actually already on the marked property. Also, I seem to be on what looks like a spur road on the map while the main road crosses the river again. The remains of that road appear to have trees crossing them, so it must be out of date. I cross over near the old ford and continue, staying west of the fence. It seems to replicate the boundaries on the map, but it doesn't last long. I just keep west of what was once there. There is a single post left in the rocky transition from common river flood plain to the hills around it and I seem to be drifting a little far east as the river drifts east, so chug up the hill west a bit and try again. There is one last fence post up on the hill, then nothing.

SA Canyon

Gila National Forest



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If one travels all the way to the far end of Grapevine Campground (one of numerous free campgrounds in the area) without crossing the East Fork Gila River, there is a dreary looking little dry canyon that some local geocacher assures me will be a short hike to something great. Well, maybe not too dreary, but compared to the leafy green of Grapevine and the sedate but strong river flowing past, it doesn't seem to hold up. Numerous people logging it seem to agree, but for some reason the logs just stopped totally after the 7 finds in 2015. There does seem to be a very distinct trail into the canyon. It is decorated with toilet paper shoved under rocks, which seems like a very compounded error to me. They camped too far away from the toilets for them to walk all the way over there? Surely they knew how far they could walk. They can't use pits because it disturbs their delicate noses too much, so they wanted to spread it around more? So they found a water course (which they should have been moving away from) and deposited their toilet paper (which should have been packed out) under a rock so the evidence of their misdeeds could last as long as possible. Not such a good start.

mouth of SA Canyon
Behind the lush green of the camping area is a little slot of a canyon.

The distinct trail continues past the rocked toilet paper. Those that left it are probably not responsible for the path. SA Canyon is little, which makes me wonder how little Little SA Canyon just to the east might be. Up on the right, the canyon wall seems to be compromised by some digging matching where a prospect is marked on the map. A couple more turns and the canyon is not quite so dry as it looked to the accompaniment of quite a burst of yellow columbines.

water vanishing into the rocks just as the columbines end
A burst of green decorated with yellow in the bottom of the little canyon as water appears.

bright yellow columbine
They sure look like happy columbines.

12 May 2019

The Military Road

Gila National Forest



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I'm getting antsy about getting in my long hike. The weather yesterday threatened terribly, but it looked like the folks who took horses out in it had nothing particularly long or hard to deal with. Today only has the slightest bits of threat here and there, so should be better. I'm taking my rain gear anyway: the old non-breathable coat and a cheap rain skirt I picked up and my tall gaiters. The breathable coat leaks, so it's out, but my legs are most sensitive to feeling clammy anyway. The skirt technically doesn't breath either, but it circulates instead. My shoes are just going to get wet if it rains. Extra wet with everything getting pushed down to them. Ah, misery. Maybe it'll stay a nice, blue sky.

splitting road by a kiosk
The Military Road goes between points on NM-15 and NM-35 by Roberts Lake. This end has a loop with an information kiosk on one end and a corral and short 4WD road at the other.

I start off at the kiosk, which doesn't seem to say anything about the trail. The road is not too rough as it executes a loop that seems to have about four campsites along it. The corral at the other end has a sign that, after some effort to read, indicates that you should ask the Wilderness Ranger District for permission before using it. Past that, the road is narrow and lumpy and prone to steep moments with a couple big car camping sites along the side. Just past Jordan Tank (a muddy few feet of water just below one of the sites) is a "no motor vehicles" sign. The tracks show it is generally being honored of recent, but it does get used up to another little loop just before the wilderness boundary. They're a little more forceful about the "no motor vehicles" there.

big old juniper with only a few spots of green
One big, old juniper with just a few tufts of life still, just short of the wilderness.

Gila Wilderness sign and barriers
Now it's serious about not having motor vehicles.

So off I go to see what this trail holds. I'm really not sure except there are a few tanks, a couple benchmarks, and I might wander up a nearby peak at some point. I just want to go out and turn around sometime 2-3PM.

Tadpole Ridge in the distance framed by a low peak with a sudden drop off
Buck Hannen Mountain ahead looks like it has a bit of a drop off and might be a good lookout point.