Into the Gila Wilderness

May 2020

Departing from the White Mountains of Arizona on a Wednesday, the advanture continues into Silver City, New Mexico. Here I explore the Gila Cliff Dwellings, van camp, and hike and backpack along the Gila River and the Continental Divide Trail.

Yakushi (the van) takes me south and east from Arizona into New Mexico. My goal is to park and van camp as close to the Gila National Monument as possible. I drive the windy road from Silver City, through Pinos Altos, and into the Gila. Sweeping valley views along the narrow mountain road. In the afternoon I arrive at the entrance sign to the Gila National Monument. A truck, trailer, and tent are setup on a spur nearby. There’s an itty bitty spot big enough for Yakushi just before them. Perfect.

Thursday morning I day-hike to the cliff dwellings. I arrive a half-hour after opening and have the place to myself. Not another soul in site. The dwellings are very cool. I continue down the road to TJs corral and hike overland to the spur for Little Bear Canyon which will spit me out at the Middle Fork Gila River. As I hike deeper into the canyon, the walls narrow and cliffs tower in this small magical space, an idyllic creek winding along the canyon floor. I had no expectations for Little Bear which makes the canyon all the more spectacular. At the intersection with the equally amazing Gila River, I turn right and travel downstream. Overlapping, crisscrossing, and wading through the knee deep river dozens of times in a few short miles.

The trail ends for me at a parking area where I encounter more and more hikers. A short road walk brings me back to Yakushi, my van home for the night.

Friday I drive the twisty-turny-windy mountain road back to Silver City where I camp at a campground, for a change of pace. Do some laundry. Connect to the interwebs.

Saturday draws me back toward the Gila. I make the drive via Mibres, a slightly less winding and mountainous route. Tonight I van camp at a popular spot along a dirt road somewhere before Lake Roberts. Lots of other cars, trucks, tents, and rigs. I lounge in my hammock. Read. Use my solar shower.

Sunday morning I return to TJs Corral, a trailhead for many trails along the Gila. I park Yakushi and set off with my pack on my back. Back along the overland route and into lovely Little Bear Canyon. This time, when I reach the Middle Fork Gila River, I turn left and head upstream. Crossing the Gila time after time, wading through the river. I take a dip in a deeper pool. I bypass the camp spots near the natural Jordan hot springs, which are not very warm, and continue west along the trail and river. Around 5 or 6 I spy a great little sandbar where I set up camp. Along the river of course, a secluded spot, sunny, and open. I set up my tarp with a stick for I have no trekking pole. I rinse off in the river, eat dehydrated rice and beans dinner, hydrate, read, and at last sleep.

Monday arrives and I wake sometime after 6 am to diffuse morning light. Much tossing and turning last night. It was far too warm for my 20 degree down bag. I somehow feel rested. Oatmeal and coffee. I continue my journey along the Gila, passing only a few other hikers all morning. At the “Meadows” junction I chill in my hummingbird hammock near some creepy animal bones. From here I hike the 1 mile uphill departing from the river. I spy a coyote – it does not cross my path, which according to the Navajo would have been a bad sign. Perhaps just a warning to be vigilant? I see one other hiker up here above the river. I return to TJs Corral in the evening, happy to see Yakushi waiting there for me. Everything is intact, though the fridge temp has risen to 50 degrees, which tells me my battery will power it for 2 nights without a new charge.

I return with Yakushi back to my familiar camp spot near the Gila National Monument entrance.

The next morning I set off for Pine, Arizona. First a pitstop at Doc Campbells, normally a CDT hiker haven, less so in these covid times. I’m able to shower and eat ice cream, what more could I need? Back on the road, I drive toward Pine where I plan to hike along the Arizona Trail for a day or two…

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