Gila River - Gila Wilderness, New Mexico - April 18, 2022

scatman

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Okay, lets see if I can whip out a trip report of my time in the Land of Enchantment last week.

On April 17th, I took a nice 10.5 hour drive down to Placitas, New Mexico, which is located roughly 25 miles north of Albuquerque. Once there, I stayed with a friend who would join me on a backpacking trip along the Gila River in the Gila Wilderness in southwest New Mexico.

We woke up bright and early at 6:00 am on the 18th and headed south along I-25 with two vehicles. We stopped at Weck's for breakfast in Los Lunas, where I ordered the spicy carne breakfast burrito, smothered in red chili. The burrito came with a side of hash browns, and I ordered a milk to go with my meal. Weck's had a lot of Elvis and Marylin Monroe memorabilia on their walls, which I thought was kind of cool. Since I had an Elvis cd with me in the car on the drive down, it seemed kind of fitting to me.

After breakfast, we hopped back on 25 and headed south through Socorro and San Antonio before stopping in Truth or Consequences to get some fuel for the thirsty Subaru. While gassing up, Ryan, my friend (can you believe that?) told me that the town actually changed its name to the old TV show called Truth or Consequences. Wow! I never knew.

Once the Subaru had a full belly, we continue south until we reached the intersection of State Road 152. We left the interstate and headed west along 152, through the small communities of Hillsboro and Kingston before reaching the cutoff of State Road 35, which would lead us to State Road 15 which runs north out just outside of Silver City.

Now I think here is where I need to interject that it is only 75 miles from the exit off of I-25 to Silver City, but the road is so twisty and curvy, that it takes about three hours to drive it. Now don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful drive, just not a fast drive. It might have been the curviest road that I have ever driven.

The cutoff 35 took us through Mimbres, which I thought was quite pretty, and like I said before on to SR 15. Once on 15, we headed north towards the Gila Hot Springs. AS we gained elevation, the views opened up of the Gila National Forest and the wilderness area. Just before reaching the springs and the bridge over the Gila River, we turned off into the Grapevine Campground, and on to our extraction point for the Gila River Trail.

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A look off into the Gila Wilderness

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The Subaru at the extraction point hopefully. :)

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The bridge over the Gila, where we will have to ford one last time to reach the Subaru.

Leaving the Subaru at trail's end, we hopped into Ryan's truck and headed south towards Silver City.

Ryan told me that he had forgotten his toothbrush and toothpaste, so we made a stop in Silver City so that he could buy them, before driving on the trailhead.

After leaving Silver City, we took Highway 180 northwest for about 25 miles until we reached the exit (SR 211) we needed to access the Turkey Creek Road. Once on the Turkey Creek Road, we made our way slowly along the forest service road. This stretch was only like 7.5 miles long, but again with road conditions it was an extremely slow go. I began to wonder if my Subaru would be able to make it down to Turkey Creek to pick Ryan's truck back up when we were done. I was particularly concerned about the Sube's chances as we headed down Brushy Canyon. Of course, Turkey Creek Road had some marvelous views of the national forest and some of the wilderness area as we made our way along.

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View into the wilderness from the Turkey Creek Road - Watson Mountain to the left

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Ditto. Unnamed peaks in the wilderness

We arrived at the parking area, if you can call it that, about 4:10 pm in the afternoon, and we hit the trail a little bit after 4:30 pm. Now I had assumed we would reach the trailhead sometime between two and three in the afternoon, but since it was essentially another ten hour drive, we ended up cutting our hiking distance from five miles down to about 3.5 for the evening.

I might mention that the temperature was 89 degrees when we arrived at the trailhead, and I'm guessing that there was a pretty good chance that it crept up into the low 90's before the sun stopped shining down into the canyon. This was typical of our first three days; pretty hot by the afternoon. Fortunately, the last two days cooled down to the low 80's as a mild cold front came through.

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Ryan's truck at the Lower Gila River Trailhead

Some trip information:
Total mileage - 32.5 miles
River Crossings - 81 total
Elevation Gain - approximately 500 feet over the 32 miles. We were heading upriver.
Water level of the Gila - knee deep to waist deep in places for the first couple of days, then once we passed side streams further up, maybe mid calf to just over the knee
Trail condition - There is an old trail that runs along the Gila, and we found that it was worth the effort to find at each river crossing. This made the going a lot easier, though staying on the trail was easier said than done in many places along our route.
Boot and sock conditions - After the first river crossing, my boots and soaks were wet the entire time - no way around it.
Tree conditions - The cottonwoods had there leaves for the most part while the sycamores were still budding.

Gila_River_Backpacking_Trip_04_18_22.jpg

Overview map


Day 1 - 3.5 miles

The trail starts out as an old Jeep road that people still use up until one reaches the wilderness boundary.

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The Gila River

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Our first ford of the Gila

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Looking back on Hidden Pasture

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Still following the old Jeep road

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The stark contrast of the just budding white sycamore tree. I thought these trees were just gorgeous

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Some groundsel along the trail

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Reaching the wilderness boundary

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The Gila

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Lots of Tree Cholla on our trip

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We had already lost the trail at this point

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Lupine

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Gila River

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Evening sun on the ridge

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Caterpillar nest

After roughly 3.5 miles we found a spot to pitch out tents and have some supper. As dusk settled in around us, we had a chorus of frogs croaking all around us. The frogs soon gave way to bats and the call of the Mexican spotted owl, which was a real treat for me.


Day 2 - 9.5 Miles

On day two, we needed to make up some mileage from getting a late start the day before. This was our toughest day, mainly due to the heat, and losing the trail occasionally, which meant going through willows, reeds, and sometimes thorny shrubs that called the canyon home.

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When I got up on our second day, I had some "want-to-be" hitchhikers on my Ursack

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One was curious enough, or maybe brave is the right word, to want to find out what was underneath the kilt. :eek:

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A type of Yucca. Some of these were blooming up the hillsides, but I didn't see any blooming on the canyon floor.

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These chollas were pretty neat.

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Fording the Gila. I took a picture of every ford.

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View from the canyon floor with the cottonwoods having their leaves

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We ran into three of these "I" blazes over the 32 miles for the old trail. The stand out
nicely against the bark of the alligator juniper.


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Another yucca about to bloom

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More Gila for you

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Occasionally, we ran into large cairns, which at times were very helpful, especially when crossing to the other side of the river,
and sometimes not. :)


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Ryan heading across

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Looks like the work of beavers, but I never saw them, or even a damn or a lodge. :thinking:

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Taking a break in the shade of the afternoon heat.

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Holes carved by wind in the rock

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We ran into a number of old firepits along our route - maybe twelve of them.

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An old corral from the cattle days

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Some more alligator bark

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Another ford of the Gila, with an Arizona Sycamore heeding me to come closer. :)

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Cow remains

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Black bear track - we saw many sets of prints along our route, unfortunately no bears to go with them. :(

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Hooch! What kind do you think it is @Rockskipper?

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Not sure what this yellow wildflower is. Help flower experts.

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View from the trail

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Love the contrast between the cottonwood and the white sycamores

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View from the trail towards the north ridge

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Lots of prickly pear cacti too

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Tent site for night number two.

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One of my favorite freeze dried meals for dinner.


Day 3 - 9.0 Miles

Another hot day ahead, though by three o'clock the wind had really started blowing, which made the river crossing a little trickier. This wind was not a cool wind unfortunately, so we had to wait for the minor cold front to pass before we got any relief.

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Ursack in the morning. I wonder if it has any hitchhikers this morning? :)

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The way ahead

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A Scat ford. The wind was not blowing at this point.

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A Mexican Lobo

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Red Dome Blanketflower

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Sewn logs! A good sign. :thumbsup:

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More black bear tracks. My Merrels are size 11 wide.

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More Gila

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And more

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Majestic ponderosa pine

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On the trail

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View of Ryan crossing from above

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Cottonwoods line the river

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Approaching another ford.

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The Gila

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Ryan out in front. Ryan took a total of three pictures, while I took 1105. o_O

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Our second old corral

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About to cross again

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View from the river of the southern ridge

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Cow carcass

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Gila River

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Some hedgehog cacti

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Another Scat crossing

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Prickly pear with a view

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Can't have a trip report without scat! Black bear scat that is. :D

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View from the trail

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Not sure where these flotation devices showed up from. I think @Rockskipper was trying to float down the Gila to join on our quest. :)

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The first of three CDT hikers that we encountered. They all appeared to be going twice as fast as the Scatman. :) He told us the the
Gila River Trail is an alternate section of the CDT.


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Another one of the large cairns

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Canyon narrowing a bit.

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More contrast with the sycamores

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Yet another old corral

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Peak's Chicken Teriyaki and Rice for my third night's dinner. I found it to be reasonable.

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My poor wet boots

Day 4 - 7.0 Miles

Well, it had cooled off some overnight, which was a welcome change for us. On day four, we would run into another CDT hiker as we made our way upriver. With less mileage and cooler temps, this was an easy day. Though I might add, we did lose the trail many times on this seven mile stretch. :(

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Looking back the way we had come

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Crossing number ? :)

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Our second CDT hiker. Her trail name was Grit. I asked her when she planned to be going through Yellowstone later in the summer,
and she told me she planned to pass through the Park on the third week of July. It just so happens that I will be with my family at
Shoshone Lake at that time. Is it possible that there could be a Grit and Scatman sequel?
:)

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Another ford, though this time with Grit

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Two mean ol' hombres! Photo courtesy of Grit

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View from off-trail

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Another lobo track

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Another ford

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Canyon narrows again

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Some phlox

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A really big cairn this time.

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Up above the river slightly, still haven't found the trail

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Camping among the cottonwoods on night four

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You know, I asked myself, "What could people in Maine know about gumbo?" Well, the answer is nothing - not good at all. I would
only eat this again if I were starving.
:scatman:

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Not the best picture, but some golden corydalis at camp.


Day 5 - 3.5 Miles

Day five was supposed to be quick and sweet since we had to go get Ryan's truck and then head all the way back to Placitas. The three and a half miles were easy enough, but we met up with our third CDT hiker and he wanted to talk for a bit. Then we ran into a group of three Native Americans that I wanted to talk to. One of them had hiked every trail in the Gila Wilderness except for one, and he was going to hike it on this trip. They were all extremely knowledgeable of the area so I chatted with them for a long time. They told us that the cow remains and carcass were from a herd of feral cows, and that they are very weary of people. Anyway, I told them that I was going to put up a trip report on this site, and if they were interested to come check it out. Hopefully one of them will.

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The moon in the early morning from camp

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Our third CDT hiker in the shade.

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Chimney to an old homestead

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Our first sign of the entire trip with three miles to go.

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The Gila River

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Looking back from where we came

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Another good looking ponderosa pine

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Almost at the finish line - sign # 2 of the day, and trip

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The bridge is within site! :thumbsup:

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The information board at the trailhead

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The Sube!

Now it was back to get Ryan's Truck at Turkey Creek.

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Taking it slow down to the Lower Gila River Trailhead

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View of the canyon bottom from Turkey Creek Road

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Made it! :)

After picking up Ryan's truck, we changed out of our wet boots and socks and headed back to Silvery City for a celebratory meal.

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The local watering hole in Silver City is the Little Toad Creek Brewery and Distillery

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And look what is on the beer menu - Pendejo Porter!

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Mighty fine.

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And maybe a six pack for the road?

I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries for dinner, but I forgot to take a picture of it. Typical!

After eating, we headed back to Placitas and had to endure a nasty dust storm for 306 miles. We arrived back at Ryan's house around 9:45 at night, and as we were turning into his neighborhood, we saw a black bear by the side of the road. Nice way to end a trip.

On the 24th, I got an early start an drove back to Salt Lake in order to attend the Basque Dinner/Dance at 6:00 pm. Along with wonderful food, I picked up this guy for future hikes. :)

IMG_2410.JPG

The Basque Gnome. :scatman:

The End.
 

TractorDoc

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Quite the adventure Hugh!

I really like the picture of the Moon over the Cliffs.

I'm thinking it might be time for a new pair of boots!
 

futurafree

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Wow, I'm surprised you saw so many Mexican gray wolf tracks. In all my trips there, I've seen more anti-wolf billboards than actual tracks. Perhaps it was because you were in a very different micro-climate/environment relative to much of the rest of the Gila. Your trip was more desert-ish than any I've done there.
The Gila is a special place, and the first designated Wilderness Area.
 

Rockskipper

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What a neat place! Nice TR.

As for the bottle, it's called Trail Hooch and was left there by a trail angel. You should have tried it, it supposedly gets better with age. (Either that or a trucker made a wrong turn and left his pee bottle.)

And as for the flotation devices, not mine cause I'm not even sure what flotation devices are, since I don't hang out around water much (can't swim or float). But I definitely would hike there if invited next time. :) Keep us posted about Grit if you meet up again. (I was trying to come up with a pun around True Grit but decided to spare you.)
 

scatman

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Quite the adventure Hugh!

I really like the picture of the Moon over the Cliffs.

I'm thinking it might be time for a new pair of boots!

I was going to retire those boots after last July's hike up Lone Peak, but then I thought they probably had one more go in them for my Beartooth trip, and I ended up wearing them on our Ouzel Creek outing too, and then lacing them up on almost all my weekend hikes through the fall, winter and spring. They've been a good pair of boots, unlike my low top Merrels before them that had the tread peal off in chunks.
 

scatman

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Wow, I'm surprised you saw so many Mexican gray wolf tracks. In all my trips there, I've seen more anti-wolf billboards than actual tracks. Perhaps it was because you were in a very different micro-climate/environment relative to much of the rest of the Gila. Your trip was more desert-ish than any I've done there.
The Gila is a special place, and the first designated Wilderness Area.

I'm not sure about your micro-climate theory. The first set of tracks were on the main trail, while the second ones were after we lost the trail and were trying to find the old trail again. I'd return in the future to the Gila for more exploring.
 

scatman

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What a neat place! Nice TR.

As for the bottle, it's called Trail Hooch and was left there by a trail angel. You should have tried it, it supposedly gets better with age. (Either that or a trucker made a wrong turn and left his pee bottle.)

And as for the flotation devices, not mine cause I'm not even sure what flotation devices are, since I don't hang out around water much (can't swim or float). But I definitely would hike there if invited next time. :) Keep us posted about Grit if you meet up again. (I was trying to come up with a pun around True Grit but decided to spare you.)

I was tempted to take a swig, but the fear of blindness took hold of me as I was raising the jug to my parched lips.

You know you have a standing invitation on all of my trips. It's just understood. :thumbsup:

Oh, I forgot to tell the best story of the trip. On day three, after leaving camp and fording the river twice, I was coming up onto the northern bank of the Gila, when a hummingbird started flying around my head. It then flew to a tree that was maybe ten feet away from me, and landed on a branch that was just above my head. I said, "Hey fella, what are you up to?" The hummingbird then flew over to me and hovered about two inches from the left lens of my sunglasses. It then went over to my right lens; again only two inches from my face. What happened next was truly amazing! The hummingbird landed on my lips and inserted its bill into each of my nostrils! I stood there as still as possible until it realized that I wasn't a flower and flew off. One of the neatest things that I have ever experienced.

Also, I forgot to mention that my right arm and left leg were covered with poison oak by the end of this trip. :(
 

Rockskipper

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Water wings you say? I had no idea that is what they were called. I'll have to remember that. And @Rockskipper is a legend throughout the west. :)
My legendary status (such that it is) comes not from water wings, but from my ability to walk on water (because I can't swim). :)

Great hummingbird story. What kind of flower do you think it thought you were? A poison oak flower? How long does the itching last (or does it itch only when you're reminded of it?)
 

kwc

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I was tempted to take a swig, but the fear of blindness took hold of me as I was raising the jug to my parched lips.

You know you have a standing invitation on all of my trips. It's just understood. :thumbsup:

Oh, I forgot to tell the best story of the trip. On day three, after leaving camp and fording the river twice, I was coming up onto the northern bank of the Gila, when a hummingbird started flying around my head. It then flew to a tree that was maybe ten feet away from me, and landed on a branch that was just above my head. I said, "Hey fella, what are you up to?" The hummingbird then flew over to me and hovered about two inches from the left lens of my sunglasses. It then went over to my right lens; again only two inches from my face. What happened next was truly amazing! The hummingbird landed on my lips and inserted its bill into each of my nostrils! I stood there as still as possible until it realized that I wasn't a flower and flew off. One of the neatest things that I have ever experienced.

Also, I forgot to mention that my right arm and left leg were covered with poison oak by the end of this trip. :(

hmmmm … almost sounds like someone really did take a swig from that bottle of “trail magic” … :)
 

TractorDoc

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The hummingbird landed on my lips and inserted its bill into each of my nostrils! I stood there as still as possible until it realized that I wasn't a flower and flew off.
sounds like someone really did take a swig from that bottle of “trail magic”
I'm thinking the hummingbird took a swig if it thought Scatman looked like a flower. :)

@scatman , Are those stamens or pistils in your nose? :lol:
 

Jackson

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Beautiful looking area! Great to see a good early season trip like this. That was a whole lot of river fords. And wolf tracks.

And glad to see you found a good dark beer for afterward! I often remember how you were disappointed by the lack of them at that Mexican restaurant in Jackson. Haha.
 

scatman

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My legendary status (such that it is) comes not from water wings, but from my ability to walk on water (because I can't swim). :)

Great hummingbird story. What kind of flower do you think it thought you were? A poison oak flower? How long does the itching last (or does it itch only when you're reminded of it?)

I always knew you could walk on water.

Whatever flower stinks the most. I was half thinking at the time that you put the hummingbird up to it. :)

Yes, your reminder did make me scratch my arm. Thanks a lot. It is slowly getting better though.
 

scatman

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hmmmm … almost sounds like someone really did take a swig from that bottle of “trail magic” … :)

You know, I chatted with my daughter when I got back to Placitas, and she didn't believe my story either. No spirits were embibed in the making of this event. Ryan can vouch for every word I have written. :D
 
Last edited:

scatman

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I'm thinking the hummingbird took a swig if it thought Scatman looked like a flower. :)

@scatman , Are those stamens or pistils in your nose? :lol:

Always thinking aren't you? :) It's the stamen of course. One might want the definitive answer from a trusted anatomy professional though before continuing on this line of questioning. :D
 

scatman

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Beautiful looking area! Great to see a good early season trip like this. That was a whole lot of river fords. And wolf tracks.

And glad to see you found a good dark beer for afterward! I often remember how you were disappointed by the lack of them at that Mexican restaurant in Jackson. Haha.

Yeah, spring is always a tricky season for me. As I have gotten older, I have found that my allergies for tree pollen, particularly elm, cedar and cottonwood, have gotten worse. I take a 24 hour antihistamine, but I still feel rather lethargic and have some slight pressure in my sinuses when outdoors. The season tends to last from mid-March to mid-May for me. So only a couple of weeks left to go. :thumbsup: Funny how the grasses and weeds don't seem to affect me at all later in the year.

Always looking for a good dark beer. I was kind of surprised that they had one on tap. I should mention that they did have a couple of different stouts from other New Mexico breweries in cans. At least that is what they had written on their chalk board behind the bar.

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Ugly

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It's good to know about the gumbo. I have looked at those when I wanted to spend extra money on the trail. Now I will not be tempted as much.

The hummingbird had some nerve trying to pick your nose like that.

Once I saw a pair of hummingbirds putting on a display in Willow Gulch. It was like an airshow as the male was wooing the female with flybys and immelmann turns.
 
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I am sooooo sad…no pics of th world famous jerky! Ryan had to have brought some for y’all….my mouth’s waterin just thinkin of that jerky!
 
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