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Sierra Ancha Wilderness, AZ – 30 Mile Loop Hike May 2016

a view from the cliffs above pueblo canyon in the sierra ancha wilderness, arizona

Overview

View All PhotosSierra Ancha Wilderness Video on Youtube

  • Location – Sierra Ancha Wilderness, AZ
  • Park Administration – Tonto National Forest
  • Fees & Permits – None
  • Travel Logistics – Flew into Phoenix, rented a Toyoa Yaris
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 3 Days, 2 Nights
  • Miles Hiked – 30
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Trailhead – Parker Creek
  • Trail Difficulty – 6.5/10 (not including off-trail segments)
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
  • Solitude – 7.5
  • Scenic Beauty – 8

Notes

This trip was a bit different for me. I had about a week to plan it, and hadn’t had a chance to do any training. I’ve only been lifting weights since my return from Big Bend in January, and hadn’t even had the time to do that during the previous month. The week leading up to the hike, I got in about 4 hikes of around 6 miles with a 45 pound pack and did stair climbs one day with a 45 pound pack.

The route I planned out winds in and out of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, within the Tonto National Forest. It was somewhat difficult planning loop hike through. The geology of the area and way the trails are laid out make it better suited for day hikes or point to point hikes instead of loops, unless you don’t mind either hiking large parts of the same trail twice, road walks, or huge elevation gains/losses. I identified a lot of areas I wanted to see here but in the end, it was impossible to make a loop out of them.

Sierra Ancha Wilderness 30 Mile Loop Hike – Map & GPX Files

Total distance: 30.04 mi
Max elevation: 7776 ft
Min elevation: 4695 ft
Total climbing: 9938 ft
Total descent: -9934 ft
Download

 

Getting There

I flew out to Phoenix after work on Friday. The plane left Detroit around 4:15 EST and I landed around 5:50 PST. After picking up my backpack from baggage claim and the rental car, I headed out. The car was a little Toyota Yaris, only $57 out the door for Friday-Monday. I stopped at a gas station and picked up a couple gallons of water, and stopped at a Culvers to grab my last hot meal for a couple of days.

Now, I headed east on 60 towards Globe. This is my second trip to Phoenix since hiking a big 92 mile route in the Supes in 2014, and I can really appreciate the view of the Superstition Mountains after hiking the entire ridgeline on my last day of that hike. Driving along 60 provides great views of the Superstition Mountains and has access to the Peralta trailhead, which I still have yet to visit. I hear it’s one of the busiest trailheads in Arizona.

The drive along 60, 188 and 288 is very scenic. Unfortunately it was getting dark quick and by the time I hit 188, I couldn’t see anything. I turned onto 288, crossed the Salt River and started heading uphill again. Even though it says the pavement ends, the surface is just as good as the pavement elsewhere on the road, and it wasn’t rough anywhere. I made it to the Parker Creek trailhead, right off hwy 288, around 8:45pm.

I decided to sleep in the car tonight. Big mistake. The Toyota Yaris drivers seat is almost impossible to sleep in. The stupid headrest is tilted forward at a ridiculous angle, preventing you from leaning your head back at all. It was a long night, and always, part of the adventure. That’s what I tell myself, anyways.

Day 1 – Saturday May 21st, 2016

Miles Hiked – 11.49
Route – Parker Creek Trailhead to Edward Spring

a view of parker creek trailhead in the sierra ancha wilderness/tonto national forest

Parker Creek Trailhead

I couldn’t sleep and just woke up at 5am when the sun rose. I filled my water bladder, water bottles, ate breakfast, etc and finally got on the trail around 6:30am. The sun would barely have risen yet back home.

south fork parker creek water pools

Water above the dam on the South Fork Parker Creek

The Parker Creek trail starts climbing immediately after leaving the parking lot. The trail skirts the highway for a little while before the road turns west and the trail turns east up South Fork Park Creek. The trail here is a steady incline and runs alongside the creek, which appeared to be dry. Then, I came across a small dam which was channeling water somewhere. Above the little dam, there were small pools of water. Little did I know, this would be the most water I’d come across the rest of this hike.

hiking the parker creek trail in the sierra ancha wilderness

Parker Creek trail starting to climb

hiking across a scree slope in the sierra ancha wilderness along trail 160, parker creek

Scree slope along the Parker Creek trail

View from the Parker Creek trail below Carr Ridge in the sierra ancha wilderness

View from the Parker Creek trail below Carr Ridge

Past the dam is where the trail really starts to climb. But with the climb comes my first elevated views of the surrounding mountains. The trail crosses a scree slope for a few hundred feet, which provided some good views as well. In the distance, I could see the Four Peaks and Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

what the view from carr ridge looks like

At the saddle on Carr Ridge just north of point 6896. Not much of a view.

A view of coon creek canyon from trail 160

Coon Creek Canyon

There’s a couple of good views up along the Parker Creek trail, but once up on top of the saddle, there really isn’t much to see except trees. There’s a couple of campsites up here, but nothing special. I kept moving and dipped down into the next valley. Lots of green here, unlike my other Arizona hikes which have been at lower elevations. Very cool.

From here, I’m headed up Aztec Peak. The trail loses a bit of elevation as it makes it’s way past Mud Spring, which appeared to be dry. The trail splits off to Carr Trailhead or the Rim Trail. I’m headed towards Carr TH. The trail gains 400ft elevation and emerges into an even greener environment, full of lush grasses and trees.

hiking the trial up aztec peak tin the tonto national forest

a view of aztec peak from a green meadow

Aztec Peak in the distance

It’s a short road walk along a FR 487, a 4×4 road, before passing the Peterson trailhead. Eventually the trail heads back into the forest. It wasn’t long before the trail passes through a large open meadow that looked like it could have been Michigan, with grass that green. I was not expecting this in Arizona.

Hiking to aztec mountain

Next the trail passes through an area ravaged by fire and downed trees. There were a lot of large trees that requires maneuvering to get over. It looks like it’s been a while since this trail has seen any maintenance. But I could say the same thing about several stretches of trail in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness.

view form the trial up aztec peak

As the trail nears the top of Aztec Peak, the lack of trees make for some pretty good views. The last couple hundred feet up Aztec Peak were really nice.

aztec peak fire towe

The fire tower on top of Aztec Peak

view of the sierra ancha wilderness from the fire tower on top of aztec peak

View from the fire tower. The op level is blocked off

view of the four peaks and theodore roosevelet lake from the fire tower on aztec peak

Looking southwest towards the Four Peaks from the fire tower

On top of Aztec Peak, it was pretty windy and much cooler. I went up the fire tower only to find that the top level was inaccessible due to the hatch being locked. It was extremely windy up here, maybe 50-60 mph, so I only took a couple of pictures and headed down.

red rock cliff view from aztec peak

View from Aztec Peak

relaxing on aztec peak in the sierra ancha wilderness

aztec peak views

lone tree grows from the red rock cliffs of aztec peak in the sierra ancha wilderness

After that I went to check out the red rock cliff edges along the southeast side. This area was really cool. Long, distant views from a variety of comfortable seats on the rocks provided a great place to stop and eat lunch. At 7748′, this is the tallest point along my hike. I had 4G service up here too. If it weren’t so damn windy, it’d be a great place to camp too if it weren’t for the road that runs up here. FR 487 runs up to the top here and it looks like Aztec Peak gets a fair amount of use. There were two different vehicles that came and went while I was up here, along with a pack of ATV riders.

After finishing my food I headed down Aztec Peak along FR 487 for a short ways before jetting off onto the ridge that heads towards Murphy Peak. While hiking along FR 487, I was an object in the road. It was an iphone, 65% charged, with a cracked screen and very dusty. I bet it fell out of the pocket of one of those ATV riders that just passed through here only 10 minutes ago. I set the phone alongside the road, propped up against a rock, so it could be seen more easily if they come back to look for it.

looking south towards aztec peak

Looking back towards Aztec Peak

FR 487 takes s sharp, hairpin turn right where the ridge to Murphy Peak looked the most accessible. Judging by the beaten path out onto this ridge, I’m going the right way. I left the road behind and started my off trail adventure. The trail quickly faded away, but the terrain was pretty open and not to difficult to traverse besides some downed trees.

overlooking murphy ranch

Murphy Ranch below

a view of the sierra ancha wilderness from point 7662

View east from point 7662

view of the sierra ancha wilderness from point 7662

View northeast from point 7662

Next my route has me going up point 7662′. The approach from south/southeast is cliffs, so I worked my way around the more gentle southwest slope. Once on top, I had a pretty good view of Murphy Ranch from some interesting rocks. Some rocks were pitted, others looks like they had warts. Another section had light colored veins running through it. Really great views to the east from these cliffs.

thousands of white flowers on the ground below tall pine trees

Near Murphy Peak

The ridge I descended down Murphy Peak

I continue my hike north to Murphy Peak, the second tallest point on the hike at 7732′. It was pretty easy going up to the top, but trees obstructed the view. From here I headed down a ridgeline that will intersect trail 150. This section was steep but pretty manageable, then levels out. Before long I found trail 150 and was on my way down hill along the north side of Murphy Ranch.

I followed trail 150 a ways before leaving the trail and continuing in a straight line towards my destination, Edward Spring. This next off-trail section was among the two toughest challenges on this hike. The vegetation was thick and often thorny most of the way down, with steep slopes near the top.

hiking through thick vegetation in the sierra ancha wilderness

Just a taste what is was like off-trail between Murphy Ranch and Edward Spring

Just as the trail was getting steep, the vegetation was becoming impenetrable. I had to backtrack a little and find a way around the thick patches of trees, shrubs and bushes. I found a game trail that got me past one of the thickest spots, but quickly lost it. I found the best strategy to be to follow the faint little game trails where you can and just do your best in between the game trails, through the thick stuff. While dipping down into a small drainage along the way, I scared up an what I believe to be a bull elk, judging by the overall size of the animal and the size of it’s antlers. It wasn’t that far away, maybe 150 ft, but he bolted before I got a good look at him.

Off-trail between Murphy Ranch and Edward Spring

hiking off trail in the sierra ancha wilderness

Still off trail-between Murphy Ranch and Edward Spring

There were a lot of Manzanitas through some stretches, and along with the other plants they did some damage on me. My arms fared alright since I had a longsleeve shirt on, but my shins took the brunt of the damage despite having pants on. I wouldn’t recommend anyone following this route, unless you’re slightly crazy like me. It took me about 1.5 hours to go 1.6 miles off-trail.

upper pueblo canyon

Looking west into the upper Pueblo Canyon area

pueblo canyon overlook in the sierra ancha wilderness

Looking east into Pueblo Canyon

I was hot, hungry, thirsty and tired by the time I made it to trail 141, just a short distance from Edward Spring and some amazing overlooks above Pueblo Canyon. I first went to check out the views from the cliffs, and see where I could camp in close proximity to said views. I couldn’t find the proper pair of trees to hang my hammock from near the cliff’s edge, but only a short 2 minute walk back to my campsite closer to trail 141 will suffice. I found Edward Spring to be completely dry.

hammock hanging in the sierra ancha wilderness near edward spring

Camp near Edward Spring

After getting my hammock set up around 2:15pm, I took, a 45 min nap. Today was only supposed to be 8.9 miles or so, but ended up being 11.5 miles and 4000 feet of elevation gain. The route I draw out on the map, no matter how detailed I think it is, always seems to fall way short of the actual distance hiked that day.

view of pueblo canyon

Pueblo Canyon

After my nap I headed over to the cliff’s edge with some food and my camera. I explored along the edges for a while, looking for that perfect shot of Pueblo Canyon. I spent most of the afternoon just lounging around on the cliffs, enjoying the beautiful scenery and silence. It was cool to have such an amazing place all to myself, during what seemed like prime hiking weather. From what I can tell, this place doesn’t get a ton of backpackers.

Sunset at Pueblo Canyon

sierra ancha wilderness moon

After watching the sunset to complete an enjoyable evening I headed back to camp. I didn’t set up my tarp above the hammock since there’s no rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future, so tonight’s full moon lit up the sky throughout the night. I went to bed at 8pm, right after it got dark.

Day 2 – Sunday May 22nd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 13.19
Route – Edward Spring to Asbestos Point

a view of the sunrise over pueblo canyon

Sunrise over Pueblo Canyon

pueblo canyon sunrsie

I woke up at 5am today, and just barely caught the sunrise. I headed over to the cliffs overlooking Pueblo Canyon just as the sun peaked over the horizon. Really nice sunrise from this spot.

After getting my fill of pictures, I headed back to camp to finish packing. I snacked on a few items this morning, but didn’t want to eat a full breakfast until I know for sure I’ll have water from Cold Spring. I’m running low on water, having drank more than I expected yesterday.

Hiking in between Edward Spring and Cold Spring

Trail 141 was a little overgrown in spots but overall pretty easy to negotiate. The hike to Cold Spring was about 1.2 miles of easy walking.

Bones only a few feet from Cold Spring

a picture of cold spring in the sierra ancha wilderness

Cold Spring

Looking northeast down into Cold Spring Canyon from Cold Spring

When I reached the spring, I saw a pile of bones from a large animal a few feet from the water. As for the spring, I was pretty disappointed. It was a pool maybe 18″ in diameter and about 2 inches deep. I really should have brought my MSR Miniworks water filter so I could have filtered out the mud and debris a littler better. I brought my SteriPen Opti and Gatorade bottles instead. I ended up digging the pool out a little deeper to get my bottle mostly submerged, but of course, had to let the water settle first. It took a long time to filter this water. I chugging a liter now and filtered 5 more to finish out the hike, unless I come across more.

Hiking the Rim Trail

I left Cold Spring Canyon after getting my fill of water and continued on towards trail 139, the Rim Trail. My maps show the trail climbing out of Cold Spring Canyon more abruptly, but the trail I followed skirted the contour lines a little more. This stretch had been burnt in the past so maybe the trail was re-routed. It eventually intersects the Rim Trail which I continued south on.

There were occasional vistas along the Rim Trail but usually only where the trail traverses around the edges of canyons like Cold Spring Canyon, Devil’s Chasm, and some unnamed canyons. Of course, if you have the time and are willing it looked like there’d be some killer views from some of the ridges above these canyons but that would be all off-trail. Since I know I’ll be doing some serious bushwhacking this afternoon to get to Zimmerman Peak, I had to pass.

Sometimes the trail was well beaten and others it was practically non-existent. There were a couple spots along the Rim Trail where it got so faint that I lost it. I saw a couple of piles of bear crap through this area, and some were pretty large.

Finally, good views from the Rim Trail

The landscape changes a bit when the trail turns the corner into Coon Creek Canyon as it’s a south facing slope. Here, there’s more cacti and shrubs vs pine trees. At least the trail now skirts the edge of the cliffs more and there is more to see. The last couple of miles were a little dull to be honest.

rattlesnake on the hiking trail

Almost stepped on this rattlesnake before he moved under that shrub

With the new environment come new dangers. I came within 3 feet of stepping on a rattlesnake. It was in the sunlight in the middle of the trail, but just beyond a small patch of shrubs obstructing my view of the ground. 2 minutes ago, I was just thinking about how I had somehow never seen a rattlesnake yet on any of my hikes, no joke! And now here I am looking at one. There was cliffs on one side and dense shrubs and thorn bushes on the other wise, so it was hard to get around him. I quickly moved past when he had his head turned the other way, as he tried to move aside as well. I made it past him, but coming so close prompted the tell-tall rattle sound.  Cool, but now I need to really watch out for those guys.

Coon Creek Canyon

Eventually I hit the Parker Creek Trail (160) where i had passed through yesterday, but went up to Carr TH from here. This next .65 mile section to the top of Carr Ridge is the only part of trail I’ll be repeating along this figure 8 style loop. It was almost noon now and I was getting warm in the sun.

Soon enough I was at the top and took a break in the shade. I ate a little food too but not much. Like I often complain about, I wasn’t hungry when I really should have been.

hiking off trail on carr ridge

Carr Ridge

After lunch, from here on out it’s all off-trail. I heading in a southerly general direction down the Carr Ridgeline to Zimmerman Peak. I’ve been told there’s some wicked patches of Manzanitas near Zimmerman, but so far the terrain is pretty open with only large, well spaced pines to worry about. As I go farther south, the pines thin out a little and there’s other types of vegetation to contend with, but it’s still easy going. The first 1.5 miles or so was not an issue at all. There’s remnants of a barbed wire fence that runs along the very top of this ridgeline, which just so happens to follow almost the exact path of the route I drew at home based on the topography. How convenient, this made a great marker to follow when needed. Between this and the game trails that weave around the pockets of vegetation, it’s not too hard to make your way through here.

carr ridge views to the south

Looking south

The closer I get to Zimmerman, the more difficult it becomes. There’s beginning to be some really great views as well. I didn’t take as many pictures as I’d like’d to have through here.

off trial hiking through manzanitas bushes in arizona

Wading through manzanitas

Near point 6936 is where the going got really tough. The manzanitas were so thick it was crazy. Instead of going up the ridgeline and over the summit of point 6936 I found it easier to skirt the western hillside. However, once I emerged south of point 6936 the manzanitas became even worse. There was a sea of them all down this ridgeline as far as I could see, and no game trails running through them. Also, they were swarming with bees on the little flowers, so I had to wade through bees as well. This was one of the most difficult sections of the hike. My legs and shins were taking a a real beating.

panoramic photo of the sierra ancha wilderness from zimmerman peak

Looking northeast

After much effort and lots of cuts and scrapes I made it down the ridgeline below point 6936. It was a little easier going up this next hill, the last one before Zimmerman Peak. Closer to the top of this hill, I saw another rattlesnake. I spotted this one a little farther away, but it was essentially head level since I was going uphill. Not a good place to be. I gave this one some room and went around it.

view from zimmerman peak of asbestos point, four peaks and theodore roosevelt lake

View southwest from Zimmerman

view from zimmerman peak

When I reached Zimmerman Peak I was rewarded with some really awesome views. I stopped for a while to rest, take pictures and look for a spot to camp, if that was even going to be possible.

After a little searching I determined that it was probably not possible to hang my hammock up here. Bummer I guess, but I didn’t really want to have to do any more off-trail hiking tomorrow morning if I can get it out of the way today. So, down to Asbestos Point.

asbetsos point ridgeiline

View of the ridgeline that leads to Asbestos Point. It looks much easier from this angle

looking at asbestos point

Asbestos Point

The first bit of trail down Zimmerman Peak was the steepest. This part leads down to Zimmerman Point, then down the final ridge to Asbestos Point. That same barbed wire fence is still running down the center of this ridgeline and continues to be a good marker to follow. Eventually I hit FR-489, the 4×4 road that runs up here to Asbestos Point. After what I just hiked through it’s hard to believe there’s a road near here. I followed it a few hundred yards up to the top of the ridgeline leading up to Asbestos Point.

asbestos point hammock hang campsite

Campsite near Asbestos Point

Now I could look for a place to camp. There’s more pine trees here to hang from, but I’m not seeing the right trees that will give me a view from my hammock. That’s alright though, because it’s still pretty windy and I’d rather have some cover. I found a spot that fit my needs not too far away, and just a short walk from some great views to the south. It was about 4pm now.

old bulldozer at abandoned asbestos mine

After getting camp setup, I hopped in the hammock to relax for 20 minutes. Afterwards I headed over to the area where they used to mine for asbestos along the cliff’s edge. There were a lot of mosquitoes out though and I had to put on my headnet. There was an old bulldozer sitting at the end of the road near the edge of the cliff, as well as numerous other mining artifacts laying around.

entrance to an asbestos mine in the tonto national forest

Asbestos mine entrance

photos of an asbestos mine

Inside the asbestos mine

an old bed inside an asbestos mine

exploring inside an old asbestos mine

The sides of the cliffs had several mine entrances exposed and uncovered. They probably figured that the fact that it’s an asbestos mine will keep people out. Wrong! I went in a couple of them a short ways, just to get a peek. I was careful not to kick up any dust, took a few pictures and headed out. Check that one of the bucket list.

After making my way around the mountain and it’s mines, I headed back to camp to finally eat some dinner. It would have been really nice to have a fire and heat up my bacon cheese pita sandwich thing, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble just for this sandwich, when it’s windy and dry out and I don’t even need the warmth. I ate almost two of those but didn’t have a great deal of water left. Now it’s ration mode until I get back to the car in about 15 hours. I think I had about a half liter left by the time I went to bed later tonight.

tonto national forest sunset

asbestos point sunset arizona

sunset from asbestos point

After dinner I headed back towards the cliffs edge for the sunset. It would have been much better up on Zimmerman, but that wasn’t in the cards. I took some pictures and enjoyed the sunset as my final night here comes to an end. Dead tired, I headed back to camp to get some rest.

 

Day 3 – Monday May 23rd, 2016

Miles Hiked – 4.51
Route – Asbestos Point to Parker Creek Trailhead

asbestos point sunrise

Sunrise from Asbestos Point

The wind died down last night and it ended up being pretty calm. I slept pretty good. Once again, I was up at 5am to catch the sunrise.

After packing up camp and barely eating anything for breakfast I headed out. Today should be an easy hike, mostly downhill along FR-489 and then a short road walk back to my car at Parker Creek Trailhead.

fr-489 4x4 road up to asbestos point

Not even close to the worst of what this road was like

At first, the road looks alright. Eventually though, this thing had ruts like 3 feet deep. I mean, no problem for me, I can just walk around them. But driving up this road seems insane. I wonder how much use this road gets. I know people make it up to Asbestos Point and camp, there’s plenty of toilet paper up there to prove it unfortunately.

Going down this road was uneventful and fast. Fine with me a I have a plane to catch this afternoon. I passed Pocket Spring on the way down which I could hear running water from, but I didn’t go to check it out. Farther down, Parker Creek was flowing closer to hwy 288.

Where FR-489 dumps out into hwy 288

When I did finally reach hwy 288, I had a 1.33 mile road walk north to my car. The first thing I did when I got into my car was chug water from the extra 1.5 gallons I had sitting in there. After changing clothes I was on my way back to Phoenix to catch my plane.

 

Final Thoughts

It was great to get out and do this hike, I really needed to get away. I’m hoping this will be just the start of a busy summer, my favorite time of year. It was awesome to visit Arizona when things are in bloom and a little greener. This was my 4th trip to Arizona but my first outside of January and March when things are a little more brown.

I was pretty tired from this hike but on the other hand, I only had 1 week to prepare for it. Considering that, I think I did pretty good physically. The first day had 4000 feet of elevation gain, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I did lose 7 pounds on this hike in just 4 days, but I’m kinda getting used to that. I am going to look into appetite stimulants and see if that’s something that can help me get more food in my body during these hikes.

The Sierra Ancha Wilderness, and surrounding Tonto National Forest, has some awesome views. In my situation, being solo, only a loop hike would work for me. I could have put together a much better route if a point-to-point was an option.

The off-trail sections of this hike were pretty tough at times. Sometimes I wonder why I choose to do this stuff, when I’m poked, cut, bruised and battered from bushwhacking through all that madness. Somehow, the harder a hike is for me the more rewarding it feels I guess. And that’s one of the things that can be hard about hiking solo sometimes. Nobody else will ever truly know what you went through, what you saw and how you felt, despite your best efforts to describe it with words or pictures. It can be a powerfully motivating experience though, revitalizing the mind and soul. I’m ready for my big summer hike… I just need to figure out where!

cuts and bruises on legs from off trail hiking

Damage done from off-trail hiking

 

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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Mogollon Mountains Backpacking – Gila Wilderness, NM – May 2012

Gila Wilderness, NM – Mogollon Mountains Backpacking Overview

Complete Gila Wilderness Photo Gallery | Gila Wilderness HD Video

  • Location – Mogollon Mountains in the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico
  • Park – Gila National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Custom Route
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 3700 miles roundtrip
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 6 days, 5 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 45
  • Trail Difficulty – 8/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes
Total distance: 40.93 mi
Max elevation: 10620 ft
Min elevation: 5151 ft
Total climbing: 15466 ft
Total descent: -15466 ft
Download

 

gila wilderness multi day loop hike stats

When I went to order topographical maps to use in the Gila Wilderness, I realized that I’d actually need to buy 6 maps to cover all the quads that my route was passing through. Instead, I ordered a custom printed map that covers only the area I will be hiking in, allowing you to pick sections of quads and print them. This is what I ordered for this trip:

gila mogollon mountains long loop hike map topo

If you plan on hiking the same route as me, you can order the map I bought here: Mogollon Mountains Topo Map

Here’s another map of my route, showing you where I camped and where the forest fire was (read about that later):

gila wilderness mogollon mountains backpacking loop

Soon after getting back from my hike in Big Bend National Park, TX I started planning a spring trip. I had my hopes set on somewhere mountainous, like Colorado or Northern New Mexico, specifically The Pecos Wilderness. However, the weather in May just doesn’t allow for snow-free access in those regions this time of year, so I either had to move farther south, or lower in elevation. The Truchas peaks, at 13,000 feet, would have been awesome… but I after checking snotel and word of mouth from those who’ve hiked it this time of year, I realized that early June is the earliest access to that region. However, I was told about the Gila Wilderness in Southwestern New Mexico.  After a little research, I concluded that the Gila (pronounced hee-la) would be a perfect place for me to go at this time of the year.

The Gila Wilderness is part of the Gila National Forest, which is only separated from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness by one small 4×4 road. Combined, the two areas cover around 750,000 acres. I chose the Mogollon Mountains region of the Gila Wilderness, which is on the extreme West side of the park, close to Arizona. The temperature was forecast to be anywhere from 50-80 degrees during the day, depending on elevation, and around 35-65 at night. Temperature wise, I figured this would be perfect. May is also the driest time of year here, so I also figured that rain wouldn’t be a problem. The rivers should also be lower, making stream crossings easier. And, campfires are allowed as long is there is not an alert in place… check the Forest Service website here http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/gila/alerts-notices. There was no alert or fire ban in place when I went, however, lightning caused 2 fires in the Mogollon Mountains while I was in the park. This fire has now grown to be the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history! We had some excellent views of the fire from the top of Grouse Mountain, of which I have some nice pictures and video, but I’ll get into that later.

Getting There

With an 1,850 mile drive ahead of me, I left home in southeastern Michigan at 7:30am on Friday, May 11th and headed for Springfield, IL to pick up my hiking partner. I made it all the way to Springfield around 2:30pm on one tank of gas, 462 miles. We promptly ran out of gas looking for a gas station, but luckily I plan ahead for most things, and it was as simple as getting the gas can out of the trunk which I filled ahead of time, just in case. This got us to the next gas station, and we drove until 11:30pm. We stopped at a crappy Budget Inn type of motel in Pratt, Kansas and got the best room $55 could buy.

The next morning we got on the road at 7:30am, and began the long boring drive through Kansas. At this point, we figured we’d arrive at the trailhead at around 6pm today. We were making such good time that we had a decision to make: stop in the last town that has a hotel (which looked like Socorro on the map, which was a 3 hour drive from our destination) and head to the trailhead in the morning, or camp at/near the trailhead somewhere and leave early morning to hit the trail. We choose to drive all the way to the trailhead, and ended up making it there around 7pm. We camped in a small campground on highway 180, literally right across the street from the entrance to the Whitewater Picnic Area. There is NO CAMPING at the Whitewater Picnic Area, it’s day use only. This is where you park your car, which will run you a whopping $3/day. Not bad since there are no other fees or permits required to hike or camp in the Gila Wilderness. Just park your car and go.

Notes

There are 2 main trailheads in the Gila Wilderness and several smaller ones. For the Mogollon Mountains region, the Whitewater Picnic Area is the most popular. The other is the Gila Wilderness visitor center on the East side of the park, which is at the end of State Hwy 527 (also called Hwy 15), which is near the Cliff Dwellings. There are several other trailheads along Bursum Rd on the North side of the park, and many more. These are usually marked on a topographical map, which you should have if you are hiking here anyways.

Day 1 – May 13th, 2012

 

gila wilderness mogollon moutains catwalk trail

Catwalk Trail

 

 

We hit the trail around 8:30am on Sunday May 13th.The first mile of our hike was on the Catwalk trail, a developed area with paved trails and a metal catwalk that allows you to walk over the rugged terrain without getting your feet wet. This area was pretty cool and easy to see why it was a popular day hike. At the terminus of the Catwalk trail, we thought we’d be at the junction of the Whitewater Trail #207 and the South Fork Trail #212. Instead, the end of the Catwalk Trail becomes the beginning of the Whitewater Trail, and we had about another mile to go before we reach the above junction.

Gila Catwalk Area

Our plan was pretty loosely formed at this point… I had picked a point on my topographic map that we determined to be about 10.5 miles away where the Golden Link Trail crosses Big Dry Creek. We would hike the Catwalk trail to the Whitewater trail, to the South Fork Trail, which later becomes the Golden link trail after you pass Camp Creek Saddle. Our plan was to hike to this point today, set up a basecamp, and spend the next 1-2 days exploring Big Dry Creek, Spider Creek, and Spruce Creek as there are numerous waterfalls in this area. I found an awesome site that tells you about all of the waterfalls in New Mexico, including many in the Gila Wilderness. It has pictures, descriptions and even GPS coordinates of the falls. It’s http://www.dougscottart.com/hobbies/waterfalls.htm and the falls in the Gila Wilderness are numbered K4 – L3, just to save you some time plotting them on the map. After this, we had no plan… to be determined as we go!

Trail Opens Up

After leaving the Catwalk trail behind, we saw a handful of other hikers, maybe 4 between 2 groups before hitting the South Fork Trail. At this point, my hiking partner, Dan, began to slow down quite a bit. It got got to the point where we’d hike for 3 or 4 minutes and then take a 2 minute break. I was getting agitated with the stop and go pace we had adopted, and I told Dan we need to pick up the pace. His response was “What’s the rush? We have until 9pm.” This was Dan’s 2nd hike ever, and he thinks it’s not going to be a big deal hiking until complete darkness and then trying to find a campsite. He was totally fine with this. Well, not me. “I’d rather cover my mileage in as few hours as possible, and have the rest of the day to explore and relax as I see fit,” I said. Dan snapped, “Well, I don’t want to be rushed. Go ahead and get to the campsite then, I’ll get there.”  Even though I know I shouldn’t have, I left Dan behind and continued on the trail at my own pace. We both had a map and knew where to meet, and as long as he followed the trail, we’d meet up. That was my thinking at that point.

 

slow going along the south fork trail

South Fork Trail… basically, the stream is the trail

hiking the south fork trail

looking up from south fork trail

Hiking solo, I pushed on for another hour and a half before stopping for lunch. A pastrami and cheese sandwich was on the menu, which I ate as I air dried my feet near the creek. They were already soaking wet with sweat, but were dry after 25 minutes. I figured after 25 minutes, maybe Dan would have caught up to me, but he didn’t. I hit the trail again, and was really enjoying the hike along he South Fork Whitewater Creek. The canyons were very steep on both sides, and the trail criss-crossed the river many times. It was easy to hop rocks across the river in nearly every crossing because the water level was lower, so that made it easier. It was about 30 minutes after eating lunch that I began to feel like crap. I think t was a combination of dehydration  and maybe that sandwich. I know I didn’t drink enough during the car ride, didn’t want to stop every hour to take a piss. So, I found a comfortable spot on the rocks beside the South Fork Whitewater Creek and laid down for 45 minutes. I hit the trail again once I felt a little better, but still no sign of Dan. At this point I thought he may have turned around and went back to the car, and planned on camping across the street at the campground we stayed at the night before. Or, he’s just incredibly slow!

cooking italian sausages over a fire at camp

I now realized that I was not going to make it to our planned destination today. My new plan was to continue hiking the South Fork Trail until I passed the junction of the Little Whitewater Trail/East Fork Trail, and start looking for a campsite. After passing the above junction, I found a campsite a few hundred yards down the trail. It was within view of the trail, so if Dan was hiking by here, he’d definitely see me. By nightfall, I still hasn’t seen him. Now, I though for sure he’d turned around. My dilemma was to continue without him or to turn around and make sure he was ok. Knowing he had everything he needed to get by on his own, I decided that I’ve driven too far to call off the hike. I really enjoyed my only prior solo hike, a 25 mile loop through the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in October of 2011 and did not mind at all doing another 5 days here by myself if need be. With that in mind, I started a fire and cooked some italian sausages that I kept frozen (well, partially frozen) in my cooler on the car ride here. I always opt for something good my first night such as a burger or brats, since they keep just fine for 1-2 days if kept frozen until you hit the trail… and DAMN, were they delicious!

 

Day 2 – May 14th, 2012

 

looking down the holt apache trail from the golden link trail

Junction of the Holt-Apache Trail and the South Fork/Golden Link Trail

IMG_1192

After filtering some water and refilling my water supply, a 2L Osprey hydration bladder and a 1L water bottle, I hit the trail at 8am. I was making good time and made it to Camp Creek Saddle about 1.5 hours later. I stopped and dropped my pack to climb a small hill to get a view of my surroundings and snap some pictures, then proceeded down the Golden Link Trail towards yesterday’s original destination at the junction of the Golden Link Trail and Big Dry Creek. Little did I know that this was going to be an all day adventure… what was supposed to only be a hike of 3 miles max ended up taking me the entire day! The Golden Link Trail was very difficult to follow in the section Southeast of Camp Creek Saddle, and I was constantly losing the trail and trying to find it again. If the trail was on one of the hillsides next to Camp Creek, I didn’t see it. They were pretty steep anyways, so I opted to hop down into Camp Creek and hike through the river bed. This was very slow going due to huge boulders, flash flood debris, and tons of downed trees. I knew the trail followed the creek, so I wasn’t too worried about finding it again, which I eventually did.

upper camp creek river bed dry

Upper Camp Creek, all dry!

logjam from flash flood debris along camp creek gila wilderness

Quite the logjam here

small waterfall

Where the Golden Link Trail crosses Spider Creek, I dropped my pack to air out my feet and have a snack. Knowing that there are a few waterfalls farther up Spider Creek, I hiked upstream for about 15 minutes. I had planned on exploring Big Dry Creek and Spruce Creek the next day, without my pack, so I decided to turn around and cover more ground today. Now, this is where things began to get really interesting for me. After crossing Spider Creek, I could not find the Golden Link Trail for the life of me. There were cairns stacked on the other side of Spider Creek, so I hopped up there to look for the trail but simply could not find it. I followed several little foot paths on this steep hillside, only to find dead ends and dense shrubbery. I spent about an hour looking for this trail with no luck.I decided to follow Spider Creek downstream to the point where it meets Big Dry Creek, and this point was only a half mile or so from where I was planning on meeting up with Dan.

view from spider creek

Hiking Spider Creek

view of gila wilderness from top of lower spider falls

The top of Lower Spider Falls

I really enjoyed following Spider Creek as it felt very remote. There was no trail here, just following the river. Actually, hiking through it in spots. The canyon walls around me got steeper as I progressed downstream until eventually I was stopped in my tracks by a waterfall that appeared to be 40-60 feet. This was Lower Spider Falls. From my topographical map, I could see this as a potential problem before I began hiking this way, but couldn’t be sure if it was passable of not. Well, it was definitely not passable as sheer cliffs came together in one small point for the water to flow over the edge. I had no choice but to backtrack the way I came. I hiked about halfway back to the Golden Link Trail before finding an area that seemed to have the “least steep” slope, and decided to just hike to the top of the hill that towers over Spider Creek, as I knew the Golden Link Trail was on top of that hill somewhere. If I hike straight up this thing, I have to hit the trail. This was a bitch… having a 50lb pack and hiking through dense vegetation was not helping. I don’t remember how long this took, maybe 45 minutes or an hour, but it was a 700 ft elevation gain. I tried to follow little game trails where I could, but no matter which way I went I was getting scratched up by all the thorn bushes. Finally, near the top of the ridge I hit the Golden Link Trail and was back on track.

hiking the golden link trail

View from the Golden Link Trail

view from the glt

View from the Golden Link Trail near Big Dry Creek

By this time, it was mid to late afternoon. The trail was now descending into Big Dry Canyon via steep switchbacks. This section of the trail was very beautiful, with excellent views of sheer canyon walls all around. I eventually made my way down to Big Dry Creek, which is where Dan and I planned on meeting up the night before. I was planning on camping here tonight regardless, but to my surprise, Dan was already there and had set up his camp just a few minutes earlier. Honestly, we were both surprised to see each other, as he thought I was way ahead of him, and I thought he’d gone back to the car. Although Dan had reached our destination before I had, he did not lose the trail as I did and was hiking the whole day to get to this point.

camping alog big dry creek

Camp for nights 2 and 3

From the topographical map, this area looked like it would be a good place to camp as the banks of the river looked wide. In reality though, like everywhere else in the Mogollon Mountains, there were no flat areas to camp, at least not like I had expected. Dan found a small area on the hillside that was just large enough to fit his tent, while I set mine up on a large, semi-flat rock that sat about 8 feet above Big Dry Creek. However, it was not as flat as it looked and no matter which way I positioned the tent, it was pretty slanted. I found some flat rocks to put underneath my tent to level it out, and it was almost comfortable. Good enough, now it’s time to start thinking about a fire. There was a bit of an “island” in the center of the creek with just rocks and gravel, and this is where we made our fire.

We began to plan out our next move on the map as we ate and enjoyed the fire. Tomorrow, we’d stick to our original plan, which was to have our 3rd day as an “exploration day”. The plan was to follow Big Dry Creek and find some waterfalls, and explore off trail.

Day 3 – May 15th, 2012

We woke up around 7am, ate breakfast, and headed up the Big Dry Creek by 8am. For this trip, I thought I’d try something new. We each brought a small Camelbak hydration backpack, with some storage space for food, camera, change of clothes, etc to use for this day over our full sized packs. Yes, it was more weight (around 1.8 lbs) and bulky, but it was worth it on this day. I laugh as all the ultralight backpackers cringe at this idea, but for me, having extra conveniences that make your life easier are worth the extra weight. Another thing I chose to do today was to wear my hiking boots while exploring upstream over my water shoes. Most of the time we were hoping rocks and hiking right through the creek itself because the banks were either too steep or covered with thick vegetation. As rocky as this creek was, my feet were sore as hell from trekking a 1/4 mile in it the night before, so I opted for comfort over keeping my feet dry. I’m glad I did, because I don’t think my feet could have taken that kind of beating for an entire day. Sure, my boots got soaked as they were occasionally dunked in the water halfway up my shins, but at the end of the day it was a good decision. Dan chose to wear his Vibram FiveFinger shoes, which were a lot more sturdy than my water shoes. Although his feet were sore at the end of the day, I know they provided a lot more protection than my cheapo Walmart water shoes would have. Maybe I’ll pick up a pair before my next trip.

hike through big dry creek

Hiking upstream through Big Dry Creek

big dry creek ascent

Dan climbing his way up Big Dry Creek

beautiful waterfall pools along big dry creek

Posing in front of a waterfall. Later, we’d swim here

Hiking up Big Dry Creek was awesome. We encountered several smaller sized waterfalls, with the largest being around 15 feet or so. The farther we went upstream, the more rugged the terrain became. Every so often, we’d run into something we weren’t sure we’d be able to get around, such as some extremely large boulders or steep canyon walls. At one point we had to squeeze through a narrow opening at the end of a small cave to continue up river. We took our time and enjoyed this relaxing day, because tomorrow we’ll have to hike up to Black Mountain, a 4,000 ft elevation gain from our current campsite.

exploring upstream

Dan squeezing through a small opening in a small cave

We turned around sometime in the early afternoon and headed back. We stopped at one of the waterfalls we passed earlier in the day and were tempted to swim in the pool at it’s base. We were both filthy from 3 days of backcountry travel, and although the water was freezing, the warm weather and beauty of the waterfall proved to be irresistible. Dan jumped first after taking a few minutes to build up the courage. As soon as he resurfaced, he quickly swam ashore. I laughed at his reaction to the icy water, but it was my turn next. My feet hit bottom, and I guessed it was around 8 feet deep. I lasted no longer than Dan, and instantly got out. That water was numbingly cold, but it felt great to be somewhat “clean” again.

We got back to camp in the late afternoon, and after a quick break, we headed downstream on the Big Dry Creek. I wanted to get to the bottom of Lower Spider Falls, the waterfall that stopped me in my tracks the day earlier. I had scouted this area earlier, and only made it a few hundred feet from our camp before the canyon walls narrowed and the water dumped into a pool that appeared to be 6 feet deep or so, even at the edges. We found an area on the hillside that looked manageable to climb up and go over the canyon wall, but it was steep. We made it over and only a few hundred feet downstream, we were again stopped by a similar situation. Another deep pool with no way around it. I found another way around, but this hill was steeper and much taller than the last. It was maybe 200ft up, and it was getting a bit hairy. I used a stick as an improvised “ice axe” to keep from sliding down which really helped. After making it to the top of this ridge, we could see Lower Spider Falls. However, the ridge we were on appeared to get very steep and we didn’t see an easy way down to the river again. It was around 6:30 at this point and we decided to turn around.

trek downstream along big dry creek

Trying to progress downstream on the Big Dry Creek

Lower Spider Falls From South Side OF Big Dry Creek

View of Lower Spider Falls. I wish we could have gotten closer!

For dinner I thought I’d try one of those freeze-dried meals. It was the Natural High brand, honey lime chicken. After pouring boiling into the bag, it says to wait 10-12 minutes or so. Mine was in there for a half hour or so, next to the fire keeping it warm, and it never absorbed all the water. It tasted kinda funky and I ended up throwing the bag in the fire, and eating something else. Dan, however, was really impressed with his Mountain House meals, especially the lasagna. We sat by the fire and ate some sour patch kids (the best snack when backpacking!) and watched the stars for a while before turning in around 10:30.

campfire on island bank in creek

Enjoying a fire at camp

Day 4 – May 16th, 2012

 

inside an old mine shaft

Exploring an old mine along the Golden Link Trail

old cabin along the trail

Today is the day Dan has been dreading. A 4,000ft elevation gain up to Black Mountain on the Golden Link Trail, and then we’ll push on to Spruce Creek Saddle via the Holt Apache Trail. After hiking for about a half hour, we passed an older man with his dogs camping alongside the trail. This was the only person we saw out here our entire trip, beside people near the trailhead and along the Whitewater Trail. A little farther down the trail we passed the Golden Link Cabin. It’s always amazing to me seeing something like this in such a remote place. The next section of the trail offered some great views, but the switchback were relentless! We also found a old mine which was not blocked off, so we decided to explore inside. We dropped our packs and with our headlamps on, entered the mine and were only able to make it a few hundred feet in before it dead ended. There was nothing of interest to see in here so we hit the trail again.

good view from golden link trail

Hiking the Golden Link Trail up to Black Mountain

view from trial up black mountain

Heading up to Black Mountain

By late morning, we made it to the point where the Golden Link Trail crosses Big Dry Creek. We had hoped to filter water here, but at this altitude, the creek was nothing more than a trickle. We were almost out of water and there wasn’t going to be any water for quite a while, so it as imperative to fill up here. We followed it “downstream” a ways and found a small pool that was suitable for drawing water from. After loading up on H2O and eating lunch, we headed for the top of Black Mountain. On our way up, we noticed a fire not far in the distance, over the next ridge. We did not see any flames, but plenty of white smoke billowing up from the forest and staying somewhat low in the valley. Because of it’s small size, I thought it may have been a controlled burn. We moved on eventually made it to the summit, but we were sorely disappointed to find that there was no view as it was blocked by thick tree cover. Nothing to do now but push on to Spruce Creek Saddle. Now on the Holt Apache Trail, the terrain was not as steep which was a nice break. We hiked another hour or so before reaching our destination. Camp Creek Saddle is a large open meadow, a welcome sight in the Gila. Everywhere we’ve been so far was steep, rocky, and covered with thick fauna. Although we were not near a water source, there was a large fire pit area and plenty of firewood at hand.

first view of the fire

First view of the Gila Fire on our way up Black Mountain

campsite at Spruce Creek Saddle

Spruce Creek Saddle

Although we were a good ways away from the fire we saw earlier, it was still on my mind. I turned on my cell phone and was surprised to have signal, albeit only one bar. FYI, I have Sprint. I was able to search google for “gila fire” and the first result was from the forest service’s website, and in the description it mentioned a prescribed burn scheduled for May 9th that was postponed. I tried to click on it to read more but apparently I did not have “enough signal”, as the page would not load. So, I optimistically assumed that this fire was a controlled burn. This was comforting and helped us sleep a little better.

Day 5 – May 17th, 2012

Today we will hike the Holt Apache Trail to Spider Saddle, then take the Deloche Trail through Winn Canyon and finally to the Whitewater Creek Trail. This day was going to be almost all downhill, which was a relief after a hard day yesterday. We would also cover more ground than any other day, 13.8 miles.

mountains fade to desert

View from the Holt Apache Trail between Indian Peak & Grouse Mountain

 

I woke up at 6am as I have been doing most days on this trip. Like every morning, I walk over to Dan’s tent and wake him up since he doesn’t have a watch with an alarm. And, like every morning, he says “Ok, I’m up”, but continues to sleep until I wake him again in a half hour. Eventually, we get moving and hike the Holt Apache towards Grouse Mountain. The topo shows a clearing near the summit, and we were hellbent on getting some mountaintop views one way or another. We dropped our packs on the trail, put on our Camelbaks, and hiked the 1 mile trail to the summit. The trail was difficult to follow after a certain point, and we ended up just bushwacking our way to the top. Even up here, there were remnants of an old cabin or mining operation. Pieces of metal bed frames and other objects littered the summit .

overlooking whitewater baldy fire new mexico

helicopter flying above a forest fire

Helicopter flying through the smoke of the fire

view from grouse mountain

When we got to the top, we found ourselves on the edge of a cliff with a spectacular view of the Mogollon Mountains. We saw another forest fire burning in the valley below, which appeared to be in Lipsey canyon near Redstone Park along the Whitewater Trail. We spent a good hour up here scrambling down to various ledges to get pictures of ourselves and the fire below, eating lunch and relaxing. We even saw a helicopter flying through the smoke surveying the fire. Little did we know that this fire would grow into the largest fire in New Mexico state history! It’s still burning as of June 10th 2012 and is now 278,000 acres, or 434 square miles.

With a lot of ground to cover, we descended Grouse Mountain and jumped back on the Holt Apache. Shortly thereafter, we made a wrong turn and headed down a side trail to Nabours Spring instead of staying on the main trail. We were going down steep switchbacks for a while and eventually the trail just ended. We found ourselves on the side of a steep slop with a long way to go to the top. We stopped and I consulted my GPS and topo, and discovered our mistake. If we continue to head down, this will put us in a canyon with no trails and difficult terrain. Our only choice was to head back up the way we came. This probably set us back an hour, but it happens.

filtering water from whitewater creek

Filtering water from Whitewater Creek

hiking the whitewtaer trail

Whitewater Trail

Back on track, we found the Deloche Trail and hiked towards Whitewater Creek. Somewhere along this trail, we both ran out of water. We didn’t have much farther until we reached the creek so we kept a good pace all the way there. Once we hit Whitewater, we began to see a steady flow of other hikers in the area. We passed a group of guys who had just left Redstone Park the day earlier, and asked us if we saw any rattlesnakes. We hadn’t but he said he’d seen three. With all the climbing we did, we were surprised to hear that, and lucky we hadn’t. We stopped along the creek to filter water and cool off. Down in the bottom of the canyons was much hotter than it was a day earlier at 10,000+ feet.

whitewater trail scenery

forest fire smoke

Smoke from the forest fire behind us

whitewater creek campsite

Night 5 campsite along Whitewater Creek

We were worn out now, but needed to cover a few more miles today so that our hike back to the car tomorrow morning is a short one. We hiked another 4.3 miles until we reached a campsite at the junction of the Whitewater Trail and South Fork Trail. After making camp, we filtered more water and tried to rehydrate. I had been pissing dark yellow for a while now and chugged a few liters over the course of the night. We had a fire going, but it was pretty warm out and we were too tired to keep it going. Our last night in the Gila Wilderness was pretty low key. We both passed out around 9:30 or so, maybe earlier.

Day 6 – May 18th, 2012

I don’t think it matters where you are, but for me, I am ready to go home on my last day anywhere. Today was no different, and our car was only a 2.8 mile hike away. I ate the last of my food for breakfast, something I’ve never done before. Usually, I pack a little too much food. In all fairness though, I did plan this trip for 5 days, but since we made such good time driving we were able to get a sixth day in. Now foodless, we hit the trail and embarked on what seemed like a much longer trek than when we hiked this stretch on our first day.

Whitewater Trail nearing the Catwalk Trail

Whitewater Trail nearing the Catwalk Trail

hike along the white water trail mogollon mountains

I hadn’t noticed hiking through here a few days earlier, but the the two sides of the canyon seemed to have very different types of ecosystems. One side was dry and looked like a desert, complete with cacti, while the other was forested and more lush looking. Looking back the way we came, we could see the smoke from the fire we saw earlier over the mountains.

red rock formations gila wilderness near catwalk trail

Near the Whitewater Trail/Catwalk Trail junction

Now on the Catwalk Trail, we passed an older couple on a day hike. They asked if that was my “small black car” in the parking lot, and I said yes. Apparently we were now the only ones here. When we finally reached the car, there was a forest ranger there who told us they had just sent in rangers on horseback to look for any hikers still out there, as they have closed all the trails in this area due to the fire. He told us that lightning caused the fires and that it was around 400 acres as of this morning.

After changing out of our dirty clothes and packing our gear into the car, we left the Whitewater Picnic area around 10:30am. On our way back home, we thought it might be cool to check out the Mogollon Ghost Town nearby. Supposedly the town was abandoned in the 1940’s when WWII broke out. After the price of silver plummeted, the town went under and it was abandoned. Heading north on hwy 180, make a right on Bursum Rd and go down about 10 miles. The drive in was more impressive than the ghost town though. The road was steep and had no guard rails, and had great views of the land below. There were farms that butt upp to this road that had no fences, and there were cows wandering in the road at times. Once we got into the “ghost town”, we saw at least 3 houses the were inhabited. One guy had his sprinkler on and had a green lawn. There was a small museum and some other types of shops here, among a few old buildings like a saloon. From what I had read though, it was supposed to be abandoned, but clearly it was not. We turned around and headed back to hwy 180 and began the long drive back home.

Final Thoughts

The Gila Wilderness is an ass-kicker! The terrain is rocky and rough everywhere you go. The trails can be difficult to follow, and it would be easy to get lost here without a GPS or a topographic map (and knowing how to use it). It’s a very rugged place with a real feeling of solitude everywhere except for the Catwalk and Whitewater Trails, as this is where all but one of the people we encountered were. There are opportunities abound for those wishing to explore off trail, but in doing so you will find that the terrain can be a real challenge. Although we were able to hop rocks across every stream we encountered, other times of the year you would certainly need water shoes for stream crossings.

All in all, it was an excellent trip and I would love to visit another area of the park someday. Hopefully the forest fire doesn’t destroy the entire park, as it would be a shame to see this beautiful place scarred on such a massive level. I’m glad I got to see it before (and during) the fire, and I hope they are able to contain it soon so that others can enjoy it in the future.

Complete Gila Wilderness Photo Gallery

 

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.

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