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Home » Adventures » CDT » Journal » New Mexico » Gila National Forest & River

CDT: Gila National Forest (Pie Town to Lordsburg)

October 13

Leaving the hospitality and comforts of the Toaster House was difficult, but a little after sunrise I was back on the trail. The exodus from Pie Town was another twenty miles on gravel roads, but being physically and mentally refreshed made the walk much less mundane. A brand new pair of shoes and socks also greatly helped. I eventually reached jeep tracks in the Apache National Forest and hiked back up to color change. I did not locate the lookout atop Mangas Mountain but still saw a nice sunset. I camped a little below the summit and enjoyed a crisp October night. After three consecutive nights away from my tent, it unexpectedly felt a little comforting when I zipped myself inside the small shelter tonight.

Myself tucked snuggly inside my tent

October 14

I veered off the roads for a couple miles in the morning along a trail marked “CTD” (sic), but that was in fact the correct path. I wound up near a campground which I visited just to use the primitive facilities, but hunters using it as a base invited me over for coffee. I was not much of a caffeine addict, but did not want to be rude and turn down such a generous offer either, so I enjoyed a cup of Joe with them. Before that was down they had finished cooking and shared some great breakfast burritos and a southwest stew with me. It sure beat my normal Pop-Tart. For once when hunters asked, I had seen an elk that morning, which they were very interested to hear about. We chatted for a while, but I eventually had to bid them adieu to hike some miles.

That was delayed though as a quarter mile down the road I spotted the two GDT bikers I met in Pie Town just leaving their camp. I said hello and more conversion left me not making any forward progress. Finally though, they pedaled and I walked. I spent the afternoon along jeep roads through the forest and managed to yogi even more food and drink off a passing ATV. I did not go hungry today.

In the evening the trail turned to single track and had a big climb over Wagontongue Mountain, which I did not finish until nearly sunset, so I slumbered on top of it.

A very fancy CDT marker
A taranchula. I saw several of these crawling on the ground in New Mexico
The water tank next to a windmill. Would you drink out of this? I did.

October 15

Another day through the Gila Wilderness — much on roads, but a good amount of tread too. The trail sections had quite a few ups and downs and some decent climbs. I passed through burned sections too, but to my untrained eye they seemed too small and recovered to be the remnants of the conflagrations that overwhelmed the Gila Forest this spring. Still, no trail work had been done there since the fire went through.

I had water issues, as all the usual water sources in Cox Canyon were dry or had very questionable water. I even came across a dead bear at Davis Spring. He had been there a few days and emitted a ravenous odor. I guess there really were bears in these parts. I have not hung my food at all in New Mexico either.

South of Cox Canyon was a long stretch with no notes about available water, and I had completely run out by then. I went to explore a well marked on my map, but with no Ley notes, and happened upon a cattle tank a little beforehand with water pouring into it. Before I could even finish my rejoicing, a hunter pulled up and asked me if I wanted any bottled water — when it rains it pours. Explaining to moguls that I would indeed rather drink from this well water with the cows over your pure, cold water, so I did not have to carry the empty plastic bottles fifty miles was hard. Sometimes though, accepting the generosity of others is better, even if I did have about five empty bottles in my pack. At least plastic did not weigh much.

October 16 — Gila River

A morning road stretch brought me to a walk through a bone dry canyon before arriving at Snow Lake. From there it was into the much anticipated Middle Fork of the Gila River. No water was flowing from Snow Lake though, and for a minute I thought this staple desert river might be dry, but soon the canyon merged with Gila Creek and water flowed in. The change was significant — from wandering through dry mountains to walking through a river canyon. For the first time in a long while my feet were wet for extended periods of time from constantly fording the river. The canyon was beautiful though.

I still had done much less than half the hundred-plus fords of the river by nightfall.

I came across some fire damage from this spring, but so far at least it seemed to be limited to small, isolated areas and not the large swaths of devastation I feared.

A lonely tree in the dry country side
The Middle Fork of the Gila River
The Middle Fork of the Gila River

October 17

My day began with a stark reminder of how miserable putting on cold and damp shoes and socks could be. From there it was immediately back to crisscrossing the Gila. The canyon was still cool from overnight and my feet felt like blocks of ice each time I emerged from the water. Just as they started to regain feeling, it was time to plunge back across the river. Sunlight took a long time to reach the bottom of the canyon too. All the time I froze, I knew that by the afternoon I would probably be sweltering in this canyon. The day did warm up nicely, which made the endless river crossing much more tolerable. Some sections of the canyon stayed cool though, as they received little, if any direct sunlight this time of year.

The Middle Fork was beautiful — with sheer rock cliffs, bluffs, rock spires, tress, leaves on the ground, rock overhangs, and endless twists and turns. The only problem was I had to mostly look at the ground not to trip, and not up at the scenery around me.

The fords were all easy, being mostly ankle deep over slowly moving water. Seeing the river at a higher CFS would be impressive, but I was happy to deal with the many crossing at this lower volume.

The Middle Fork of the Gila River
Forest along the Middle Fork of the Gila River

October 18 — Cliff Dwellings and Doc Campbell’s

A warmer, but still chilly walk through the last couple miles of the Middle Fork of the Gila River led me to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center, which I arrived at just as they opened. In addition to having much information on the cliff dwellings, the inside was also very warm — a very nice bonus for a backpacker. Unfortunately to see the actual dwellings a CDT hiker must skip most of the Upper Gila River or backtrack on a road. I chose the latter and the hour road trip was worth it. The stone structures were impressive in both overall size and complexity. It contained a myriad of mostly relatively small rooms, but linked together to form a community’s home. These dwellings, however, were only occupied for around a generation.

After exploring the Cliff Dwellings I road walked to Doc Campbell’s, where I finally could eat breakfast and great homemade ice cream, do laundry, and claim my resupply box. I did not venture far from there, camping nearby along the river and spending the afternoon reading and soaking inside the natural hot springs.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings
Doc Campbell’s Vacation Center. Another store which accepted hiker packages.
Myself soaking in the natural hot springs. Thru hiking aint easy.

October 19

For the third morning in a row my feet were wet early, but this time much more pleasurably soaking in the Gila Hot Springs. Being immersed in these outdoor pools while the air temperature was around forty was exhilarating. It just made getting out difficult.

Eventually though I had to be on my way and by mid morning my feet were wet again, although this time in the much colder water of the Gila River. Its flow was higher than the Middle Fork, but the fords were still tame — at most knee deep with little current. Continuing my hike through this desert river was enjoyable, although the canyon was not as remarkable as the Middle Fork. It did however, contain many more plants encroaching on the right of way that possessed all manner of thorns and needles, which wanted nothing more than to embed themselves into my foot. I could not guess how many times I stopped and pulled the prickly pests from my shoes and socks.

Despite the late start from bathing in the hot springs, by the end of the day I finished traversing the Gila River, so at least I should not have any more cold morning fords.

I slumbered at an existing campsite with fire ring.

The hot springs steaming in the cool morning air
The Gila River
The Gila River

October 20

A day though the Gila Forest, with a lot of climbing, twists and turns, interesting rock formations, canyons, forests, and streams. I ended up a few miles out of Silver City, parked hopefully far enough away from a picnic area not to be illegally camping there or be bothered by any dubious overnight revelers, after learning my lesson outside Grants.

A forest covered hillside
Devils Garden
A rock that very much looked like a face

October 21 — Silver City

A morning walk into Silver City brought me to Messiah Lutheran Church in time for Divine Service, my second time in two weeks! Once again hearing the word of God preached and being among His people was a blessing. They even shared some treats being served after church. A generous couple that retired here from Iowa also took me out to lunch, and that fellowship was great. I spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing at my campsite in an RV park, filled with gigantic vehicles.

Historic Silver City sign

October 22

I was not in a rush and lingered around town for the morning. I stopped by Gila Hike and Bike to replace my headlamp supposedly stolen by a packrat overnight and from way back in The Winds I remembered to say hello to one of the employees on behalf of someone I met on Texas Pass. That hiker from The Winds was a snowbird who had just recently arrived back in Silver City. I gave him a call, and we went out to lunch. Dining again with a local and sharing our own adventure stories was great. Meeting up again over two months later and many more trail miles was also a neat experience. Eventually time to leave town had arrived, and I leisurely strolled away, hitting most places to eat on the way out for a couple more lunches and snacks. The day ended with a few miles along a four lane highway.

October 23

I finished the highway walk, half circumnavigating the massive Tyrone Mine. From there I headed back into the woods for more hiking fun. An easy day, as I already bought a train ticket home for the first of next month, but with relatively few miles to the end I had to spread out my travels not to finish too soon. That made staying motivated hard, with a laid back pace, and decent, but no spectacular scenery remaining. I had come this far though, so I had to finish the CDT now.

Walking along a 4 lane road for ten miles is not very fun. At least there was not much traffic.
The large Tyrone Mine

October 24

Today was my last in National Forests, as I hiked my final miles through its mountains and Joshua trees. By the end of the day I was back on BLM land, following the official, marked CDT cross country, through the thorny, plant filled windy plains north of Lordsburg.

The dusty road leading through the arid Gila National Forest

October 25 — Lordsburg

I walked the last couple miles across the plains and along the road into Lordsburg, my last trail town. The city did not have much to do, but I still spent most of the day here, lounging and eating, only having one person offer me money, assuming I was a homeless person in need (I declined the generous offer). I only made it a few miles south of town, ending even a lazy day early.

A desert landscape
Looking back over Lordsburg towards Apache Mountain