Silver City to Snow Lake
In 2011, an 80,000-acre forest fire swept through the Gila National Forest. The Gila River, and the highly recommended route alongside it’s waters, was deemed off limits. I was disheartened to learn of this trail closure as I stood in a ranger station, the parking lot filled with water tanks and fire personnel, several miles north of the tiny town of Mimbres, NM. The alternative would’ve been to hike the Black Range, which is the official CDT, but because I had started from the Columbus terminus and not Crazy Cook, as I did this time, the logistics of connecting a route from where I then stood would’ve proved tricky and plus, it’s a very dry route. So instead I hiked a very, very long detour, following a gravel roadway through little shade along a road called North Star. This time, however, the fire danger was low, and the weather was perfect for a trek alongside, and across, the Gila River.
The route up the Gila is unique, and without a doubt a highlight of the CDT. The river winds it’s way south, bending around horseshoe curves, it’s water at times a brilliant shade of deep teal and green. It’s a desert river, and a lazy river at low flow, no more than knee deep. I walked across its width more than a hundred times, fortunate to have trekking poles to keep my feet from sliding out from under me. Meanwhile, terracotta cliffs and conical, castle-like pillars loomed above. What struck me as most impressive along this route, however, was not the beauty of the river as little riffles wander past bright green tuffs of tussock grass, or the countless birds gliding past caves, or the stark unique character of such a desert canyon, but instead it was the evening, after nightfall, that most mesmerized me. The canyon walls would ascend vertically, lifting my eyes to its jagged siloutte, an irregular heartbeat at best. And there, above the canyon, was a sky full of stars. I’d wake in the night and watch as the big dipper would arc across the blackness of the night, then fall upon the canyon walls, finally disappearing until the next night.
I hiked this segment with Early Bird and Squirrel, two amazing women similar in age and pace to my own. I am so fortunate to have shared these miles with these women, our bond being instantaneous. We shared stories, goofed off, and helped motivate one another throughout the day as the route is not as easy as it may sound. Don’t be fooled though, the Gila is a tricky section as the canyon has seen many flood and fire and as a result the tread is inconsistent, and there is ample debris to wander over. Overgrown willow, oh my dear friend willow, whips at the wanderer.
Besides the river, the other highlight along the Gila River Route is the hot springs. The ladies and I soaked at private springs in the morning, where our fantasy came true when the host brought us three mugs of coffee. These springs were gorgeous, with 105-degree water, and smooth pebble floors. The classic cliffs of the Gila provided a beautiful backdrop to our well-deserved morning respite. And the best part: it cost a mere $5. By evening, after a quick stop at a tiny little campstore to satisfy our craving for homemade ice cream, and also to pick up our resupply packages, and also after a side trip to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, we would return to the Gila, the Middle Fork now, which offered better tread and another soak in Jordan Hot Springs. A trailside hot spring, it wasn’t nearly as hot, but it was rejuvenating nonetheless and our bodies would all benefit from the day’s two soaks.
And that folks is the perk of the CDT. Not necessarily the hot springs, but the fact that there is abundant routes to choose so as to explore more country, or to indulge in a little homemade coffee ice cream.