October 17-19, 2014
We returned to this canyon after one year with old and new friends from the Tucson Backpackers and we're delighted to see few ill effects from the forest fires and successive floods that have devastated so much of southwestern New Mexico in the last three years. We camped as usual near lower Frisco Box and enjoyed our traditional breakfast at the Alma Grill.
The last 13 miles to the old trailhead were as rough as ever but all the downed trees had been cleared, and we were able to drive all the way to end of the road. This time we easily located the old trail, and by keeping a close eye on our GPS track from the previous year,we were able to head more or less straight downhill toward the campsite instead of wandering off the many game trails that criss-cross the cliff face. And so we were astonished to find ourselves within sight of the stream after just one hour of steep and steady hiking.
The tub is always left empty and someone kindly supplied a scrub brush and a bathtub stopper, so I gave it a good scrubbing and then let it fill while everyone got set up for the evening.
A quick communal soak still left us time for a hike upstream, where we marveled at the wide grassy park-like canyon that meanders peacefully between cliffs of tortured basalt and outcroppings of sculpted volcanic tuff.
Next morning we followed the track of an old road downstream, wandering in and out of sweet-scented forests of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak with dazzling yellow leaves.
Despite high stream flows on the Gila, the upper San Francisco was actually running lower than normal, although thick muck in the stream bed indicated higher water in the very recent past. We were able to make our way partway into the canyon this time, but some turned back after sinking in deep muck up to their knees. The group split up, with some continuing down canyon while others explored a nearby side canyon and eventually scrambled up the back side for a dizzying view of the San Francisco slicing crazily through the Mogollon Mountains.
Then it was back to camp for another marathon soak, followed by dinner and another soak. During the night our 30 per cent chance of rain gave us a good soaking, but rain on a tent roof at night is delightful so long as that roof doesn't leak! We awoke to leaden skies but the rain held off until we had scrambled back up the hill to our vehicles.
On the drive home, very ominous clouds were hovering, and just east of Safford those clouds opened up and produced the most violent rainstorm I have ever experienced. For a solid half hour or more, we drove without being able to see more than 10 feet in front of us. The cotton fields were completely flooded and inching toward the highway. Lightning struck very close by and moments later we passed a smoking power pole.
What a strange year this has been, with the monsoon blending seamlessly into hurricane season. Remember when we lived in the Southwestern DESERT?