Middle Fork Warm Springs

October 22-24, 2010

This was our first trek with Tucson Backpackers. We finally met some other folks who want to carry a load, walk all day and sleep on the ground with the scorpions and the rattlesnakes!

I couldn't let the Fall go by without a return trip to the Middle Fork. The Gila is the Southwest's largest and loveliest wilderness area, and when the cottonwoods and Sycamores turn to gold, there's nothing like a long walk along the icy river followed by a good warm soak.

As usual, we arrived late from Tucson and car camped at Gila Hot Springs Ranch, whose hot pools make it possible to crawl out of tent when it's 30 degrees at dawn.

With stops to say "hello" to Dean and Moe at the Wilderness Lodge, we didn't hit the trail until 11:00 a.m, but no worries. One of the beauties of backpacking is that there's no need to rush home before dark.

It was a sunny and 60-something day — perfect, in other words — and the scent of the Ponderosa pines filled the air as we dropped into Little Bear Canyon.

Where Little Bear empties into the Middle Fork, we changed into our river shoes and prepared to cross the stream 15 times. By then we knew that between the four of us, we speak 11 languages, so we used as many of them as possible to count the number of crossings (and somehow ended up with 15½).

The pool was every bit as remarkable as I recalled — a good 30 feet across and crystal clear, with a constant temperature of about 95°. We followed up with a dramatic campfire powered by a single aromatic tree root.

Another good soak in the morning and it was time to put on our wet river shoes for the trek downstream. John and I-Chun picked up the pace to rejoin Jim D for the drive back to Tucson, while Dennis and I wandered through fields of tall yellow grass, lingered in the shade of enormous Sycamore trees, and splashed in itinerant waterfalls.

What a great place! Among the few other hikers we met were three people who were on the last leg of the Continental Divide Trail — 3100 miles in four months from the Canadian border to Mexico — including "Lost and Found" and Tracy (aka "Stretch"). I heard one of them say that the Gila Wilderness was the most beautiful part of the trip!

It's not hot and its name isn't "Jordan"

This time we actually checked the official name and GPS coordinates on NOAA's "Thermal Springs List for the United States". Our warm springs are clearly identified as "MFG 2" and "MFG 3" (although the coordinates are slightly off). We scoured Jordan Canyon in search of "MFG 1", but there's no hot water anywhere near those coordinates. Case closed.