Gillard Hexathlon

March 25-27, 2005

Whose idea was it, anyway, to ride mountain bikes to one of Arizona's most inaccessible hot springs?

The hijacker I mean organizer of this trip failed to take into consideration deep sandy washes, sandstorms and torrential rainstorms. So a relaxed road trip became a multi-sport challenge requiring mountain biking, hiking, hike-a-biking, swimming, dipping and excavating with improbable implements. Fortunately she was accompanied by two Alpha Nerds of sanguine disposition, good humor and a penchant for small firearms.

The trip began with the traditional breakfast at Mother Hubbard's, where I was tossed out rather unceremoniously after knocking over three cups of coffee.

That's okay, I got a refill at the Mother Lode in Wilcox (I re-loded).

After more snacks at the Kopper Kettle Kafe in Morenci, we turned down the Black Hills Byway and parked the Jeep by the side of the rough road that leads to Gillard Hot Springs.

Stupendous errors in judgment became obvious when we coasted into the first wash and were instantly mired in a foot of fine sand. Pushing our fully-loaded bikes up the other side was even more fun.

The reward for our hard work was a hair-raising roller coaster ride down a rocky road that dead-ends on a cliff above a washed-out bridge.

After crossing that brownstone desert, the descent into the lush Gila River Valley always takes my breath away. This spring's heavy rains had completely resculpted the valley, however, burying the former pasture under many feet of silt. We had no trouble locating the hot seeps, but the pools were long gone.

We hustled to pitch the tents and make dinner before an ominous sky made good on its threats.

Overnight, the tents were battered by violent winds, sandstorms and torrential rains.

It was a good test for David's new "Single Man" tent.

Saturday dawned clear and sunny, and we headed downriver on foot, aiming for the confluence of the Gila and San Francisco Rivers.

We were quickly challenged in our morning constitutional by patches of mysterious floating "slowsand" and piles of debris from the recent flooding. Stories of serious wildlife in the area were confirmed by an abundance of hand-sized prints in the mud. There were no claw marks, so it was either a very large bobcat, or ...

With the water running so high, wading around the cliffs was hardly an option, so we hiked to the head of the canyon and followed an old cowpath to an abandoned ranch that was beautifully located at a sharp bend in the river.

After lunch the boys decided to test the waters.

Back at camp and smelly enough to tantalize any mountain lion, we made another attempt at rebuilding one of the pools, using the only tools available -- our bare hands. I said, "we used our bare hands ..."

That hot spring water sure dries out my skin ...

Intruders were hardly a problem, but David and Dennis were ready for anything. "Would you like something from the 40s, or would you rather hear from the 38?"

On the return trip, we "portaged" around the steepest cliff. It was still a hellaciously difficult climb.

This warrants a run to the Sanitary Market in Morenci for chips, salsa and beer!

At Owl Creek Campground, we were lulled to sleep by hoot owls, coyotes and explosions every 18-22 seconds at the copper mine.

We saw so many wildflowers on this trip that we have to create a separate web page. Click here for eye-popping poppies.