Best Backpacking Trip Ever!
May 28-31, 2016
After a successful backpack along this remote New Mexico creek in early May, we vowed to return in warmer weather. Luckily Josh and Carole were both able to take an extra day off work. We met them Saturday morning as usual at the Alma Grill, then pushed up the creek about a mile past our previous campsite to a second campsite near the dramatic remains of the Valentine Mine.
The next morning we continued up canyon, which is heavily forested with wonderfully varied scenery, from tight canyons to wide grassy meadows, and always with those soaring and violently tormented volcanic peaks as a backdrop.
The trail, which we thought would be totally overgrown, was in great shape, thanks to the Volunteer Friends of the Outdoors doing trail maintenance just ahead of us! We came across their campsite another mile upstream.
Josh was itching to see if we could make our way up and out of the canyon via the Log Canyon trail. We thought it would be washed out like so many steep canyons in the Gila National Forest in the aftermath of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire. We located the trail, and although the first section was rather loose and shaley, we were astonished to find the canyon virtually untouched by fire or flood, with sudden views down into the creek glimpsed through a lush forest of Ponderosa Pine. It was plenty steep — we ascended over 1100 feet in about one mile — but we made it all the way to the saddle at 7200 feet.
Since it was already 3:00 pm local, Dennis and I decided to return to camp, while Josh and Carole jogged downhill to the town of Mogollon. They made it there just in time to enjoy a root beer float at the Purple Onion! They even brought us back a piece of pecan pie! Dennis and I took our time hiking back and had a nice splash in an icy pool just short of the mine.
It was an easy hike out the next morning — just over two hours this time — and we made a beeline for burgers and purple slaw in Mogollon. We also visited the newly refurbished museum, which had filled up with 2½ feet of mud in the big flood of 2013.
Since it was still early, we decided to venture up Bursum Road. The road climbs to Silver Saddle at 9200 feet, but it was in good shape despite evidence of major fire and flood damage for virtually its entire length.
The terrain changed dramatically at the junction with Gillita Creek. Here nearly every tree had been burnt to a crisp, leaving Gillita Ridge absolutely shorn of vegetation. On the far side of the ridge we emerged on a vast open plain, with see-forever views in all directions. From there we hooked south into the natural amphitheater of Snow Lake, a Colorado-style high elevation lake — man-made of course — surrounded by rolling yellow hills with just a sprinkling of pine forest.
It was spitting rain when we arrived, but it let up just long enough for a hike along the shore to the rock dam at the south end of the lake. This area is a birder's paradise! We saw great blue herons, Western meadowlarks, Gould's turkeys, grackles, Western bluebirds and of course lots of turkey vultures and ravens. The Middle Fork trail from the Visitor Center at the Gila Cliff dwellings has its northern terminus here!
We topped off the trip with a visit to Catwalk, which reopened the previous day, and a farewell lunch at the Alma Grill. Yup, best backpacking trip ever!