Return to Middle Fork Warm Springs

October 2-3, 2021

With the bulk of the home renovations behind us, and the crisp Fall weather just starting, we're eager to continue exploring the Gila National Forest that's now in our backyard. So we planned a two-day backpack along the Gila River, south from Grapevine Campground, in search of a tiny hot spring we visited a decade ago. But we've had a terrific monsoon — 13.7" so far, and 1½" just in the last week. NM Streamflow showed huge spikes on both the West Fork and the main stem Gila River. We checked water levels just below the confluence, and found the Gila flowing fast, dark and furious, perhaps because it rises in the area of the 2021 Johnson fire. So we hiked down to river behind the Visitor Center, where we were surprised to find the Middle Fork flowing crystal clear and mellow. It was an easy decision to redirect to our old favorite trail to the warm springs on the Middle Fork.

Middle Fork at Sunset

The Middle Fork at sunset. We used to hike this trail at least once a year, but fire and floods washed out big sections in 2014-2015, turning the once lush forest trail into a huge boulder field. Our last pilgrimage was six years ago! No doubt there had been many changes, not the least of which was the explosion of interest in this hike. There were 18 cars in the parking lot at TJ Corral! We quickly wrote off the prospect of a warm soak. Bu t no matter, it's still a nice hike.

Rounding the Pass

Brenda T., a new friend from Silver City, joined us for her first backpack in several years. Here's Dennis, Brenda — and Tyger — rounding the pass, with the tough two-mile climb behind us.

First Anniersary Hailstorm Log

As always, Dennis and I stopped to pay tribute to the log where we sat out a violent lightning and hail storm on our first anniversary 14 years ago.

Brilliant Fall Colors

A hint of Fall color, where Little Bear Creek slowly emerges from the sand to trickle toward the Middle Fork.


Lookin' good, Brenda!

Brenda and Dennis

Dennis and Brenda dropping into Little Bear Canyon.

Indian Paintbrush and Locoweed

Summer wildflowers linger. Indian Paintbrush and Locoweed.

Sulphur Butterflies, still groggy from the morning dew.

Late Purple Asters

A Spotted Cucumber Beetle on a Late Purple Aster, photo bombed on the right by what looks like an Orb Weaver Spider!

Me with the Heart Rock

I found a cool "heart rock" right beside the trail.

Lush Forest and Ruddy Cliffs

Classic Gila landscape, all lapis blue, emerald green and chalk white. We were surprised to find the trail in remarkably good shape, thanks to time and some obvious trail work. Past Jordan Canyon, it seemed to us that the trail had been completely rerouted.

Our Campsite

We would have walked right past the warm spring, had we not noticed the small stream rushing down the canyon wall. And we found the traditional campsite just south of the pool abandoned, completely overgrown and criss-crossed by a half dozen small streams. We set up camp on the driest wet spot.

Despite the huge crowd at the parking lot, almost everyone had moved on by the time we reached the pool, and we enjoyed a couple of long and relatively solitary soaks.

me in the warm pool Dennis in the warm springs Colorful Fungi

Colorful fungi growing in the cracks of a fallen tree.

Miribalis Largiflora

Mirabilis Longiflora, a native Gila vascular plant!

Deep Pool on the Middle Fork

It was a wonderful night, with temperatures just cool enough that we really appreciated our warm sleeping bags. I woke up with a very sore back, probably from carrying too much weight (as usual). We really took our time on the way out, but that gave us more opportunities to observe our lovely surroundings. This deep pool at the base of a cliff was very tempting!

Dennis in Little Bear Canyon

Late afternoon sun dancing on the water in Little Bear Canyon. It was after 4:00 by the time we trudged back to the parking lot. But, guess what? No more four-hour drive back to Tucson for us! We're in our backyard now!