We rarely camp more than one or two nights at any one location. But we stayed five days at Snow Lake, and it was barely enough time.
It's a long, grueling drive via Reserve, including 50 miles of mixed gravel and shredded pavement. We break up the drive with frequent stops, including
one in Reserve for ice cream. Ambushed by a desperado, Dennis drew his paleta (statue of Elfego Baca).
We were concerned about the Pass Fire — the first serious fire of the year in the Gila — burning 10 miles to the east of Snow Lake.
But past Reserve we drove through a miles-long prescribed burn, which meant we would be sandwiched between the two.
At the highest point on our drive — about 8500" — the road crosses an enormous burn scar from the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, which burned more than
297,000 acres in the summer of 2013. A decade later, the ridge is still shorn of vegetation. Smoke from the Pass Fire is visible in the distance.
Thanks to our unusually wet spring, Snow Creek was flowing, and Loco Mountain Road was underwater.
A crystal-clear Colorado mountain lake it's not, but this lake on the roof of the world is lovely.
Given the length and difficulty of the drive, it was hardly surprising that Miss Bea Haven was the biggest rig at Dipping Vat Campground.
Cats were happy to have more time to settle in and, in Elio's case, to go outside and eat grass.
Just below the dam, Gilita Creek flows in from the west, drawing water all the way from the Mogollon Crest. A lovely trail follows the creek through a narrow canyon six miles to Gilita Campground.
The Gilita is lined with craggy cliffs of basalt, and lots of talus.
The canyon stays narrow, and there are countless small waterfalls.
"Haut les mains!"
Lizard sunning him/herself on the rocks, with some brilliant blue on the belly.
A verdant natural arch
Claret Cup Cactus.
Tracks of a raccoon?
An impressive beaver dam is under construction at the confluence of the Middle Fork and Gilita Creek.
Carping the diem. They were flailing wildly at their spawning ground in the shallows near the dam.
Full moon rising over Snow Lake.
A bushwhack to the top of Gilita Ridge, a stony 8300' backbone between the Snow Lake and Gilita watersheds, was way more interesting
than it should have been.
Big view of Snow Lake from the top of Gilita Ridge.
The top of the ridge was broad and park-like, with a canopy of giant ponderosas and almost no underbrush. An old forest road winds through a recovering burn scar at the top of the ridge.
At the far end, we stumbled onto a rough trail that followed an undulating ridge of sharply eroded volcanic tuff all the way back to the campground.
Snow Lake to Iron Creek
From below the dam at Snow Lake, a trail leads south about 20 raven-miles, to join with with the East and West Forks of the Gila River. We followed this trail to the confluence with Iron Creek, about nine miles round trip. Some shaggy javelina are visible at lower right.
The trail meanders back and forth across the stream, and through park-like meadows shaded by towering ponderosa pine.
One of countless water crossings.
A particularly beautiful bend in the river.
Proof that we made it all the way to Iron Creek!
Iron Creek at the confluence.
Near the confluence was an enormous snag of deadfall, likely swept downstream after a wildfire.
A lone Engelmann spruce. How did it get here? Its forest green contrasts sharply with the olive green of most high desert trees.
Claret cup cactus seem to thrive in solid rock.
Frog or toad?
Part of a herd of more than 20 elk, at 8500. They are shedding their winter coats, and the one on the right is wearing a collar.
We saw so much wildlife — more elk than we could count, whitetail deer, javelina, beaver, lots of horned lizards, spiny lizards, spawning carp, kettles of turkey vultures,
killdeer, bluebirds, ravens, swallows, red-tailed hawks, black hawks, a bald eagle, Abert's squirrels, and even a small bear (alas, no photos). What a great place!