Lower Gila Box: The Other Side

March 21-25, 2024

desert scene with stormy horizon

Finally our schedules aligned, a window opened, and we returned to the Lower Gila Box with friends Val, J and Ken, for four days of camping and hiking. Or so we thought!

two mine hiking looking down into a canyon

We had just time before dinner the first night to dash up the nearest prominence. Of course, between here and there two impressive canyons converged.

man walking through field of poppies

The hillside was many feet deep in shards of rhyolite. It sounded like walking over broken pottery.

looking down into Gila River valley

But from the summit we had a fantastic view down into the Gila River valley.

walking back to camp along a hillsdie

Back to camp along a hillside strewn with carpets of Mexican poppies.

two men climbs a steep hill

There was unsettled weather in the forecast, so we used our best day to climb the highest local mountain. We paced ourselves, and all five of us made it to our destination.

rocky summit

This time instead of focusing on the glyphs, Dennis and I made our way around to the north side and eventually to the summit. Yes, now that I knew to look for them, the trincheras were obvious.

view of the Gila river valley

On our first hike, we noticed that the headlands below us were less deeply cut by side canyons than their counterparts on the opposite shore. Perhaps there was easier hiking here, or even access to the river?

two men surveying the view downstream

So off we went on day 3, scouting for the occasional passage that allowed us to drop from one bench to the next.

line of cottonwoods with brilliant spring green foliage

There were wonderful close-in views of the Gila, where the cottonwoods were already dressed in their chartreuse spring finery.

woman on edge of cliff looking downstream

Unlike the steep rhyolite cliffs on the opposite shore, these headlands were composed of deeply sculpted and bubbly volcanic tuff. I could easily imagine that some of the alcoves had served as shelters. And why wouldn't they, since here there was easy access to the river?

field of poppies

There was also a dazzling array of spring wildflowers.

lunch spot on ledge by river

We continued dropping from bench to bench until we made it (almost) to the river. There was a great spot for lunch at a sharp bend just across from a broad and sandy beach.

handpainted sign at the Simpson Hotel

By the time we made our way back to camp, there were curtains of virga on the horizon, and the forecast was calling for high winds and snow showers! What to do? The weather was hardly conducive to outdoor activities, but none of us were quite ready to go home. Val mentioned seeking out a local B & B, and we immediately traveled back in time 11 years ago, when we first sought refuge at the Simpson Hotel in Duncan, Arizona, after the weather went south on another camping trip in the Lower Gila Box.

cuddly cats

Incredibly, the Simpson had just enough rooms for our group for Saturday and Sunday night. And so, while the storm raged, eventually covering the mountains in snow all the way down to 4000', we were warm and cozy at the Simpson, petting cats, checking out the latest additions to the gallery, laughing, telling tales and solving all the world's problems.

We made it home Monday just in time for another freak snowstorm. The "spring" of 2024 is truly one for the record books!