When Spring arrives here in New Mexico places like the Gila Wilderness in the Southwestern part of the state come alive. I try to come back every year to witness this great spectacle.
Last April Rowan (boxer mutt) and I hit the road and headed South to one of the countries largest wilderness areas. The drive alone from Santa Fe is rewarding, particularly once you get off the interstate and start making your way up and over the black range. Elk appeared as we passed the ghost town of Kingston, followed by dropping temps as we climbed up to Emory Pass. Travelling the winding roads at dark will challenge anyone passing through. The roads into the Gila are actually the most exciting part for the majority of the visitors. Into what seems like the middle of nowhere we went, finally reaching a car camp spot just shy of the Cliff Dwellings Nat’l Monument. Rowan literally just spent the last two hours with her head out the window. She remembers this place as well as I.
We found our way up the brushy first few miles of the West Fork of the Gila River. Awaiting us around a bend was our first wildlife encounter; a rattlesnake warned us of it’s presence. Whew! Those are always scary encounters as nearly every time I’ve come across these special life threatening creatures it’s almost too late! It hit me! With it being such a dry Winter we would probably encounter plenty of wildlife as our 40+ mile loop would almost be entirely near water. As we made our way deeper into the wilderness our senses heightened as they always do in places such as these. The continuous unbridged crossings of the river were pleasant and offered a reprieve from the dry upper banks. Down low was like a jungle though. After a few nice rests in Gods country we arrived at our first camp near the “Hells Hole” junction. I dropped my pack and spent a very tiring hour or so bushwacking trying to find our overland trail. Finally a trail junction presented itself, and I realized the map I had was poorly marked.
In order to beat the heat we broke camp early and made our dry, 8 mile trek over the mesa to the incredible Middle Fork. All but two junctions were marked on our way over. The highlight was passing “Prior Cabin” and reading engraved markings from hot shots and wilderness patrol. Some dated back even 40 years. Views into the deep Middle Fork were a nice sight, but also a difficult reality to face, as I knew we still had several miles before we’d reach the canyon bottom. Finally we did, and just about collapsed on a beach along the quiet stream. Poor Rowan was beat. You could see it in her eyes. On we kept to the Meadows, passing some of the most wildly beautiful country I’ve seen in the Southwest. The bends in the canyon were lined with towering craggy rock spires shooting upwards of 500 feet in places. And the river itself wide and so undisturbed. Shallow but inviting. A Red Fox spotted us from a thicket on the other side. It wasn’t bothered by us one bit. Rowan didn’t spot her. We made camp in the forest by the popular “meadows”.
CDT hikers were everywhere the next morning. So much for the solitude I thought. I guess the path was re-routed this year due to the very dry black range. Despite the seemingly crowded feeling, especially after the last two days, it was very cool to meet and exchange stories with some of these incredibly determined individuals. I was sure to make time for a dip in Jordan Hot Springs. Revitalizing to say the least. The beauty of the canyon persisted the whole way to our junction with Bear Canyon, but just prior another rattler waited for us. This time it was a Diamondback and very large and in charge. Whew again! We made it passed unscathed. We took a very long relaxing break at the mouth of Bear Canyon, taking in this spectacle and trying to grasp the grandeur of this incredibly wild and scenic place. How grateful I am to be a part of this I felt. To be connected and to be one with my surroundings on such a profound level. This feeling was carried deep within me as we hiked up and over returning to the West Fork Drainage. The sun was nearing the horizon casting shadows in all the right places and the quietness felt like a dream come true. Thank you for this experience, for this land, for this time, and for this desire to be here challenging myself, and in turn becoming one with one of the most beautiful places in the World.
As the Santa Fe National Forest came to a close last June, the nearby, massive, and quite remote Carson Nat’l Forest was calling. As an avid explorer of the Southwest and a local Santa Fean I’ve been lucky enough to explore this land that offers a feeling of never-ending solitude and relentless beauty.
With the closure, much of the Pecos wilderness is inaccessible, except for the wild Northern section which only encompasses a few drainages, but these are some of the best kept secrets of the state.
I packed up my 4runner for a car camping adventure. The days are long now and the evening temps almost perfect. Windows down and only open road ahead. As I passed some of the small run down villages on the high road dusk turned to dark. Off the pavement and onto the smoothly graded dirt road that led me past El Valle and eventually to the Trampas Lakes trailhead. Camp was made in a flash and off to sleep on beautiful Mother Earth I went.
On the trail by 9, hiking along a clear stream the whole way to the impressive alpine Lakes. After a short rest by the inlet of one of these pristine bodies of water the real climbing would begin. The ascent route looks daunting from either lake as the entire ridge and slopes below are covered in giant craggy rock spires. Many gullies present themselves, but to choose the right one could prove tricky. Rock hopping in a giant boulder field at the base of this ridge provided great views into some of the upper gullies. Finally a smooth, wide slope mixed with grass and scree presented itself. This was the way to go. Upon topping out I noticed a small cairn that looked like it had been untouched for decades. Cool! Although any sight of man in natural settings can be a turn off, cairns like this can help extremely with navigation.
The steep but non-technical climb to point 12,900 felt wildly remote. The views into the opposing drainages and deep into the Pecos Wilderness were jaw dropping and forced me to stop and take in the magnitude of such a place. The class 4/crux of the climb up Truchas was visible. I approached with uncertainty and a small amount of fear. The exposure was all there! Once atop the crux the going was an easy walk to the Summit crest of one of New Mexico’s most wild places. I had been up here before a few times but had always come up the standard/more easy route. Exploring new routes, whether it’s in a canyon or up a mountain is always rewarding, particularly when you feel like you’re one of a few who have ever stepped foot in that same place.
The World is wide open and just waiting for us to explore it.