Smokebeard Hikes

CDT12 – 218 – Doc Campbells and the Gila

Leaving Silver City

I did the seven-mile roadwalk out of Silver City to Doc Campbell’s Post on the Gila River. Because why not walk on MORE asphalt. Still the walk was not without its diversions. I have no idea why someone has a Ringwraith outside their house.

The trail connected to some dirt roads in a local park, then got on some old USFS roads.  Ran into Gunga Din, Shady, Shadowhawk and Mummy taking a break. They had taken the “red line”, the official trail, some 5 miles longer. They’re younger and faster than I.  We did tons of up and down on old roads, which gradually deteriorated to a rutted rocky 2-track. Maybe an ATV could have handled them, certainly nothing else outside of a horse. Finally it was this.

Eventually the trail reached what everyone called The Hermit Area, where the guy has lived out in the woods for 20-something years. While his homestead isn’t on the trail, he spent a good amount of time maintaining the trail and laying out path for people, probably to ensure that people don’t invade his space. Either way it was great hiking because the amount of route-finding was minimal and you could concentrate on views like this. There was something Tom Bombadil-esque about it. At around mile 11 I camped at this epic area of cool rocks.

The trail regis-tree, get it? Get it?

Day 2

On the second day I made my way down to one of the forks of the Gila river. And by down I mean down an endless series of brutal switchbacks, out of the hot, dry high country and into the canyons. Gorgeous, and glorious water, just there for the taking, after 170 miles of dust. I met up with bunch of other hikers, Whynot, Noodle, Stickman, and bumped into Cricket again. Nobody was in a hurry to hike at noon, wading into the river crossings and unmarked trail.

This trail ain’t gonna hike itself


From here the water crossings began. Ultimately there were 52 between here and Doc Campbells. Most were calf high and a few knee high. One was a hold-your-phone-up-overhead, crotch-high, bbetter-not-slip exciting one. Theres plenty of cows, too. Most alive, some skeletons, and 1 dead one, near/in the water. Trust your filter, I told Stickman. Stickman and I did this section together. Doing crossings with 2 pairs of eyes watching for deep spots is much easier than solo.

Theres also no permanent trail, its just where people are walking this year. Next year the river will wash it away. A bunch of us camped together, about 7 miles from the end, so we could grind out the final few miles in the morning. At the dinner circle, Whynot announced he was getting off trail.  Too old, too tired, he said.  He really missed his family too. He had something like 26 grandkids that he was used to seeing daily.

Day 3

We got up and rolled out early. Stickman and I got to to the road by about 9:30. At the store we met a bunch of other hikers from Silver City, taking zeroes and sitting in the hot springs, including 2 with a dog ( bad idea, don’t recommend, think bleeding feet ). With no time for such frippery, I got my food box and pushed out. I ate a salad though, the first vegetables since Lordsburg. Even though it was prepackaged in a refrigerator, it was delicious.

We got a ride from Lambchop ( a section hiker with a car ) up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and did a side trip to see the actual monument. About 50 people lived here 700 years ago before the southwest started to dry out. Then we did a tiny side trip to see some petroglyphs off the road. From there it was another alternate ( OF the alternate ) that would tie in to the Gila high route. This is yet another tributary trail which keeps you out of the canyon. They’re encouraging people to take it to reduce impact on the river. Also people with torn up feet can take it to avoid getting wet.

Of course we were stupid enough to do it at 1:00 in the afternoon when the sun is at its peak. The intensity of the sun hammers everything flat. To misquote Kipling, “only mad dogs, Englishmen, and thruhikers go out in the midday sun”.

This trail is a little different than the others in that there’s an official route, but also a ton of others. Shortcuts longcuts, roadwalks, non-roadwalks, none of it really matters as long as you keep moving north.

From here begins the 130 mile stretch up the Gila River and through some of the most remote sections of New Mexico. The section ends at a little out-of-the-way place called Pie Town which I understand is a few restaurants a post office and a lot of old abandoned houses.

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