Friday, August 2, 2013

To Gila

To Gila:
Dates: p.m. 7/25-a.m. 7/29
Section Mileage: 118m
VL Mileage: 2087.5m
GET Mileage: 404m

Poverty Creek, normally a trickle of a creek, flows eastward from the Continental Divide. I sat on a picnic table outside the General Store in Winston. I guzzled a soda and watched cars and trucks splash through the now mud-and-water rich Poverty Creek. Most cars pulled up to the store and I would stare at the murky water spots on the cars' windows slowly dry in the sun. The baking in the sun left dirt smears on the windows.

I hiked out of Winston and splashed through most of the muddy puddles on my way to the ghost town of Chloride. As I walked I felt the blazing sun on my neck because I angled it towards the sun. I kept looking at the drying dirt marks left on my legs from the drying water.

went back into the mountains, my channel being a dirt road along Chloride Creek most of the way. Surprisingly pleasant of a walk as it was it got even more thrilling than I ever would think. Near Monument Cabin as I ambled down a drainage I heard a low groan and grumble. I looked up figuring it could be a cloud. I spotted a cow. She held her massive head low to the ground, her snout and mouth oozing in a thick mucous and drool. Suddenly, I heard a sort of squeal, a loud, high pitched moo. The squeal sounded urgent. And I realized 2 calves were blurting out an alarm call. They had been hidden from my sight by a dirt berm and the dense green foliage. They sprinted back to their mother with their tails straight up in the air. The mother raised her massive head and began to rear up on her hind legs. Before she stood straight up she bolted in the calves direction, plunging forward in an expulsion of protective might. Through the dense ground foliage a bear's ears pricked up, then his head and retreating body proceeded to do the same. The cow kept at him, groaning and growling, until the bear was a safe distance away. I watched the bear quite comically retreat up hill through the forest with his waddling furry rump slunked close to the ground.

I have gotten a new respect for cows while hiking the VL. Yea, sure, they muck up water sources. But they also have been companions in lonesome times for me. They also are trailblazers of sorts. I cannot recall how many far off arroyos and seldom seen canyons would have been more difficult to progress through had it not been for the trails the cows stomped out that avoided rocks, jump-offs, and roundabout ways, as well as track to valuable water sources. What I've noticed is that when hikers are most aggravated by cows, like when they are grazing, shitting and pissing, and drinking water in a pristine water source, we should not necessarily blame the cows but rather the land manager or rancher of the cows. I've been through many open lands out West which are managed by responsible ranchers and I've seen the cows act responsibly in nature because they cannot defile the resources. Cattle, given proper guidance and direction, can flourish in a land. As I saw that mother rear up and defend her calves against a bear I began to see more than just big business and slabs of beef and water-muckers. I saw a social beast who is loving, protective and able to adapt to harsh environments. They are playful too. What I've realized is they are a part of the land as anything, especially out here in the West, like it or not.

Now, I'm not all pro-cattle. They still are giant turd piling, filthy, mucous dripping, methane exhausting ungulates that at times make land in-arable...

I hiked along the Continental Divide, the hinterland of North America. To the east, layered the folds of many mountain ranges shadowed by clouds and a dim sun. In the west lay an enormous swath of forest: the Gila.

I descended down the Diamond Creek drainage between 2 super-cells up in the sky. Fortunately for me they never converged but I did noticed why. The wind shifted. The 2 cells, which were from the east were now being pushed by winds from the northwest. I felt a head wind for the first time in a while. I smelled water in the humid air.

I camped that night in Diamond Creek near its confluence with the East Fork of the Gila River. I had hiked in a naggingly light rain in the dusk of the day. The small creek flowed soothingly though in my head I was flustered. The threat of a flood was imminent if that rain continued. I sloshed through thickets of riparian shrubs and bushes. I became drenched and soon I was forced to camp under a grove of cedars situated in what I hoped would be a place high enough up in case the creek swelled exorbitantly.
All night the rain splattered my tarp. I slept in fits, the night becoming lonely, sorrowful and dark; I needed rest. I kept repeating to myself: 'Things'll brighten in the morning.'

I understood my emotions during that night, any time actually, are just fleeting moments. And that once I pulled up to Doc Campbell's for a re-supply and a drying out things would be better.

In the morning, the rain still fell but I felt rejuvenated. I splashed through the creek and a myriad of soggy meadows. I forded the East Fork and encountered 3 campers, my first sight of people out on trail in 3 weeks and in 5 mountain ranges. They passed along to me a ripe apple. I felt so grateful to them. I hadn't had fresh fruit since Santa Fe. I spoke to them of how friendly New Mexicans (I loathe this term, as if it implies other types of Mexicans are old, or different, or out of style) are, more than any other state by far. We talked about demographics, economy, lifestyle, etc. trying to explain the New Mexico friendliness and kindness.

One man said it best, 'I've learned something over the years. And it's funny. What I've found to be true, is that the less people have the more they give.'

That thought resonated with me the rest of the way to Doc's. I kept thinking what can I do to give back more, in better ways.

I avoided the West Fork of the Gila River. Due to the torrential rains and fire scarred land water flowed in massive volumes through the gouged canyon. Brown, muddy water flowed vigorously carrying debris and making the water non-potable. Rather than walk up a canyon in flood stage for 16m that I deemed unsafe, I opted for the high water alternate. Within an hour of walking, high up on a ridge, I knew I had made the right choice. Far behind a black virga, a solid curtain of water, fell from the sky over the confluence of the forks of the Gila River. Up on the ridge, a light rain dappled my poncho as I pleasantly tromped amid a rosy-barked ponderosa pine forest, the air redolent of vanilla. This traipsing along peacefully continued for about 10 more miles. I hadn't had hiking like that on a trail in months.

In the morning, I erupted from my tent to a bright sun fingering its way through gray clouds. I broke camp and a furtive bear slunk away just out of my line of vision. I let him be.

Turkeyfeather Creek and the drainage meandered to Iron Creek carnage showed its ugly face. In the drainages, massive floods of mud, water, rock, trees and other forest matter obliterated trail, any vestiges of a foot path were destroyed. The fire-scarred hillsides could not hold the voluminous flow of water released form the thunderstorms cells above. The line of damage posed in plain view, audacious even, with trees de-barked, large boulders piled up behind a dam of detritus, sand and mud compacted over floodplains, even some of the mud was cemented a good 5 feet up on some of the large ponderosas, and high water marks showed as high as 15ft above the creek channel. The charred forest and drainage echoed with the roar of water. I couldn't even imagine walking through the narrow corridors of the West Fork of the Gila River.

After a quick ford of the muddy Willow Creek I intercepted Bursum Road, which is a high traverse around the Mogollon Mountains. Since I avoided the Gila River, I also avoided the Mogollon Mountains, as the enormous fire of last year charred barren most of the GET route through the isolated range. Bursum Road led around the range and eventually I walked into the mining ghost town of Mogollon, a creepy yet unique look back into the 'old life.' Folks still lived out in this far-away ghost town, tucked away from the world, isolated form a normal existence. With the living museum feel of the facades of the old buildings and their new look I just felt to be in a strange circus of sorts.

I slept the night on Windy Ridge over looking Whitewater Mesa and the San Francisco River valley. A peachy sunrise illuminated the western horizon. I looked yonder off, way into the distance, of Arizona. The stars glared off the back drop of a pitch black sky; I had not seen them in weeks. I have missed their twinkle.

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