Friday, June 24, 2016

Day 10: Tadpole Ridge to Gila Hot Springs

They say the early bird gets the worm. We woke early, hoping to get a head start on our 25 mile, partially off trail route to Gila Hot Springs. And what did our early start get us?  Lost. 

Our trail disappeared into the woods, and our GPS proved to be no help, positioning us on a steep hill. We eventually found the trail, but lost the advantage we hoped to gain with our early start. And we would need every advantage to get through the Gila before dark. 

Entering the beautiful river canyon of the Gila after days of hiking through the desert is like entering a magical world. The river meanders through a lush, green canyon with steep red rock walls. Wild turkeys, deer and other animals make those homes there. The river teems with fish, tadpoles, and frogs.  Pockets of warm water mix with the cold due to several natural hot springs flowing into the river. In places, the force of the water has carved caves into the steep, rocky cliff walls. 

The trail, such as it is, disappears and reappears constantly, leaving you to fend for yourself through thick brush or over rocky terrain. The steep canyon walls necessitate frequent river crossings. We didn't count, but some have counted as many as 56 crossings on this 14 miles stretch of river.  

We stopped for lunch on our own private sandbar island, dipping into the water whenever the heat of the sun became too much. Then we continued our long, slow trek up river. 

A long, low rumble interrupted our thoughts. Awed by the beauty of the canyon, we had not noticed the angry thunderheads piling up overhead. The sky opened and it began to pour. After more than a week of worrying about water through hot, summer desert hiking, we are now surrounded by it. 

With the rain, clumping mud, and wet progress, progress slowed even further. We made our final crossing by headlamp, then quickly walked up the highway to Gila Hot Springs Resort, where Jeff had secured a campsite by the river. 

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