Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day 14: Snow Lake to Near Dutchman Spring

After days of scrambling to find the best route as we slowly worked our way up the Gila River, we looked forward to easier travel in more open country. So it was ironic that today's hike started with a largely cross country route following a dry stream bed. Aspen trees rustled on  a hillside scattered with red paintbrush, pale lavender wild irises, and other wildflowers. 

Eventually we climbed out of the stream bed onto a forest service road through rolling ranch land. Antelope bounded across the golden hills. We crossed the hills and climbed into the Gila National Forest, with tall, shady pines. 

A bolt of lightning touched down in a clearing ahead. We watched the thunderstorm, glad it was still several miles away. We continued to watch the lightning, grateful that the storm seemed to be moving in the opposite direction. 

A lone cyclist pedaled toward up. The flashlight taped to his helmet, as much as the gear lashed to his bike frame, marked him as a Tour Divide rider. He stopped for a few minutes. 18 days in, he does not plan to stop for more than brief cat naps before he reaches the border. He wheeled off, hoping to complete the next section before the rain made the trail thick with mud. 

After three days along the Gila, it felt strange to be worrying about water again. Nevertheless, we had cached water in two places along this dry section. Reaching the first cache, we were disappointed to see that the water was gone. Carefully rationing our remaining water, we trudged on. 

Herds of elk casually sauntered across our path, the young staying close to the females. A well fed bear with a lush brown coat froze when he saw us, then lumbered into the woods. We fell asleep to flashes of lightning, the yips and howls of the coyotes, and the cries of the elk. 

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