The Interesting Gila

Day 13: May 6, 2019

Destination: Gila River Alternate Mile 47.4

Today’s Miles: 8.6

Start Location: Doc Campbell’s Post, GRA Mile 37.9

Trip Miles: 219.6

Today’s miles require explanation if you are following the CDT routes. I’m starting to really love the options I have on this trail.

Today I took the Gila Alternate, then the Gila Alternate High Route. The high route is an option within an option to avoid walking through the river. I didn’t think I would take the high route at all, BUT, today I wanted to go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I thought they were on trail, but only the Visitor Center is on trail. The dwellings are a mile or so in a different direction, the direction of the high route. You still have to walk a quarter mile off the high route to get to the cliff dwellings, BUT, if you get back on the high route and walk for about three miles, you can take another trail through Little Bear Canyon that connects back to the main Gila Alternate. This way, instead of walking road back down to the river by backtracking, you can walk through a beautiful canyon without going backwards. I did this, which means my mileage is now a more complicated equation as follows:

Doc Campbell’s on Gila Alternate to Visitor Center on Gila Alternate: 3.4

Retrace on Gila Alternate back to Gila High Route: 0.2

High Route to Little Bear Canyon turnoff: 2.9

Little Bear Canyon to Gila River Alternate: 2.05

That’s how I get a total mileage for the day of 8.55 and round to 8.6 to keep everything within one decimal place. This route was just a tad shorter than if I had stayed on the main alternate, but a lot more interesting.

Camping by the gas tank at Doc Campbell’s:-)

Here’s how the day went....

I knew when I woke up that I would get off to a late start. It got really cold overnight, so when I woke up I stayed in my quilt and finished up a few journal entries. Mike, the owner at Doc Campbell’s, was an incredibly kind and thoughtful guy, and he opened up his store early for us, around 8:30 (their usual opening time is 10AM). A bunch of us went inside to get coffee and snacks. I had coffee, a small dish of butterscotch ice cream, and a microwave breakfast burrito. It was lovely just to sit and chat with other hikers drinking coffee out of a “civilized” mug!

After eating and hanging out for a bit, I went outside to test my inReach again. This time my wife received my messages. It was working at Doc Campbell’s; it was hard to say if it would work when I was back on the Gila. I settled my bill with Mike and his son Kayden, who is quite young (maybe 12), but helps his Dad with the store. Then Mike told us about the possibility to link up the Gila high route with Little Bear Canyon. It seemed like a no brainer: less backtracking, a chance to get a taste for the high route, less road walking and the opportunity to get back to the Gila through a beautiful canyon. I decided that is what I would do.

Samson showed up at Docs! Apparently, he hurt his ankle yesterday. They arrived around 10am and while he stayed, Heatwave and Canadian Claire pushed on. He was camping at the hot springs next door. We tried to go down there to soak last night, but the owner wouldn’t let us in. We thought we could pay per use, but he won’t let any non-campers use the hot springs after hours. Anyway, it was fun to catch up with Samson. He seemed to be in the mend, but was going to wait to hike out the next day.

I opened my resupply box, finally, and organized that. I had too much food! I gave some to Viper, who was a little short. My mammoth food bag with 6 days of food to get to Pie Town could probably last me 8 days! It was already around 11am, so I needed to get moving. I shouldered Big Bertha and made a break for it.

Viper caught up to me on the road walk. It was already getting hot. I knew today would be a low mileage day, but that’s ok - I was really looking forward to seeing the cliff dwellings.

We saw Maps at the visitor center. They had a little museum there and a fifteen minute film about the dwellings and the people who inhabited them. It was worthwhile to watch the video. I shoved a burrito down my throat outside, determined to eat down the weight of my food bag. Maps, Viper and I then walked the road back to the high route, where we hid our bags under a tree so we wouldn’t have to carry them to the dwellings!

The dwellings were off the trail routes, so we thumbed a ride from a guy named Roger who picked us up in his camper van. It saved us 20 minutes in the heat of the day. Roger was super nice and we talked with him for a few minutes before heading up to the cliff dwellings.

The site cost $10 to enter, but it was well worth it. The dwellings were much bigger and more elaborate than I thought they would be, and they were right in the side of the cliff for great views from inside them. They offered tiny windows into the lives of those who passed through them. I tried to imagine someone long, long ago looking out at the same view I had there, perhaps thinking about his or her own food supply....

We left the dwellings and said goodbye to Maps. She was getting off trail for a bit to go to a friend’s wedding.Viper and I then walked down the road we had hitched up to return to the Gila High Route.

We both struggled climbing up and over the first few hills on the high route. At the junction with Little Bear Canyon, Viper took a break while I pressed on. As the trail went deeper into the canyon, and then on the canyon floor close to the Gila, the walls began to close in on me. The scenery was breathtaking with the high, sheer cliffs towering on both sides of me. And then, suddenly I was at the Gila River! The canyon emptied out onto the banks of the Gila in a beautiful spot with plenty of camping, and soaring views of the Gila red cliff walls. The campsite felt very special, and when Viper showed up we talked for a while and took in the views. A hiker named Macro is also camped here tonight.

Eating my dinner at Little Bear Canyon and the Gila River confluence

It was a great day! I really can’t say enough good things about Doc Campbell’s Post! Mike and his family were welcoming and helpful. Mike even let us tent in his yard for free! They had bathrooms, showers with hot water, and a great store with lots of food. The prices really weren’t that bad. I think Doc Campbell’s got a bad reputation because of the previous owner. Mike and his wife are really eager to have hiker customers, and I would definitely recommend stopping there. They didn’t even charge me for picking up a box there, despite the notation I saw in Guthook that it would be $3.

Little Bear Canyon meets the Gila

Today felt more like sightseeing than hiking. I hope I can hike about 17 miles tomorrow, but the river crossings slow me down, and I want to stop for a soak at Jordan hot springs, a natural hot springs we will pass along the way. This Gila River route has a lot to offer and I’m really enjoying exploring it!


I seem to have no service on the trail, so I will just be updating as I hit towns (WiFi). I’m working on getting caught up over the next two days. please bear with me and don’t worry if I don’t post for a week or so - this trail is much more remote than the AT, so AT&T is pretty useless :-). Stay tuned! The cafe i am at is closing and no WiFi at hostel. Will update more tomorrow.

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