Being at Doc Campbell’s was a great milestone of my trip as I knew that if I made it there that I was making good progress to make it across New Mexico and my eventual goal of Canada. At Docs I got my resupply box that my sister had prepared for me with little surprises of good chocolates and notes from home that were welcomed motivation to keep going. Knowing that people back home are supportive of my hike really keeps me going and the positive encouragement helps you stay connected to home. After staying the night in the campgrounds to soak in the local hot springs which loosened my aching muscles we did the road walk up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor center and took the time to check out the site. You can’t walk this far and just pass up a piece of local history that is only an extra 2 mile road walk away. The dwellings were amazing, snuggled up on the rock facing south with the light hitting the interior of the caves. The Mogollon’s are ancestors of the ancient Puebloen people of the southwest were in this area over 700 years ago. The caves at Gila are considered to be everything from ceremonial sites, permanent dwellings to only seasonal residence. The caves are amazing and you can feel the history when your inside with the petroglyphs, the dark ceiling from the fires and the intricate construction of the homes that once stood there. This is our American heritage and being there and walking in the same area that they once considered sacred was an honor. After visiting the dwellings I took a alternate route towards the Middle Fork of the Gila River, coming out of a slot canyon to its wonderful high walls and its beautiful flowing river. The river is amazing and I couldn’t wait to start getting my feet wet with its endless river crossings.
After repacking my backpack just in case I fell in while making a crossing I put my sleeping bag, clothes and electronics in protective cases and just a plain old garbage bag. I started the winding trail through the Gila, crossing from dry trail to dry trail, crossing the river with different depths where only my feet got wet to water up to my waist. Having your feet and legs constantly wet was a nice change from the hot and sandy desert. Dealing with wet feet all day brought new challenges of loose skin on my feet, more rocks in my shoes and trying to dry my socks and feet at night to prevent even more blisters. I only got 1 new blister because of the Gila which was good for me.
I slowed down my pace through the Gila’s as it was one of the places I was really looking forward to during my CDT trip. During one of these day dreaming episodes I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by a loud rattling sound. Oh crap, I had almost just stepped on a black tipped rattle snake! As soon as I heard the rattle I stopped, looked down and ran back really quick. I hate snakes. I don’t like them and honestly would have been happy as hell if I didn’t see one the entire time I was in New Mexico. After running away, I made my way back a little closer to see the coiled up body of a huge rattle snake with its head sprung back, tongue out tasting the air and ready to strike. I moved in closer to get some pictures and every time I did it rattled louder and louder. If you’ve never heard a rattle snake before, trust me, you will know one is around because it is loud. Cowboys and others in the southwest call them the “gentleman of the desert’ because of these rattles. After about 15 minutes of picture taking, me checking my shorts and stepping back the snake slithered into the rocks below but not before giving me one last rattle to let me know who was in charge out here. I gave it another 10 minutes before I ran across the trail where it had been, hoping it wouldn’t jump out and bite me. I was glad that experience happened without me being bit and me not needing to change my shorts.
The rest of the Gila went great with its high cliff walls, winding river and beautiful cool temperatures and all the water I could drink. In all I did 147 river crossings before hitting the end of the trail and getting back into the open valley’s ahead.
After the Gila’s we entered into the open plains again and towards higher mountains that rises above the valley floor, following new CDT trail and forest roads towards the highway that takes you to Reserve. The water situation was tougher in this section because we had to take water from springs that were surrounded with cow pies and other nasty stuff making me miss the Gila even more then I already was. Passing through burn area that had used blazes like you see on the AT for trail markers made it very difficult to navigate through. The blazes were chopped into the tree but, of course this was burned as well and blended with the rest of the tree. Losing the trail here was easy to do and took me extra time to make it through the section down to the highway. Once down at the highway I made a failed attempt to hitch to Reserve to surrender to my craving for town food. After 3 hrs of attempting to get a ride, I gave up and slept in the tree’s eating my sad rice and tuna dinner versus the big steak I had been envisioning for days.
The next morning I got up and headed into the Apache Forest on my way to Pie town and the famed Toaster house I had heard so much about. I had been following the Ley route the entire way but, heard the official route was new and nice so I decided to go that way. After about 3 hours of constant winding around the hills I got frustrated and bushwacked back to Ley’s route and continued from there. The official route is nice, don’t get me wrong but thru hikers don’t want to take the scenic route, we just want to get there already. So after summiting Mangas Mountain and coming back down the other side I made a push to make it into Pie town before the Cafe would close. That morning I decided to hike the 30.5 miles to the Toaster House, which would be my longest day of hiking ever. The trail was good and the roads were easy to follow but the road just kept going on and on and on with no end in site. After making my last left turn and knowing I only 5 more miles to go I made the final push in the dark to make it to the Toaster house at 9:30 pm. I was greeted by 2 CDT bikers and a fridge full of Tostinos pizzas which I ate 2 of, drank about a gallon of water and crashed in one of the beds. The Toaster house is an amazing place and Nita is a wonderful women who leaves it open for all weary travelers to enjoy. The pie is amazing, the people are colorful and welcoming. The Toaster house is truly like a CDT hall of fame and I only wished the walls could talk….