Day 10: Sheep Corral Canyon to near the Gila River Bridge, ~22 miles, ~187 miles total
A crisp morning. The first that warranted wearing puffy coats as we continued to head down Sheep Corral Canyon.
We walk through forest of Ponderosa and Douglas-fir. Some stands have burned in recent years and are patchy with mixed severity conditions. I find it fascinating and ponder fire return intervals, fuel loads, ecosystem response to disturbances, prescribed fire treatments and wildland fire management. I wish I had a map or app with the burn history so I could better understand the context of this landscape we see and know it better.
The first few miles of the day smell of sweet, dry pine. So often I associate this scent with late summer days and trips in the eastern Cascades. It is a sense of home I welcome and look forward to enjoying many days along the Continental Divide (or CD Trail as they refer to it in Silver City).
At last the sun warmed the day enough for a break. Gabriel, Roadrunner and I stopped for breakfast amid the alligator juniper and golden grass. It is a rarity to sit and soak up the sun, but the cool morning had us basking, away from shade.
Apres breakfast, we began the descent to the Gila River. From a thousand feet up, we caught glimpses of the Gila’s green water. The anticipation of touching the river’s shore evoked memories of hiking down to the Grand Canyon with Little Bug and Gabriel last spring and catching the first views of the Colorado River (which the Gila is technically a tributary to-but that is a different topic). I love how one trip connects to another and reminds one of details vivid a year or 15 years past.
We descended down, down, down to the river. With each switchback we are closer to the canopy of sycamore, box elder, gamble oak and cottonwood. With the final switchback we go below the trees and come to a gate and an arch of lush green foliage. Walking under it I feel as if we have passed into a secret garden.
Meeting Sapillo Creek the three of us stop and sit. Admiring the first robustly flowing stream of the trail. The few other streams have hads pools and otherwise flow underground. This stream choruses and sparkles. Fellow hikers Garlic, Bottomless Bert, and Mellow Yellow are already sitting by the creek, enjoying its beauty and novelty.
We go on, meeting the Middle Fork of the Gila. We pause and smile again. At the bend where the trail meets the river the channel is knee deep and more than 50 feet wide.
Fording the river every 10-20 mintues and hiking on the sandy and cobbled shores, I am reminded of walking through Escalante’s Coyote Gulch. Canyon miles are not trail miles. They are slower and take more effort to steady the feet, wade water and sand.
This spectacular place warrants taking it slowly for the day. To appreciate where we are and to accept slower-going conditions. So we enjoy our time. Watch the butterflies flutter. The swallows and swifts glide from canyon walls over the river. Sit under enormous shady cottonwoods during the heat of the day. Stop to admire the flowers. Tread carefully to avoid brushing poison ivy or snakes.
I could take days to begin to fully appreciate this wondrous place. The Gila River warrants a trip of its own. But I feel we were not too hasty as we did linger often. Even so, we suprised ourselves at day’s end to find that we had walked within a few fords of the Gila River Bridge.
Tonight we are camped in Ponderosa and live oak duff. We are happy to have a soft place to sleep. Eating dinner at dusk we watch bats flicker above the canyon and in the trees. The now waxing moon rises above 500-foot canyon walls. A good place to rest after an amazing day.