Up a Creek
Hiking with Nancy and Ralph Gordon along Sacaton Creek.
I’ve known Nancy Gordon since I moved here 14 years ago, but neither of us can remember when we met. It’s one of those small-town relationships where you know common acquaintances, have attended common events, and have just drifted into knowing each other. I recall passing her and husband Ralph during my 100 hikes. It was hike number 98 and we were climbing the back side of Tadpole Ridge, and Nancy and Ralph were coming down the trail. We stopped briefly and talked and then continued on. So when I saw Nancy at the post office recently, I asked if she would be one of my victims — er, subjects.
The Gordons have lived in Silver City for 22 years. Ralph has a master’s degree in teaching and most recently taught in Lordsburg before retiring. Nancy, who calls herself a professional job hopper, has a master’s degree in civil engineering/hydrology. They’ve been trekking together since their second date 40 years ago (don’t you just love it?). Their list of hikes is long and includes climbing Wheeler Peak (highest peak in New Mexico, coming in at 13,159), ascending Mount Whitney in California (at 14,505, it’s the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48), and hiking in the Grand Canyon and in Big Bend National Park in Texas. They’ve even backpacked in Australia and through Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand (after researching this one, I’ve concluded that the Gordons have hiked in paradise!).
They are intimately knowledgeable about trails in this area, and so when they agreed to share one of their favorites, I was one happy hiker.
Name: Sacaton Creek
Distance: 4.0 miles, round trip
Directions: Starting at the intersection of Hwy. 180 and Little Walnut Road in Silver City, drive west on Hwy. 180 for 43.6 miles. On the right, you will see the Moon Ranch sign. Turn into Moon Ranch (it’s a county maintained road). You will see a sign that says, “Sacaton 10–729.” Stay right at the fork (the left is “729a”). At the 5.8-mile mark, there is a four-way intersection. Stay straight. Drive 2.3 miles to the trailhead.
Hike Description: This is a shaded walk along Sacaton Creek. Enjoy walking through the trees, stop to listen to the birds and look at the wildflowers and check out the old cabin. There are some short uphill climbs, a few downed trees and boulder fields to negotiate, and places to test your trail-finding skills — but other than that, it’s easy going. At mile two you will find large boulders and a good place to lunch next to the creek. Explore the caves in the area. On the way back, see if you can locate the mine.
Notes: As you traverse the creek, you will see evidence of the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy fire. When we went in late June, there was little water and the creek was easy to cross. If the water is flowing when you go, be careful with the crossings. I recommend you bring and use bug repellent. I also suggest you be careful where you step as there is lots of poison ivy (see photo).
I did some research on the name Sacaton. It turns out it comes from the New Mexican Spanish word zacaton, which means fodder grass. Guess who found a book called The Place Names of New Mexico by Robert Julyan at the library? Stay tuned to this column for more fascinating bits about our area.
Describe something unusual that happened on a hike: Ralph and Nancy have had close encounters with black bears on the trail, and both have accidentally stepped on rattlesnakes. Fortunately, all went their separate ways without tribulation.
Tell us what you are doing in retirement: Ralph has been playing golf and battling the bugs, birds, rabbits and deer to supply the neighborhood with vegetables. Both he and Nancy have been restoring the historic Silver City Waterworks on Little Walnut Road for the past four years. Rehabilitating it has turned into a community-wide project, bringing together non-profits, local businesses, more than 100 volunteers, youth conservation groups, town staff, and state and federal agencies. As you can imagine, it has kept Nancy busy applying for grants, organizing volunteers, and learning about historic preservation. Since starting to work on it in 2010, much has been accomplished including: the one-story roof was replaced, the historic front porch reconstructed, and the exterior stone masonry was repointed using lime mortar. The Wellness Coalition’s Youth Volunteer Corps and Aldo Leopold High School’s Youth Conservation Corps have done several landscaping projects and painted the “faux” doors and windows.
For more information about the project, check out the the feature article that appeared in Desert Exposure in January 2011 and Google “Silver City Waterworks.”
This article was originally published in Augist 2014 issue of Desert Exposure.
In the Loop
Hiking a loop around the Mogollon Box with Kathy Whiteman,
director of WNMU’s Outdoor Program.
Kathy Whiteman, director of WNMU’s Outdoor Program, has lived in rural settings for most of her life. She was raised in northwest Pennsylvania, has spent time in Washington State, and made it to New Mexico in the mid-1990s. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Edinboro University, a Bachelor of Science (botany) from Western New Mexico University, and a Master’s and PhD in Biology (plant ecology) from New Mexico State University.
She is exceedingly knowledgeable about the plants, animals and terrain of our wilderness backyard, which made her an excellent hiking partner. She has traveled throughout the Gila on foot and mule for almost two decades. Clearly, she is especially competent to run the Outdoor Program for WNMU.
You can tell she has hiked with inexperienced hikers before. She reminded me to bring a snack, water, river shoes and a hat. She also sent me a link to a Google map that showed where we were going. This is my kind of hiker!
Name: Mogollon Box Loop Hike
Distance: 4.25 miles
Directions: Starting at the intersection of Hwy. 180 and Little Walnut Road in Silver City, drive 28 miles to mile marker 84. Make a right onto S211 and drive 1 mile to a fork in the road. Stay to the left and drive 6.9 miles to trailhead. Park in the Mogollon Box campground.
Hike description: Keep in mind that the flood we had last fall re-structured parts of the river so that some of the trails/markers are not immediately obvious. Go around the brown gate and walk on the road. Just before the green gate (a minute or two of walking), on the right, you will see a brown Gila National Forest trailhead marker. Take this trail through the trees and after one or two minutes, look for a trail on your left. Now trek through a dry river bed until you pick up the trail again (as of May 1, there were blue tape markers hanging in the trees showing the way). You will soon see the trail. Take it to your first river crossing. You will see the trail on the other side of the water.
This is a loop trail that crosses the Gila River five times and works its way over a mountain. You will pass the Gila USGS gauging station along the way. Walk past the gauge equipment and follow the two-track road back to the car.
We saw six desert bighorn sheep along the way, a gopher snake, and a hiking fool who fell in the water twice (it’s not necessary to name names).
Notes: If the river is flowing when you cross, be careful. The rocks under the water are slippery and the water is flowing faster than you think!
If you prefer an easier, drier hike, at the green gate, keep heading northwest on the two-track road and follow it all the way to the gauging station. Return the way you came. No river crossings for this modified hike, but take plenty of water with you, as there is very little shade.
Tell me about a particularly memorable hiking experience: As I click my camera overlooking the Gila River, Kathy shares a story. “Not surprisingly, one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done involved alcohol. I was in my 20s and spending a lot of time backpacking in the Gila. One afternoon a friend of mine dropped me and another friend off at a trailhead. The two of us hikers had been drinking and were pretty toasted when we started down the trail. We had very heavy packs and were planning to make it to a base camp we’d set up 12 miles away.
“We were having a great time, drunk as skunks, when it started to snow. It was one of those big snows with heavy wet flakes that stick. It was beautiful and we were like kids, throwing snowballs and me, making snow angels. Before long, I was soaking wet and cold; I wasn’t dressed for the snow.
“Not surprisingly, by the time it started getting dark, we were a long way from our intended camp spot. We had enough sense to make camp before the light was completely gone, but our hands were so cold that we couldn’t light a match or use a lighter. We had trouble putting up the tent. We only had one sleeping bag.
“When I look back on this experience, I realize how lucky I was, and how embarrassingly stupid. The Gila’s ‘gentle seasons’ can be unforgiving; nature is not sympathetic to human ignorance. Getting sloppy drunk out in the wilderness is about as dumb as it gets. Thankfully, I learned from this experience.”
What is the WNMU Outdoor Program all about? “The Outdoor Program (OP) allows students of WNMU to take classes for academic credit. Classes include Outdoor Leadership, Foundations in Experiential and Adventure Education, Introduction to Rock Climbing, Introduction to Backpacking, SCUBA, Fundamentals of Search and Rescue, Mountain Biking and more. This fall the OP is teaming with the Art Department to offer a wilderness photography course. Participants will learn photography and practice skills on a four-day horse-packing trip to photograph elk. The university Outpost has gear for rent to students and the public as well as maps and other information.
“Students (and WILL members) may also attend trips (not for credit) that the outdoor program leads. Previous trips have included: Carlsbad Caverns, scuba diving, skiing/snowboarding, White Sands National Monument, whitewater rafting, and wilderness horseback riding.”
Want to know more about WNMU’s Outdoor Program? Check out their website: www.wnmuoutdoors.org.
To read more about Linda Ferrara’s 100-hike challenge, check out her blog at 100hikesinayear.wordpress.com.
See a collection of Linda Ferrara’s previous 100 Hikes columns
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 – Burro Mountains – FR 4246
Yesterday it rained almost all day here so I was expecting a muddy, wet mess out there today. I decided to explore the Red Rock Rd. area since I enjoyed nearby Saddle Rock Canyon Rd. so much. I was generally familiar with the Oak Grove Subdivision from my Realtor days and I know a few people out this way. After traversing some pot-holed roads, I found a good spot with Forest access and off Cody and I went.
It wasn’t so muddy; the trail was hard, wet sand. I call this hike a Dog’s Triathlon since Cody did three impressive sprints while chasing first a rabbit, then birds and lastly deer. As these hikes go on, I see her backside getting smaller and smaller – I wish the same thing was happening to my backside!
Wandering along a trail, I soon came to a dirt road that was well used. I could track a few ATV’s, another person’s footsteps, and lots and lots of cattle prints. I was very surprised that we didn’t run into any cattle – the prints seemed very recent to me, considering the rain yesterday. At length I saw a marker – FR 4246. I enjoyed many long range views toward the Tyrone Mines and north towards the Mogollons. It was a hilly area with a gradual upward slope; I calculated I went up about 300 feet in altitude. After walking about 45 minutes, I noticed the terrain changing somewhat. Pine trees were intermingled with the scrub oak and more rock outcroppings sprung up. A few roads and trails branched off the road I was on; I look forward to exploring more.
Back at the car, I decided to check out further down the road. Since I saw ATV tracks, I wondered how they got onto my road. The entrances I had seen were walk-thru options only. Down the road, it curved and started down a hill. A sign for FR 819 (on the FS map) and several other trail heads. And now I have some options for future hikes!
Note: Today I hit the 100 mile mark!
4.7 miles / 2.25 hours
34 down / 66 to go