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.”