Threading the Eye of the Needle---
Background--- Several years ago Brian took me into the Needles' Eye Wilderness for a day, via Mescal Warm Springs, parking near a bit of private land. Brian knows the ranch owner, who also owns the Hook and Line Ranch on the Gila below the Coolidge Dam at San Carlos. It was a hot day but it was great, saw coatimundi, the old travertine of the spring. Epic drive in though, several stream crossings of a foot plus, steep hills etc.
Fast Forward----- I wanted to see the actual "Needles' Eye" as labeled on maps, where the Gila goes through a narrow section of impressive limestone cliffs. One small problem; go to the BLM website and you see "No legal access", despite power lines and cattle in the wilderness. Brian could not find his rancher contact phone number. So, he did his research, I did mine, and we came up with a plan of attack. We drove in on first good roads, then a secondary road that was a little frame twisting for the Toyota, then into a big wash, where we wove around trees and drove down the dry watercourse. The last bit of road we were looking for proved to be impassable. We drove down till the wash pinched down and parked in a narrow shallow cliffy area about 35 yards from a pourover. We estimated by map we were within one half to one quarter mile of the wilderness boundary.
We wanted to be a drainage over but we started down this drainage and after consulting maps figured we could cross at a break.
It was fun with a few pourovers, one a little sporty with an overnight pack, while narrow soon we joined a more major wash, bigger and with rising cliffs topped with limestone. We found our break, and with some work, crossed over. This was a major wash, yet soon it started to narrow up, with some cottonwoods and sycamores, and signs of water. We camped just below a major spring confluence, with running water at our doorstep. Our camp was on a bench under some pretty bare cottonwoods and mesquite. The hillside behind us covered with major saguaros, looking massive and healthy.
We left our overnight gear and headed down to the confluence with the Gila. We were extremely lucky that the water was low, making walking and crossing a breeze, getting feet wet only a little. The walls were rising and getting closer. Massive limestone bedding planes diving for a break that the river had forged a way through. Soon we were there. The "Needles' Eye" is impressive, it is not that narrow but some huge boulders have fallen into the river and it had huge still pools. In higher water there is no way to get through there without swimming or using a packraft. We had a little sketchy traversing but we made it through. I wanted to take more pictures so Brian ran ahead to check out some ruins labeled on the map. It was not the best light for photography but I was just glad to be here. So magnificent, with such a remote feeling. Not remote in the past I am sure, with ranchers and miners etc.
Brian raced back and we hiked back to camp. Nice evening, we were cowboy camping, and with the full moon it was just great.
In the morning we packed up and hiked up to explore several spring sources. Brian has hiked in the Needles' Eye area several times; he had told me the stories of the beautiful springs, the cow graveyard, and the Spanish mine. I wouldn't see all of these, but I saw enough.
The spring areas were nice in this desert place. Greenery, lush, the trickling water, the quiet. Cattle evidence was a lot though, nothing recent however.
We looped out looking for an old mining road, the cross country was steep but we avoided most major brush. We found the road, then it intersected into what we thought was the impassable road we wanted. We followed it and sure enough, looking over the cliffs we saw the Toyota looking tiny below. The weather was getting cold and blustery with gorgeous clouds. We drove out and I know I am privileged to see such a place. I thank my partner for that.