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Gila Meadows, NM

no permit
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Guide 1 Triplog  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List NM > Southwest
4 of 5 by 1
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 11.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,500 feet
Elevation Gain 1,000 feet
Avg Time One Way 5.5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 14.83
Interest Historic, Perennial Waterfall & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
17  2013-07-07
Meadows - Hells Hole Loop
10  2008-07-22 BrettVet
Author BrettVet
author avatar Guides 15
Routes 40
Photos 335
Trips 48 map ( 525 miles )
Age 69 Male Gender
Location Tucson, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, May, Mar → 8 AM
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  5:58am - 6:15pm
Official Route
1 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Canyon Not Grand, but Great
by BrettVet

The Gila wilderness is the second largest wilderness area in the continental United states after the Bob Marshal. Many from Tucson run to the White Mountains, not realizing that for the same amount of time in the car you can be in one of the most remote and pristine wildernesses in the country. You can wander for days through high ponderosa covered mountains and not see a sole. The Meadows is a wide spot in a 1000 ft deep canyon on the Middle Fork of the Gila River. Yes, the same dry Gila south of Phoenix. Here the headwaters run year round. Like any adventure getting there is half the problem. There are three common ways to get there. One starts at the Gila Cliff Dwellings visitor center and goes right up the Middle Fork of the Gila and involves at least 30 creek crossings that can really get old when there is a lot of water. The second involves cutting the crossings in half by taking a shortcut though Little Bear Canyon, which is a slot canyon that enters the main canyon just below Jordan Hot Springs. Tthe trail above Jordan hot springs can be marginal at times. We chose the third option that has about a thousand feet of elevation gain, better trail and no water crossings. The problem is that the portion of the trail from the Little Bear trail to the Lilly park trail does not appear on your TOPO map. This is common in the Gila. Some trials get little use then a packer comes along and changes the route and like magic you have a new route for the trail, not on the map. The best map is the official forest service map purchased online from the government or at the visitor center. The rangers at the visitor center are also very helpful and knowledgeable and don't mind talking on the phone.

The trailhead is located at the TJ corral campground about a mile west of the visitor center on the way to the Gila cliff dwellings. The Little Bear canyon trail (#729) climbs out of the valley on the north side of the parking lot through meadows of juniper trees. It passes through several fence lines and into the wilderness. This trail will take you to little bear canyon, but we turned off after about 2 miles before it begins to drop into the middle fork.

We went west of the Lilly Park trail (#164) that gradually climbed through the Juniper and into ponderosa pine forest. For most of the way the trail follows a ridgeline, giving you magnificent views of the enormity of the Gila. The Baldy peaks are visible in the distance. After 4 miles it intersects the meadows trail( #28) that comes up from the west for after a steep climb. Turn right and after a few more miles turn right again and stay on the meadows trail as the Lilly park trail goes to the left. Soon after this turn the trail drops 1000 feet in about a mile to the canyon floor. The Meadow is on both sides of the creek with numerous campsites. My favorite is on the east side where the stream leaves the meadow. Easy water, flat out of the way with good tree cover.

The next day we went up the Middle Fork about 4 miles to what is called "The Narrows" which is a series of rapids and small pools in obviously a narrow part of the canyon. The trail up the canyon further into the wilderness for some reason was better than the trail down the canyon. The trail down the canyon entered a area of beaver ponds and became a test of how much mud we could bushwhack though. We decided it would be more fun to lie around camp and rest up for the 1000 foot climb out of the canyon.

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2008-07-21 BrettVet
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One-Way Notice
This hike is listed as One-Way.

When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Review
Gila Meadows
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
Drove through some heavy monsoon rains and started out the next morning on Little Bear #729. We quickly, but easily, get on top of the mesa, pass the trail intersection 2 miles in, and head down Little Bear canyon. LBC had a trickling flow after about halfway and was quite pleasant. We arrived at the junction with Middle Fork at a nice campsite and waited for the rest of our group to catch up.

After regrouping, we headed up the Middle Fork trail, which is fantastic at this time of year with many creek crossings. The terrain is mostly ponderosa pine on wide flat floodplains, punctuated by getting your feet and calves wet crossing every few hundred yards. Yellow coneflower lines the banks of the river.

We reach and enjoyed Jordan Hot Springs, being careful to avoid submerging our heads due to the amoeba that causes meningitis. From there we packed further upriver into the Meadows, where the thunder and rain finally caught up with us as we endured a downpour setting up our tents.

The next morning we packed up the Big Bear Trail, to the Prior Canyon trail, running into some first response firefighters returning from their dispatch of working on a tree set ablaze by lightning. We then saw a mamma black bear with two cubs, which we gave a wide berth. We reach the cabin before noon. Prior Cabin is intact and nice, but locked up tight. We continued up Prior Creek trail to the seldom traveled Lilley Park trail, which we took to Hells Hole Trail and dropped down into West Fork.

Surprisingly, unlike the Middle Fork, which was clear, West Fork of the Gila River was mud soup, the look of chocolate cocoa. It appeared to have flash flooded very recently. It was also icy cold, perhaps 50 degrees or less. Numbing almost instantly. As we made our way down the West Fork, we wondered what we would do for water, since the mud coming down West Fork looked unfilterable.

We spot a trickle of yesterdays storm coming down a crack in the wall and some members decided to filter from it. I didn't like the look of it and continued downstream, crossing the river and finding another trickle I liked better that I could filter.

As I unpacked my water filter and began filtering, I hear the sound of the river suddenly increase, as the river rapids seemed to suddenly intensify. I look at the river and notice it rose 3 inches in seconds. I realize some type of flash flood is about to happen. I look at my pack which is 3 ft above the water line and conclude it is OK for now. 30 seconds later the river has already risen another ft and I no longer like the position of my pack. As I scramble down to grab it the river comes up another foot. I grab my pack and within another 40 seconds, the spot it was sitting on is already underwater. At that point, trees, logs, and a torrent of debris come flying down the river. With my pack I scramble higher, content that I can survive as I can continue higher up my little cleft in the cliff face.

I then worry about the rest of my group, which were at the other trickle in a far more exposed spot along the river. I decide to wait at least 5 minutes, as the river has risen another 2 ft since I grabbed my pack and I don't know how much higher it will get. I don't want to leave my spot as I can climb another 10 ft up easily. After awhile I notice the amount of logs is less and the river isn't getting higher, though it isn't getting lower either. I pack up my filtering gear and decide if I can get to a better spot, as I will be trapped in this bend of the canyon for awhile and my current position isn't that comfortable.

I find that I can break off branches of a tree, bypass the underwater section of trail, and get back onto the portion of the trail which is still higher than the river by a few feet. I make my way back to the last river crossing and hail my group. Some miscommunication occurs, as I think they are all OK, but what I realize a half hour later is one of our group is trapped on the wrong side of the river against the cliff face. I can see he has found an uncomfortable spot to sit and begin to worry.

We track the river. Within 30 minutes it drops a ft. After another hour, another 6 inches. In the next hour it only drops an inch of two. By this time it is getting late. I set up my tent and sleeping bag to warm up in the event that swimming may be necessary to retrieve our trapped member. I ford the river and find the flow is low enough that crossing is possible, though difficult. The water is even colder now, if that is possible. I encourage the rest of our group to help get our member off the cliff face, before it gets dark. I wait at the shallow part in the event he slips into the water and needs to be grabbed before being swept downriver.

Luckily at this point he can traverse on the side of the cliff upriver and cross without incident and everybody retires for the night.

The next morning we set out early as the weather forecast is the same, and the river appears to have flashed 2 days in a row, and may do so a third time. We head down and cross the muddy river, back to normal levels, many times. We observe some nice ruins and redirect some lost backpackers. All too soon our trip is done and we arrive at the National Monument trailhead.

Permit $$

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
From Tucson take I-10 East 153 miles east to Lordsburg, MN Follow sign to NM 90 north to Silver City. 41 miles. Take State Highway 15 north from Silver City. Although the distance from Silver City is only 44 miles, the travel time is approximately two hours due to twisting and winding mountain terrain. An alternative route from Silver City is along State Highway 35 and goes through the Mimbres Valley. Even though it is 25 miles longer than Highway 15, it is less winding, wider, more level, and easier to travel; therefore it takes about the same amount of time to drive. NOTE: If your vehicle, travel trailer, or RV is over 20 feet in length, you should take Highway 35. TJ Corral Trailhead is located between the visitor center and the Cliff Dwellings a mile west of the center.
page created by BrettVet on Jul 21 2008 7:46 pm
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