CDT 2021: Day 12, Gila River to Doc Campbell's Post

We got department stores and toilet paper

Zigzag walks past a sycamore tree

Apparently, I didn't fail to properly tighten the valve on my inflatable sleeping pad the night before last. I know this now because I made sure last night to tighten it. The pad still lost air overnight. As before, it wasn't completely deflated but was nearly so.

DateSaturday, April 24, 2021
WeatherClear sky; temperatures from around freezing to low-70s
Trail ConditionsEasier to follow than yesterday but again with many stream crossings
Today's Miles13.9
Trip Miles182.5

That wasn't the worst thing to happen to me, though. When I woke up, I was surprised to see the temperature had dropped below freezing. The inside of my tent was coated with frost.

Then I discovered my shoes were frozen solid. They were still wet from yesterday's river crossings when I went to bed last night, and I should have thought about the possibility of freezing. I could have put them into a stuff sack and shoved them to the bottom of my quilt where they would stay warm.

Because I failed to keep them from freezing, I had to sit on my shoes to warm them until they were pliable enough to force my feet into them.

Sun on a ridge top

At least we got started earlier than yesterday. We crossed the river to return to the trail and began walking before 7 a.m.

The sun hadn't yet reached the bottom of the canyon, so this was a cold start to the day. Getting wet feet right away didn't help.

Zigzag crosses the Gila River

We had better luck finding the trail today. There were still some places where the footpath wasn't obvious, however. There also weren't any trail markers. Of course, that wasn't anything new.

As expected, we had many river crossings today.

Zigzag stops to check the Guthook app on his phone

We used the Guthook app to help us navigate, as always, but we were discovering it wasn't nearly as helpful on alternates as it was on the official or red route.

I noted yesterday that we couldn't see the trail's elevation profile on alternates. Waypoints for water sources and campsites were also often missing.

The real problem for us, though, was a lack of accuracy. The GPS track didn't always match where the trail went. This seemed to be because the track was not recorded with the same technical standards as the red route.

While this was a reasonable complaint and required us to occasionally stop and check our position, it didn't hinder our walk too much. The truth is, the direction we were going was obvious. We just needed to follow the river.

great mullein

In one sandy/rocky stretch between river crossings, we saw several long-stemmed plants. A dense cluster of yellow flowers grows on these spikes, but here the flowers were dried. Although I had seen this plant before, I didn't know what it was called until I used my iNaturalist Seek app to identify it.

The plant spread across this area was called great mullein, a weed that isn't native to North America. It is also known by another name in the western U.S., "cowboy toilet paper."

Zigzag and I didn't collect any to test its quality in that use.

sycamore trees

Bleached sycamore trees lined the way next. Because their leaves weren't out yet, they stood starkly against the canyon's rocky walls.

The trunks and branches of these trees were grey-white because their bark peeled off, which happens to older sycamores.

The trail crossed the river twice

More than one of our river crossings today was a double crossing. The trail made a second crossing within a few yards of the first. Usually, this was where a tall rock wall jutted out to the edge of the water. With no room for a footpath, the trail had to cross to the other side.

Walking through an old livestock stockade

Livestock are allowed to graze in some wilderness areas, and that was the case here in Gila Wilderness. We sometimes heard and rarely saw cattle.

The trail passed through a broken-down stockade. I don't believe structures like this are currently allowed to be built on land designated as a wilderness. It was falling apart and wasn't going to hold any cattle today. I'm guessing it was built before the current wilderness regulations were put in place.

Zigzag crosses the Gila River

Once the sun rose high enough to fully shine into the canyon, the temperature warmed nicely. The sky was clear.

Walking through large trees

We had our first long stretch of trail on dry land at mid-morning. This was appreciated because it allowed us to walk at a faster, steady pace. This section was even long enough for my shoes to dry out a little.

A lizard

I wasn't the only one enjoying the warm sun today. A lizard was content to sit in the sun and paid no attention to me as I took photos.

When we stopped for an hour at noon for lunch, I laid out my quilt in the sun to dry. Sunshine and a hiker named Roger That passed us while we were there.

a broad, flat meadow

We crossed another stretch after lunch where we could pick up speed. The trail crossed a broad, flat meadow.

Zigzag stops to look over the river

The river gorge narrowed at the other end of the meadow, and the trail took a high route for the first time.

We passed Sunshine where he was stopped for lunch on some rocks.

Sunshine walks across the Gila River

We didn't get far past him before he passed us again at another double river crossing.

Doggone stops to talk to a fisherman

Zigzag and I missed a turn in the trail soon after that, and we followed a fisherman trail instead. We might not have known this until we saw a fisherman on the other bank. He told us the real trail was on his side of the river.

After we reversed course and crossed the river, Doggone arrived. He didn't stay long to chat because he was hoping to get to Doc Campbell's Post by 4 p.m. Taxilady was meeting him there.

After he left, I realized he still needed to walk more than two miles to get to the store, and the time was already 3:30. Doggone can walk fast, but getting there in 30 minutes seemed a little unlikely.

A bridge over State Route 15

A bridge at New Mexico Highway 15 came into view at 4 p.m. Doc Campbell's Post was more than a mile up the highway.

Taxilady pulled up next to Zigzag and me as we walked on the road. We told her we saw Doggone a couple of miles back, and he was probably almost to the store by now.

Taxilady waits at Doc Campbell's Post

When we arrived at Doc Campbell's, Taxilady was there, but Doggone wasn’t. This was unexpected.

The store had closed at 4 p.m., but the owners didn't mind hikers camping in a grassy space nearby. After talking to Taxilady and assuring her that Doggone would arrive soon, we walked to the other side of the building.

Roger That, Strange, Sunshine, and other hikers

We found Sunshine, Roger That, and a few other hikers there. One of those hikers said his name was Strange. It took me a second, but then I realized he went by Strange Bird when he was the caretaker at Mike's Place on the PCT. He wasn't wearing a tail like he did when I met him, so I failed to recognize him at first.

While I chatted with the other hikers, one of the store owners' daughters asked if I wanted to buy anything. She said they would open the store for Zigzag and me if we wanted.

We figured we would have to wait until the store opened tomorrow morning, so this was a surprise and appreciated help.

Of course, the owners benefited from the more than $90 I spent on groceries. The store was well-stocked with food and other items thru-hikers would need. The owners do many things for hikers besides letting them camp next to the store, and I didn't mind giving them some of my money.

They even stocked an inflatable sleeping pad that I could have bought to replace mine that leaked. It was a style and weight more suitable for car camping, though, and I decided against buying it.

Doggone arrives at Doc Campbell's Post

By now, Taxilady was becoming more worried about Doggone. Zigzag and I had arrived an hour ago, and he still wasn't here.

Fortunately, he showed up soon afterward. He sheepishly explained he failed to realize he should have taken the highway at the bridge. He kept walking along the river and added a bonus mile before discovering his mistake.

Zigzag talks to Mike

After Doggone and Taxilady left, Zigzag and I talked to Mike, one of the owners of Doc Campbell's Post. We asked him about the trail ahead. There was more than one alternative for the Gila River Alternate north of here, and we were unsure which one to take.

One option included a side trip to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument before dropping back down to the river. Another continued through the river canyon, and a third option mostly stayed on a ridge above the river.

Zigzag said he was tired of constantly-wet feet. I shared that feeling, but I didn't want to give up seeing the beautiful canyon. I was also interested in seeing the cliff dwellings.

Weighing our options, the high route seemed like a good compromise. This way was dry for our feet, but there was also no water to drink. We would have to hike down to the river to get water. We would also have to cross the river later as we hiked back to the red route. Going that way would still allow us to see some of the canyon again.

After setting up my tent, I inflated my sleeping pad on one of the store's picnic tables and poured soapy water over it. No bubbles appeared to show where the leak was located.

Without finding the leak, there was no way to repair the sleeping pad. The only thing left to do was order a new one, and I needed to do that now while I had access to the store's WiFi. There was enough time for REI to send one to Pie Town before I arrive there in about a week.

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand
We got department stores and toilet paper
Got Styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people, says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.