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About the cover

D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  June 2012



Camping Trip

An excursion to Snow Lake.


For as long as I can remember, I've had people share with me about the beauty of the area around Snow Lake in Catron County on the border of the Gila Wilderness. The opportunity came for me to find out for myself when I was invited to be one of the chaperones for our church youth group's annual hunting and fishing trip to the lake.

Since it was to be quite a drive along some rough and dirty roads, I opted to leave my camper at home and use a tent. The price of gas helped give me incentive to do such since my gas mileage is reduced by about 40% when I'm pulling a trailer.

It has been six years since I have tent camped; I had to choose between the three varieties that I owned. The smallest was a 40-year-old job from the 1970s, a one-man nylon contraption without a fly. It is great for backpacking or an overnighter, but it tends to sweat on the inside a lot and I usually wake up somewhat moist, along with any gear stored inside.

My second tent is a rather large affair, a dome-style two-room abode also made of nylon and with a fly. I have used it twice for past hunting trips and I like it a lot, but the dang thing is so huge that it is hard to put up by myself, and I preferred to be self-sufficient in front of the youth.

The third tent is also a dome and of nylon and with a fly and it is supposed to be for three adults. I rather doubt that, though, unless each was three feet tall and weighed 60 pounds or so. Even two men would be a tight and way too intimate affair, but it would be great for just me and still have room for some extra gear. The gear consisted of a double-wide sleeping bag of 1960s vintage, but still in excellent condition. The Coleman would afford me the opportunity to toss and turn at leisure.

Along with it, I took a duffle bag in which I had a pillow and an old comforter, no longer fit for our bedroom but just fine for me to camp with! I also brought a very small table, an electric lantern, an alarm clock, a small cooler, a gallon of water and my duffle bag with clothes and other gear.

It all fit rather nicely inside. The only drawback was that the setup didn't allow me to stand erect; I would have to change clothes on my knees. Avoiding that is the reason I went to the two-room tent in the first place! But it would do for two nights.

I folded the comforter in half on top of the bag and used three safety pins to secure it to the bag so it wouldn't slip off as I tossed to and fro. Been there, done that.


After assembling all the gear and depositing it in the truck, I made a phone call to the Glenwood ranger station to find out if the shortcut from Mogollon to Snow Lake (the Bursum Road) was open. She told me that it wasn't; it had six inches of ice and many blown-down trees across the pathway. If it had been open, it would have saved me an hour and a half traveling time, 70 miles and about a half a tank of gas!

Now I had to drive the long way, up to the town of Reserve, then back southeast again, a distance of about 50 miles from Reserve. (The way from Mogollon is 40 miles).

I had been on this road once about 15 years ago while hunting, and at that time it was all improved dirt. Now I found that the first 22 miles are a crude blacktop with a whole bunch of potholes. The last 28 miles were gravel, and not bad, but there were a myriad of rocks and stones on the surface; one has to drive somewhat slowly to avoid the stones and not get a flat. My advice: Don't go faster than 20 mph and make sure your tires have excellent tread! Also I would advise you to take two spares with good tread.

A friend who went along in his own vehicle got a flat, shredded the tire, and had to drive on eggshells the entire time for fear of getting another flat.

Because of the lack of moisture for a very long time, it was also quite dusty, which precluded keeping the windows down.

If you're traveling the speed limit, from Silver City it's two hours to get to Reserve, then two more to Snow Lake.


Upon arrival at our destination, I was shocked to see the level of the lake was down to about 30% capacity due to the drought. That low level made for some great fishing, with the youth catching rainbow trout of about nine inches or so.

I was also surprised that there were a heck of a lot of folks visiting the area; I saw two other parties from Silver City, and in the campground proper were at least five other camps. I also encountered many people on the various roads and two-track trails — odd, I thought, for the first weekend in May.

Even though I struggled remembering how to erect the tent and trying not look like an idiot (I hadn't used the contraption in over seven years), I still managed to get it up in under 30 minutes and have the gear inside, too.

That next morning in the predawn I was certainly glad that I had brought the "big bag" and comforter; it was downright frigid! My truck thermometer registered 24 degrees on Saturday morning and 23 degrees on Sunday morning. I wore sweatpants, too, but neglected to bring headgear, which would have kept my ears warm. I had a hoodie but never thought to use it to sleep in; the boy I was mentoring had thought to sleep in his and his head stayed warm, he told me.

Even though the surrounding areas of the mountains were quite dry and brown, it was still beautiful. There are lots of hiking trails everywhere, and two-track roads to explore by foot or ATV, and with the lake so low, fishing is excellent.

You can use a small rowboat or canoe on the lake, but the upper boat ramp is now about 40 yards from the water's edge. The lower ramp still meets the water.

The campground is very nice and clean, with many campsites that have concrete picnic tables and steel fire grills and/or pits. The campsites are far enough apart to give a modicum of privacy.

Firewood is scarce, but if you drive three miles to the Bear Wallow Burn, you can retrieve all the wood you need. Remember that you want oak or juniper for cooking, and not pine! Use the pine for campfires to sit around.

There are modern, primitive outhouses that are clean and well maintained. But when we were there, all of the hand-pump water wells were shut off, so I'd advise you to take water as we did.


On Saturday, we found out that the Bursum Road had been re-opened completely on Friday night, so we all opted to take it home. I named it the "road from Hell." It was freshly graded but the surface was scattered with rocks and stones able to puncture even really good tires. I drove no faster than 15 mph the entire way.

The last half of the way, the road was covered in a fine, gray, talcum-like powder, probably caliche, which choked and permeated everything. I drove with the windows up tight yet the dust infiltrated the entire interior, coating it with a fine layer. It was slightly gritty, too.

Once past the town of Mogollon the road is paved, but it is a narrow, curvy road where two vehicles meeting may not get past each other in most spots. There were many blind curves, too, to make the trip interesting.

If I go to Snow Lake again, I will take the long way and breathe much easier, and just allow for the other inconveniences.

All in all, though, it was a pleasant experience and I'm glad I did it. If you've never been to Snow Lake, you need to try it once. Plan for no less than two days, and three would be about just right.

As always keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may The Forever God bless you too!



When not ramblin' outdoors, Larry Lightner lives in Silver City.

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