Tagging along to Little Bear Canyon, near the Middle Fork of the Gila River.
Being a herpetologist (study of amphibians and reptiles) and an avid bird watcher, it's not surprising that Julian Lee has done his fair share of hiking. He relocated to Silver City from Florida in 2006 and has been exploring the wilderness in this area ever since. He most frequently hikes with a group of four friends on either Thursday or Friday. When he describes their adventures to me, I often find myself begging him to show me where they went. Don't miss the opportunity to take one of his WILL classes; he's an amazingly interesting and talented orator!
We got together in the fall and hiked a trail he recommends.
Name: Little Bear Canyon–Trail 729
Distance: Eight miles, round trip
Directions: Starting at the intersection of Hwy. 15 and 32nd Street in Silver City, travel 23.6 miles north up Hwy. 15. Turn left towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings (not the Visitor's Center). Approximately .5 miles up on the right is a brown Forest Service sign pointing to T.J. Corral. There is a parking area, bathroom, corral, Forest Service Bulletin Board and trailhead here. Travel time: 1.5-2.0 hours. The hike begins at the trailhead, where there is an old sign that says: West Fork Trail 151 / Little Bear Canyon 3 / Middle Fork 4.25. Head towards the Middle Fork on this trail.
Hike Description: This is an eight-mile out-and-back hike that passes through a portion of the 2011 Miller Fire area. Enjoy a wide variety of landscape including open fields, scrub oak and juniper, long-range views, tall pines along Little Bear Creek, slot canyons and spires. The first 2.5 miles is a gradual climb along the side of an arroyo. The next 1.5 miles is decidedly downward as it drops into Little Bear Creek. In the spring you will see columbines along the way. At the four-mile mark, you will meet the Middle Fork of the Gila River. This is where you will marvel at dramatic vertical rock formations on the far side of the river. After enjoying a break, return the way you came.
Notes: There are several hiking options in this area. Consider exploring the side trail at the two-mile mark (you will see a forest sign pointing towards the Lilley Park Trail #164). Or, at the convergence of the Middle Fork, you can head west towards Big Bear Canyon or Jordan Hot Springs, or east onto Middle Fork Gila Trail #157.
Describe something unusual that happened on a hike in this area: "Back in June 2013, we were hiking in the Meadow Creek area," Lee recalls. "As we traversed steep slopes through an arroyo, on the right-hand side, I observed a pale, beige animal moving up the steep incline through the trees. A deer perhaps. My dog, Orfa, alerted to it and started pursuit. A few seconds later, a second animal, moving fast, came from the left side of the drainage, crossed the drainage in front of me and followed Orfa, who was in pursuit of the first animal. My immediate thought was coyote. I was apprehensive, for I realized that my dog might get entangled with a pack of coyotes! I called for her, with no response. Luckily, within five minutes she came happily back, unharmed. The consensus of the hiking group was that they were either coyotes or young wolves. It seems that some hikes go from quiet and peaceful to bedlam and back to peaceful in a short span of time."
Any hiking equipment tips? "I need a boot with more support around the ankle and arch. The lighter, nylon ones that are popular just don't work for me. More support means less chance of twisted ankles, etc."
Do you have any observations from all the hiking you've done? "We have come across people hopelessly unprepared with a pint of water, and wearing impossible footwear. I'm not talking about a walk through Fort Bayard Game Preserve; these people are way out in the wilderness!"
"Another observation is that after you hike eight miles, then get back in the car and sit for a one-to-two-hour ride home, you feel old getting out of that car once the muscles and joints have stiffened up. That's a relatively new experience for me!"
Recap: At 69, Lee is able to hike farther and faster than I can; I can just imagine what he was like as a member of the California-based El Cariso Hotshots back in the 1960s!
To read more about Linda Ferrara's 100-hike challenge, check out her blog at 100hikesinayear.wordpress.com