Hiking Purgatory Chasm with photographer Bob Pelham.
Silver City is full of fascinating people and Bob Pelham is certainly one of them. He leads tours to Latin American destinations such as the Amazon rain forest, is an accomplished photographer, owns and operates Pinos Altos Cabins, is extremely knowledgeable about border security, seems to know every secret natural wonder in a 100-mile radius, and has a cunningly corny sense of humor. I have always enjoyed his nature photographs that he regularly posts on Facebook, so I was pleased when he agreed to talk to me about hiking.
I asked him to describe one of his favorite hikes that he'd like to share with readers:
Name: Purgatory Chasm
Distance: 2.2 miles, round-trip
Directions: From Silver City, drive north on Hwy. 15 until you reach the intersection with Hwy. 35 (just past mile marker 25). Turn right onto Hwy. 35 and go four miles. You will see signs for Lake Roberts on the right and there is a brown forest sign on the left saying "Purgatory Chasm Trailhead." There is parking just past the sign. You can either walk on the highway to the sign and begin at the trailhead there, or, if you look closely, you will see a trail on the west side of the parking lot.
Hike description: The trail begins by walking through forest and arroyo scenery. Soon after you start walking, the trail splits. You may take either direction as it is a loop trail. We started to the left since that's the quickest way to the chasm. You will soon enter the chasm and wonder at the steep walls and interesting twists and turns. Stop for a moment and notice the echo your voice makes. Cairns guide you along the way and are markers for side trails to explore. At the end of the chasm, there used to be a wooden ladder that you would climb up, but on our visit on Dec. 19, 2013, it was not there.
Look up and see a cairn. Scramble up, being sure to look back and marvel at the sharp curves of the canyon before you continue on the trail. From here, the trail continues through the woods and starts a gently downhill walk back to the car.
Note: The "Flash Flood" sign should be heeded; we saw evidence of flooding as we traversed this trail. Also, remember that cairns are temporary markers and may or may not be there when you visit.
Tell me about a particularly memorable hiking experience: "About 20 years ago I did a lot of hiking in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, near Naples, Fla. It is a swamp forest, densely foliated with bald cypress, royal palms, bromeliads and endemic orchids. I hiked there many times, often in ankle-to-knee-deep water. One day I led a photo tour of about 17 students from my photography class through the swamp. As we waded through the water taking photos of foliage, frogs and snakes, we suddenly spotted a poisonous cottonmouth (a.k.a. water moccasin) snake, curled up on a cypress stump protruding above the water surface. All 17 people wanted a picture and we slowly surrounded and moved in on him. Suddenly, the snake sprang into the water (did I mention it was murky, dark water?) and disappeared. Imagine the splashing that 17 people made leaping away from this stump all in different directions!
"Looking back, I am surprised that I never got lost in that swamp. When you're knee-deep in water, there's no trail to follow, no footprints or markers. I guess I have a good sense of direction with this sort of thing."
Do you have any observations you'd like to share? Pelham looks out the window towards the mountains near Mexico. "When I moved here, friends in Florida asked me if I would miss the ocean and beach. But I have found that the desert resembles the beach…. Both have long-range views, and a rolling landscape. Driftwood resembles dead cholla and aged juniper."
He adds, "The interesting wildlife of the Gila is a good substitute for the alligators and other critters of Florida," which is why he visits Florida frequently to reconnect with them — and family and friends, of course.
Before we part, Pelham mentions that he always wears one of his ever-present Aussie-style hats, never wears shorts while hiking (he is often down on his knees taking photographs), and rarely uses a GPS.
Try to meet him if you get the opportunity; you may be able to get him to tell you about his 50-plus trips to Costa Rica and other Central and South American countries.
To read more about Linda Ferrara's 100-hike challenge, check out her blog at 100hikesinayear.wordpress.com