In the Loop
Hiking a loop around the Mogollon Box with Kathy Whiteman,
director of WNMU's Outdoor Program.
by Linda Ferrara
Kathy Whiteman, director of WNMU's Outdoor Program, has lived in rural settings for most of her life. She was raised in northwest Pennsylvania, has spent time in Washington State, and made it to New Mexico in the mid-1990s. Her credentials include a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Edinboro University, a Bachelor of Science (botany) from Western New Mexico University, and a Master's and PhD in Biology (plant ecology) from New Mexico State University.
She is exceedingly knowledgeable about the plants, animals and terrain of our wilderness backyard, which made her an excellent hiking partner. She has traveled throughout the Gila on foot and mule for almost two decades. Clearly, she is especially competent to run the Outdoor Program for WNMU.
You can tell she has hiked with inexperienced hikers before. She reminded me to bring a snack, water, river shoes and a hat. She also sent me a link to a Google map that showed where we were going. This is my kind of hiker!
Name: Mogollon Box Loop Hike
Distance: 4.25 miles
Directions: Starting at the intersection of Hwy. 180 and Little Walnut Road in Silver City, drive 28 miles to mile marker 84. Make a right onto S211 and drive 1 mile to a fork in the road. Stay to the left and drive 6.9 miles to trailhead. Park in the Mogollon Box campground.
Click the map for a larger, legible version..
Hike description: Keep in mind that the flood we had last fall re-structured parts of the river so that some of the trails/markers are not immediately obvious. Go around the brown gate and walk on the road. Just before the green gate (a minute or two of walking), on the right, you will see a brown Gila National Forest trailhead marker. Take this trail through the trees and after one or two minutes, look for a trail on your left. Now trek through a dry river bed until you pick up the trail again (as of May 1, there were blue tape markers hanging in the trees showing the way). You will soon see the trail. Take it to your first river crossing. You will see the trail on the other side of the water.
This is a loop trail that crosses the Gila River five times and works its way over a mountain. You will pass the Gila USGS gauging station along the way. Walk past the gauge equipment and follow the two-track road back to the car.
We saw six desert bighorn sheep along the way, a gopher snake, and a hiking fool who fell in the water twice (it's not necessary to name names).
Notes: If the river is flowing when you cross, be careful. The rocks under the water are slippery and the water is flowing faster than you think!
If you prefer an easier, drier hike, at the green gate, keep heading northwest on the two-track road and follow it all the way to the gauging station. Return the way you came. No river crossings for this modified hike, but take plenty of water with you, as there is very little shade.
Tell me about a particularly memorable hiking experience: As I click my camera overlooking the Gila River, Kathy shares a story. "Not surprisingly, one of the stupidest things I've ever done involved alcohol. I was in my 20s and spending a lot of time backpacking in the Gila. One afternoon a friend of mine dropped me and another friend off at a trailhead. The two of us hikers had been drinking and were pretty toasted when we started down the trail. We had very heavy packs and were planning to make it to a base camp we'd set up 12 miles away.
"We were having a great time, drunk as skunks, when it started to snow. It was one of those big snows with heavy wet flakes that stick. It was beautiful and we were like kids, throwing snowballs and me, making snow angels. Before long, I was soaking wet and cold; I wasn't dressed for the snow.
"Not surprisingly, by the time it started getting dark, we were a long way from our intended camp spot. We had enough sense to make camp before the light was completely gone, but our hands were so cold that we couldn't light a match or use a lighter. We had trouble putting up the tent. We only had one sleeping bag.
"When I look back on this experience, I realize how lucky I was, and how embarrassingly stupid. The Gila's 'gentle seasons' can be unforgiving; nature is not sympathetic to human ignorance. Getting sloppy drunk out in the wilderness is about as dumb as it gets. Thankfully, I learned from this experience."
What is the WNMU Outdoor Program all about? "The Outdoor Program (OP) allows students of WNMU to take classes for academic credit. Classes include Outdoor Leadership, Foundations in Experiential and Adventure Education, Introduction to Rock Climbing, Introduction to Backpacking, SCUBA, Fundamentals of Search and Rescue, Mountain Biking and more. This fall the OP is teaming with the Art Department to offer a wilderness photography course. Participants will learn photography and practice skills on a four-day horse-packing trip to photograph elk. The university Outpost has gear for rent to students and the public as well as maps and other information.
"Students (and WILL members) may also attend trips (not for credit) that the outdoor program leads. Previous trips have included: Carlsbad Caverns, scuba diving, skiing/snowboarding, White Sands National Monument, whitewater rafting, and wilderness horseback riding."
Want to know more about WNMU's Outdoor Program? Check out their website: www.wnmuoutdoors.org.
To read more about Linda Ferrara's 100-hike challenge, check out her blog at 100hikesinayear.wordpress.com.
See a collection of Linda Ferrara's previous 100 Hikes columns