It’s Tuesday morning after Christmas. We meet as usual at 8 am and discuss, first, where to hike, and then, carpool details.
Where to hike is always a fun conundrum. Gila National Forest is crisscrossed with hiking trails. Some of them are quite challenging, climbing and crossing ridges and shouldering mountain tops, dropping into deep-walled canyons. Each week, we head for one of the more accessible trails, often choosing to pick up the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and follow it for 2 miles; we stop at that point for fuel, turn and head back.
We’re a good group, reasonably well matched in hiking endurance and strength. We’re a fluid group: whoever shows up at 8 am, hikes. Sometimes there are four or five of us, sometimes, like today, 13. We’re also fluid in our trail habits, changing conversational pairs as we trudge up and down rises and maneuver rough spots. I may find myself toward the front, with voices falling away behind me. On “ups,” I step aside to breathe, and catch up at the end of the line, chasing voices. It strikes me, the more removed I am from the conversations, that we sound like a gabble of geese.
When we’re stretched out, there may be no visual contact from one little cluster to the next. There is a sweet silence walking the trail alone, watching feet, glancing down stream beds and up side canyons, noticing birds popping up from the grasses, watching cloud formations. But recently, there have been a couple of situations where, in one, vehicles got separated and ended up stopping at different points along the CDT; in another, hikers got separated, resulting in three-hour backtracking and a 911 call for Search & Rescue. Today, we carefully tracked each other, waiting in a little flock on the trail for the trailing chicks.
National Forests are managed for multiple uses; the Gila National Forest is no exception. We often pass mining tailings, test digs and old mining pits. There is frequently infrastructure for cattle grazing, including water tanks and old corrals. Today was no exception. An exposed chunk of quartz and a myriad of quartz chips scattered the ground at an old mine site. The quartz was not the target for this mine, but some rare earth mineral contained in the quartz. Because that mineral is slightly radioactive, we avoided picking up pieces of the glistening rock to bring home and joked about glowing in the dark. Up the hill from the quartz mine, grazed a couple of cows. Other cows complained in the brush. We were blocking their direct path to water.
Next Tuesday, the second day of the new year, will be another opportunity to explore the National Forest that is our back yard.