Aeroplane Mesa, Gila National Forest – April 29 & 30

  

We spent most of today driving down the backroads of the Gila National Forest. We saw an amazing amount of wildlife including 3 groups of javelina, mule deer, roadrunners and a number of wild turkeys. 
We saw very few other vehicles, especially once we got past the first 5 miles. It was very interesting to see how the vegetation changes as we went along. Some of the views were just spectacular. We passed by the ever present cows and the occasional forest fire recovery area. 
  
Eventually, it was getting late and we needed someplace to stay for the night.  We decided to camp at Aeroplane Mesa campground. We assumed it would be as unoccupied as the rest of the Gila National Forest had been.
  
  
As it turned out, there was a guy, about a dozen mules and a few horses. He was working for a company that took people out on mule based expeditions. About half of the animals had already left. He and two other contractors had just finished taking a number of guys from Australia out for an expedition. They were in the U.S. for a bachelor’s pre-wedding outing. They had left for Las Vegas, while the staff had to go back out to recover the gear with the remaining mules.   
  
The corral with horses is on the very far right side 

Still, it wasn’t like the camping area was crowded.
We had a nice dinner followed by a quiet night.
We wanted to take a hike after spending most of the day in the car yesterday. I was still feeling pretty sore after the 15 mile hike two days before. There was a trail that started out at the campground, so we decided to take it. 
   

 

We headed to the Aeroplane Mesa which was a 2.5 mile hike across the plain. The trail continued down to the bottom of the canyon where there was a river.  The trail was pretty torn up after all of the mules having traveled this route several times over the last week.  
  
It almost looks like a road, but it isn’t smooth or easy to walk along. 

  
It was a great view and a long way down. 
We did take the trail down to the bottom of the canyon. The steep part down was really damaged. 
  
  
It is going to be a long climb back up. 

 

 We walked up the river bed for a short distance and ate a little lunch. After the rough trail conditions down the cliff, I recommended that we make our hike a loop trail so we could come up another route. According to the photos I took of our map, it looked like we could make it into a loop by following a trail along the river, taking a different route up to the top of the ridge and walking along the road for a little to get back to the campground. Jon hadn’t seen the map before we left, so he hadn’t plugged in the coordinates into the inReach. 
  
There wasn’t much of a trail along the river, so we made a number of river crossings; sometimes finding a trail for a while, sometimes not. 

 

We got to a point where it seemed like we should be going back up the canyon wall. We hadn’t really found a trail, so we took a pretty rough climb to get back to the top of the mesa. 
  
We found a ton of elk and deer tracks and droppings. It was challenging to tell an animal trail from a human trail.
Jon pulled out the inReach to help us find our way back. It meant a lot of walking along the edge of hills and climbing up and down most of the same hills. 
By the time we got back, we had put in over 11 miles of serious hills and river crossings instead of what we expected to be no more than a 8 mile hike with only one big climb. That is the way life goes sometimes. 
I call this hike “Emily’s folly”. I learned my lesson about talking with Jon about alternative hikes before we go out. After closer inspection of the map, it turned out that the other trail ended at the edge of the canyon and didn’t go all the way to the river. Plus what looked like small ponds on the tiny view on my phone were actually just blue writing naming the river.
That evening was the only night where I really wished we could order in pizza. I was bushed. 
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