Added 6 April 2008
Day 1: Saturday, 4 August 2007, Mimbres River, Aldo Leopold Wilderness, New Mexico
This backpacking with Steve in the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area in southern New Mexico was supposed to be joined by my wife and a friend, but Shan got sick after the Huachuca Mountains backpacking trip, and Marisa's car was flooded during a big storm that hit downtown last week. While it was an awesome trip, in the end, it may have been just as well that they couldn't come.
Since I'd worked some overtime during the week, I left work a little early on Friday so I could get a head start on the four hour drive to the trailhead. On the dirt road to the trail, a rabbit jumped out in front of me, giving me no time to avoid hitting it. Pretty certain I had hit it, I backed up to make sure it was dead and not suffering. It certainly appeared to be dead, but drove over it again just to be certain, cringing as I did so (the thought still sends chills up my spine). By the time I arrived at camp, Steve had been there for several hours and had scoped out the trailhead. We chatted for a while then went to bed. I didn't want to set up my tent, so I improvised a sleeping platform in the Civic by lowering the rear seat, and sleeping with my legs in the trunk and my body on the back of the rear seat. It worked quite well, though there are a few modifications that could be made to my arrangement to make it even better.
We got a leisurely start on Saturday, and started hiking at around nine o'clock. There was a "trail re-routed" sign at the trailhead, but no information about where it was re-routed to, so we dodged in and out of private property until we got to the National Forest and shortly thereafter, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness boundary. The entire hike was along the Mimbres River, though to call the Mimbres a river is a stretch, even by Southwest standards. It would better be defined as a creek. Either way, it is a beautiful stream through gorgeous country. We stopped often to marvel at the wonderful wildflowers, small waterfalls, and the general scenery.
The trail crosses the Mimbres River often, especially near the beginning of the trail. There are few rocks large enough or closely spaced enough to keep your boots dry, but I didn't have any problems with my waterproof boots until a rock rotated under my foot and I ended up in water coming in over the top of my boots. My wet foot ended up being totally inconsequential when, not long after, it started to rain.
The weather was warm enough that donning rain gear would promote sweating profusely, so we both opted to protect our packs but not our bodies from the rain. Quite frankly, I expected a short shower followed by a nice drying sun. A false hope, to be sure. It rained to varying degrees of severity the rest of the morning and clear through the afternoon. We arrived at the confluence of the south fork and north fork of the Mimbres River at around noon, almost exactly three hours after starting our hike. It's about 6 1/4 miles from the trailhead to the river fork, and I owe the three hour journey to our frequent stops, and the occasional need to figure out where the trail was. The trail, surprisingly, seemed little traveled and didn't appear to have had any maintenance recently.
Just after arriving at the confluence, the rain slowed enough to allow us to set our tents up without getting our gear wet. We had a quick bite to eat, then decided to hike up the south fork of the Mimbres River in hopes of making it to Mimbres Lake. We took our food in case we didn't get back to camp by dinner time, and I opted to take my spare clothes in case it stopped raining and I wanted to get dry. It didn't take long for me to question whether or not we would make it all the way to Mimbres Lake, over five miles away. The trail along the south fork was less distinct than the trail below the confluence, which slowed our progress. Shortly after resuming our hiking, the rain picked up too. We just resolved to keep up a good pace without moving too quickly to enjoy what we were hiking through.
After a while, we entered a large open area created by a long-ago forest fire. A fire ecologist friend of mine has since told me that we were likely in the area burned by the McKnight fire of 1950. The area offered the first distant views of the trip, and even then we couldn't really see all that far. The surrounding hills were beautiful though, with ghostly rock spires standing out in the mist. We also encountered new species of wildflowers. Instead of my bird field guide, I should have brought my wildflowers field guide! Of course, I was photo-documenting the flowers for later identification. I was truly amazed by the number and variety of wildflowers on the trip. We also found a species of berry plant that I'd never heard of before, thimbleberry. It's sort of a cross between a strawberry and a raspberry, though at least the thimbleberries we found didn't taste as good as either one.
As we continued up the canyon, small feeder streams entered the Mimbres, which itself became smaller and smaller as we climbed the watershed. After about three miles, we decided to turn around and head back to camp to have dinner, hopefully dry off and, really hopefully, get a campfire going.
We got back to camp in a very light rain that soon quit altogether. I kept my wet clothes on hoping they might dry faster on my body than off with the assistance of my body heat. While Steve filtered water for us, I worked on the campfire.
Steve had some newspaper. I had some WetFire fire starter. We agreed that in the interest of making sure we had the best chance of getting a fire going that I would use the alcohol for my stove to assist in getting the fire going in exchange for using Steve's stove to cook with. Had our life depended on that fire, we wouldn't have walked out of there. The wood and kindling was simply too wet to keep burning. I got it to start, but couldn't get it to stay. So we sat together around the smoke and tried to imagine what the fire would have been like had I been an even remotely competent outdoorsman.
After dinner, with the clothes on my body seemingly no drier than when the rain stopped, and with the evening chill coming on, I decided it was time to give up and put my dry clothes on. Only, my dry clothes weren't so dry. Somehow water had snuck past my efforts to thwart it and soaked every article of clothing I had save my underwear and my polypropylene long-john pants. My spare shirt was slightly more dry than the one I'd been wearing, so I put it on. Then I sat around camp wearing a wet t-shirt and my skivvies. As it got cooler, I put my fleece on despite the fact that it was wet from the shoulders up.
At around nine o'clock Steve decided to retire to his tent to read, which sounded like a fine idea to me too. The small book of poetry I brought to read was, unfortunately, not filled with particularly momentous poetry, but from everything a little good does come.