Great Western Loop: Day 18-21: Safford to Alma
Day 18 All new (25miles)
I left Safford after updating my blog and started hiking towards the small community of Solomon. According to my guidebook there should have been a grocery store for water, so I didn't bring a lot. Once in Solomon I realised that there's only a Mexican/American Restaurant, but no store. So I went to the restaurant at noon for some Tacos and water.
It was my 4th time trying Mexican/American food and - even though I am a big advocate of cultural diversity and melting pots - mixing Mexican food with that american idea of "let's just fry everything" really sucks...
After leaving Solomon I followed a dirt road and several washes, towards Saffords airport. In the middle of one of these washes, I met a pretty confused guy with ragged clothes, a broken backpack and no water, who claimed to be living nearby.
The day remained dry and so I chose an alternate route that brought me to a solar-powered stock tank and reliable water.
At about 6pm I arrived at the very promising Safford-Morenci Trailhead. Nice looking sign, well maintained trail and a nice scenery got my hopes up. I followed the trail for another hour and than pitched my tent next to a pine tree.
Day 19: Diversity (32miles)
The Safford-Morenci Trail soon disappeared and just followed a wash that lead through some stunning narrow canyons. It was an incredible experience and totally worth the extra effort.
Some of these canyons were merely 1m wide.
In the early afternoon I reaches Eagle Creek, a major river in Apache territory.
Until the end of the day I would now follow that river and cross it about 50 times. A trail was basically non-existant and the overall pace rather slow. Every now and than I had to do some backtracking, or to cross the river, when the terrain got to rough, or dense.
Some pretty dark clouds and a little bit of rain concerned me, but never caused a problem. I met a few fishermen and a guy on an ATV, who asked me if I brought a gun for all the bears...
In the afternoon I made a friend. A calf, somehow separated from its herd followed me for some 45mins. I called her Heidi, but she decided later on, that I wasn't good enough for her and left :-(
Day 20: Painted Bluff Trail (25miles)
After finishing the Eagle Creek section, I would now follow the "Painted Bluff Trail", which would take me to an old road, of the Safford-Morenci trade route.
Yet again, the trail was barely visible and not marked at all. For most of the time I had no idea, if I was following an actual man-made trail, or just some animal tracks.
It got better at the Granville Campground and trail in the Apache National Forest. Unfortunately all the spigots were turned off here, and so I had to do another 5-6 miles without water.
The trail soon gained elevation and provided some nice views. The most spectacular sight, however was another Mountain lion. The cougar was just some 200yards away on a mountain ridge and jumped into the bushes as soon as it heard me. For the next 15 minutes I turned around regularly, just to make sure that it wasn't following me.
Overall a fantastic day, with yet again, an incredible diversity of different landscapes, rock formations and colours and mesas.
Day 21: Not as planned...(28miles)
For this day I had planned to make it to Alma and enjoy some food in the evening, at the local Alma Grill. But instead of skipping some miles by just following the Juan Miller road, I decided to follow the official trail down to the "Blue River".
The scenery was nice, but the trail rather confusing. I had to backtrack several times and got really confused, when the G.E.T. suddenly left a perfectly fine trail, for a cross-country section. I was high up on a ridge and my GPS told me to go down into Jonhson Canyon, but I couldn't find a safe way down there. I spent some 20mins walking back and forth until I finally found the way I was supposed to use. I was mad at me for losing so much time.
My spirit rose, when I saw the Wildbunch Trail. A well maintained and clearly marked trail, that allowed me to make some great progress, even though I had to climb more than 5000ft.
I followed the Wildbunch Trail all the way to Snare Spring, the last reliable water source before Alma, some 17miles away.
My plan was to drink at least 1litre and carry 2-2.5litres. Unfortunately, Snare Spring was one of the worst cow ponds I had seen on trail and after filtering 1.5litres, my filter gave up and clogged. I couldn't get any more water and I knew it would become an awful afternoon...and so it did.
From here on I had to follow the "Horse Camp Trail", one of the most overgrown sections of the trail so far. I really hated that trail and another steep climb up to Maple Peak. I constantly lost the trail and had to find my own route, through thorny bushes. When I reached the 10mile road into Alma I still had hopes of making it before 7pm, but than I realised that I had just crossed into New Mexico and a new time zone.
At that moment I slowed down and just stubbornly hiked to town, knowing everything would be closed on my arrival. I got to Alma just before 8pm, found some water and pitched my tent in a ditch right next to the General Store and the Alma Grill - and that's 100% of what Alma has to offer.