Mogollon Rim Trail day 28: someday this will all be aspens


Mileage: 21

371.2 miles hiked

First thing in the morning we’re hiking the old railroad grade through open mountain meadows, wearing all our layers, the wind beating us. I watch the sky warily as we walk. It’s cold up here, in the White Mountains at the beginning of May. I really hope it doesn’t storm.

The weather holds out as we leave the old railroad grade and circle Big Lake on use trail. We’re walking through an area with a lot of campgrounds, and there have been tons of pit toilets so far today, and a few trash cans, and even a water spigot. We got to take our first dumps of the morning in a warm pit toilet, sheltered from the wind. We got to throw away our trash. It’s been glorious.

So many of the trails in this area were affected by the Wallow fire of 2011, and today’s trails are no exception. We walk through eerie burned forest, the wind playing the white snags like flutes. We step carefully over blowdowns, their branches sharp and willy nilly, or go under them, or around them. Burns have always felt like special places to me, and here something magic is happening in the understory- it’s crowded with baby aspens, pale and just beginning to leaf out. There are hundreds of them, thousands of them. As tall as I am, making their own mini forest. Someday this will all be aspens, rattling their leaves in the wind. What kind of a world will this be, when these aspens are grown? It reassures me, somehow, that the aspens will be here when I am not. When none of us are. When our civilization, maybe, has crumbled, and fallen, and lies still under seasons of debris- pine needles, blowdowns, last year’s fallen leaves, sediment from a river that’s flooded its banks. Time is such a funny thing.

We have lunch where a dirt road dead ends alongside Deer Creek and the dark clouds are really rolling in when we pack up to walk again. The walking is easy along Deer Creek in its gentle canyon until the last mile, when the dregs of an old road we’ve been following disappears and all is overgrown with a thorny, knee high plant or else too steep and rocky or full of blowdowns to be appealing so we make our slow way, still happy and contented, from one scrap of bank to another, hopping again and again across the small creek while a little hail begins to fall.

It’s cold, and we never do take off our layers today. Where Deer Creek meets Black River is a wide, graded forest service road and we walk along the river past camprounds with more vault toilets, picnic tables and trashcans. A fierce cold wind blows up the river, and we walk fast to stay warm. Black River is gentle here, shallow, innocuous seeming. The real test will be tomorrow, when this road becomes a trail and we have to ford the river, again and again, while it absorbs other streams and becomes larger. Often in spring the Black River farther downstream is too large to be forded. And this has been an especially wet spring, to boot. And it’ll be cold tomorrow, and likely raining.

We shall see.

We camp right where the road ends and the trail along the Black River starts, pitching our shelter in the pine forest above the water and crawling inside to escape the cold and cook dinner from our sleeping bags, even though it’s only 5pm. The katabatic effect is like, real, man.