Article and Photos by Shirin McArthur for the Grant County Beat
Rain has not dampened the enthusiasm of people attending this year’s Gila River Festival, and not all the events are taking place out-of-doors. At noontime Thursday, the Silver City Museum’s Brown Bag Lunch Series featured Nathan Newcomer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, who shared slides and stories from his 8-day hike down the Gila River with a friend and his dog.
Newcomer’s hike took place from May 27 through June 3, 2014. June 3 was the 90th anniversary of the designation of the Gila Wilderness Area. They hiked along 50 miles of the Gila River, carrying packs that started out weighing 50 or 60 pounds each. Even the dog carried his own pack of food. Newcomer’s pictures revealed stunning vistas and clear, clean river water. They spotted tracks and scat from bears and a mountain lion, which Newcomer spotted one day across a grass-filled meadow.
The photographs also showed numerous large piles of debris from last year’s flooding. Debris is not new to the Gila Wilderness area, which once experienced four major volcanic eruptions over a ten-million-year period. These “mega volcanoes” each spewed out at least 240 cubic miles of debris when they exploded. After the pressure built up underground and the volcanic lava exploded, the volcanoes collapsed, creating calderas, or giant, high-walled valleys which still form large parts of the Gila River canyon walls today.
In addition to enjoying the sights and sounds of the Gila River and surrounding wilderness, Newcomer also spent a good deal of time taking GPS-tagged photographs of the Gila River and its environs using a tracking app on his tablet. In fact, almost all of the photos shown to the audience were taken with the tablet. The goal of this work is to create an inventory which he hopes will assist in the process of having the Gila River designated a Wild and Scenic River.
One way that Newcomer and his buddy celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Gila Wilderness designation was by asking ahead of time for people to share stories of friends and family who have experienced the Gila River in the past. They received over 250 of these stories, which they packed in with them and read out loud in the midst of the wilderness during one day of their hike. This opportunity to reverence the past proved to be a highlight of the trip.