Project Remote is working to precisely calculate and travel to the remotest locations in each of the 50 United States. Below is a written account of our 5-day hiking expedition to document the New Mexico Remote Spot. This is our 25th state Remote Spot documented as part of Project Remote.
Distance from Nearest Road: 11.4 miles
Distance from Nearest Trail: about a quarter of a mile
Travel Method: Backpacking
Hiking Distance One-Way: approx. 28 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: No
Public Land: Yes, Gila Wilderness
Something We Learned: The Gila Wilderness was designated the world’s first wilderness area in 1924. It’s also a heckuva place to see rattlesnakes in August…We closely encountered six of them (two species) in 5 days!
In Ryan’s Words…
August 24, 2014. The Remote Spotters arrive in one of our favorite states..New Mexico! Through the years, before Project Remote, while on western U.S. trips, we had always gravitated to the southwest corner of NM…magnetically drawn to the wild and wonderful Gila National Forest. We delighted while in the office months ago when we discovered that the New Mexico Remote Spot resided within the center of the Gila Wilderness. It meant that we would return to the magnificent Gila for a New Mexico-sized adventure into the center of the wilderness. Below is our first view as a family of the region. In a few short days and many long miles, we will be standing together as a family of three on that far horizon. I’m tingling. What will we see and learn this time?
The NM Remote Spot, in the middle of the Gila, is 11.5 straight line miles from the nearest road. The nearest road approach happens to be at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, where we begin our journey…
We donned extremely heavy backpacks at 72 lbs for Ryan and 52 lbs for Rebecca because of our need to carry our 5 year old daughter and all the gear and food for a 5-day, scientific documentary wilderness jaunt for three…We walked 22.5 miles one-way (45 miles total) to the NM Remote Spot, primarily up the West Fork of the Gila River. Walking up river and back down it featured exactly 120 total wet, knee-deep river crossings (60 one way–we counted!)…Our soaked feet sloshed all day every day for five days in our boots.
We encounter six rattlesnakes of 2 species (black-tailed and rock rattlesnakes) while on our 5-day NM Remote Spotting trip. The biggest thing to remember when trekking in venomous snake country is “watch your step.” As long as you don’t step directly on a venomous snake, or extremely close within its striking distance, you will not be bitten. On this trip, six times we stepped near a rattler on the trail. All rattled fiercely to signal their presence, but no strike. Hearing the loud buzzing rattle gets your heart rate elevated!
This family is very fond of rattlesnakes! My father, Bruce, spent the better part of his adult life studying the eastern diamondback rattlesnake native to the SE Unites States. In fact, dad wrote a comprehensive, award-winning scientific monograph on the eastern diamondback entitled: “Diamonds in the Rough.” My fondest childhood memories include anything rattlesnake and outdoor adventure centered around his research.
Rattlesnakes are a fascinating group of snakes within the family Viperidae. They possess heat seeking pits between the nostril and eye and, of course, the unmistakable rattle at the end of the tail. The rattle evolved over time at the tail tip as scales gradually morphed into a complex defensive noise structure through countless generations directed by natural selection powered by random genetic mutation. There currently are 36 known species distributed only in the New World from southern Canada all the way down to central Argentina. Their evolutionary “cradle” is believed to have been somewhere in southwestern North America.
Here’s the second of two rattlesnake species we encounter while in the Gila Wilderness: Rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus).
The girls flush a black bear while I’m behind re-tying my boots..Incredible scenery everywhere…
The New Mexico Remote Spot resides in an elevated region of the Gila Wilderness called McKenna Park (below). A towering Ponderosa pine forest spans over an open savanna-like landscape. This is a wild fire maintained ecosystem with widely scattered trees and a primarily herbaceous, low-lying, diverse plant community covering the ground. This ecosystem is very reminiscent of the Southeastern U.S. longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem that Rebecca and I are intimately familiar with as biologists from Florida. Rebecca is dwarfed by the pines as we walk overland off trail through the forest navigating via GPS to the precise remote spot that we have calculated.
At last…..after three intense, heavy-weight hiking days and 60 river crossings, we arrive at the remotest location in all of New Mexico. We experience a strong feeling of remoteness and develop a deep bond with this place. We were told that wolves had been reintroduced here fairly recently. We detect no human disturbance or presence during our 15-minute Remote Spot Assessment. This place quantifies and qualifies as a truly remote place…
The New Mexico Remote Spot has one of the most secure conservation futures of any state remote spot, thanks to the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Act is the single greatest, most powerful and comprehensive set of laws ever created by modern self-governing humans. It’s fitting that this, the Gila Wilderness, is the world’s first designated ‘wilderness.’ It remains as wild now as it was nearly a century ago.
Something scurries in the leaf litter. Instinctively, I dart for it and pat my hand over its body. In my grasp is a magnificent Arizona alligator lizard (Elgaria kingii nobilis). This is our first encounter of this species. Chiggars are affixed to soft skin on the lizard’s side. They look like reddish-orange patches. I wonder how many chiggars are on me at the moment?
Moments later, we score a nice view of a New Mexico crevice spiny lizard (Sceloporus poinsetii poinsetii). He enjoys a warm up in a nice patch of sun on his home boulder.
It takes two long days, and a night to return back the way we came in to our parked car at the Gila Cliff Dwellings trail head. There are countless experiences along the way going and coming that we will always cherish…like this: