Wednesday, May 26, 2010
North Percha Creek-Gila National Forest
The trail up North Percha is not on the Aldo Leopold Wilderness map, nor the Gila National Forest map. It is on the USGS topo of the area, but for the most part it is a forgotten trail in a remote area of the forest known and used mainly by hunters and a few locals. Still it’s a great dayhike if you happen to be visiting Hillsboro or Kingston, or if you’re already familiar with the more “popular” Black Range trails and want to try something different. Access to the trailhead is off of NM 152 about 6 miles west of Hillsboro. Be on the lookout for a small brown Forest Trail sign.( Note: this road is signed now and is called the North Percha Road and there is a much larger brown sign listing various destinations along the road). This is where you will turn off. If approaching from Kingston it is perhaps 2 -3 miles east of the town. There may be an even more smaller sign with 157 on it, also indicating your turnoff to the north. You will drive approximately 8-9 miles on this mostly good gravel road. You will go through a posted private inholding with an old yellow house and several log structures. Once out of the private land you should quickly take advantage of any available parking spot. You may see a forest trail sign and an Abandoned Primitive Road sign warning of the dangers of continued travel- believe it- especially if you’re not driving a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle and are less than experienced. You may get yourself into a position with no way to turn around. Wherever you start walking just follow the old road.
You will pass a deep pool of North Percha Creek and an area where the stream cascades over small bare- rock waterfalls. When you reach the old Virginia Mine, the road/ trail almost disappears briefly. There are numerous tunnels and tailings piles in this area, but no open shafts that I have seen. A little further along you will come to a fork in the road- go left across the creek where you will encounter several old stone structures and one almost completely collapsed larger board building which I assume was some kind of bunkhouse. Continue following the road which eventually turns into a single track trail. Watch for old tree blazes and remember the trail is never too far from the creek. At close to 3 miles a large tributary comes in on your right, stay to the left following the path across the main creek again. In a little over 3 miles you will enter a stunning gorge with volcanic cliffs towering hundreds of feet over your head. Closer to the ground there are pictographs below some overhanging rock.You can turn around here, or continue through the gorge, following old tree blazes another mile or so to an old corral. Be forewarned. Beyond the gorge there is little or no trail on the ground, just a few old blazes. The hiking gets steeper as well. Note: Mileages for the hike are distances from the Abandoned Road sign. There is limited, but nice dispersed camping along FR157 and a couple of side roads. These same roads make for a pleasant selection of dayhikes, but be careful when driving them: the change from navigable to un-navigable may be abrupt.IMPORTANT UPDATE: At least part if not all of this hike is within the Silver Fire burn area.The road is washed out a short ways past where it re-enters Forest Service land ,which is a few hundred feet past the Abandoned Road sign. There isn't good place to turn around either.