The Terrain Underfoot

And the geospatial analysis, as they say, “goes on.”

It dawned on me recently that the route might benefit from another map. Or rather, that hikers might benefit from another map. Or, in the absence of any GET hikers here in early August, that gawking at maps might at least entertain the trail dreamers among us – encouraging us to keep on dreamin’ a little while longer.

But not just any old map would do, of course. So here’s something a little different:

The GET follows a wide variety of “underfoot surfaces” on its 700+ mile journey – existing trails, dirt roads, pavement (very rarely), and cross-country terrain (mostly along drainage courses). As detailed on the website’s main page, approximately 400 miles of the route currently follow trails, with a majority of the rest located along primitive dirt roads or “2-tracks.” But while breaking out the mileages by surface type is useful to get a sense of what’s out there, numbers alone say nothing about the presentation – of what the proverbial thru-hiker will actually experience on a day-to-day basis, hiking eastbound or westbound.

And so, the map…

I’ve organized this under “Overview Maps” (see the Nav Box on the site). On the Overview Maps main page, click the “View More Maps” box to find “Surface Types of the GET.” (For visual clarity, be sure to maximize the size of the full-page map.)

Color-coding the various “surface types” really highlights the route’s personality, showing the big picture undecipherable from the guide text alone. The red line segments indicate where the route follows trails, and yellow where it uses primitive roads; together these surfaces comprise a majority of the hiking experience, as can readily be seen on the map. Of particular note is the extent of almost continuous trail walking in the Gila National Forest, the GET’s approximate mid-point and an eagerly anticipated section for most hikers. Trail tread is likewise more continuous near the route’s termini at PHX and ABQ, but is also regularly encountered throughout the entire route, if not every day (for most hikers) than often enough to quench the thirst, should that be necessary.

I suppose there aren’t yet enough of us to form any sort of consensus, but some GET hikers might agree that they red (trail), yellow (primitive dirt), and green (x-country) sections shown on the map all mostly allow for a quality hiking experience – away from vehicles most of the time, remote, scenic, and surrounded by wild nature. For example, note the “green stretches” west of Klondyke, AZ, which include the untrailed drainage walk along Aravaipa Creek’s wash and in Aravaipa Canyon itself. (Or the similarly green experience at the San Francisco and Blue river canyons near the AZ/NM border.) Also of note is the section from Magdalena to Mountainair, conspicuously absent of trail tread, but replete with the “greens and yellows” that promise a remote, wilderness-like experience through terrain unknown to most.

If, as the saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then it’s the diverse assemblage of parts that take the GET to another level for me. From end to end, the route is a veritable rainbow of hiking experiences – red to yellow, green, indigo, and back again – with each successive color on the map promising new adventures, challenges, rewards… memories. Along the way, as any worthwhile walk will allow, I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotions out there. But among them, boredom and disinterest are not. Certainly I’ve been there before, elsewhere, but here, on the GET, the absence of monotony, of predictability, that comes with the ever-changing landscapes and terrain seems to maintain the interest level from day to day.  What’s around the next corner? What new experience awaits? Even after all this time, I still find myself asking. And usually, glad for the answer that comes.


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