new map CD and the current state of the GET

The latest topo map CD, now available, is actually the 8th version that’s been offered in the four years and some odds months of the GET’s unofficial existence. Why the heck are we so busy making maps, anyway?

Partly it’s because we *can* be. If we’d been busy instead publishing hardcopy versions of maps and guides – in book form, say – then we’d probably still be sitting on a stack from the first printing, now woefully out of date. But the CD-ROM format of the maps, and online approach to the guidebook, have proven to be comparatively flexible and timely (not to mention economical). Updating is still a bunch of work, no doubt, but it’s not prohibitive. It’s definitely not-for-profit work, either, but keeping things generally up to date, improving the trail experience, is certainly reward enough for us. Better in fact.

The other reason for all the busy-work is that we *ought* to be (busy that is). We feel that the route – and the positive promotion of these lands – deserves this amount of dedication, and that the end result now is something much more refined and approachable compared to its first incarnation of 5 years ago. As we’ve returned to the route season after season, and especially now as others have gone forth and returned with insights of their own, incremental changes to the route’s layout have steadily improved the trail experience, so that the current layout is vastly improved over what was originally explored back in 2005. This is a subjective assessment, but it hasn’t developed in a vacuum either.

Changes to the map CD from one version to the next generally come in two forms – adjustments to the route layout here and there, either major or (more often) minor, and improvements to the descriptive information on the maps to assist in navigation and in providing as accurate a portrayal of the route as possible. In both areas, the GET remains a work in progress. Within the past year, however, and especially given the updates reflected on the latest map CD, we now have reason to believe that the route layout is maturing to a point where frequent updating won’t be as necessary or productive going forward. At least that’s the view right now. Perhaps only once-yearly updates to the map CD will be in store (likely more frequent for the guidebook chapters, town guide, and water chart) – reflecting changes in trail conditions or for the occasional detour around a recent burn area, etc. But the route layout itself, barring any unforeseeables, is pretty well developed now and large-scale changes seem less likely.

The latest map CD, and the route layout and commentary it reflects, is especially noteworthy for the many contributions provided by the trail community. 2009 saw a fair (of course still modest) number of hikers along the route – some section, some thru – and their follow-up feedback has been invaluable, especially by helping us to see the route through others’ eyes (plenty of “a-ha” moments and “you’re right, let’s change this here, or tweak that there.”) This was also a really good year for developments on the trail maintenance front, with official work crews clearing some of the most backlogged (and needy) sections of the route. All of this work was merely good fortune for the GET, in that we had no active hand in any of it, but were merely lucky – and ever so grateful – to find the trail’s needs aligning with the priorities of land managers and trail crew coordinators.

Among the trail work projects benefitting the GET this past year, and now reflected on the new maps and updated guide chapters, are the following:

In Segment 3, White Canyon Wilderness segment, the Arizona Trail Assocation continues to make progress developing a finalized trail alignment south of Picketpost Mountain. (TopoFusion.com’s very own Scott Morris, AZT & GET hike-a-biker, has been instrumental in laying out the line of the future trail here.) For the time being, there’s still some interim route on 4WD roads and old singletrack, but also lots of new singletrack, well constructed and signed, and a joy to travel.

Ash Creek Trail in the Pinaleno Mountains (segment 10) recently received major trail maintenance and reconstruction along its entirely length. Gone are the endless blowdowns, eroded tread, and debris flows in the drainage. The canyon, with Ash Creek falls, and dramatic, far-flung views out across the Gila Valley, has always been beautiful, and now the trail experience is once again befitting of this splendid setting.

The Safford-Morenci Trail (Segment 13) continues to gain new sections of singletrack as the route is redeveloped with non-motorized recreation squarely in mind. Approximately 2 miles of new trail built last year now takes the trail off some 4WD and out of washes, both near its western terminus, and along Johnny Creek. Trail routing and construction have been nicely done, as evidenced by one of the recent clips added to the GET video gallery.

East Fork Whitewater Creek Trail in the Mogollon Mountains / Gila Wilderness (seg 20) saw a trail crew late in the season (after we’d come through, but before Barbara Zinn, who first reported the good news). This eliminates a half mile of blowdown-intensive and hard-to-spot trail across a sporadic burn area, and several miles of generally rough and brushy trail on this less-frequently used (but convenient) route between the lower, canyon country and high crest of the range.

Major blowdown removal in Burnt Canyon, on the way up to the Continental Divide (seg 23), had left the route here in immaculate condition this past autumn, despite the surrounding devastation from a years-old burn. There’s still more standing dead timber left to fall, but we have to congratulate the dedication of the crews that continue to work this relatively little-used trail across some very remote, hard-to-access country.

The Continental Divide Trail across the Black Range received a large amount of rehab this past year. Barb Zinn heard from the USFS in charge that crews had cleared the trail of blowdowns from Reeds Peak north to Burnt Canyon (not on the GET). Segment 24 of the GET (CDT) is slated for work this coming summer, which will include some remaining rough stretches from Diamond Peak north toward Fisherman’s Bluff. A summer ’09 crew with hand tools worked portions of this section, but big improvements here are forthcoming. Meanwhile, a separate chain-saw crew this past summer worked the Divide from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness boundary north (thru segments 25 and 26) all the way to Wahoo Peak area, where the GET and CDT part ways. All told, perhaps 50 miles of the CDT – 35 or 40 of it coinciding with the GET – were in excellent shape, and generally easy to navigate.

In addition to trail work, some route relo’s are also in the offing:

The biggest change to the route layout of the GET comes in Segment 27 and 28 – Monticello Canyon area and across the Apache Kid Wilderness. These changes are predicated on the belief (ours and others) that the most scenic and immersive route across the Apache Kid should begin in the south at Shipman Canyon off the Burma Road and follow the crest of the San Mateos for virtually its entirely length. Although the prior layout up San Mateo Canyon is certainly workable, is scenic and wild, and a bit shorter/more efficient, the attraction of this new “main route” – previously the “San Mateo Peak Alternate Route” – justifies giving it top billing. Consequently, the nearby resupply detour into the community of Monticello becomes more simplified, now done via one big loop, the “Monticello Loop,” which heads down Monticello Canyon into town, then back out to the main route via the scenic 4WD Burma Road, avoiding the need to double back along the canyon bottom (and shortening the related road walk).

Also in Segment 28, north of Blue Mountain, the recommended route now returns to Water Canyon, due to recent trail reconstruction following awful burn devastation from the 90’s. This means the Coffee Pot Trail (rougher, more roundabout) is no longer needed, save for a short side trip to Cub Spring perhaps. Instead, the GET can remain on the range’s major thru-route, the Apache Kid Trail, much of the way across this wilderness area and into Segment 29. More trail work of A.K.T. is anticipated in 2010, further recommending these new layout changes in Segment 28, and likely improving travel in seg 29 as well.

Feedback from other hikers has likewise led to changes in the route layout in the Magdalena Mountains (seg 31). Ongoing telescope construction at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory had originally suggested the benefit of avoiding this area via east and west forks of Sawmill Canyon, which form a big, and frankly exhausting, loop around the MRO area. After hearing enough complaints, we now have to agree – walking by the MRO is probably a more elegant approach, and this in fact returns the route here to its former layout circa ’05 – ’06. The area trails are reportedly flagged and followable, and the road alongside the MRO can be avoided if necessary by simply following the open 10,000 foot ridge just west of the observatory area. Certainly this is a scenic walk, and most of the time likely a quiet one, even if it’s not exactly a wilderness setting for a mile.

Recent changes to the route in Segment 33 (Sevilleta Trace) – first presented on map CD v1.6 – are now largely confirmed, tried and true (formerly hypothetical layout in places). But there are a couple of recommended tweaks, based on ground-truthing, now highlighted on the new map CD.

The BNSF railroad double-tracking project at Abo Canyon (seg 34) is ongoing. Still recommend avoiding the area due to construction vehicles daily, confirmed work schedule approx 7am to 5:30pm. And probably don’t camp nearby due to all-night train noise, but pack water from the arroyo and head up one of the side drainages out of earshot.

Segment 35 (Manzano Mountains) is still rough, vague and brushy in many places despite some trail work, partly due to recent burns. Recommend following the labelled “new trail” (rather than “old trail”) at map-marked split north of Bosque Peak, as old trail has been deranged by cattle use. Good news here is that a fall ’09 GET hiker found Ojo de los Indios Spring, something none of us had been able to do; the spring looks reliable and would make for a considerably easier haul across the Manzano Crest between Spruce Spring and 4th of July Spring. More details on the upcoming water chart update.

Finally, in Segment 37 (Manzanita Mountains North), we can confirm that a spur off the Tunnel Canyon Trail, just south of the trailhead, heads through a culvert and continues as pleasant singletrack trail paralleling Hwy 337 north for about a mile. Hikers can then rejoin the highway for the short walk into Tijeras, passing the Sandia Ranger District USFS office en route.

So that’s the gist of what’s new and noteworthy. Besides a fair number of other minor tweaks, there are also a few mileage adjustments here and there, though this will have to be an ongoing effort to correct what are generally underestimates of actual mileages in certain areas along the route. There’s more info in the Trek Planner chapters about mileages. The bottom line is that it’s a lot easier to simply plan on a 5% underestimate of actual mileages (or maybe as much as 10% in brief stretches) on rougher, singletrack portions of the route, than to wait to get the maps and guide description mileages just right, especially between features.

Many thanks to the 2009 hikers – spring and fall – as well as others, who provided feedback about their experiences along the trail and offered suggestions for improvement. Also to the trail maintainers – past, present, and future! The team effort has made all the difference here. The route is still rough in many places, navigation remains challenging sometimes, and some of this will probably always be the case, as perhaps it should be. But the GET is in as good a place right now as it’s ever been, and it’s largely thanks to you.

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