"TODAY HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST INSANE DAYS OF MY LIFE."
We awoke this morning at our backcountry campsite tucked in the Gila Wilderness. Brett just found a monster caddis at our campsite. I would wager that it is a size 8. We quickly packed up camp, hiked back out to the trucks, and then headed into Springerville, AZ. McDonalds provided a great place to stop, mainly for Wi-Fi, but fast food tastes pretty good after being in the woods for a week. The crew began to get a blog together while going through footage and photos. Again, nice to have a real toilet to use. It has been about a week since my last shower, and I’m certain this will become a recurring theme.
After gathering some supplies and dumping media, we were ready to head for New Mexico. I got to talk to Dad and Ally today which was great because it will be a number of days until we have cell service again. Brett drove Jeff’s Chevy (Austin’s dad’s truck) with Austin and Heather. Jacob and I followed in his truck. We stopped in Reserve for some cold beer and gasoline. A quick map check, and we were ready to begin what would be one of the more fascinating car rides I have been on.
Driving through Gila National Forest, the lead truck stopped as we rounded a bend on the gravel forest road. There was a large heard of elk that were grazing in a wide meadow to our left. Cameras were frantically searched for, as the heard looked at the trucks with surprise. By the time I had my settings adjusted on the camera, the heard began to scatter. What had to be 100 or more elk ran at a dead sprint down the meadow as we followed along side them on the road, cameras rolling. Heather was able to get great footage of this event before the heard crossed the road not 20 ft. in front of our first truck. Following this impressive event, we proceeded to climb up one of the more intense “roads” we have hopped thus far. In Apache, Nate called traveling forest roads “hopping” them, and for good reason. 4WD is definitely recommended, and conveniently Jacob’s had stopped working. This summit perfectly coincided with an immaculate sunset over the valley as we climbed. At the top we took a moment to enjoy it and take some pictures.
Photo: Matt Crockett Sunset in New Mexico.
Descending the other side of the mountain pass, we saw a few more heard of elk, roaming in the last hour of light. We continued our drive as darkness fell, only to realize we were heading straight for a large orange glow. After coming around a ridge, there in plain sight sat a forest fire. We approached cautiously, wondering if our campsite would be closed. We parked off the road in a perfect location to safely watch the fire and shoot photos. This was truly a surreal experience for me, never viewing such an event from close range before. I borrowed Jacob’s tripod and shot some great pictures of the action.
Photo: Matt Crockett :|: Fires burn in Gila National Forest
We have made camp now at Bend Lilly Campground, which is perfectly situated in a valley with two fires burning on the ridges surrounding it. The campground conveniently opened today, and is a great oasis from the smoke and flame. Tonight we have all spent our time eating around the campfire, writing, and practicing shooting nighttime photos. There are certain moments in life that are impossible to fully convey to a person who did not experience it for themselves. There were many of those moments today. It has finally set in that this trip will likely be life changing. The things we will witness will be moments that only the 5 of us will truly be able to relive, despite our best efforts with a camera or pen. I hope that by writing and shooting we are able to reflect at least a small amount to others what we truly experience. I did not go fishing today, but today was one of the best days of my life. That is something I never thought I would say. Just being on the road and living the way we are, surrounded by the natural world, truly inspires an individual. Creatively I feel compelled in multiple outlets, including fly fishing, art, and now photography. I hope that these experiences propel new directions for all of us. Not solely by our paths, but our mentalities as well.”
- Matt Crockett
This entry is from a A Native Odyssey: A conservation road trip of a lifetime where five students (Brett Winchel, Austin Burroughs, Heather Harkavy, Jacob Lacy and Matt Corckett) from the TU Costa 5 Rivers Outreach Program will embark on a once-in-a-lifetime journey in pursuit of 16 native trout species, all on their public land. With support from the U.S. Forest Service, Costa Sunglasses, Simms Fishing Products, Fishpond and Post Fly Box, these students will tell the stories of our native trout, the places they live, and the local economies they fuel. They will fish and explore our public lands around the country, unearthing challenges facing our native trout species. In addition to pursuing each species on fly, they will be interviewing local stakeholders, including ranchers, TU Volunteers, TU and U.S. Forest Service staff. They hope to reveal a diverse set of perspectives on what public lands, native species, and clean water means to each region the students visit.