More than most
long distance routes, the Grand Enchantment Trail seeks out the company
of moving water, sometimes following the banks of rivers and creeks
for several miles at a time. All told, the route meanders in the frequent
company of these sources for more than 90 of its 730 miles. Mountain
and canyon creeks are more likely to be flowing in springtime or soon
following rain, otherwise you may encounter pools of surface water
in times of diminishing runoff - especially in rockbound or steep-walled
portions of drainages. Some creeks and rivers along the route are
perennial or very likely to be flowing except in times of prolonged
drought. Aravaipa, Bonita, Eagle, and Alamosa creeks, and the San
Pedro, San Francisco, Blue, Gila, and Rio Grande rivers all slice
through desert portions of the route, bringing life-giving water to
an otherwise arid region.
Fork Gila River's perennial flow
Canyon spring runoff, Cibola NF
Our route also
passes a good number of springs along the way. These occur in desert,
canyon, and mountain environments, and vary from intermittently surfacing
springs (or artesian springs) in desert washes, to cliff seeps in
steep-walled canyons, to rivulets and spring pools on the forest floor.
Due to the importance of water in this region, and in order to accommodate
stock animals, some springs are 'improved' and feature piped troughs
which act as reservoirs, holding a steady volume of water and persisting
longer in times of drought. Springs and seeps are dependent on localized
near-surface groundwater conditions, so will vary in their rate of
flow and reliability.
Cub Spring & trough, Apache Kid Wilderness
At right: Artesian spring flow in Putnam Wash, Tortilla Mtns
provide a vital addition to naturally occuring surface water along
the G.E.T. Ground or well water pumped to the surface for use by cattle
also benefits wildlife and backpackers, and many of these sources
are surprisingly fine-tasting, particularly when taken directly from
outlet pipes. Windmills are of course dependent upon the presence
of wind (or sun, in the case of solar arrays) and on their operating
condition, but the tanks (large metal holding containers) and troughs
(lower and smaller, for stock use) that hold windmill water may contain
a supply either way. Other times these catchments are fed via a float
valve which replenishes the supply as it is drawn down by use and
evaporation. Earthen tanks - manmade depressions that hold rain and
meltwater - offer yet another option for hikers, although these sources
are perhaps the least reliable and most likely to be contaminated
by cattle (or wildlife), who may wade directly into these often silty
left: windmill & stock trough, Bear Mtns NM
Above: Dry Time Tank (former stock pond), Black Range NM
of Water Sources on the G.E.T.
The Grand Enchantment
Trail guidebook offers specific information about the water sources
encountered along the way, including type, condition, and reliability.
In addition, the G.E.T. Water Chart
- a table listing water source data by milepoint along the route -
provides an informative summary that should be useful in planning
a water carrying strategy. Taken together, the guidebook and water
chart should assist hikers in determining generally which sources
they are most able to count on, which ones might be flowing, and which
are likely to be dry in a given season.
Our route passes
many potential sources of water, many more than might be expected
in an arid region as this. In an average day of hiking, and in a season
of average moisture, you are likely to find multiple sources of potential
drinking water, either on or near route. This is not to suggest that
you will often be able to walk away from a source carrying little
or no water in reserve, but that the route is designed to offer as
many options as possible in the event that a particular source is
Flat Lake, Pinaleno Mtns
In a spring season
of average precipitation, following an average winter of rainfall
and mountain snowpack, (and barring any significant effects of long-term
regional drought) thru-hikers can generally expect to find drinking
water each day of the journey, meaning that they would probably need
to carry no more than a gallon at a time. Seasons of above average
rain and snow - or periods of recent heavy rain or melt - can produce
localized conditions in which water becomes exceptionally abundant,
sometimes flowing in many more places than those listed in the guide.
However, as Arizona and New Mexico continue to trend toward long-term
drought, the opposite extreme is becoming more common - winter and
spring seasons of below average rain and snow, and a resulting decrease
in the reliability of water sources. Thru-hiking in years of low precipitation
becomes more challenging, and such hikers would strongly benefit from
prior experiences with desert travel and with lightweight hiking strategies
that facilitate the ability to carry more water. The same also holds
true for most fall thru-hikes of the route, since summer rains are
less reliable or beneficial than winter, and a lack of snowpack in
autumn greatly reduces mountain runoff.
The best sources
of current information on water conditions are those intrepid scouts
who have recently visited the area in question. Since many portions
of the G.E.T. are remote and seldom visited or reported on, hikers
looking for specific information may need to glean whatever they can
from Forest Service and BLM offices. Even though the representatives
at these offices may lack first-hand knowledge of a particular water
source, they may still have a good sense of what to expect, and can
certainly tell you about recent weather and snowpack conditions. A
list of pertinent agencies can be found in the G.E.T. guidebook, and
in the Town Guide. Call or visit these offices to inquire about water
as well as trail conditions.
Also see the following
links for recent precipitation data and analysis by state:
Arizona precipitation reports
New Mexico precipitation reports
observations, including daily and monthly recorded precipitation totals
and monthly averages, are also available in an easy-to-read format
at weather.com, such as in this
example for Safford, Arizona.
Refer as well
to the Trek Planner section on Creek
Fording for a table with links to streamflow information for select
water sources along the way. Current conditions comparative to average
for these creeks and rivers may sometimes allow you to determine a
trend - either toward or away from problematic regional drought -
before committing to an upcoming season of travel along the route.
And speaking of drought trends, the big picture view is available
courtesy of the U.S.
Drought Monitor website,
which provides weekly updates on current regional drought impacts;
comparison of the drought coverage and intensity maps from one week
to the next offers a good snapshot of how wet or dry a given region
of the trail happens to be, and of how the picture may be evolving
in advance of your hike.
A thorough discussion
of water-related techniques for desert travel is beyond the scope
of this planner. Other websites and publications cover these topics
in detail, and of course there is no substitute for real-world experience,
especially before setting out on a long trek in arid country. That
said, I'd like to share a brief list of techniques that have worked
well for me while hiking in desert regions of the Southwest:
gallon of premium unleaded: sediment-rich stock pond water beats
- Minimize base
packweight as much as possible, in order to more comfortably carry
larger, heavier loads of water when necessary.
- Never reject
the idea of carrying more water just because of its extra weight,
and remember that this weight will decrease steadily as you hike
toward the next source. Plan to carry what you need to be safe and
happy farther down the trail.
re-hydrate at every water source before walking away from it. Drink
much more than you think you need. Consider lingering for a while
so that you can hydrate steadily over a period of time, which is
more effective than quickly chugging 2 quarts and moving on.
- When practical,
try to cook and camp near water sources. This will reduce your use
of carried water as well as total time spent traveling between sources.
Avoid cooking or camping too close to fragile sources that wildlife
and stock also depend on.
- Unless you
are very confidant in the likelihood of your next potential water
source, always assume that it may not be flowing. How much water
would you need to carry if hiking on to the next probable source?
Consider carrying this much water from the outset.
- Drink regularly
throughout the day, rather than rationing your water supply (except
in emergencies). Water can't do you any good if you don't consume
it, and a pack laden with unconsumed water will only increase your
water needs through exertion. Drink and walk. Walk and drink.
- Use maps and
field observations to determine where other water sources may exist
that are not directly along the route. The presence of cattle or
fresh dung is a sure sign of water, likely within a 1 mile radius
of your location. In an emergency, use a small monocular to scout
for windmills, tanks, or areas of lush vegetation on the horizon.
- Carry several
smaller water containers rather than one or two larger containers.
Not only will you lose less water if one container should fail,
you'll also be able to better distribute the load throughout your
and Treatment of Water
Where and how
you treat your water is a matter of personal preference. A majority
of water sources on the G.E.T. are of good appearance, although it
is never guaranteed that appearances will correlate with actual water
quality. Cattle grazing occurs throughout the region, and outside
of stock-excluded wilderness areas and in the highest and/or remotest
terrain, most creeks can be expected to feature some degree of contamination
from these animals. Stock troughs are also "working sources,"
but at least cattle are unable to stand and defecate directly in these
sources (usually), as they often do with stock ponds.
You will probably
want to carry some type of water treatment system on your hike. Many
types of water filters and chemical disinfectants are capable of reducing
pathogens to a level well tolerated by many hikers. Speaking to my
own experiences only, Aqua Mira (chlorine dioxide) has worked well
on all of my Grand Enchantment treks, in the sense that it is lightweight,
fairly convenient, and my gastro-intestinal health has remained good
your water whenever organic matter or sediment is present, which will
improve the appearance of the water and the effectiveness of treatment.
If using a chemical system, you can place contaminated water into
a bladder or large container dedicated to this use, then pour it over
an open cookpot covered with a bandana or tubular porous fabric. Empty
the pre-filtered cookpot water into bottles, then chemically treat.