Moby Goes to the Gila River

The Gila River begins in the mountains of western New Mexico, crosses Arizona, and finally merges with the Colorado River in southern Arizona 649 miles later, not far from Mexico. The Gila used to be a major river, navigable by large riverboats from its mouth upriver as far as Phoenix and by smaller boats nearly to New Mexico. Today, however, irrigation and thirsty cities drain the river dry.

In 1944, German POWs built a collapsible boat, dug a tunnel under Papago Park prisoner of war camp, and escaped. Based on their stolen copy of an Arizona highway map, they planned to float the Gila to the Colorado and escape into Mexico. What they didn’t know was that the Gila River, a continuous blue line on the map, was mostly dry. They were recaptured. Read more here.

It’s a sad dusty river, gone to cotton fields and towns, but the eastern part of the river, before it reaches Phoenix, usually has some water. We floated a 22-mile stretch called the Gila Box in November 2015. The BLM’s advice to boaters captures the flavor of the Gila Box: “Float boaters are discouraged from navigating the river trail on inner tubes and inflatable swimming pool toys.” Gila Box River Trail website here.

Like many rivers, when you’re in the canyon, it’s easy to forget that just above are roads and cars and people. We spent two days and one night on the river and didn’t see another soul. And even though the river would soon be diverted for irrigation and leave the Gila dry, we forgot about all that as we floated this pretty desert stream.

You can see the Gila Box River Trail put-in here: Google Map of the Gila Box River Trail.

The trip starts at the Old Safford Bridge, built in 1918 with convict labor.
“Packy,” our collapsible canoe, is a Pakboat. Read about Pakboats here.
Ancient cottonwood tree at the put-in.
Day one brought warm sunshine.
Lunch stop above the upcoming death-defying rapids.
Larry lines the death-defying rapids while I walk safely on shore.
The river was muddy from recent rains.
Long-armed cactus in a side canyon.
Day 2 brought rain and cool weather.
Increasing rain made us happy to get off the river and back to the BLM campground.
Larry cleaned wet muddy gear and drank coffee outside while I took pictures of him from inside Moby, dry and warm. Seems fair, right?



6 thoughts

  1. Thanks: Brings back good memories. I miss the South west. We are doing good. Take Care. Love, Dad and Mom

  2. OK, guys. Thank you. That was the most fun I have had over morning coffee in a long time.
    Sue and I spend a lot of time in the area of Papago Park and now we now the underground story.

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