Answers to Common Questions about the G.E.T.










Q: I've never heard of the Grand Enchantment Trail. What the heck is it? Where on earth does it go?

A: The Grand Enchantment Trail is a 770 mile backcountry route across the Southwest United States. The route is entirely conceptual in nature, existing in guidebook and mapped form exclusively. It travels from Phoenix Arizona to Albuquerque New Mexico, and along the way passes through a largely wild, undeveloped landscape that includes the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the Continental Divide, sky island mountain ranges, and riparian canyon environments. The route emphasizes scenery, solitude, and access to water over maximum efficiency of travel between Point A and Point B. Yet it is also fairly well graded and physically accommodating, compared with other long-distance trails like the Appalachian Trail, even as the GET is much more primitive in character and more challenging to navigate. [ GET Overview Map ]

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Q: How did the trail come to be?

A: The Grand Enchantment Trail, or GET, as the trail's acronym goes, wasn't actually built so much as it was conceived. The trail was then born of many hours of map work and field research, in order to determine a feasible and enjoyable route between Phoenix and Albuquerque that would also provide a wild and scenic backcountry experience. It uses a combination of existing trails, primitive roads, and a small amount of cross-country travel, all linked together in a fairly natural, fluid manner, and described by map and guidebook, to produce a hiking experience not entirely unlike that found on the Continental Divide Trail, for example.

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Q: So you're saying the GET is a "route" rather than a trail, in the traditional sense of that word?

A: That's right. A traditional long-distance trail like the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail is established and developed as a singular entity and is "branded" all along its length with signs, blazes, carsonite posts, etc. advertising its official existence. Roads that cross the trail often have signs of their own heralding the trail. Maintainers often adopt portions of the route, and along with volunteer trail crews, insure that the trail's standards of appearance and ease (or difficulty) of use are upheld for the benefit of the large numbers of hikers who naturally gravitate to such accommodations. The GET has virtually none of these aspects, and not so surprisingly sees none of the crowds either. None of the resource pressure. And none of the political affiliation and conciliation that are the hallmarks of a federally-appropriated National Scenic Trail.

In the field, the GET goes by the name of the smaller trails that comprise it, and features such small-time signs, local blazing conventions, cairns and other markers. And with the help of the GET guidebook (in development), experienced hikers should discover that routefinding along the GET is generally straightforward, and that the trails and primitive roads that comprise the route simply don't need to feature additional signposts and blazes pointing the way at every turn. The guide will explain where to hang a left, fork to the right, and precisely when to "climb away from the creek on the better of two paths toward a viewful saddle." And the latest version of the GET Topo Map Set should do the rest.

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Q: How much of the GET is actually hiking trail, as opposed to roadwalking?

A: Perhaps more than one might expect, considering that the route doesn't use a single mile of trail built specifically for its purposes. Perhaps 310 miles or so of the route utilizes local trails maintained by the US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management and associated volunteer groups. Another 70 miles of the GET is concurrent with the Arizona Trail, a long distance trail which runs from the Mexican border to the Utah border a total distance of 800 miles. Still another 45 miles of the GET follows the Continental Divide Trail's official route through the Black Range of the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico. So all told, the Grand Enchantment Trail for roughly 425 miles follows a route that consists of singletrack hiking trail. The entire route is about 770 miles in length, so that means about 56% of the GET is located on hiking trails. By way of reference, the entire Continental Divide Trail in New Mexico uses considerably less trail overall, and involves far more paved roadwalking.

As for the nature of roadwalking on the Grand Enchantment Trail, the overwhelming majority of it is along dirt roads that seldom see vehicle traffic. Many of these roads are of the "2-track" variety: little more than two earthen grooves, with a raised brushy center. These roads, if open to the motoring public at all, are generally accessible only to high-clearance 4 wheel drive vehicles and seldom used. Chalk it up, as well, to the remoteness of the GET, and to the very low population densities in these areas, especially in New Mexico. Walking along 2-track roads is truly the next best thing to trail hiking. Nature is close at hand and unfettered, and yet the walking is usually not difficult. Even where the GET follows improved surfaces, the way ahead is typically on graded dirt roads rather than asphalt, and traffic is wonderfully sparse.

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Q: What about cross-country travel? Is there much of it? How challenging are these segments?

A: First of all, let's make a distinction between "bushwhacking" and "cross-country travel." By common definition, bushwhacking implies that the hiker is traveling off-trail through heavy brush, with tree branches and dense foliage impeding progress and often obscuring the way ahead. Bushwhacking, as such, can be a real ordeal - slow, disorienting, and often painful - and it usually requires a great deal of care and a high level of navigational skill to produce favorable results. By contrast, cross-country travel is just as the name implies - a journey across the open countryside, in which the hiker can often see a fair distance ahead to the next objective, and where the vegetation is likewise open and not so impeding to travel. Compared to bushwhacking, cross-country travel can be like a walk in the park - straightforward, and often enjoyable, even rewarding.

When the GET leaves the trail or road, almost always it heads cross-country, rather than bushwhacking. And it heads cross-country not as a character-building exercise per se, but because there is simply no trail or road in place that would connect to established portions of the route at either end. Much care was taken in planning the route in order to ensure that cross-country portions follow a straightforward approach that also maximizes scenery and enjoyment. Likewise for the very brief stretches that may involve bushwhacking - a few tenths of a mile here or there, less than a mile of the entire route - none of which is of the "disorienting" or "painful" variety.

All told, the GET heads cross-country for about 85 miles of its full length, usually for just a few miles - or less - at a time.

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Q: Does the GET follow a legal route, located on public lands and/or easements?

A: Anyone who's hiked in the West away from the popular trails knows of the potential to stray onto private property. Not necessarily in the urban sense of that term, with homes, cars, barking dogs, and security alarms. Rather, in the inimitable Western sense, where private property in remote lands is synonymous with the sprawling cattle ranch, acres if not miles wide, and largely empty of life (except, perhaps, for the bovine form). Actually, these ranching and grazing properties are often not much different from the surrounding public lands, and often support healthy biotic communities of their own. And the lone ranch house may be miles away from the farthest property line. Nevertheless, private land is private land, and every effort must be made to keep to the public side of the fence. And to obtain explicit permission to cross posted lands before doing so.

Not every strand of barbed wire demarcates a boundary with private land, of course. Cattle grazing also occurs with great frequency on public lands in the West. And not all private property is posted as such. So without the formal and drawn-out procedures that would only arise were the GET to become an officially-recognized entity - which, by design, it won't - there can be no absolute certainty on this subject, particularly when property boundaries and landowner relationships are routinely changeable. Certainly every effort has been made, redoubled efforts now in fact, to describe a route through public lands and on public rights-of-way. Where the route involves roads, sometimes the roads pass through private lands, but in just about every case the roads themselves have been ascertained to be public, legal rights-of-way. And the next parcel of public land is always within a day's walking distance, meaning that hikers can expect to camp and obtain water without trouble.

In a few instances, such as where the GET crosses the private Sevilleta land grant in Socorro county, New Mexico, trail users have been granted conditional permission by the landowners to pass through said private parcels; however these are in no way formal easements or public rights-of-way but rather informal agreements - indeed a privilege - which may be revoked at any time. Trail users should adhere strictly to the information depicted on the mapset and in the guidebook when accessing these portions of the route.

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Q: Why does this "wilderness hiking route" begin and end in large cities (Phoenix and Albuquerque)?

A: In a word, accessibility. Most long distance trails start and end in remote areas, such as the Canadian or Mexican border, or atop a far-flung peak like Mt Katahdin in Maine. Why? Because the folks that developed these trails had to end them somewhere, and dreamy idealism won out over straightforward practicality. Not that Katahdin isn't a wonderful place to end a 2000 mile hike along the AT. But the Grand Enchantment Trail, in particular, isn't really about its endpoints. Instead, it's what happens between those endpoints that matters most. And the termini, in this case, have been selected to get that grand adventure into high gear (or, when the time arrives, to end it) as quickly and as easily as possible. They also just so happen to be incredibly scenic in their own right, located at the edge of spectacular Wilderness areas just beyond the urban fringes.

How accessible is the GET, exactly? Again, at its end points, very much so. In fact, a hiking party could theoretically board a flight from the east coast of the US, and 6 hours later find themselves in the wilderness, along the GET, already beyond sight and sound of the city. Both Phoenix and Albuquerque have international airports, as well as taxi and shuttle services that run directly to the trailhead. Once beyond the trailhead only a mile or two, the wilderness is all-encompassing.

Accessibility also implies availability. By virtue of its big city end points, the GET is available, not to the obsessive few who would journey to some far-flung international border, but to literally millions of people. The trail links people with wilderness, providing an important opportunity for recreation, free from the pressures of urban life. The seemingly endless nature of a long trail, and yet one which does end - if only theoretically in the minds of most - in yet another large city, known to all, creates a striking duality that captivates imaginations and brings the wilderness into the realm of the commonplace and the knowable. In our age of shrinking wild lands and growing resource pressures, the more people who might come to know wilderness, the better. For those who know wilderness, who have been moved by wilderness firsthand, are among the most likely to defend it.

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Q: Isn't the route somewhat arbitrary? Why couldn't I just head off from Phoenix or Albuquerque - or wherever - following my own route?

A: You could. And more power to anyone who does so. But in truth, the Grand Enchantment Trail is no more or less arbitrary than any other long distance trail. Every trail has its premise. The trails in a city park are designed to wander aimlessly, if pleasantly, purely for the fresh air they impart. The trails on Mt Washington in New Hampshire, which climb at grades of more than 1000 feet to the mile, are designed primarily to reach the summit of this famous, windswept mountain. The trails that thread the backcountry in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, running from lake to lake, are designed to facilitate portages. Long distance trails like the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail were built to provide a mountain-blessed reprieve from modern life, and to both protect and flaunt the beauties along the way. The Grand Enchantment Trail is a lot like other long-distance trails in this regard. It may not have official signage, or official recognition, but it certainly has its beauty, and its lands most definitely are worth protecting and defending. Especially as these lands see so little recreational use today, despite their beauty.

The GET could have gone another way. The map and field research that preceded it certainly yielded many alternate possibilities. Ultimately, though, none would have offered the quality of scenery, preponderence of solitude, diversity of flora/fauna and geography, availability of public land, and ready access to water and resupply that the finalized Grand Enchantment Trail provides.

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Q: The Southwest United States is pretty arid country. How's the water situation along the GET?

A: Pretty AND arid. Or perhaps pretty because of it. In any case, the availability of water is always a concern when hiking in the Southwest, which is why the GET was designed to maximize the odds of finding it and to minimize the distances between sources. It does this by brushing up against seemingly every spring, creek, river, windmill, and cow tank that occurs along the way. In the desert, this means following drainage courses as often as possible. Aravaipa Creek and Eagle Creek, for example, are year-round sources that the GET follows for a fair number of miles, all the while benefiting from the cooling shade of cottonwoods and willows that grow along the stream banks. Where surface water is unavailable, the GET seeks out stock tanks and windmills. And although these sources are never guaranteed to be wet, the route passes a sufficient number of them sufficiently often to tip the odds squarely in the hiker's favor. Same with the mountain sources - most often springs and small creeks fed by melting snowpack and monsoon rains. Of course, not all potential sources will be flowing at a given time, but usually, along a given stretch of trail, enough will be flowing to prevent the need for major stockpiling between each one.

On his first GET thru-hike the author found water virtually everywhere he looked for it, and even where he didn't. Water was flowing across the trail half a mile from the Phoenix terminus, and occurred - on more than off it seemed - all the way to Albuquerque and the final patch of melting snowpack en route down the very last mountain. This particular year it was a wet spring, following a very wet winter. Other years, conditions may be considerably drier. Always attempt to discover as much as possible about the seasonal precipitation patterns before heading out for an arid-land hike. And inquire about the status of specific sources with land management agencies or others who are in-the-know. Even in a dry year, one doubts whether long-distance hikers would ever need to carry more than a long day's supply of water at a time. But be safe - know as much as possible before you go. And pay attention to the guidebook and maps, and the water-related information they provide.

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Q: What is the recommended hiking season and direction of travel for a thru-hike of the GET?

A: Like most long-distance trails, the GET has limiting factors that tend to channel thru-hikers into predictable patterns of movement. This makes their arrival at yonder road crossing easier to anticipate, say if your intent is to surprise them with a pizza and fresh-chilled glasses of pink lemonade. Beyond that, it gives them at least a fighting chance of running into each other and enjoying a bit of social time, exclusive of the javelina and stellar jays for once.

The trail's limiting factors are basically twofold: snowpack and cold or inclement weather in the higher terrain, dry conditions and extreme heat in the lower regions. To avoid both, the hiker needs to time the hike to avoid seasonal extremes. This means summer and winter are out. Luckily, though, the GET is "only" 745 miles long (compared with 2600 for the PCT, e.g.), and spring and autumn at these latitudes are comparatively accommodating. Beyond that, the trail's highest terrain is located toward the eastern end nearer to Albuquerque. This set of circumstances virtually decrees the advisability of beginning an eastbound hike from Phoenix in the springtime, when the weather there is still comparatively mild, and finishing a couple of months later in Albuquerque as the weather in that region is just starting to warm up. Along the way, the winter snowpack will be melting and all the while providing precious drinking water. Ideal timing means the hiker is through the lowest terrain before it gets too hot and dry, without arriving in the high country too early when the snow hasn't yet sufficiently melted. This springtime "window of opportunity" will vary from year to year, but in my estimation will translate to a start date at Phoenix of between March 10 and April 10, and a finish date at Albuquerque by May 31.

The trail can also be hiked successfully in autumn. In particularly wet years, this season of travel may in fact be preferable to a springtime journey, due to the absence of lingering snowpack and difficult creek crossings. (Other years, autumn can be quite dry, and water much less available than in spring.) Fall in this climate is also cooler overall, and the sun angle is lower and less intense than during springtime. (Days are shorter, of course, and nights can sometimes be quite chilly up high.) In any case, fall season hikers would begin hiking at Albuquerque, generally in early to mid September after the summer monsoon rains have abated, and hike westbound toward Phoenix, arriving there by mid to late November. Storms can bring cold rain and sometimes snow to the highest terrain of the GET in late October and November, but following a westbound itinerary the hiker would be clear of most of the high country before that time.

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Q: The Grand Enchantment Trail is starting to sound pretty interesting! When can I expect to see a finished guidebook?

A: Just as soon as it's written. Hopefully this will be in time for anyone who might be interested in trying a spring season thru-hike next year. In any case, this free online guidebook will be the ultimate resource for hikers both in planning and in the field - containing overview material and detailed route directions for each of the GET's 39 segments. And because of its online format, the guide will allow hikers to print and carry only the information they need to facilitate each portion of the journey, without being weighed down by extra paperwork.

In advance of a finished online guidebook, a topographic map set is now available on CD-ROM. These USGS 7.5' topographic maps are absolutely essential to understanding the route in the context of the guidebook's descriptions, as well as to offer that all-important eagle's eye view of a wondrous, if unfamiliar, landscape. USGS topo maps are available free at various websites, or at cost per copy for the paper versions. However, none of these show the route of the Grand Enchantment Trail, nor do they highlight the locations of reliable water sources or agreeable campsites along the GET. Altogether, the G.E.T. Topo Map Set contains over 100 individual files, each a standard-format image file which can be viewed and printed from any computer.  
[ sample topo map ]

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Q: Oh, another thing. What about town stops along the way? Are there many places to resupply?

A: Absolutely. Part of the criteria for the trail's route involved the need to allow for resupply access at regular intervals along the way. How easy it would have been to create a wilderness route that courts the favor of the most jaded armchair adventurer, but which would leave even the strongest of thru-hikers struggling beneath an elephantine load of food between distant resupply points. In reality, champion hikers and self-effacing mortals alike generally hate it when the next town stop is more than, say, 100 miles away. And so the Grand Enchantment Trail ensures that such discomforts never need be endured. In fact the longest distance between near-route resupply stops is only about 100 miles, or 6 days out (for the average thru-hiker type). This keeps packweight down to a dull roar, allowing hikers to focus instead on the wonders of their surroundings and on the honest challenge of a day's hiking in remote and scenic lands. At the same time, many of these town stops are not located directly along the route, but are a few miles away - reachable by thumb or by foot. Of course, some of the GET's town stops are, indeed, directly along the route. But it's pure bliss, when this happens. And you'll probably be glad to see these towns, minus the associated off-trail travel. (The towns are mostly small villages, really. Some are pretty quirky. All have post offices. Some have more.)  
[ GET Town Guide ]

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Q: I've been hearing a lot about the Hayduke Trail lately. How does the GET compare to that?

A: The Hayduke Trail is a 700-plus mile hiking route that runs through Utah and extreme northern Arizona, connecting the National Parks in this region and in the process offering up some of the most dramatic vistas to be found in the lower 48. Like the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Hayduke runs through remote public lands, open to hiking and primitive camping. Like the G.E.T., this "trail" is in fact a route, and was pieced together through map and field research rather than any on-the-ground initiative to develop new foot trail. However, here the similarities between the two routes begin to part ways, due to both the objective of the routes' developers and to the nature of the terrain through which these routes make passage.

The Hayduke Trail's intent is to connect national parks - beauty spots like Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches - which contain a majority of the Colorado Plateau's standout natural treasures. In order to accomplish this objective, the Hayduke's developers came up with a route that is exceedingly roundabout in nature. In one instance, the route actually doubles back on itself in an attempt to visit the Grand Canyon's north rim, meaning that a brief short cut would in fact cut off a hundred miles or more of the intended route. Even apart from the national parks, reports seem to indicate that the Hayduke Trail, as described in its official guidebook, sacrifices a convenient and efficient routing in favor of its overarching mission to visit all of the Parks in this region. And in doing so, it appears to exacerbate a preexisting concern for hikers in this plateau country, namely a paucity of reliable water sources and a lack of on or near-trail resupply points. Towns are few and far between on the Colorado Plateau, not surprisingly given the lack of available natural resources (ie water) in the inhabitable areas above the slot canyons and drainages. The upshot of these dual concerns is that long-distance hikers on the Hayduke need to be prepared to travel long distances between water sources, in some cases humping several gallons across the arid mesas and uplands, and likewise to carry large quantities of food between distant resupply points, or to leave the official route in favor of more accommodating options. This, or they could instead cache their supplies in advance along the route, which is what the guidebook authors apparently suggest. Obviously these challenges are considerable impediments to thru-hiking this otherwise fantastic route.

As discussed previously, the Grand Enchantment Trail offers comparatively frequent access to water and resupply points. Seldom if ever do long-distance hikers need to carry water for more than a day at a time on the G.E.T. And town stops appear conveniently at regular intervals either on or near the route. All of this suggests the accommodating nature of the route, and the geniune feasibility of thru-hiking it. Too, by avoiding the national parks, the GET likewise shuns the red tape and permitting systems so prevalent in those heavily-used areas, and the route is not bound to so restrictive a methodology - it is, indeed, an efficient way to hike across this diverse "below the Rim" terrain in Arizona and New Mexico, while at the same time enjoying the maximum amount of solitude, scenery, diversity, access to wilderness, to trails, water, and resupply points... in short, the Grand Enchantment Trail, we think, just works for hikers.

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Q: Enough pontificating! Where can I see some photos of the Grand Enchantment Trail? Where can I learn more about the route?

A: Photos and more


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