|Gillard Hot Spring
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5.5 miles north of Three Way, Arizona on US 191, go left (west) on Black Hills Back Country Byway for 3.5 miles. Turn right on Gillard Hot Springs road and go one mile into a wash where two other tracks branch off to the left and the right. Go straight for 0.3 miles and park. Follow the wash downhill to the left to the river. Walk downriver; the steaming seeps are located on the northeast bank. 4wd required; walking may be too.
In southeast Arizona where many hot springs are located, is Gillard Hot Spring, by far the hottest in the state at 184 degrees; the second hottest one is 149 degrees. Located in a deep canyon on the Gila River at 3,500 feet elevation, the scenery at Gillard is to die for. Access to Gillard is extremely difficult for two reasons:
1. The area leading into it is a confusing maze of old mining roads, criss crossing and looping back on each other making reliable directions difficult to both obtain and give. Verily, it took us three tries to find our way in there.
2. The going is very, very rough with deep sand, extremely steep grades, and rocks sticking up all over the place. We're not even sure if we should say 4wd only; we're tempted to say walking only past Point X. Skilled trail motorcycle and ATV drivers would really enjoy driving in and out of there.
In fact, on our way out, we met a couple who'd stayed at El Dorado Hot Springs the previous week. They were on their dual sport motorcycle and were about to give up trying to find the way to the spring. We pointed them in the correct direction, which made them happy.
At any rate, it's rough going and having a few back roads under our belt, we feel we're not easily intimidated, but after Point X, we did exactly that -- we chose Shanks Mare over 4wd for the rest of the trip. The hill we stopped at the top of was incredibly steep with a surface of loose stones that would act like marbles climbing back up it and we weren't sure we could make it back up, so we walked and enjoyed the splendid scenery that much more. The trail led down a secret side canyon that opened up to a small meadow next to the river where, it's obvious, a cattle ranch existed many years ago.
At river level there are several small one person soaks; the temperature is controlled by letting in more or less river water, which in the month of October was almost bathtub warm. Because the source spring is so hot, one must exercise caution not to be scalded. There's also a nice pool in the river at the downstream end of the meadow.
The soaking at Gillard is only so-so, but combined with the heavenly scenery and the nice river pool, Gillard Hot Spring is certainly worth visiting if one doesn't mind the effort it takes. Free 14 day camping anywhere in the area.
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