100 miles through breathtaking desert landscapes. Water has become a scarce commodity. Summiting Mount Taylor. It’s hot and the spiders are big!
I got a ride out of town and saved myself 5 miles of highway pavement walking. No remorse. The trail followed a series of dusty dirt roads and trail through a landscape of cactus and sagebrush before climbing up onto a mesa. I love how varied this trail has been, to think that just a few weeks ago I was postholing through snow in the San Juan mountains and now i’m sweltering in the desert heat in mesa country.
After a few miles along Mesa Portales the trail dropped down to the valley floor again and crossed a road. There was a water cache at the road, which was a great treat, and also a piped spring not far from the trail a couple of miles beyond that. I filled up on water and headed up to La Ventana Mesa where I set up camp for the night.
Everything out here has thorns and so it was a little challenging finding a patch of dirt large enough for my tent that was absent of cactus and other plants wishing harm to my air mattress and tent floor. I am also a little paranoid about tarantula spiders and scorpions crawling into my pack and shoes now that i’m in the desert, so I unpacked everything, including the pack, straight into my tent.
Today was a scenic mixture of mesa top and valley walking. Great views in all directions across a constantly changing desert landscape. Aside from the heat and running a little low on water in the afternoon, it was a really nice day of hiking.
The only water source today was a water cache stocked by the Trojillo family at about mile 14. I’d contacted them prior to leaving Cuba yesterday and so I was feeling confident about relying on their caches. By the time I got there I was getting pretty dehydrated, so you can imagine my excitement when I arrived to see jugs of water and a cooler sitting under the shade of a tree! I drank 2 liters and carried out another 3, which is 6 pounds in water weight. Luckily i’d sent all my winter weather layers back home when I was in Cuba and so my base pack weight was fairly light before adding the water. There were some apples and a hiker log book in the cooler, so I sat on the cooler eating an apple and checking out who had passed through this water cache so far this year. I counted only about 20 sobo hikers, that’s not many, I feel pretty lucky to still be out here hiking along everyday! I had cell reception still somehow and so I was able to video chat with my parents for a while as I hung out in the shade eating and drinking. It’s always fun to show them the landscape in real time while i’m on the trail.
I do have to say that trail signage in northern New Mexico has been some of the best on the trail. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes this afternoon when there was a little sign in front of me that said ‘wrong way!’, how’s that! Normally the trail let’s you kick your own ass, and normally after a few miles not feet.
I set up camp as the last of the light left the valley, tarantula and scorpion-proofed my belongings and then relaxed in my sleeping bag eating ramen noodles and listening to some coyotes yipping and carrying on nearby. I also had a funny exchange of text messages with my friend Dan, apparently he was out to a nice dinner and felt the need to brag a little, thanks Dan. I send photo of gas station packaged cheddar cheese, he sends back ceasar salad. I send ramen noodles, he sends some kind of fancy plate of food. And so it continued. I finally conceded and told him to leave me to finish my dessert, 3 advil tablets and a gummy bear, in peace.
What a pretty sunrise! I’m so lucky to be out here experiencing this!!!
Today was really hot, but the terrain very mellow and so the miles went by quickly. The trail made its way across the valley i’d been traveling through and then climbed up to a huge mesa on its far side. There were actually 3 water sources today, another cache stocked by the Trojillo family at mile 4, a cattle trough at mile 8 a quarter of a mile off the trail and then a piped spring at mile 21 a half mile off the trail. Yay for water sources!
I saw some people today! I was sitting on the edge of the cattle trough at lunch eating and hydrating when all of a sudden a car came driving up the rough dirt road. It was a young couple in a rental car. They put the window down and shouted over to me “hey, we’re just out adventuring, seeing where these roads go…”, forgetting my conversational skills I replied simply “cool”, they put the window back up, turned their car around and disappeared just as quickly as they’d arrived. It was kind of an odd encounter. Didn’t they wonder why on earth I was just sitting there on my own, middle of nowhere, drinking out of a cattle trough? Ha.
I saw another tarantula on the trail today, they’re such big spiders! I sure am glad I have a tent I can enclose myself in at night.
I did a little night hiking tonight as after the spring at mile 21 I knew there wouldn’t be another water source for another 24 miles, and then another 28 miles after that. So, I wanted to get a few more miles down the trail today to set myself up better to hit those water sources one per day. This is actually the first night hike I’ve done since getting stalked by that mountain lion while night hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park a month ago. No mountain lions tonight but I really don’t like night hiking, why does the forest seem a little scary after dark? I’m such a wimp.
Oh boy, well, today was 20 miles of gravel road walking, 2 miles of trail and a mile of cross-country travel. That’s a lot of road walking for these feet of mine, but it actually wasn’t bad and I was able to get in some good mileage. The day was hot but uneventful. Most of the day I was walking a road headed for Mt Taylor, a mountain i’ll be summiting tomorrow morning. If all the photos below look the same it’s because the view was pretty much the same for most of the day!
I passed the time listening to a really interesting audiobook ‘Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout’ by Philip Conners. Really good discussion about public land use and how the Forest Service has chosen to balance fire management against the interests of the cattle and timber industries over the course of its history. The book was largely set at a fire tower in the Gila Wilderness, a forest i’ll be hiking through in another week or so and the author even talked a little about some of the CDT thru-hikers he’d met in his time as a lookout man. As if all of that wasn’t relevant and interesting enough, he spent quite some time discussing why solitude isn’t loneliness and how his desire for human interaction changed over his time as a lookout. I really enjoyed this book and related to so much of its content.
My only water source for the day was a couple of miles off trail at about mile 21. Apparently there was a trail of sorts down to the spring, but somehow I missed it and landed up on the wrong side of a fence. Not wanting to backtrack up to the road and return on the correct side of the fence I threw my pack over the fence and then slid under the lowest rung of the fence on my back, taking care not to catch my clothes on the barbed wire. I tanked up on water, drinking a couple of liters, and carried out another 4 liters for tonight and tomorrow.
I wanted to get in a few more miles today but with all that water my pack was pretty heavy and my achilles were feeling a little sore again so I decided to call it a day at 23 miles and set up camp. Unfortunately that would require me to put in 26 miles tomorrow to get to the town of Grants, and I had to make it to Grants because that was my next water source. Gotta listen to this body of mine though and I don’t want to flirt with an achilles injury.
I got an early start today and was packed up and walking before dawn. I was pretty excited for the day because i’d be summiting the tallest peak in New Mexico. The hike up to the summit was on a jeep road for all but the last half mile. New Mexico really is the land of road walking!
The view from the summit was so great! It was cool to see the mesas and desert i’d just hiked through and guess at where the trail would head in the next segment from Grants to Pie Town. I just love how varied this trial is, from desert hiking to mountain summit within a couple of days!
The rest of the day was 15 miles of downhill to the trailhead 5 miles from Grants. I started a new audiobook to pass the time, ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’ by Haruki Murakami. I like Murakami’s works, definitely engaging content and perfect for carrying the mind from the here and now to a weird and twisted alternative reality. Although some would argue my here and now is a weird and twisted actual reality. Maybe I should be listening to books about life in suburbia and cubicle work or something, that would be harder for me to relate to than stories about talking cats and fish raining from the sky. Anyway, i’m getting weird, i’ll move on…
I got to the trailhead shortly before dark, tired and nearly out of water, and so I decided to hitch the final 5 miles of highway into Grants. The couple that stopped had seen me hiking towards Mt Taylor the day prior when they passed me in their truck on one of my many road walks i’d done that day. They said they don’t normally pick up hitchhikers but recognized me and wanted to help me in my plight, whatever that was I was up to. I told them about the CDT and they were pretty excited to have helped me out, they even drove me all the way to the hotel zone of the town, a good thing as Grants is spread out along an interstate and is more than 5 miles long. Nice couple.
Rest in Grants, New Mexico
I am in the land of the giant signs. If Cuba was home to dinosaurs, i’m sure this town is home to some kind of breed of giant human. Chain motels, gas stations, Walmart and a Denny’s, all with truly giant signs. That’s really all I’ve seen of Grants, New Mexico. Thankfully Walmart had a great selection, or should I say giant selection, ha, of fruit and salads and so I’ve been able to get plenty of fruit and veges into my system while in town. I miss fruit on the trail! Aside from icing my body parts and catching up on Snowbird work, which there was plenty of now that ski season is around the corner, I also got to get my fix of Jim Cramer, Marcus Lemonis and the Sharks. Ready to get out of chain city and back to the trail!