Thursday–August 9, 2007
Summer Retailers Outdoor Market
Salt Palace Convention Center
Location–Salt Lake City, Utah
On Thursday (August 9th) I flew to Salt Lake City for the Summer Outdoor Retailers Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center. My dear friends at Menasha Ridge Press in Birmingham had asked me way back last winter if I’d come and do a book signing. So, there I was on Friday, with Russell Helms, Tricia Parks, and Richard Hunt, all from Menasha, and a line of smiling faces, each waiting patiently for me to sign their book. It was certainly a fun time.
I had planned on heading back east early Saturday, to Silverthorne, Colorado, there to resume my journey on south o’er the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. But that was before I realized there were folks at the show that I knew and needed to spend some time with, including a number of my sponsors. So, Saturday I started getting my hiking legs under me by walking Salt Palace–up, back, and around again.
I saw Mark from Flagler Films, Chris and Lindy, both with Leki, David from Photon Light, and Mike and Byron with Travel Country Outdoors. Seth from American Hiking Society was there, as were Brian and Teresa from Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Had a good chat with all of them. Got to talk with Justin McCarthy from New Balance, and Kevin Volz at Golite. Both of these companies have been strong Nomad supporters.
Russell accompanied me to the Bridgedale booth. It was a pure blast presenting Giles and Boo with one of my old trail-torn socks–that had endured 10,000 miles of trail. They certainly knew their socks were tough, but neither had ever seen or heard such a thing. They absolutely could not believe it; had to get my picture, holding the holey old sock! Of course, Giles presented me with two pair of their latest and finest. Hey, the old Nomad is good for 20,000 now!
Picked up three new sponsors and worked on a couple more. Suunto makes an incredible array of remarkable products. Martin Schamboeck, Sports Marketing Manager, listened intently as I told my story, then to turn, retrieve, and hand me a beautiful new Suunto M3G liquid-filled compass!
While spending some time with David Allen, President, LRI (Photon Light) he insisted I meet a couple of his friends, and take a look at one of their products, the Aqua Star UV Portable Water Purifier. Once at their table, David introduced me to Dan Matthews, Corporate Operations Officer, and Kurt Kuhlmann, Chief Technical Officer, both with Meridian Designs, Inc. (Aqua Star). Here, David told my story for me–and it was two-for-two. Yup, Kurt presented the old Nomad with a beautiful new Aqua Star! Folks, this is one amazing little (2.5 ounce) gadget. I’ll tell you all about it later as I trek on down the trail.
I also met and talked with Kerry Karr with Equinox. I’m wearing a pair of their gaiters–they’re on board with the Nomad now! And I spoke with Chris Strasser from Mountain Hardwear, and Steve Lovell at Garmin. Both of them showed a sincere interest in supporting the Nomadin ’08. Oh yes, I’ll certainly be back in touch with them. Garmin’s headquarters are in Olathe, Kansas, where I travel frequently.
Okay, enough of this.
Thanks Russell, Tricia, and Richard, for inviting me to be with you, to share in the excitement and fun at this year’s show. I had one grand time!
“Down deep in my gut, this burning,
That many a man must know.
It begs in me pure yearning,
And now, in its spell, I go.”
[Robert W. Service
Tuesday–August 14, 2007
Location–North of Hagar Mountain
This odyssey was intended to start in Silverthorne, but, problem is, this isn’t where Odyssey 2005 ended. That trek was planned as a southbound thru-hike, from Glacier National Park to the Mexican border. Unfortunately it was cut short due to illness–at Henderson Mine, below Vasquez peak, some 26 miles north of Silverthorne by trail.
I really don’t want a gap in my hike o’er this CDT, so, this odyssey begins today as a northbound hike, from Silverthorne to Henderson Mine, where I bailed off the mountain in ’05.
It’s almost ten before I shoulder my pack to go. Don’t know how I’d have managed without the kindness from Karen, the innkeeper here at 1st Interstate Inn. She listened intently to my story Sunday, then to cut me a hiker trash deal for four nites. Stayed Sunday evening and Monday acclimating to the high altitude. Plans are, when I reach Henderson Mine, to hitch back here to Silverthorne Wednesday. On Thursday I’ll hike south toward Wheeler Flats, there to take the free bus back to Silverthorne Friday evening. Anyway, no way I’d be getting out of here without Karen’s help. Got the room for all six days, as she’s told me to leave all my stuff in the room the entire time–thanks, Karen!
It’s a beautiful, clear morning as I climb the Ptarmigan Trail above Silverthorne. Getting some great shots. I think this new camera is going to work great.
The climb starts easy enough, and I’m able to handle the elevations up to 10,000 feet, but then I slow way down. The trail rolls along fine until I reach where it’s supposed to drop off the mountain. Can’t find the bail-off. Look for over half an hour before deciding on a bushwhack straight down one of the gulches. Descending toward the valley I see movement. Ah, and so the bushwhack has been worth it, as I’m practically standing face-to-face with a huge elk. As he looks up, I get the shot!
Plunging on through the rocks and blowdowns, I’m able at last to find the trail.
Toward evening the going gets difficult, as I am now climbing at altitudes above 12,000 feet. Near dusk, totally exhausted, luck brings a fine spring, and a (relatively) flat, rock-free spot to pitch for the night. My feet, back, and right hip are barking, but my legs seem to be coming back under me–one more time. Thank you, Lord!
“This trail, it beckons ever on
This path, a way of life
And search as I must the final dawn
Through wonder, beauty–and strife.”
[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday–August 15, 2007
Location–Henderson Mine, thence to Silverthorne
The mercury really started dropping last evening, as the cold rain came in–which finally ended in sleet. I was much relieved to get my tent pitched and to warm up.
This morning my little REI thermometer is hovering just below 38 degrees. But as I break camp and get going, the day warms nicely. By early afternoon the trail has dropped over 2,000 feet to descend Bobtail Creek. From there, it’s immediately up again to 12,500 feet at Jones Pass. I seem to be adapting to the thin air at these high altitudes, but as I pass the 11,000 foot mark in the climb to Jones Pass, my legs decide they’ve had enough. From there on up, it’s steady stop and go. I give a prayer for a bit more stamina–and the least more patience! At the top I meet Chris, and daughter, Mallory, up from Evergreen for an afternoon trail ride. They become intrigued by my story as I show them where I’ve hiked today, from the ridge in the hazy beyond to the valley below.
I break off the pass to descend the road to Henderson Mine. As luck would have it, and as I arrive the trailhead, Chris and Mallory are loading their quad-track, and they offer me a ride back to Silverthorne. Along the way, we stop for ice cream, courtesy of my dear new friends.
Oh my, isn’t this odyssey shaping to be a dandy!
“Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A farness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try as we will, unattainable still,
Beyond it, our Land of Beyond!”
[Robert W. Service]
Thursday–August 16, 2007
Location–Wheeler Flats/Copper, thence back to Silverthorne
Figured I’d be stiff and sore this morning, but am out from the motel and moving along fine. It’s a cool, clear morning, the mountains not seeming so distant. First it’s past the posh outlet shops, the downtown banks and real estate offices, then to cross the Blue River, where the climb begins–up and up to the beautiful homes overlooking the city. Not much traffic here on Lake View Drive today, as most homes up here are luxurious retreats for big city dwellers that come up for weekends and holidays. Fellow told me the other day that the millionaires came in a few years ago and bought out all the locals. And now the billionaires are doing the same thing to the millionaires. Looking at a copy of the Summit County (Silverthorne/Breckenridge area) Summer 2007 Real Estate Guide I can sure enough believe it–duplex in Silverthorne, a million-one, in Breck, seven mil, vacant land at Copper Mountain, a million-two-fifty. You don’t want to know what single family homes are going for. Oh, and as you might suspect–there’s no Wal-Mart in Silverthorne!
Comes soon the nice trailhead where the Wheeler/Dillon trail begins. Following the trail south I’m hiking in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, White River National Forest. Here are (almost) constant ups and downs, as the trail climbs South Willow Creek nearly 2,000 feet to Eccles Pass at Buffalo Mountain. From there the trail drops to cross North Tenmile Creek before beginning another 2,000 foot climb to Uneva Pass, at near 12,000 feet.
As I huff and wheeze my way up and along, comes back the memory of the not-so-gentle climbs I endured at the beginning of the Appalachian Trail hike in North Georgia back in ’98. I remember how folks, wearing their shiny new boots (and lugging their sixty pound packs), complained bitterly about the terrible, leg numbing climbs. Set me to wondering then and there why they were even on the trail! It was no fun listening to their constant griping. Right then I made up my mind to have a different attitude–a positive one. Came then the determination that with each mountain climbed I would become a stronger, more tolerant, and more patient person, that I would become a better man for the doing of it. So, this day, and here in these tall, rugged mountains, do I again set my mind to that good task.
Hiking along today, I get to spend some time with Mike and Jim. Come to find out Jim recently had three-fourths of his stomach removed, and no complaining from Jim. What a much better beginning–this hike. Thanks for the good example, Jim. A reminder: Set to work becoming a better, more tolerant, and more patient man!
“Adopt the pace of Nature: Her secret is patience.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Friday–August 17, 2007
Location–1st Inn at Silverthorne
Today will be what long distance hikers refer to as a zero-mile day. After the soaking yesterday coming down from Uneva Pass, plus what turned to be a long-mile day, I’ve decided to take a little more time to acclimate and to get dried out.
A free bus runs from Wheeler Flats/Copper to Frisco/Silverthorne, which I hopped last evening. Sure no problem spending another day in Silverthorne; though ritzy, it’s sure one fine trail town. Neat (very reasonable) motel. Three restaurants right next, post office half a block away, library right down the street, and the kicker is: The bus depot is right behind the motel, with free rides to shopping or to wherever else no-wheels hiker trash like me might want to go! Yup, Silverthorne’s a mighty fine trail town. So there’s really no need to hurry; it’s feet up and I’m chillin’.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Saturday–August 18, 2007
Location–Ruins, Camp Hale, Eagle Park
After a fine night’s rest I’m greeted by another cool, clear day. At the mom-n-pop next the motel I sit the bar. Here I meet Jack from Evergreen. Jack drives a big lumber truck out of Denver, up the mountain, through the Eisenhower Tunnel, and straight back down, brakes smokin’–day-in, day-out, hauling cedar boards and beams for the million-dollar(+) retreats being built up here in Summit County.
Great conversation with Jack as we enjoy breakfast together. Find out he’s from New Jersey; been on the Appalachian Trail some around the Water Gap; been married 4 times, divorced now–again. Told me he’d read recently about a fellow who hiked from Mexico to Glacier and back again; couldn’t remember the guy’s name. Ha, probably one of my hiker trash friends, like Sly or Billygoat. Could see the wanderlust in his eye as we talked; picked up my tab as he headed for the cash register. Oh, hey Jack, get a minute Google CW McCall Webpages and read his “Wolf Creek Pass” lyrics. Check your brakes, man–and thanks for breakfast!
Back to the motel it’s time to pack up a few more things I’m not wantin’ to lug–and send home. Then it’s good-bye to Karen as she wishes me a joyful journey and safe passage. I’m on the bus to Frisco at 9:30. A change there, and at 9:50 I’m standing at the bus stop where I’d ended my hike on Thursday.
I’m walking the main drag through Copper Mountain Resort now. The place is a small city in its own right; a family place, for winter (and summer) fun, recreation, and relaxation. In winter, of course, it skiing. Summertime’s for golf, day hiking and mountain biking the trails cut across the slopes–or just enjoying the many eateries and upscale shops all along.
A little after ten I begin the climb up. Somehow I manage to cross the trail and end up on the slopes far above. Lucky for me a string of pack horses passes, and after asking direction, come to find they’re headed for the Colorado/Divide Trail, so I fall in behind.
At a little before one I’m on the CT/CDT heading south. In only minutes comes this fellow behind me, cranking his pedals toward Searle Pass. He stops and we chat. Christian’s his name, a member of the Colorado 14ers, a mountain climbing club here in Colorado. Like trail names, these guys and gals take on climbing names. Christian’s is “Holy S~~~!” He’s also an avid mountain biker, taking to the trail at every opportunity. Earlier today he’d already pedaled (pushed) his bike, a trailer hooked, with his four-year-old daughter aboard, up to the hut near Searle Pass. He’s been back down and is now headed up again with a load of grub for family and friends.
Not long, and in a short while, I meet a fellow intrepid, trail name Peace Pipe. He thru-hiked the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in ’05. Peace Pipe is doing a southbound o’er the Colorado Trail, from Denver to Durango. We enjoy much trail talk, about mutual friends, as we hike along together.
Above on the trail, and waiting for us, I see Christian. His wife, Amy had come up from the hut to greet him, and they’ve waited so Amy can meet the two of us and wish us a safe and enjoyable journey.
By three, Searle Pass is in my sights as I struggle through what has become a chilling rain–which soon turns to steady sleet. Oh yes, folks, sleet in the Colorado Rockies in August–in Searle Pass at 12,180 feet!
Between Searle Pass and Kokomo Pass, the trail stays the high, alpine meadow above tree line. In awhile the afternoon storm passes to reveal the most crystal-blue sky. The scenery and the “into the hazy blue” views are nothing short of breathtaking. Be sure and check the photo album here. Pictures of what I’m describing will be up soon.
At Kokomo Pass, sheep are grazing, oh yes, on Sheep Mountain. When the two sheep dogs that are herding them see me, they come running with greetings, tails wagging. Sure glad they’re friendly. Big dogs. I mean BIG dogs! The larger of the two looks me pretty much straight in the eye. Yup, sure glad they’re friendly.
Today is mushroom/toadstool day. What an amazing variety along. The high meadow wildflowers have pretty much bloomed themselves out, but with the almost daily afternoon showers, the mushrooms have taken the place over.
By six, Peace Pipe overtakes me and we enjoy each other’s company once again as we descend Cataract Creek toward Eagle Park and our final destination for the day, the ruins at old Camp Hale.
Near dusk we pitch, to get a fine cooking and warming fire going. It’s been a fine day, a mighty fine day.
“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees,
and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite…”
Sunday–August 19, 2007
Before shouldering our packs and hitting the trail this morning, Peace Pipe and I explore the ruins of old Camp Hale. Think we pretty much figured the place out, what with the help of some pictures and a description on a kiosk. Hale was a WWI military small arms proving/training camp. The M-1 Garand Rifle was tested here, and soldiers were trained in its use. Looks like there were at least 50 individual target/firing stations, with range distances perhaps up to or exceeding 500 yards. Not much remains of the place now, some moldering old ammo bunkers and crumbling concrete foundation pilings that supported the many barracks; that’s it.
On the climb to Tennessee Pass, Peace Pipe and I share much good company. I learn of his work managing an upscale cigar store in Philly–and about the love of his life, Danielle. At the Tennessee Pass we bid farewell, as Peace Pipe has planned on hitching into Leadville, as the old Nomad treks on to Twin Lakes.
Near Tennessee Pass, both sides, folks are in the woods hunting for mushrooms. Here I learn about the delicious Boletus mushroom from two ladies, Judy and Karen. Both have shopping bags full.
There’s bike traffic on the trail again today. Nice to see others out for a change. Below Tennessee Pass I meet day hikers, Marti, Jon, and John. They’re all near my age, hiking the trail in sections–and thinking about writing a book for “old folks” interested in doing the Colorado Trail. Told them I’d be more than happy to serve as senior consultant!
The trail passes near an old abandoned mine today, and I can’t resist giving a look. Don’t know what may have been mined here, but the hand-dug mineshaft is pretty impressive. Warning signs: “Keep Out” the shaft. No trouble from the old Nomad! Later in the day the trail passes the ruins of an old log cabin, complete with its rusty, homemade barrel stove.
By four I’m entering the Holy Cross Wilderness, San Isabel National Forest. Wilderness areas such as Holy Cross have either escaped or are in the process of healing from the destructive ravages of man. Indeed, there is evidence of man’s previous presence here in Holy Cross, but nature has magic-like and mysterious ways of recovering. Time, a medium the wisest among us cannot understand, neither can they comprehend. Time. Nature’s secret–time!
Late afternoon, I find a pleasant spot (nearly level, few large rocks) to pitch for the night. As the sun sets behind the mountain, comes the chill of the evening. But now the welcome glow of my dear friend, the evening cooking and warming fire draws me near–and warms me through.
Good miles today, kind folks, pleasant company.
“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.”
Monday–August 20, 2007
Location–Elbert Creek, base of Mount Elbert
I’m up, break camp, and am hiking by eight. In just a short time, and while descending (when not descending, ascending is the rule!) I meet northbound CDT hikers, Maze and Miles. Miles hiked the AT in ’98 but our paths did not cross. They departed Cuba, New Mexico on June 20th bound for the Wyoming/Montana border. Perhaps if the snow flies late up there, they’ll trek as far as Glacier this year. I pray for wide, safe passage, and joy in your journey, dear new friends!
The trail today is well maintained, marked, bridges at most-near every creek crossing, making for a most welcome change–dry feet.
Majestic, blue horizon views present before me now, down onto Turquoise Lake, and from Sugarloaf Mountain does Mount Elbert loom, brushing the heavens.
A little before one I put the Holy Cross Wilderness behind me to enter The Mount Massive Wilderness. Soon I see my first pack Llamas, Lucky and Lester. They’re toting gargantuan packs for Jean and Chrystiane. They’re from Frazier, over by Berthoud Pass. They rent the animals each year to take a hike along the Great Divide. Lucky smiles at me. Lester is reclining, waiting, giving not a care. Jean, in his youth, climbed the Colorado 14ers, all 54 of them!
Near my final destination for the day, the base of Mount Elbert, I meet Rob, a member of the Colorado 14ers Initiative (CFI). He’s just topped a series of near straight-up switchbacks, lugging an enormous load. Fully stuffed shopping bags dangle from his already huge, trailer-truck backpack. Rob is doing stretching exercises as I approach. The grub he’s carrying is for members of his CFI crew working trail on Mount Massive, one of the tallest of the Colorado 14ers. We share pleasant conversation as Rob finishes stretching, thence (so it seems) to shake the ground as he presses and shoulders his pack. Dang, Rob I didn’t get your picture. Oh well, you and I know that I’m not exaggerating, don’t we. Thanks, young man, and thanks to all those with whom you crew, thanks for this trail!
I reach Elbert Creek in good order, to make camp, thence to set my evening fire–and call it a day.
As I drift to sleep, comes the memory of that night below Mount Katahdin, before that sky-high climb, and how looming and forbidding had been its presence that day. Before me now, Mount Elbert stands well above twice the height of Katahdin. Yet, for some unknown reason, and though I’ll be struggling there tomorrow (I know that being in the presence of Nature’s God–and prayer, have helped), I pass to slumber at perfect peace.
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature,
when, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”
Tuesday–August 21, 2007
Location–Nordic Lodge, Twin Lakes, Colorado
At 7:35 I begin the ascent of Mount Elbert from my base camp at 10,600 feet. The Northeast Ridge Trail, which I’m ascending, though switchbacking, seems to go straight up. I struggle to 11,950 feet, reaching there by 8:50.
I thought I’d gotten out to an early start, but as I ascend, passing others working their way up, I find that some had begun as early as 4:30.
Above, the views that open, to sweep the horizon from flank to flank, are indescribable. I’ve never looked down on the earth from such a vantage, save from the passenger seat of a jetliner. Yet I’ve climbed here, my feet firmly planted the ground! At 9:30 I reach elevation 13,000 feet. The air has thinned noticeably, and everyone above and below me is but creeping, stopping often to gulp for air. In awhile, I catch up with another old chap, he too, a grandfather, struggling here on the mountain this morning. No rush, no problem, Jeff and me. We linger, chat–between long, forced, chest-expanded heavings. Jeff’s spent some time on the AT. Still at his job. Can’t wait to retire and hit the trail–like someone he’s just met!
While we’re resting here, waiting for a much-needed spurt of energy (and a cease to the constant wheezing), thence to continue ever upward, let me tell you a couple of interesting things about Mount Elbert–and my desire to climb this mountain.
One amounts to no more than a bunch of statistics. The other, the least bit emotional and heart-tugging.
First, it’s a little known fact that here in Colorado there exist 54 mountains that stand above 14,000 feet. Less known is the fact that Mount Elbert rises above them all, to stand at 14,431 feet. And I bet you’d be surprised to find that there’s just a single mountain in all the lower 48 that stands higher than Mount Elbert. That mountain is Mount Whitney in California, which rises a mere 64 feet above Mount Elbert.
And the heart-tugging, emotional bit as to my relationship with Mount Elbert? Well, let’s climb on up now and I’ll tell you the rest of the story when we summit.
As we continue climbing, and just above, are more CFI crew, wearing hard hats and wielding heavy picks. They run up this mountain every morning, from their base camp down on the Colorado Trail. First I meet Kieran, then Nicole and Joel, and Jake and Christina. I watch in amazement as they dislodge a 300 pound boulder and drag it to the trail to add yet another step to the hundreds of steps already in place. Thanks, young gals and guys for your remarkable effort, for your good work. Amazing, just amazing. We’re up here struggling just to climb another foot, and these kids are running around bustin’ rock–amazing!
In awhile come up youngsters Keagan and Madison, and behind (then passing me), their father, Patrick, and sister, Becca. I manage to watch them scamper for awhile until they disappear behind a near-vertical switchback.
At quarter-to-eleven, and collapsed by a rock cairn at 13,900 feet I meet Ashley, a lovely young lady, tired and seemingly defeated. I stop and drop my pack. Ashley raises her head–and we talk. I tell her about how, in my many years, I’ve both triumphed over difficult challenges–and how, many times, I have failed. As she listens, I explain that in rising above the really tough obstacles, have there been memories created that will remain in my conscience forever. And I explain that by prevailing over these remaining (impossible) 531 feet, will there be created within her such a like and everlasting memory, to be held and cherished–forever.
We shoulder our packs together, Ashley and the old Nomad–and we climb that 531 feet, to stand tall on the summit of Mount Elbert. It’s 11:33.
Many have reached the summit this day, a haze-free, blue-perfect day. As I look around, comes the realization that I’m old enough to be father to all, and grandfather to most that are up here today.
And the emotional connection to Mount Elbert? Well, my father’s first name was–Elbert. Ahh yes, this one’s for you dad. Thanks for teaching me your love for Nature and the great outdoors. Thanks!
The descent is down a different path, Mount Elbert Trail. It is both long and arduous. I manage a couple of butt skids but make the downhill to the approach trail in good order. On the alternate path to Twin Lakes I meet Charlie, owner and innkeeper at Nordic Lodge. Charlie’s out running trail, his passion. Upon reaching the lodge, I rest, and Charlie returns from the trail to check me in.
What an amazing day. I’m tired, but happy and content.
“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone,
but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars.”
Wednesday–August 22, 2007
Location–Nordic Lodge, Twin Lakes, Colorado
This will be a zero-mile day as I rest, keep my legs up, and work journal entries here at the rustic old Nordic Lodge. The 9,500+ vertical feet of ascent and descent yesterday knocked the starch clean out of me. I’ve never in my life spent such a continuous/extended period of time climbing without interruption. Ditto for down. I struggled for over nine hours on Mount Elbert yesterday, much of it above tree line at 12,000 feet. Oh, I’m very pleased with the success of my climb, but at the same time, I’m also very relieved to have that mountain behind me.
There’ll surely be plenty more peaks ahead, both steep and tall, as the old Nomad ventures the “hazy blue” on down this trail. I’m stiff and sore–you bet, but doubling up on my coated aspirin (to 1950mg/day) is helping. I know now, though I’m older than when forced down from these mountains two years ago, that I’ve got this hike in me.
There is no land discovered,
That can’t be found anew.
So journey on intrepid,
Into the hazy blue.
And as you seek your fortune,
And near your lifelong quest,
There’ll still be countless peaks to climb,
Before your final rest.
Thursday–August 23, 2007
Location–Clear Creek, South of Winfield
Sometimes I just can’t seem to get going. Twin Lakes and Nordic Lodge–neat little community, kind folks. So, no problem lingering here a bit longer. Thanks, Charlie (and Maddy) for your kindness and generosity.
At the general store, I meet south-bounders, John and Dawn. They’re picking up a few supplies before returning to the trail. I’m finally out and moving a little after twelve.
I’d like to keep my feet dry for just a little while, so I stay the highway out of Twin Lakes an extra mile to the pedestrian bridge, to avoid fording Lake Creek. Where this round-about-trail merges back with the one coming up from the ford, and just as I reach the junction, comes John and Dawn. What a treat having folks to hike with. We spend the afternoon together, exploring old cabins, a (zero population, but not abandoned) silver mining town (Winfield), and climbing, climbing, climbing. At the pass above Little Willis Gulch, we take our last look back down at Twin Lakes, perfectly set against Mount Elbert.
These young folks aren’t used to my pace (slow), but they have no problem shifting down. Spending time, hiking along together–through these high mountains of the Gunnison now, and on their flanks, the lush green from where rejoiceful mountain streams cascade, all have combined to make for a very enjoyable day.
In the evening, as the trail continues wending its way, we find a cool, clear little mountain brook beneath the pine to pitch for the night. A bright, cheerful cooking/warming fire caps an already perfect day.
“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees,
books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
Friday–August 24, 2007
It’s rained off and on during the night, but this morning it seems more as if a dream. Isn’t it wonderful when you’re just tired enough (but not too tired) to sleep peacefully? In the bosom of Nature, with her fresh scents, serenading sounds, and such perfect blending of brightness and color–when one is in accord with such, then restful, contented sleep is the “natural” order!
John and Dawn are up and ready to hit the trail a little before eight. I urge them to hike on ahead, as my slow pace, especially above tree line (and there’ll be plenty of that today) would certainly delay their progress. Before they depart we make plans to meet again Sunday evening in Salida, after hitching down from Monarch Pass.
This morning I’m hiking in the Collegiate Wilderness, San Isabel National Forest. Here stand the mountains that are named The Three Apostles. I’m able to get a stunning picture of one of them, as the day turns again to (what continues to be) blue-perfect weather, the tufted pure, white cirrus clouds adding just the right bit of contrast to the blue backdrop sky–behind the Apostle.
It’s a rock solid (no pun intended) climb from Lake Ann to Cottonwood Pass. I’ve come to appreciate that once a climb like this begins, it most always turns to a steady, uninterrupted 4×4 low-range-geared climb that’s near, or in excess of, 2,000 feet–all the way to the top. Yup, shift ‘er down and grind ‘er out old man! During the ascent I pause to look up many times. While into the climb, and now above Lake Ann, I see a faint outline of two figures standing in the notch that is Cottonwood Pass. I wave; my salute immediately returned by John and Dawn. Then, beyond Cottonwood, they quickly disappear and are gone. I struggle for nearly an hour, huffing and wheezing, before I’m standing in Cottonwood Pass.
From here is a glorious vantage out and across the Collegiate Range (and Wilderness, Huron Peak, one of Colorado’s 54 14ers). And in the distance–the Sawatches.
Descending Cottonwood Pass, the trail soon intersects the Timberline Trail. This is a multi-use trail shared by hikers, equestrians, and dirt-bikers. Not long, I meet some fellows pulled up at a junction, their dirt bikes leaning or lying about, all trying to figure direction. Here I meet Kevin, and his twin sons, Tom and Brian, and their friends, Tyler and Tyler. We have much fun talking dirt (a time honored tradition otherwise known as “bench racing”). What memories return as I reminisce those many years I raced dirt bikes, and helped an organization called the Florida Trail Riders get their start. FTR is now the largest race sanctioning body for off-road motorcycle events in Florida. We finally get the trail figured out; they crank, and in a moment, are gone.
My feet are still dry; nice, really nice for a change. So I push my luck by hiking out of my way, two miles on down, to cross the pedestrian bridge across Texas Creek. The detour pays off, for, as the day turns there’s only six or eight rock-hoppers to cross, all streams with perfectly placed stones for steps. Ah, dry feet, what a luxury. Sure, I can hike along just fine with wet feet–but why!
Near dusk, I find a delightful spot to pitch for the night. Plenty of crystal clear mountain water, along with freeze-dried lodgepole blowdowns for firewood! Yup, mighty fine day–spent with Ma Nature and Father Time.
“…There is no meter and there is no rhyme,
Yet God’s poems always read in perfect time.”
Saturday–August 25, 2007
Location–Middle Fork South Arkansas River
I’m up and out to the Timberline Trail by seven. My little REI pack thermometer reads 38 degrees. Oh yes, got my long sleeves, fleece, and mittens on this morning. Hard to believe, eh?
In a short while comes up the trail, Just Mike, old leather slouch hat, pack akimbo, broad, contagious smile. He’s trekking north on the CDT, with less than 200 miles to finish his journey along the Great Divide. Upon completion, Just Mike will add his name to that short list–to become a triple-crown member, having hiked the three major national scenic trails, the Appalachian, the Pacific Crest, and the Continental Divide. Congrats, Just Mike! Dang, didn’t get his picture.
As I continue on toward Mirror Lake I meet Dave and Randy resting by their quad-track. It’s bow season for elk and deer now, and they’re up here on the open high ground scouting the area.
Lots of motorized traffic by Mirror Lake, being Saturday–dirt bikes, four-wheelers, 4WDs, even pickup trucks. Gotta watch my front and rear as I climb toward Tin Cup Pass, another steady up, bringing constant huffing and wheezing. The crusher finally tops out at 12,150 feet.
Below Tin Cup Pass, and as I climb once more toward Tunnel Lake, comes down two fellows hard-breaking a big-wheel cart loaded with–elk! My puzzled expression gets them stopped. Here I meet Joe and Paul. Joe shot the elk with his bow and arrow. The meat’s dressed and neatly wrapped, very tidy, all four quarters and the back strap. They’re also hauling the head, as it must be tested for some sort of wasting disease common to elk.
A little further along the Timberline Trail I meet Paul and his dad (dang, why can’t I remember his father’s name? Sorry, pop!). They’re out for deer with quivers of arrows bobbing up and down, strapped to the handlebars of their quad-track. Mostly, I think they’re just having a grand time enjoying the ride–and the day. Great photos; be sure and check the Twin Lakes Album section soon.
Toward evening, and after traversing a quite lovely above timberline segment, and while descending toward the east portal of the old Alpine Railroad Tunnel, I meet Sean, owner of Absolute Bikes in Salida, and his high school buddy, Rich. They’re up for an evening ride across the delightful, lakes-around section I’ve just described.
Once on the old rail grade, the hike downhill turns to a cruise, all the way to the old ghost town of Hancock, where it turns abruptly to climb once again, up Chalk Creek, to Chalk Creek Pass.
So, after climbing most the day, this trail ends up kicking my tired old rear end. Oh, but does it seem to take such a long time to top Chalk Creek Pass. I reach there with no time to spare, as the sun leaves the mountain and dusk descends. Gotta get down below tree line before dark. Camping above timberline is a definite no-no. Anyway, there’s not a single thing up here to build the least fire. I hurry down as fast as I can without bustin’ it. Luck’s with me, for just at last light comes this fine brook. And just off the trail below, old blowdowns, and a relatively flat place to pitch for the night.
A 24-mile day, with elevation changes in excess of 6,000 feet.
The cooking/warming fire is most inviting–but not for long.
“Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search,
unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart;
an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.”
[Alfred Billings Street]
Location–Monarch Pass, thence to Salida
Another very chilly morning; temperature again, 38 degrees. Luckily, I’m able to break camp and get moving without my fingers turning to their usual twigs.
Descending the Middle Fork South Arkansas River now, and not long after being alerted to the sight and smell of wood smoke, do I reach a woods road, hunter’s cabins beside. Being bow season, there’s plenty of activity, at least there must have been earlier this morning. Seems all about hastened away to the mountainside, the last ones leaving the cabin doors fully ajar.
Again, as yesterday evening, the trail turns abruptly to climb towards Boss and Hunt Lakes, held high beside Bald and Banana Mountains. Around the flanks of Bald, the trail climbs up past what appears a permanent cornice, following steep switchbacks to the Divide, finally topping out at 12,600 feet.
Another short climb along the Divide, here by the sheer side of Bald Mountain (at 12, 800 feet), can be seen Monarch Pass, US50, clear down the mountain to Salida.
Again, the day turns picture-perfect; cool, with just the least breeze. And picture time it is, with huge, artistic rock cairns marking the trail that follows beside rugged, boulder-strewn rockslides. And along, the most delicate alpine children, silken grasses, sedges, and the most delightfully colored wildflowers. It’s a light-footed scamper now, wind dancing through my hair, as I pass along the rooftop of America. Here is an uninterrupted trail for the better part of five miles, along the Great Divide, clean down to Monarch Pass.
I reach the Pass by three, to treat myself to an ice cold Gatorade at Monarch Crest gift shop. A friendly fellow takes a moment to snap my picture beside the Monarch Pass sign.
Thumb out now, rain threatening, comes Le, a mountain biker/hiker to load me, thence to haul me directly to the Budget Lodge, closest to old downtown Salida.
It’s good to be in town again. A warm bath, a hot meal. What a way to end this most memorable day.
In the morning I hope to reach John and Dawn, to enjoy their friendly company once again.
“Forget not that the earth delights
to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
Monday–August 27, 2007
Location–Budget Lodge, Salida
This will be another zero-mile day. There’ll be more, as my timing for getting through the San Juans before the snow flies is just spot on.
An email from John and Dawn awaits me this morning, and being the least concerned they’d get up and out on the town early, I called them at 6:45. They weren’t out and about quite yet. Actually, they weren’t even awake yet. That is, until I called them!
Oh well, no frowns, just two shiny-faced smiles to greet me as we meet again, in the Salida Post Office. All have mail drops here. I hit the jackpot, but not till after suffering agonizing moments–as I send the clerk back to the mailroom a second time to search for my packages. Finally, she emerges with a shopping cart loaded with boxes. Yippee! “Guess I overlooked these,” says the clerk, with just the least blush and sheepish grin.
My better Mariposa pack from Gossamer Gear, my bounce box with assorted “stuff,” including better shoes, a package from Dwinda with guide books for Southern Colorado and New Mexico by Jim Wolf, and my camera memory card from Webmaster, Linda. Oh, and the most moving and loving card from Dwinda–yup, hit the jackpot for sure.
Dawn unboxed a brand new pair of runners, beautiful, sleek, ultra-lightweight. John is rummaging around in his box. Don’t know what he was unloading. A fun time!
Old downtown Salida is neat, clean, and well maintained. John and Dawn have bikes rented from Sean at Absolute Bikes, and they’ve pretty much toured the whole place, from Wal-Mart by the far outskirts, to the core district here. We settle for an old converted gas station for breakfast (complete with operating service bay doors). Lots of fun again “bench hiking.” I stop by to see Sean at his shop. His is a thriving business. Great folks; impressive inventory–and a fine repair/modification shop. Sean takes a moment from one of his enthusiastic mountain-biking customers to come to the front entrance for a shot. He’d invited me to stop by his place when we’d met up on the mountain yesterday, and he’s genuinely pleased to see that I’ve made it down to Salida. All good success with Absolute Bikes, Sean! Check the pics out in a week or two.
A trip to the library for a quick look at Cywiz’s (my Webmaster Linda’s trail name) good work on our Website, a stop by Safeway for five days supplies, then to take some pictures of downtown Salida and the colorful homes along 4th Street. Then it’s back to the motel–feet up for journal writing time.
In the evening I head to the local mom-n-pop for fried chicken, the works.
We’ll all be hitching back to Monarch Pass in the morning, but not before sharing more fun time, breakfast together.
“I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors, Nature is company enough for me.”
Tuesday–August 28, 2007
Location–Below Triple Divide Peak (A mile before Windy Peak)
Salida, as it turned out, proved a fine trail town. A bit strung out but not really a problem. From the motel out on US50, to downtown (with post office, library, restaurants, and a Safeway), it was a walk of only ten blocks.
John and Dawn come by at 7:30 and treat me to breakfast before hitching back up to Monarch Pass. We speak of the good chance of seeing each other on down the trail, toward the finish at the Mexican border. Better to think we’ll get together again as it does soften the farewell a bit.
After a final trip downtown to the post office, I’m able to hitch a ride out to Wal-Mart where I pick up another camera memory card. From here it’s a hitch on up to Monarch Pass. Luck has it that Mike Weaver, wheelin’ his Peterbilt, hauls ‘er down and offers a ride. I climb up and in. Fun time talking with Mike. I’m on the trail by one, climbing Monarch Ridge toward the Divide. The trail remains on or near the Divide most of the day–at elevations above 11,000 feet. Where the trail drops to the Atlantic side of the Divide, I’m still in the San Isabel National Forest, on the Pacific side, the Gunnison.
It begins clouding up right away, local afternoon clutter. Rain curtains are draping across the Divide ahead at Antora Peak. The sky stays patchy all afternoon and I’m trekking along in rain off and on, especially past Marshall Pass.
I finally give it up during a break in the rain to pitch under the spruce by the last flat spot below Triple Divide Peak.
The rest in Salida has been most beneficial. The swelling in my right leg has gone down and my wind is kicking in much better on the steep ascents above 11,000 feet. No cooking/warming fire tonight.
There is rich Ute Indian history along this section today. (Chief) Ouray and Chipeta (White Singing Bird), Ouray’s wife, are predominant mountains. Of them, and over a century ago, writer Ernest Ingersall noted:
“We are only a few hundred feet from the topmost timber, yet the bald white summit [Ouray] rears its head to almost unmeasured heights above, and claims our admiration by its simple majesty.”
Wednesday–August 29, 2007
Location–Below Middle Baldy
After pitching last, the storm appeared to move on south to about where I figured John and Dawn would be. Sure enough, this morning I see their (fresh) tracks along the trail.
It’s a cool, cloud-free morning as I descend Triple Divide Peak (the waters of the Arkansas, the Colorado [Gunnison], and the Rio Grande are divided here).
Not long, I see my first sage grouse (called blue grouse here). It’s walking along the trail beside me, showing not a care. It gives a look my way, over its shoulder moment to moment to keep an eye on me, and just keeps tripping along. Watching the bird and paying no attention to my wandering, do I flush two more grouse right from under my feet. Trying to regain some composure, another one rises directly beside. Okay, I’m certainly awake now!
Where the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail share the same path, the tread is well maintained, and there’s great signage at all the intersections. To make navigating along even easier, I’ve finally broke down (cheap, cheap, cheap) and purchased Jim Wolfe’s fine trail guides. Many of the folks I hiked with during ’05 were using his guides and all highly recommended them. So, I’m finally up to speed. Shouldn’t be getting confused/lost nearly as often now–Thanks, Jim! And thank you, Jonathan, I’m still greatly relying on your fine trail maps–and my GPS.
I’m entering the Cochetopa Hills proper now, lower (just below 11,000 feet), rolling and rocky treadway. It’s trip and stumble time, seems, for the remainder of the day. Adding to the problem is my pack weight. I’m carrying five days (now four) of food to get to Spring Creek Pass (Lake City), some 96 miles by trail from Monarch. So I’m lugging around 20 pounds. Hey, not whining; my dandy little Mariposa pack provided me by Gossamer Gear (Glen Van Peski) is haulin’ the load just fine.
The sky darks over again by afternoon, bringing cold rain and finally hail. Hammers me good. Took a picture of a pile of it beside the trail. More slipping and sliding, through the rocks, roots, mud–and ice.
I finally give it up at seven, by a little trickle coming off the Divide. I find a flat spot above and pitch my tent. For the next half hour, and until nearly dark, I nurse the most cantankerous fire I’ve ever tried to build. I get it halfway going and it suddenly goes all but out–halfway going again, out–over and over; same deal. Sure, the forest is wet, the tinder is wet, and the ground is wet. But hey, I’m a fire builder, don’t ya know! Finally get the wise idea to open a box of my Uncle Bens, dump the rice in my saucepan, and use the cardboard for fire starter. Even open the seasoning pack, dump the powder on the rice and add the paper to the cardboard. Yup, we’re firin’ up great now. But hold on–as I’m breaking small sticks over my knee to help the blaze along, it happens. I lose my balance, step back to regain–and hit the saucepan with my left heel. Oh yes, up flies the pan, straight up, flipping and turning–and up flies the rice and the seasoning powder, all over me, head to toe. Most of the rice lands in my left shoe. Yup, the fire goes out again. It’s dark now, so I go for my little Micro-light, used it for the entire ’06 L&C return trek. It’s decided to quit. Looks like cheese sandwiches tonight–if I can find my bread and cheese in the dark. Mutter, mutter, mutter. Hey, know what? Onion powder makes a pretty good deodorant. Shoes smell, well, different! Ah, I think this is the cheese, feels like the cheese. Now where’s the bread?
“If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me-e-e!”
[Cast of Hee Haw]
Thursday–August 30, 2007
Location–Near Texas Creek (FS787.2A)
Away from the Divide, the landscape is beginning to look more and more like the southwest, desert-like, with mesas, cattle, and miles and miles of open range. Pass a solar well, a fenced spring, and even hike through some sage for the first time today. Cochetopa Hills are behind me now. No regrets.
Early in the day the trail follows the Divide, between the Rio Grande National Forest to the east and the Gunnison to the west. In the afternoon, through the bristlecone pine and aspen, the trail drops from the Divide. Shortly comes trail magic, twice! First, bear-proof canisters in the cold creek waters by CO114. Pop, oranges, chocolate, and homemade cookies, compliments of Mom and Dad, friends of John and Dawn. Then in a short while, two coolers loaded with cold pop, compliments of Burnt Foot.
Later in the afternoon I meet northbound CD hiker, Shera, headed for Denver.
By seven, I decide to load up on water at Texas Creek, then to hike a very short distance before finding the perfect spot (dry and flat) under the pine where I pitch for the evening. Have a cooking/warming fire going in no time. A great 23-mile day. No afternoon thunder busters for a change!
“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
[Antoine de Saint-Exupery]
Friday–August 31, 2007
Location–Below San Luis Pass
I’m up and moving early, before seven. Unusual for me. More roads–FS597, then FS597.1A. This last road leads to the trail at the lower end of Cochetopa Creek Canyon. A fine morning as I head up. The climb is gentle at first but as the morning wears on the trail becomes steeper. Just before noon, and a short distance below the Eddyville Trailhead, I enter the La Garita Wilderness. As I continue up Cochetopa Creek there’s evidence of beaver everywhere. Dams, lodges, skids, tree stumps, and the hacked remains of bushes, all with that familiar stockade-pointed cut.
With each passing hour, and as the canyon continues trending and curving an arc, I finally get my first glimpse at San Luis Peak, one of the taller of the 54 Colorado 14ers.
Turning from road to trail this morning, and at that point, Cochetopa Creek was a formidable stream, with thousands of gallons of water flowing per minute. But here, finally, at the upper reaches, crossing the little brook involves no more than an easy rock-hop.
The climb, which began hours ago below 10,000 feet, turns nearly straight up now, as I struggle to gain the shoulder below San Luis Peak, altitude 12,600 feet, a continuous climb of nearly 3,000 feet.
Climbing just below the mountain spur comes the predictable afternoon clutter, hovering above, bringing the usual spatter of large raindrops. Before reaching the spur, I stop to don my poncho. Climbing on, the rain intensifies, with hail intermixing. The sky above has turned totally black now and the storm is becoming very angry, bringing much wind-driven rain and hail, and cloud-to-cloud lightning, producing that unmistakable smell of ozone. What seemed to start as the usual short afternoon squall has turned to a much more intense and strong storm–and it’s directly above me.
Beyond the mountain arm the trail stays high, totally exposed against the sheer rock as it side-slabs around a huge, open amphitheatre guarded above by grotesque volcanic sculpts. What little vegetation there is up here stands only inches high. The jumble of rock, mostly talus and scree, offers no cover. As I push against the wind, comes a literal blast of ice, hail driven like pellets from a shotgun. My head, shoulders, and arms are pelted with painful force.
Comes pure hail now, no rain. The noise is deafening as the wind drives the ice against the rock and across the trail before me. This great storm continues for a very long time, long enough for me to start feeling the early stages of hypothermia.
As I struggle along, yet again come sheets of driving rain, gully-washing and piling up the ice, creating a treadway covered with flowing white. Oh, if only I’d taken time earlier to open my pack and retrieve my mittens and fleece. Too late now. Can’t stop.
I’m having trouble gripping my trekking poles. My fingers are like so many useless sticks. Thrusting my poles under my arm I manage to get my hands inside my poncho and under my armpits. I continue stumbling and skidding along the ice-choked trail.
Finally, mercifully, the trail descends toward tree line–and cover. The hail stops and the wind and rain slacken the least bit. In the tall, canopied forest I find cover enough to remove my poncho and drop my pack. A spot just large enough for my tent miraculously appears. I fumble with my pitifully useless hands, such a frustrating and slow ordeal. Before my tent is set the rain comes again, down through the canopy, drenching my tent and pack. I work with haste, pure determination, trying not to panic. The tent finally up; in go my pack–and me. Thank you, Lord!
Out of the storm now, and with the tent interior quickly warming, I’m able to get my hands working well enough to mop water with my mittens and fleece, then to change into relatively dry clothes. Somehow, I know not how, my sleeping bag has remained dry. In another moment my sleeping pad is inflated and I’m in my dry, warm bag. This day’s done; I’m done–my camp here above 12,000 feet.
Can’t believe it, with all this trouble, I’ve still managed a 27-mile day.
“Toward the light in search of peace
This calling I’ll blunder thru
’till all the pulses within me cease
Adrift in the hazy blue.”
[Robert W. Service]
Saturday–September 1, 2007
Location–CO149, Spring Creek Pass, thence to Lake City
The cold of the night not so severe, the storm retreating, I’m able to rest in such comfort that could only have been hoped and prayed for, yet never expected.
The morning dawns to a perfect clear-calm. Solid blue above, not a cloud wisp, neither a single bough swaying. Total stillness; absolute silence. Such strange contrast to the brutal fury of yesterday. Nature! Does she not constantly wave such a fickle and mysteriously unpredictable wand? Here in the wilderness we are ever at her mercy, (and do we not choose to be) her subjects, drawn to the gentle warmth of her bosom–yet so soon to become discards, victims of her unbridled wrath.
Time for contemplation, and time for a grateful moment of prayer to Nature’s God, to the Almighty above.
A very slow, methodic process, getting out and moving. Wet pants, wet shirt, wet socks and shoes–wet everything I put on. My legs, arms, and back are mechanical, stiff and sore, victims of the harsh, cold storm of last. “Double your coated aspirin;” I murmur, “That’ll work.” as I try convincing myself to suck it up and get moving.
Got my sights set on town today, but between here and there comes the least business of climbing, over 2,000 feet of elevation change, from here on the flanks of San Luis, to Spring Creek Pass.
I manage to get going with relative ease, considering, and am striding along quite well in no time. Thank you, Lord, for the stamina, for the resilience, for the determination and resolve. Your blessings, so lavished upon me, they’re priceless gifts, that through your grace and love I might provide inspiration to others, to rise, get off their duffs and get out and moving–it truly is a blessing. Thank you, Lord, thank you!
Company along the trail today. First, James Robert Harris from New York City. He’s out here hiking the Colorado Trail. I catch him–and his 50# pack. We have a fine chat. “Been to Patagonia, the Andes, all over the world.” he remarks. “I’m well over 60 now; gotta keep movin’.” Ah, yes, James, we all gotta keep movin’! I get his picture. He takes mine. Great meetin’ ya, old fellow!
Descending to Snow Mesa I see a dot on the trail far below. In awhile I catch up with Mike (also from New York)–and his 50# pack! Mike has stopped to filter some water by the outfall from the little tarn here on the mesa. We exchange wishes for respective safe and joyful journeys, and I’m off and trekking again.
After bailing off the mesa, and by four I’m standing on the shoulder of CO149, my thumb out waiting–and waiting, and waiting. No traffic, either direction. Not good. Two or three vehicles every fifteen minutes or so, more motorcycles than cars and trucks. Not good, not good at all.
After an hour of this futility, I turn and start looking for Mike to drop off the mountain. At five–hey, here comes Mike! He’d told me earlier that Spring Creek Pass (CO149) was his final destination, so I have my hopes up that Mike might be just a bit smarter than me, that he’d have wheels waiting over at the trailhead.
As we greet again, and as I lament my dismay with failing to get a ride during the past hour, Mike says: “That red car over there, that’s mine; let’s go!” Oh yes, Mike, I’m with you!
Mike is out here in Colorado hiking sections of the CT. He came out last year too. Liked the experience so much, he’s returned again. Managed to get a taxi to follow him clean up here from Creede so he’d have a vehicle (rental) to get himself back down off the mountain. “I’m actually going back to Creede, but I’ll run you down to Lake City.” says Mike with a smile. What luck! Thank you, Mike–thank you, Lord! Save for Mike, I’d probably still be standing to this day–thumb out, in Spring Creek Pass.
Mike drops me off in front of Sportsman Outdoors, “downtown” Lake City. I thank him, ask him to sign my guestbook when he returns to New York, and he’d gone.
In Sportsman I meet Andy. Ask him about a motel, a place with good grub, where’s the post office, library, the usual questions. Andy just stands there, big frown on his face the whole time. “You’re not going to find a room in this town, not tonight, not this weekend.” says Andy apologetically. “What’s going on?” I ask. “It’s Labor Day Weekend–don’t you know it’s Labor Day Weekend? This is our busiest weekend of the year!” exclaims Andy, again with a “give-me-a-break” frown. “Here,” he says, “I’ll make a couple of calls for you, but I tell ya, you’re not going to find a room in this town tonight.” First call, strike one. Second call, strike two. Third call (Andy into the receiver), “Na, the guy’s a hiker; he doesn’t smoke.” His hand over the phone now, “You don’t smoke, do you?” whispers Andy. Bingo! Big smile, both of us! “Come on, I’ll run you down, their last room; they’ll hold it a minute–better get there before they rent it out to someone else.” says Andy, as we head out the door.
In a moment we’re in front of the Silver Spur Motel. As I thank him and open the door to get out, “We offer shuttle service back to the pass if you need a ride–and you’re welcome.” says Andy. Yup, I’ll sure take the shuttle! Thanks, Andy. What a kind and friendly introduction to Lake City!
The Silver Spur reception desk is bustling. “No rooms, no; we’re full up.” John on the phone. From the door, John’s wife, Venice: “Tell those folks we’re full, no rooms.”
Holy moly, what a deal. I’ve been blissfully bouncing along the Divide, not a care to my name one minute, then the next, the carnival that’s Labor Day, Lake City. What an amazing stroke of good fortune; I’m in!
“I believe in God only I spell it ‘Nature’.”
[Frank Lloyd Wright]
Sunday-Monday–September 2-3, 2007
Location–Silver Spur Motel, Lake City
Another day of rest has proven most welcome. Been able to keep my feet up, and have received inspiration to write. Anyway, it’s been raining steady most of the day.
I’m warm, dry, and my tummy’s full. Oh happy day! I’ll hike again–tomorrow.
“I can choose to be happy now
or I can try to be happy when… or if…”
Tuesday–September 4, 2007
Location–La Garita Stock Driveway, past Coney Peak, Continental Divide, camp elevation 12,843 feet
Lake City turned out to be a fine trail town. Busted my budget, though. My own fault. Forgot it was Labor Day weekend. Lucky to get a room at any price–then had to lay over the extra day (no problem) because the post office was closed Monday.
When I hit town Saturday, Mike dropped me off right in front of Sportsman Outdoors. There I met Andy, the manager. He suggested I take advantage of their shuttle service back up to Spring Creek Pass. Oh yes!
So, this morning Zack from Sportsman hauls me. Great conversation on the way. Zack is a trout-fishing guide for Sportsman. He’s working on his degree in Anthropology. Turns out he attended Mizzou in Columbia, so he’s familiar with Lake of the Ozarks, my stomping grounds. Thanks for the lift Zack!
I’m back on the trail a little before noon, climbing as usual, and in the hail (one more time). Same old afternoon thunder buster clutter, but today’s version is stubborn as it hangs around most the afternoon. Have my poncho on and off four or five times. Meet some folks on the trail for a change, Cathy and Larry, day hikers from Minnesota. Cathy can’t believe I could have what I need in my meager little pack.
I’m entering the San Juan Mountains now. Friends have told me much about the San Juans, so I’m looking with much anticipation to seeing this section of the Rockies for myself. I get my first glimpse at their lofty and rugged presence from Jarosa Mesa at 12,000 feet. From here can be seen Rio Grande Pyramid. Before me, the San Juans, and dancing on the horizon, the Grenadier Range. Looking back, Snow Mesa can be easily seen.
Ever look down on a rainbow? A quite interesting sight, created by the here-and-gone and here again afternoon storm. The San Juans are going to be all I’d hoped for, untouched expanse, pure wilderness not marred by power line cuts, highway ribbons, and all the other countless “improvements” man can make to help Nature.
In the evening, I’m hoping for a relatively dry spot under the spruce canopy, to have my little fire, but above tree line at near 13,000 feet, there is no canopy! Cold supper tonight.
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life,
and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.”
Wednesday–September 5, 2007
Location–Above Weminuche Trailhead, Bear Creek, Weminuche Wilderness
A cold night at such heavenly heights; 38 degrees. Though it rained hard (I know not how long) I made myself comfortable and slept very well–on my Therm-a-Rest pad, in my Feathered Friends bag and little Nomad tent.
Looking down this morning (almost everything to look at this morning is down) I see that unusual natural phenomenon I’ve talked about in both my books; a perfectly flat cloud-sea below me. It is a marvelous sight to behold. One’s imagination can literally run wild, as islands form, harbors appear–and tall ships can be easily visualized. The white cloud-sea here is not as brilliant or as expansive as the one seen on that crisp, clear early morning above Parc de la Gaspésie, but it is none-the-less baffling and remarkable.
Below Coney Peak, the CDT rises to its loftiest height in southern Colorado, 13,334 feet, and it’s turning a blue-perfect day from horizon to horizon, unobstructed views; spectacular. So clear, seems that beyond the blue fringes, there’s a door that could never be a door, yet there does it appear–to open.
In awhile the trail bails off to Carson Saddle. Here molders the remains of an old silver mine, circa 1880. The prospect was staked out by Chris Carson, son of the legendary Kit Carson. All that remain are caved in shafts, holes in the ground surrounded by tan colored tailing piles, rusting steam-driven mine equipment–and a pall so physically pressing and mentally depressing that it overwhelms. Something terrible and sad, as to create an everlasting ethereal grieving, happened here a long, long time ago. Nothing to do with wealth or fortunes lost, some other terrible tragedy. Even in the bright, warm sun of this day, indeed in all the midnight suns of yesterday, would there not be warmth or brightness enough to drive the shadows from this hell of a place. As I depart do I glance many times back, trying to puzzle some sense out of what to this day continues on…
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold…”
[Robert W. Service]
Men moil for silver too, I suppose. And so, I’ll just leave it at that.
As I climb back up to the Divide from Carson Saddle, are there strange, eerie-looking shapes running the ridges above me, as if clutching toward the heavens. Folks about have affectionately named these forms Hoo Doos. Sure spooky looking. Seems they’re all looking at me, until I quickly look to confront them–then they immediately turn to cold, inanimate stone. Yup, spooky.
I’ve made a decision to follow the Colorado trail for a ways today, down and around to Beartown (no town, no ghostly haunts, just the name remains). The CDT climbs up and all around Canby, nothing very on-the-ground tread-wise or very official about the trail there. So I make the decision to bypass Canby, to follow along FS roads a good bit. Right choice as I get to meet and talk to a couple of cowboys placing salt blocks, to see a high country hunting camp (complete with privy), and to meet a northbound Colorado Trail thru-hiker; dang, forget his name.
Late evening now, I enter the Weminuche Wilderness to pitch on a coin-sized flat spot under the spruce. The rain soon comes and continues off and on all night.
Thursday–September 6, 2007
Location–Below Rio Grande Pyramid (and The Window), Weminuche Wilderness
My camp, last, marked the furthest west I’ll venture during this journey. The Divide turns back east now, before finally heading south for good near Sawtooth Mountain.
The morning begins iffy weather-wise, cloudy, windy, and cold. Not long, the day clears nicely, making for fine hiking.
The trail crosses the Divide a number of times today, first thing this morning at Hunchback Pass, a climb of nearly a thousand feet. Then it’s bail-off and right back up to Nebo Pass.
A number of lovely high-held lakes today, West Ute, Middle Ute, Twin and Ute Lakes. They make for some stunning pictures.
The treadway here in the Weminuche Wilderness has been (and continues to be) brutal–heavenly sights above, pure hell below. Trails that receive heavy use, as does this CDT through the Wilderness, get eroded down to rock. Some places the tread is a pure gully, up to three feet deep, littered in the narrow vee-bottom with loose baseball-to-basketball-size rocks. Grueling. Slow and methodical is the only way through, lest I bust it.
After all these days, from way back on Snow Mesa where I first photographed Rio Grande Pyramid, I am finally standing on its flank. An unusual and interesting feature nearby is called The Window, as there’s a nearly perfect square opening in the ridgeline beside the Pyramid. Look for pictures (are better than words) soon. My camp for the night is below Rio Grande Pyramid. As the sun drops, so goes the mercury. My cooking-turned-warming fire is a fine companion.
“The fire is the main comfort of the camp, whether in summer or winter,
and is about as ample at one season as at another.
It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth…”
Friday–September 7, 2007
Location–Squaw Creek, Weminuche Wilderness
Got down in the 30s last, clear and cold.
As it turns, today is the day to get lost. First, I’m unable to find the trail across the large, expansive meadow below Weminuche Pass. I bushwhack back and forth, hike all the way up to (and past) Weminuche Pass. No trail. Finally, nearly three hours (and four knock-about miles) later, I’m back on track, climbing, of course!
Second, I take the wrong trail at a fork and hike over two miles before realizing (actually before being told) that I’m hiking the wrong trail. Not all bad though, as I get to meet John from Connecticut. And what a very joyful occurrence–my path again crossing that of James “Jess” Harris, the fellow from New York that I first met clear back near Snow Mesa. Great meeting you, John. And what a special time, spending time again with our friend, Jess. Jess gets me going the right direction!
Rio Grande Pyramid and The Window are still in my rearview. Taking awhile getting this massive mountain behind me. Pyramid and its associated mountain system are the cause for the huge horseshoe bend in the Divide, which has taken me nearly three days to get around.
The angular light of the late evening sun striking the mountainsides is, well, striking. Gawking around, taking pictures, I miss a turn, hiking nearly a mile down, way down, the wrong trail. By the time I figure it out, and get straightened out, the day is through. I pitch on a rocky ledge just above Squaw Creek. Lots of deadwood to kindle my evening fire.
Making the miles doesn’t always make the day. Turned out, rambling about, off-trail, was not the least unpleasant, more time spent looking in rather than out, learning the fine virtue of patience.
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in…”
Saturday–September 8, 2007
Location–Below Piedra Peak, Weminuche Wilderness
A cold 28 degrees this morning. No moisture/condensation on my tent, just ice crystals. More sticks for fingers again as I tackle breaking camp. Proud to be out and hiking before seven. Would truly like to make the miles today, good Lord willin’.
It’s tough grinding though, as the trail hugs the jagged Divide, mostly at or above 12,000 feet. Lots of rocks. Thousands (of feet of) ups and downs. But I stay true the trail, and the miles click away as my thoughts ponder the goodness of Nature unfettered–her eternal message of truth.
A rather remarkable feature along today is called the Knife Edge. Aptly named, as the trail seems to become suspended, then abruptly end in space. The Divide at the Knife Edge is truly that, sharp, narrow, and near vertical. I keep the blinders on and creep along with absolute deliberation, lest I slip and go over.
Late evening, the trail drops down below timberline and I’m able to find a delightful campsite under the mature spruce canopy. A warmer night, but the warm fire is a welcome friend.
“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.”
Sunday–September 9, 2007
Location–Wolf Creek Pass, thence to Pagosa Springs, Colorado
I’m up, daily duty done, pack on, and I’m truckin’ before seven. It’s 22 miles to Wolf Creek Pass, and if I can cut it, there’ll be steak and potatoes, and a soft, warm bed waiting me tonight. Time to haul, through the rocky road, the longest continuous trail of rocks in my memory.
By late morning, and making good time, I arrive Sawtooth Mountain, where the trail finally turns back south. Mexico here I come!
Lunch break is a stop by one of the remaining high points on the CDT above 12,000 feet. As I relax, study my maps, and munch a cheese sandwich, comes up Wizard and Dirt Boy. They southbound thru-hiked the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in 1994. Great fun recalling common memories, discovering mutual friends.
Looking to the horizon, the least wisp of haze at 35 miles (straight shot for the high-flying crow) standing tallest is San Luis Peak. By trail, it’s 125 miles!
More picturesque lakes today, Archuleta, Spotted and Rock Lakes. Rock Lake is particularly stunning, what with jagged rock walls extending near vertically from its waters, with beautiful Hope Mountain for a backdrop.
At four, I depart the Weminuche Wilderness, five full days and over 110 miles of unspoiled mountain scenery. What a memorable time. Where’s the steak and potatoes?
By five (and in the rain and hail again) I’m standing in Wolf Creek Pass (US160) with my thumb aimed at Pagosa Springs. Soon a trucker takes pity on me, stops, and I load. It’s Jeff, driving for Swift. Been with Swift only a short while, one driver of over 20,000 Swift drivers on the highway today. He gets a kick out of hearing a little of C.W. McCall’s Wolf Creek Pass. I’m in Pagosa Springs (in the rain) by a little before six. Spacious room, delicious steak.
In the evening I’m able to track down Nean (triple crowner) and his girlfriend, Heidi. They’ll be hauling me back up the mountain Tuesday morning.
Sure glad to be in town for a spell. Feet, knees, and arms dearly need a rest.
“Me and Earl was haulin’ chickens
On a flatbed outa Wiggins
And we had spent all night on the uphill side
Of thirty seven miles of hell called Wolf Crick Pass
Which was up on the great divide
Wolf Crick Pass way up on the great divide
Truckin’ on down, the other side”
[C. W. McCall]
Monday–September 10, 2007
Location–Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Rained hard off and on all during the night. Tin roof on the motel. Clatter woke me several times. Happy to be out of it for a change.
Another typical southern Colorado town, Pagosa Springs, strung out along the main highway, for miles. There is a downtown, cloistered around the hot springs. Motel, grocery store, library, and post office within easy walking distance.
I get together with Nean and Heidi, and we share more good memories, fun stories.
In the afternoon I work journal entries, stomp out my dirty duds in the tub, make a trip to the grocery store and post office, then settle back in.
Glad to have spent the past six days in the wild. Glad to be out of the wild. Will miss the wild again, soon enough!
“Have you seen God in his splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things–
Then listen to the Wild–it’s calling you.”
[Robert W. Service]
Tuesday–September 11, 2007
Location–Below Montezuma Peak, Continental Divide, campsite elevation 12,332 feet
Been taking a few pictures in the towns where I’ve sought rest. Somehow I missed snapping any while in Pagosa Springs. Don’t know why; it’s a friendly, progressive, upbeat little community.
Nean and Heidi both work in Creede, over the mountain from Pagosa Springs, and they’ve offered to shuttle me back up to Wolf Creek Pass on their way to work this morning. We share a quick breakfast together, then it’s time to roll (climb) to Wolf Creek Pass. At the kiosk atop the pass, I tripod-up my camera for a picture of the three of us. Then, too soon (but predictably), it’s that time again–more sad, heart-tugging farewells. Folks like Nean and Heidi become kin. Don’t ask me how it works, how such a blink-in-time relationship could create any sort of bond. Please, just believe me, it happens. Emotional and sad good-byes. Thanks Nean and Heidi, thanks for your kindness, for your kinship.
The climb out of Wolf Creek Pass, back to the Divide, is not the least strenuous, but it is long and steady. I’ve got my wind now; my legs are strong and responsive, and my arms have come up to the yeoman’s task of rhythmically digging my hiking sticks. Thanks once more dear Lord, for your grace and blessings upon this old man. May I be loud and boisterous–only in praising you.
I catch up with a couple of locals from Pagosa Springs this morning, Rich and Carol, out for their morning exercise climbing. Why is it we Americans must travel thousands of miles to enjoy the beauty of some other place, all the while never taking time to appreciate the beauty in our own back yard? Rich and Carol, they’ve got it figured out. They’ve found the beauty that abounds right here at home–happy smiles, both!
I’m now entering the South San Juans, a rugged and remote stretch of Rockies that extend nearly 70 miles south from here. Plans are to hike this section through in three days, but don’t know. The trail sure chops up the topo contour lines through here. That means plenty of climbing ahead.
Lots of different circumstances can slow one’s pace, some good, some not so good. Doesn’t take long this day for a not so good slow down–blowdowns. Today is shaping to become blowdown day. Trees laying across or otherwise blocking the trail can be a real problem. With all the usual tangle, they’re very hard to climb through with a pack on. So it’s almost always up and around (way up), or down and around (way down). No matter how they’re tackled, it’s a dangerous proposition. I must remind myself to slow down, be patient to a fault, and concentrate. Bustin’ it in a blowdown is not such a romantic way to end an odyssey.
By two, the local clutter (say thunder busters) arrives. Rounded up and driven by the wind, the shows come rushing through. At 12,000 feet, the thunder resounds in such a hollow, crashing tympani, reverberating all about. The lightning always seems to be cloud-to-cloud, yet when up here right in the clouds, such a light and percussion show can become the least unnerving.
My friend the wind, which has hastened the storm across, continues, bringing energy and a mysteriously audible mixture of sound. I heed its call and tune to its message as it passes. Nature speaks, if only we take time to listen.
My poncho is on more than off the remainder of the afternoon. Of course the storm must intermix some hail, but it does so just briefly as it finally moves away.
The trail continues side-slabbing. Rounding a bend I meet Steve. He’s up here from Arkansas hunting mule deer. And his trip’s been successful. He shot a four-square-racker early this morning and tracked it to where it finally dropped way, way down below. Our paths cross as he’s heading back to camp for help in quartering the mulie, getting it up the mountain, and out.
I hike on, into dusk, then into dark. Camp tonight is in/on the rocks, high in a narrow depression directly on the Divide. The night turns still, quiet–and cold. No more messages on the wind.
“Only those in tune with nature seem to pick up the energy in wind. All sorts of things get swept off in the breeze–ghosts, pieces of soul, voices unsung, thoughts repressed, love uncherished, and a thousands galore of spiritual ether. Wind is an emotional rush because emotions are rushing by.”
Wednesday–September 12, 2007
Location–North of Trail Lake, South San Juan Wilderness, Continental Divide, camp elevation 12,179 feet
I awake to a very cold morning, 30 degrees with frost on both the inside and outside walls of my tent. The sun, a blazing red, is just rising over Lookout Mountain. Ah yes, it’s going to be a wonderful hiking day.
A bright, clear morning had been forming, but by ten the local weather moves in to take command. My fleece and mittens have and will remain on as the wind comes driving, immediately bringing the cold again. In just moments comes the bone-chilling rain, which quickly turns to snow. By the time I stop, unshoulder my pack and get my poncho out, the whole system moves across the mountain to the other side of the Divide.
Wildlife abounds today, from the little finches flitting about the willow scrub, a dozen or more rock ptarmigan, pairs of blue grouse, to a large herd of elk. I have heard coyotes nearly every night, and bear sign is everywhere–but no bruins.
The trail dips to near civilization at picturesque Blue Lake from where an old road winds on down the mountain. Here are the remains of an old home, the rock fireplace still intact, standing as a sentinel straight and tall. Above the hearth and large firebox, the stone there would have supported a very long and equally wide mantel. My mind’s eye pictures a warm and inviting bungalow, welcome shelter from the cold and the snow.
The trail climbs, then stays high atop the Divide for the remainder of the day. The unrelenting rocks directly on the trail are brutal punishment to tired, weary feet, making the going painstakingly slow and laborious. Amazing mountain scenery and profound wildness though, the sort of vistas seldom seen, save for that afforded the exertion, the price paid being the sweat and toil of the climb. To those so inclined do these heavenly towers reveal their beauty. Ah, such a well-earned reward.
Again I hike on into the pale light, to pitch once more on the high ground, in a small, sheltered depression atop the Continental Divide. This will be my last night, and tomorrow my last day, above 12,000 feet.
“The exquisite sight, sound, and smell of wilderness is many times more powerful if it is earned through physical achievement, if it comes at the end of a long and fatiguing trip for which vigorous good health is necessary.”
Thursday–September 13, 2007
Location–Cumbres Pass, thence to Chama, New Mexico
A small patch of alpine turf proved a soft, welcome spot to lay down my tired old body last. Another clear, cold night quickly descended, but once in my little Nomad tent, it was warm (relatively), and I slept soundly.
Ice everywhere around me this morning (inside my tent). Merely brushing the sidewalls brings a cascading shower of sparkling crystals. I must move ever so cautiously to prevent becoming soaked. Carefully rolling my tent fly back reveals a haze-free, blue-perfect (but cold, 28 degrees) day. Not a cloud wisp nor the least sign of impending weather–360.
The remaining bit of climb up and along the Great Divide takes only minutes this morning, then the trail moves away to the eastern slope to gently descend toward Trail Lake. Near the lake I pause to look back toward the Great Divide, the last I’ll tread upon it here in Colorado.
The trail this morning crosses wide, undulating meadows interspersed and dotted with countless high-held lakes and ponds. To add to this (Nature’s manicured) elegance, an occasional cluster of low-bush or a rock garden is thrown in for variety. Along these high grassy spaces the trail becomes faint, disappearing entirely at times. To aid passage, rock cairns are places at intervals along, usually in sight, one to the next. But at times I’m left to fend on my own. Using Jonathan’s maps, my GPS, thence by shooting coordinates to a nearby known position I am able to find my way.
My daydreaming solitude is interrupted as I meet another intrepid this morning, Dave from Oregon, hiking sections of the South San Juans. We pause to exchange pleasant conversation before continuing our separate ways.
I’m able to get one of the most amazing pictures this morning. Being a near total haze-free day, as I look in disbelief toward the farthest, most-distant horizon, dancing up and down there faintly–can be seen The Sangre de Cristo Range and its highest summit, Blanca Peak, fourth in stature of the 14ers in Colorado. When this series of photos are up, please look ever-so-closely at shot 09/13/2007 12:43. In this photo, Blanca Peak can be seen 75 miles away!
By one-thirty I’m descending from 12,000 feet for the last time this journey. And shortly, I depart the South San Juan Wilderness.
Reflecting now, my thoughts: This hike through the San Juans has been a most rewarding and memorable time, wilderness scenery, and some pretty remarkable pictures–but I’m very relieved and glad to have the climbs and the rocks behind me. It’s been a rugged, difficult trek, but the good Lord has provided safe passage.
By five I’m passing under the Cumbres & Toltec train trestle at Cumbres Pass. There’s hardly any traffic on CO17, but as luck would have it, and in less than half an hour, Ed comes by from his cabin retreat in the South San Juans and gives me a ride down to Chama, New Mexico. Thanks, Ed!
I enter Foster’s 1881 Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon a little before six to be greeted by Alice, the owner. She’s got a room for me. After Jane gets the room heater working, it’s back down to the Saloon where Zack serves up a sizzling steak and an oven-hot baked potato.
Fine ending to a very fine day, eh!
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth
are never alone or weary of life.”
Friday-Saturday–September 14-15, 2007
Location–Chama, New Mexico
These two days are days of much needed rest. The San Juans were rugged, lots of climbing, and rocks, an incredible jumble of rocks. I appreciate the rest. I know my barking doggies sure do.
And what finer place for a short sojourn than Alice Foster’s 1881 Hotel, Restaurant & Saloon.
In the trail register at the Chama Post Office, most all the recent northbound folks have lamented as to getting lost in northern New Mexico.
Getting lost used to alarm and frustrate me, but no more. I’ve come to appreciate that straying from the trail (where there really isn’t any trail) is just part of the blend that makes the CDT such a unique and special trail experience. No sense or need in getting in a rush along this trail. Schedules and time frames have no place here. I’ve noticed that Mother Nature works pretty hard at times, but she also takes time to rest. It’s as if she is asking me to rest too. Sounds fair to me!
“Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Sunday–September 16, 2007
Location–Lagunitas Creek, below Brazos Ridge, Carson National Forest, New Mexico
What a fine time in Chama. Foster’s is a very old (1881) but most comfortable establishment. And Alice was a grand hostess. Yes, a fine time in Chama.
I figured I’d have one heck of a time hitching back up to Cumbres Pass, being Sunday, but as luck would have it, a kind, young family stops, takes nearly five minutes rearranging their gear (and kids) to make room for the old Nomad. Before I know it, I’m standing again in Cumbres Pass.
I could have taken the Cumbres & Toltec train to the top of the pass, but it was a bit pricey. The train ride is long and slow, a climb of five per cent all the way up, requiring two locomotives to haul the cars and passengers. The train left Chama twenty minutes before I got my ride, and I’m standing here by the tracks now, waiting another twenty minutes for it to arrive. There should be some good picture ops, so I delay my hike on south, and chat with Bill, caretaker of the facilities at the pass.
The wait was sure worth it as I’m able to get some fine pictures, first as the train approaches, then of all the people, and finally as one of the locomotives is switched out, and the train heads on down the other side of the pass.
Today is mostly a roadwalk, starting with the first couple of miles right down the old narrow gauge tracks (my choice).
In a short time, and while climbing up from Apache Canyon, three locals, David, Beverly, and Greg, come riding up on their mountain bikes. They’re out for the fresh air and the exercise, and stop a moment to chat. All take interest in my hike and ask many questions.
At one-thirty, and at a cattle guard on the gravel road, I leave Colorado and enter New Mexico. A bit of Canada and four states behind me now; one more to go–New Mexico.
It’s a grand day to be out hiking, cool and clear.
New Mexico is famous for its mesas, and it doesn’t take long at all before I’m climbing one, Osier, which takes me up to Brazos Ridge. The terrain is really changing now, from the high, rugged mountains of Colorado, to the arid mesas and plateaus of the southwest. Gone are the willow thickets, now come the sagebrush, juniper, and cactus.
The trail brushes by the Cruces Basin Wilderness, where I’m able to get a couple of pictures looking down from Brazos Ridge.
Even with such a late start, by evening I’ve manage good mileage for the day, and I’m very pleased. Camp is in the ponderosa pine. Flat and dry; plenty of firewood.
“Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
Monday–September 17, 2007
Location–Above headwaters, Placer Creek, just off US64
I could hear elk bugling and the coyotes “serenading” just at dusk last. It’s bow season for elk now and just at dark, two hunters passed, on their way back to their camp below.
I slept fine through the rain, which came around one, to continue off and on in waves all night. I’m bound in my tent until almost ten this morning, until the rain finally lets up enough for me to break camp.
I’m feeling the least bit apprehensive today as I’ve a long bushwhack ahead of me. It will require almost constant map reference, compass and GPS use, a thorough testing of my navigational skills. It’s hard enough staying on course under ideal conditions. With the rain, my poncho on to protect my pack (and me), it’ll be a problem getting to my maps, studying the topo lines–and keeping everything dry in the process.
The bushwhack begins with a bail-off, straight down into the canyon of Rio San Antonio. From here it’s a climb up, out, then to follow along the Tierra Amarillo Grant fence line. I stay on course and manage the six mile bushwhack without a hitch. And my maps are just the least soggy. Comes now more cold rain, which drives another hailstorm, this one not as long or as intense as others I’ve had to endure, but none-the-less exasperating.
Another bushwhack today, down Placer Creek. The storm has let up for awhile and it’s actually turning fair. The whack is through the narrow, rocky, high-walled canyon, the going slow and difficult, constant boulders and brush. Just below, and leaving the canyon, are the remains of a decaying old sluice box (placer), complete with grate and moldering box timbers.
In Rio Vallecitos Canyon now, the trail continues up and down, following more cow paths along the T-Bone Ranch fence line. Comes soon more forest service roads. Here, I’m able to get back up to speed.
Finding water, good water, is becoming more and more a problem. Fewer sources, further in-betweens. One source, supposedly reliable, Ojito Azul, a piped spring, is just a green-scum stagnant pool, not a drop of water moving. By five, I pass another piped spring, this one running at just the least trickle, but cold and clear. I take time to fill one of my bottles–and me.
Late evening now, bouncing up the rocky road in his pickup comes Perry. Just passed his very comfy, fully furnished camp a mile or so back. He stops, shuts ‘er down, and we chat. Perry and his buddy from Pennsylvania, they’re out here bow hunting for elk. All excited, Perry has to tell his story about shooting his first elk–first day out! Late evening it was. He decided to go for a short walk up the ridge, look the place over. Buddy didn’t even take his bow. Well, first thing, up pops this bull elk, nice one. Hey, wind is right, position perfect. Perry goes through the motions, shows me how he crouched down on his knees, behind a big pine blowdown, bow at the ready. Buddy commenced calling the elk in–to within arms reach away from Perry, right the other side of the blowdown. “He was licking his nose in a frenzy, wildly sniffin’ the air for any kind of scent. I’m shaking so hard I can hardly hold my bow. Wrong angle, can’t shoot; he’s standing with his chest facing me; wrong angle.” says Perry, all frustrated. His buddy kept calling until the elk finally saw him, to break and run. In a flash, Perry lets fly his arrow, and at 25 yards, down goes the bull, a perfect shot. “Just out for an evening stroll up the ridge; first night.” exclaims Perry, big ear-to-ear grin!
“What a story, what-a-story; folks’ll never believe this. I gotta get your picture.” I smile back at Perry. Down goes the tailgate; bingo, there stands Perry, proud as can be. “Look at this!” he says. Fancy equipment box–with a perfect elk silhouette hand painted there. Well, turns out Perry is a taxidermist. “This one’ll be hangin’ in my den, you betcha’.” smiles Perry. Okay Perry, you promised to send us a picture as soon as the mount is finished–you promised!
Just before dark I finally get straightened out and going the right way on US64. It’s raining and turning cold. Jack stops to see if I’m okay even though he’s traveling the opposite direction. I ask for water. He pulls off, opens his rear hatch and fills me up from his five-gallon container. Thanks, Jack! Saves me from scooping it out of the ditch.
The rain doesn’t let up. I find a flat spot where the trail leaves the highway, in a stand of ponderosa, and call it a day.
I am relieved to have this day behind me, to have met the challenge of trekking cross-country, in this wild country–alone, and to have prevailed. Thank you, Lord!
“No man should go through life without once experiencing…wilderness,
finding himself depending solely on himself
and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.”
Tuesday–September 18, 2007
Location–Bushwhacking near Ojito Jarosito, below Mogote Ridge
Seems this day may be an improvement weather-wise, as the dawn comes cold and clear. More forest service roads today, along Mogote Ridge. Wide-sweeping views. Many fine pictures.
Every day the terrain looks more and more like the arid southwest and less and less like the Colorado Rockies. I think I’m heading the right direction!
After being so proud of my success, the bushwhacks yesterday, now, here today, I make a wrong turn at a road junction, then try taking a shortcut to get back on track–and then spend the next three hours trying to figure out where I’m at! There’s supposed to be a road here, right here. No road. What’s going on? Roads don’t just disappear. My shortcut route should have intersected the road long ago. Cripes! Here I am thrashing around in the blowdowns and brush, dumb. Finally, finally, I stumble out and onto a graded, well-maintained road. Map study. GPS position. Compass direction. Ah, I see. I’m way down here. The road I’m trying to get to is up there. This southbound trek should be pretty much southbound, but quite often it’s not southbound at all–I head way east, to the road I should have been on all along! Patience, old man, patience. I will study the ways of Nature more, that I might travel rightly.
Views this afternoon, here above 10,000 feet, are far-reaching, down and into the Chama River Valley, where is located Ghost Ranch Conference Center, and where I should be sometime day after tomorrow.
Beginning another bushwhack section, as I tire, and as dark begins descending, I find another of my newly-made evening friends, a huge ponderosa pine. Here beneath its protective, outstretched boughs, and on its needle-carpeted floor, I set my camp.
First a cooking, then a fine warming fire–they do comfort me.
“You will find something more in woods than in books.
Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.”
Wednesday–September 19, 2007
Location–Below Yeso Tank (fancy name for plain old stagnant cattle pond), FR139, Mesa Montosa, elevation 8,200 feet
I’d built up expectations of reaching Ghost Ranch today, but there’s just no sense in trying to hammer 24 miles, especially with the remainder of the bushwhack this morning, and the final six miles, a descent of near 2,000 feet, over the canyon wall and down through Arroyo Yeso to reach Ghost Ranch. So I’ll take my time, take some pictures, enjoy the natural beauty here–and just hoof it in to near the cliffs of the upper canyon above Ghost Ranch, and call it a day.
I’m able to beat it on through the bushwhack below Ojito Jarosito in good time this morning. Actually, I come out about where I’m supposed to, at the forest service road leading up Mogote Ridge. I begin the bushwhack on the ridge a little before ten. This whack is easy enough, stay on the ridge and follow the fence–for awhile. Picking up FR406T2, the hike becomes a pleasant walk through the aspen.
In the evening, and nearing the cliffs below Mesa Montosa and Mesa Yeso, (and out of water again) I stop at Yeso Tank, where I take (and treat) water. A short distance beyond, there’s a park-like meadow dotted with ponderosa pine. I find a perfect spot under a particularly majestic stand and set camp for the night.
It’s been a very enjoyable (say nice weather for a change) hiking day.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Thursday–September 20, 2007
Location–Ghost Ranch Conference Center near Abiquiu, New Mexico
Well, so much for the weather. About midnight the rain returns. No wind, no waves, no hail like the past few days, just spigot on, spigot off–all night and into the morning. It’s 9:30 before I’m able to break camp. Then I must keep my poncho ever ready. For this high desert region, which receives as little as ten inches of annual rainfall, this persistent rain is strange indeed. Adding it all up the past few days, this might be it for these folks for the next twelve months!
The least anxiety returns again this day, because a good chunk of the remaining six miles to Ghost Ranch involves a bail-off into the canyon, some four miles of which is purported to be a very rugged and difficult bushwhack. When I called Ghost Ranch last week, Lee told me that John and Dawn had difficulty finding their way at times during their descent.
“Okay old man, put your pack on and let’s do it.” –a little encouragement for myself. By 10:30 I’m standing at the abyss, on the rim, looking down nearly 2,000 feet into a huge box canyon that is Arroyo Yeso. I stand here, gaping and gazing, not wanting to hesitate, not wanting to wait; let’s just do it and get it done. But I do wait and manage to stay calm, so as to identify features, landmarks below that I’ll rely on to set my course down.
As I’m making this half-hearted analysis, I simply cannot suppress my first, overpowering thought–which remains my thought now: “I gotta climb down through this place!”
Calm finally does prevail. I gain my composure, and come up with a plan.
The guidebook says, and Jonathan’s maps show, a direct descent, down through the wall of rocks to the first level shelf, then a turn southwest toward the east-facing cliff, there to find and follow faint old wagon ruts clockwise around and down beyond the next drop-off. Gazing intently, I’m able to make it all out–and pick my route down.
So, pack cinched tight, over the rim I go. Good old Leki trekking poles. They’ve gotten me through some really tough spots, and here, again, they shine! Leki’s motto: “Two legs bad, four legs good.” Ahh, no truer words. I make sure both sticks are stuck, and I’ve one foot firmly planted before dropping on down. Every move is deliberate, requiring total concentration. A screw-up here, and I don’t get to go back and start over.
The first level seems such a dizzying distance down. But thinking about moves, stick and foot placement, and not time, I’m surprised when I find myself standing on near-level ground again.
So far, so good! “Now look at your compass, turn southwest and head for the bluff.” I utter to myself. In moments I’m standing in the old wagon road ruts. “Turn left and follow them till they disappear at the next drop-off, that’s the way.” I reassure myself.
But along the way now, following the faint path, it occurs to me that there’s only one place this old mule and wagon road could have come from–the mouth of the arroyo–and Ghost Ranch! And you know what? The faint old wagon road led where even a mountain goat would’ve been challenged, but I hung with it (perhaps not a good phrase), and in less than two hours I’m standing at the opening in the fence behind Ghost Ranch! What an adrenalin pump (for this old heart), and what an absolutely remarkable experience. Not one slip, not one misstep, not one wrong turn. Thank you, thank you, Lord!
Smiling faces at Ghost Ranch Reception. Lee, Bill and Clorinda, all are genuinely glad to see me. “I’ve figured you a deal, in the bunkhouse–for today, tomorrow, two nights, all your meals.” smiles Clorinda. Won’t tell you what she came up with, but here’s a clue about prices at Ghost Ranch. When was the last time you can remember dropping a buck on the counter, anywhere, and walking away with a 20oz Coke?
The bunkhouse is authentic adobe, the old, original bunkhouse for hands at Ghost Ranch. It’s been modernized, of course, but it still has the charm of the olden days. No locks on any of the doors. My room (and Lee as much as told me, the place was mine) has four bunks and one full-sized bed. Neat and clean. Sheets and pillowcases neatly folded; make your own bed. This is great. Bathhouse just down the covered walkway. The place has gotta have at least a 100 gallon water heater. Still plenty of hot water left a half hour later, after me and all my clothes are clean. Phone (residential, not pay) two minutes away. Four computers two minutes away. Twenty-four-hour library four minutes away. Cafeteria (all meals included, remember!) four minutes away. Yup, Ghost Ranch, this’ll sure work for a couple of days, to boost this tired old man on down the trail!
“I haven’t got any special religion this morning.
My God is the God of walkers.
If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God.”
Friday–September 21, 2007
Location–Ghost Ranch Conference Center
These extra days of rest I’ve been taking sure boost my spirit and keep me going strong. No problem relaxing another day here at Ghost Ranch. Very comfortable place, kind folks.
A couple of sorta funny things the past few days —
First, both my knees are totally skinned up. You’d probably figure (and if you’ve looked at any of the ’07 Odyssey picture albums, seen the wicked treadway, you’d sure enough bet) that I must have fallen in the ruts, boulders, rocks, roots, or mud somewhere along the trail, right? Well, you lose the bet. Here’s what actually happened: My right knee took a beating when I fell while casually walking down an incline to see the old locomotive at the train station in Chama. My left knee? Well, I slipped and fell while walking along the paved shoulder of US64 last Monday evening! Seems I can handle the boulders, the piles upon piles of rocks, the pitch-me-off side-slabs, the straight ups, straight downs, and the axle grease mud–but I’m unable to stay up straight on no-bump walkways, and flat, skid-free pavement. Go figure!
And second? Well, wouldn’t you think that sitting down to a delicious hot meal here at Ghost Ranch, after so many sorry-meal days on the trail, fork in hand ready to dive in, would have been the thought of the moment? Well, it wasn’t. Actually, the thought of the moment was–the sitting down! Yes, sitting down, in an old wooden, hard seat, hardback chair, that was the pleasant thought of the moment, the grand meal, comin’ right up thought, second. Nuts, right!
Okay, try going all day, day after day, with no place ever to sit, save the cold ground, a hard, wet rock, or a blowdown log. Remember, there are no sofas, easy chairs, couches, lounges, or recliners in the woods! Yes, it’s a really big thing–the simple pleasure of just sitting down and leaning back!
Okay, enough goofy stuff.
Got all my gear dried out–one more time. Gotta pack and get ready to head on south in the morning. The trail toward the hazy blue, it’s a’calling.
“I’ll trek the far off byways,
And wander the continents o’er.
I’ll pack and trek the trailways,
Till I walk this earth no more.”
[Robert W. Service]
Saturday–September 22, 2007
Location–Near FR170, Below Mesa del Camino
Ghost Ranch Conference Center, a very hiker-friendly place. Thanks Lee, Bill, and Clorinda!
At breakfast this morning a young fellow comes up to me and asks if I’m the Nimblewill Nomad. “With those gaiters on, I figure you must be the south-bound hiker I’ve been hearing about.” he remarks. And so, I meet Rob Foxtrot Fissel. During breakfast, we decide to hike the day together, as Foxtrot is also southbound on the CDT.
As we’re hiking out from Ghost Ranch, I’m able to see Lee and Bill for a moment, to thank them for the great hospitality extended me at Ghost Ranch.
From the Conference Center, the museum trail leads out toward the highway, to the Piedra Lumbre Museum. Once at the museum, we take our time looking around–and to enjoy some ice cream.
By the time we finally get moving again, it’s 12:30. Early afternoon we’re on forest service roads. A concrete bridge (closed to motorized traffic) gets us across the wide, fast-rushing Chama River. From there we enter Ojitos Canyon, for the climb toward Mesa del Camino and the Rio Chama Wilderness. Once on the mesa, we follow forest service roads for the remainder of the day.
We’re fortunate to find water for the evening in a little protected basin (away from the cattle) by Canada Camino.
Hiking along with Foxtrot, it’s easy enough to see how he received his trail name. This kid can move, in his wore down sandals, and I must accelerate my pace and stride in my wore out shoes (to almost a foxtrot) to stay with him.
Just before dark, we come upon a perfect campsite situated beneath the towering ponderosa, complete with fire ring, cut and split firewood no less–and (someone has left) ears of corn for roasting!
It’s been a most enjoyable day, having someone to hike with and talk with; what a welcome change.
“When you have worn out your shoes,
the strength of the shoe leather has passed into the fiber of your body.
I measure your health by the number of shoes…you have worn out.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Sunday–September 23, 2007
Location–Cuba, New Mexico
It began as a star-studded evening last. I fixed my fly but had it draped back in order to gaze at the moon and watch the stars drift by. Before I know it, and startled from deep sleep, comes cold spatters of rain. I must hasten to pull my fly down and close my tent, lest everything I have becomes soaked. The rain continues, pulsing off and on till dawn.
It’s a very iffy morning, but we’re up, packs shouldered, and trekking by 7:30. While enjoying the warming fire last, Foxtrot commented that he thought he’d try to make Cuba tomorrow, some thirty-plus miles. Having so enjoyed hiking with him, I hastened to ask if he’d mind me joining him.
You know I’m not usually on the trail so early; neither is Foxtrot I find, but in order to reach Cuba before dark, we’ve gotta haul–so 7:30, we’re haulin’.
The hike starts out well enough; some easy roadwalking. We cover the early miles in fine fashion. But as we climb and climb, the 3,000 feet to enter the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, dark clouds descend and the cold rain sets in–in earnest.
We’re on trail now, poorly marked trail–and we get lost. Finding our way (after wasting precious time) we get lost again. The wind comes up stronger driving more bitter-cold rain, now mixed with hail.
I can’t keep my maps and guide pages dry. We fumble with the GPS but are unable to fix our position. We know we’re in San Pedro Parks, and we know the trail we’re on is also in San Pedro Parks. But there are numerous trails in San Pedro Parks. There are no CDT blazes, no marked posts to guide us. More precious time lost. As we puzzle our predicament, I notice that Foxtrot’s speech is becoming slurred; I’m having much difficulty gripping my trekking poles.
“It’s darkest before dawn.” is an old axiom that is often so prophetic. As we hike on, wandering, it seems, in desperation, comes a CDT marker. We were on the right trail all along–and the wind has relented, the rain has stopped, and the warm sun is beginning to break through.
Just at dusk, as drivers start turning their headlights on, we reach paved road and make the last turn to town. The local mom-n-pop is still open; good for a delicious hot meal–and there’s a room for us at the motel.
We’re soon in and we’re warm and dry.
I know you’ve heard me often say “There are no bad days on the trail, some just better than others.” Well, I’ll sure remember this 31 mile storm-dogged one!
“For the man sound in body and serene of mind
there is no such thing as bad weather; every day has its beauty and storms,
which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously.”
Monday–September 24, 2007
Location–Cuba, New Mexico
I cranked the room heater last, and this morning things are beginning to dry out.
I plan on keeping my feet up, another day right here. Foxtrot?
A trip to the library, post office, laundromat, and supermarket, and he’s ready to head on south. Before he leaves I ask if he’d sit a spell and let me record his incredible, hair-raising story about the grizzly attack he lived through. And so he does.
First, let me tell you a little about this young man, Rob Foxtrot Fissel. During all my hiking years, I’ve met many folks that I’d consider to be “hiker trash” (an identity affectionately placed), but none I’ve ever met more deserve that tag–than Foxtrot. Rob is 31. He still calls Orrtanna, Pennsylvania home (his folk’s place), and he spends time there (holidays for sure) when he’s not in Alaska. He’s single, a graduate of Gettysburg High, has no vehicle (ever). To support himself (and his trekking about), he works three months out of the year as a cod fisherman in Alaska. The other nine he shoulders his backpack, and he’s gone–usually for weeks, on bushwhacks into the Brooks Range in Alaska. He’s hiked the AT, the PCT, and is now nearing the completion of his southbound CDT trek. Remarks Foxtrot, “I’m not hiking this trail to become a triple-crowner; that’s not the reason or purpose. I’ll probably get off in Deming; that’ll make my CDT hike incomplete.”
As for bear sightings–since Foxtrot first started beating down the wilds of Alaska, he’s seen 74 bears, one of them up way too close and personal!
During a 60-day traverse of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and on August 1, 2005, while preparing to ford the Sagavanirktok River, Foxtrot was attacked by a grizzly. Here, I’ll let him tell it:
“I was working my way upstream looking for a place to cross. In another day at the most, I’d be at the pipeline, and from there, back to Fairbanks.
“While working my way upstream I flushed a ptarmigan. He exploded out of the bushes. Totally scared me; I screamed like a little girl. Realizing what it was, I began laughing. As I’m laughing I hear this arrrRRRR-arrrRRR! From this 15 foot diameter patch of willow some 100 feet away, probably startled by the ptarmigan and my laughter, explodes this bear, growling and snapping its teeth, charging. It comes so close I could literally have touched it on its nose.
“Instead of having my pepper spray in a hip holster, it was in my water bottle holder of my backpack, not ordinarily a big deal–it’d take only a second to reach around and grab it. I knew what to do: Break eye contact, drop the head, call ‘hey bear, hey bear.’ I reach around for my pepper spray, and I’m not getting it. The bear passes, keeps going, goes out about 30 feet and comes back a second time, straight towards me. Oh crap, it’s not going to stop! I still hadn’t grabbed my pepper spray. I put my hands over my head. I don’t know if he just ran into me, but he hit my pack, and I went backwards, my legs out in front of me.
“The bear still doesn’t stop. It circles and comes back a third time. All I had time to do was to pull my legs in, in a sitting position. Again the bear doesn’t stop. As it’s running by, it takes one snap at me. [Rob gets up and shows me his leg scars] This one was actually about an inch deep. These are the canine. And these, the teeth in between. This one was up against my shinbone.
“To begin with, I was totally freaked out. When the bear bit me, it finally snapped me out of it–this is actually serious, I gotta stop foolin’ around! And you know, it was that easy; I just reached around and grabbed my pepper spray like it was nothing. The bear came back the fourth time and I shot him in the face, point blank, at about 15 feet. As soon as the pepper spray made contact with that bear, he made a 180-degree turn and went the other way. I stayed down on the ground three or four seconds, thinking he’d come back.
“When I realized the bear wasn’t coming back, I staggered to my feet; my legs held me–I didn’t know how bad my leg was then. I could see there were holes in it and that I was bleeding. My whole body was jelly. I crossed the river and went about half an hour before I even stopped to look at my leg. I started laughing again; it was the most euphoric feeling.
“It took me about 17 hours to get to Pipeline Road. I got picked up, taken to the Pipeline Truckstop, got first-aided up, and then I was given a ride on a tour bus to Fairbanks.
“How big was the grizzly? I can’t honestly say how much his size was, with what was going on, and what was his actual size–he seemed pretty big!”
Wow, what an incredible story–to live to tell! Foxtrot, I wish you much joy and safe passage for the remainder of your CDT journey, and I hope our paths cross again sometime. It was great hiking and just spending time with you.
“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
Tuesday–September 25, 2007
Location–Below Cerros Colorados
Pack up and I’m moving (sluggishly–way too big a breakfast) a little before nine. On the roadwalk out I turn to snap a shot of the main drag, looking back at Cuba.
Turning from the highway in just awhile, I’m treated to well marked and maintained trail, through the pinõn/juniper/sagebrush, as I climb to Mesa Portales. Where the trail ventures to the cliffs, which mark the rim of the mesa, I’m afforded great views down and into Chama Valley. Not much moving out here, a snake sporting desert camo and my first jackrabbit sighting this trip out; that’s it.
Comes now the scramble straight over the cliffs, down into Jones Canyon and Jones Canyon Spring. This spring is a classic oasis in the truest sense–a green, invitingly cool, shady retreat, plunked down as if by magic right in the middle of this barren, sun parched land. From the looks of the old stone ruins right by, someone (A hermit named Jones, could have been!) made the place home, perhaps during the frontier times of long ago. Now-a-days it’s just another (of the few) watering holes for cattle roaming about–and the occasional hiker who ventures by.
This section I’m hiking today, and for the next couple of days, is called Piedra Lumbre (shining stones). I think you’ll find that I’ve managed some pretty fine pictures all along. Check back; they’ll be posted soon.
In the evening, and descending a small notch, I come to a fine campsite just below Cerros Colorados. As I make camp, do I see the evening fade of brilliant desert paint rebound, across the cloud-veiled horizon, in such a fitting and final tribute to the day–a thrust of fire cast by the setting sun.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add color to my sunset sky.”
Wednesday–September 26, 2007
Location–Mesa Chivato (Ignacio Chavez Land Grant Wilderness Study Area)
This cruise is smoothin’ out. The desert nights turn cold enough, but not as cold as those nights already endured above 12,000 feet in Colorado. And the trail? The trail can yet prove the least gnarly at times (ups, downs, rocks, roots), but I know it won’t at all compare to the unbelievable obstacles dealt with through the San Juan Wilderness and the South San Juans. Sure, I’ll get lost plenty more times, and there’ll likely be more challenging and trying times ahead. But day by day I’m nearing the end of this remarkable journey. Thank you Lord, for the courage, for the resolve and determination. And thanks for the strength and good health–and for the will to stick with it. Rewards do await the one who stands the final task and prevails–thanks! I pray now that Your bountiful Grace continues to me, that I might have sure and safe passage to the end.
I’m up and on the trail early, well before eight. Water sources are becoming few and far between, so the trick is to cover ground, take less time, stretch what water I find. The days have remained cool, well into the afternoons, an absolute blessing.
I’m greeted by a cool, clear morning. The trail is a roadwalk for most of the day today, first past Cerro Colorado Tank, another disgusting stock pond. Passing Cabezon and Cabezon Peak, and beside a pull off, there are two spigots, Cabezon Community Water Utility. I drink until I can drink no more, a full 32oz container of fresh, clear, water. Then to top-off both my bottles. It will probably be tomorrow before I have such good fortune again. I slosh on up the road!
I had hoped to see the old, restored mission at Cabezon, but come to find it (and the entire village of Cabezon) is owned by one Benny Lucero. I meet his son as he’s locking the gate to Cabezon after passing through. No, I can’t go down to the mission. And no, I can’t take pictures.
The gravel road climbs the valley below Mesa San Luis, to finally turn sharply south, descending to Rio Perco. I cross on a high, single-lane bridge.
From the silt-veined river, the road climbs over 2,000 feet, past Bears Mouth, an unusual formation, to eventually top out on Mesa Chevato. The entire mesa is a wilderness study area (except for the cattle), part of the Ignacio Chavez Land Grant. There are numerous “tanks” on the mesa, Ned, Seco, Ranger, all holding putrid, disgusting looking “water.” I’m rationing what water I have in order to get through the night tonight. I’ll get water for tomorrow at a dependable (fence enclosed) spring.
No one else up here this evening, just me and the coyotes. I’m too tired to start and tend an evening fire.
“If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”
Thursday–September 27, 2007
Location–Head of American Canyon, below Mt. Taylor
First thing this morning, and down from the trail, I descend to Los Indios Spring. Another tree-shaded oasis, this one with two very large concrete water tanks, both running cool, clear water–“Dan can you see that big green tree, where the water’s running free, and it’s waiting there for me and you…water, water, cool, clear water.” [Sons of the Pioneers]
A little past one in the afternoon presents the first unobstructed view of Mt. Taylor, the last mountain to stand above (and my last climb above) 11,000 feet on this CDT.
Late evening, and after a very long day on the (dirt) roads, I bushwhack up American Canyon, past American Tank (yup, more muddy water). Near the head of the canyon, and along a road, do I discover a fine campsite, complete with a perfect fire ring. I’ve enough water left from Los Indios to prepare a hot meal. Fine evening, warm fire, familiar friend. I pitch with my tent fly back, to view the heaven full of stars.
“Ah, such is the life of the carefree
The dreamer roaming afar
The end of the day; the end of a way;
To the lure of a far-reaching star.”
[Robert W. Service]
Friday–September 28, 2007
Location–Grants, New Mexico
Yesterday was another hammer-it-out day, with long, grudging miles. I rise at dawn again, to study my maps and guide, thence to break camp, shoulder my pack. I’m on the trail by seven.
The climb up Mt.Taylor is a steady 2,000-foot increase in elevation. On the summit the wind is whipping. I tarry but a few moments, for shots of the far, hazy-blue mountains, and the landscape below.
A slow-go, rock-strewn trail, (Trail #77) switchbacks off the other side. I’ll be scuffing away some 5,000 vertical feet between here and Grants. Down a ways I stop and turn, for a final look at Mt. Taylor–fasten your seat belts; here we go!
A little before seven I reach the main intersection in downtown Grants.
The trail turns right on Santa Fe. Yup, motels are to the left–over half a mile distant. Late evening now I check into the Sands Motel. What joy to find Foxtrot in a room just down the walkway from me. We get together for a fine dinner and much welcome conversation.
“Climb up on some hill at sunrise.
Everybody needs perspective once in a while, and you’ll find it there.”
Saturday–September 29, 2007
Location–Grants, New Mexico
After four long-mile days, a day of rest is most welcome. Foxtrot and I have breakfast together before heading downtown to the post office. After bouncing some provisions on to Hot Springs, he shoulders his pack–and he’s gone.
Back in my room, I work getting caught up on journal entries. Then in the evening, I’m invited to dinner with Tom and Donna Bombaci, who live here near Grants. Tom is active in the Continental Divide Trail Society. We all love the mountains, thus are able to share much joyful conversation. Before returning me to my room, they drive me to Wal-Mart for a few needed things, like some food for the next four days–and a bandanna to keep the hot desert sun off my neck.
“Truly it may be said that the outside of a mountain is good for the inside of man.”
Sunday–September 30, 2007
Location–Zuni-Acoma Trailhead, El Malpais National Monument
My stay in Grants was most pleasant. From accounts I’d heard concerning Grants, none were all that glowing. The place has had its ups and downs, what with the uranium discovery, other booms and busts. For sure, the town is strung out, with the trail passing along its byways for the better part of three miles. One of the few grocery stores comes on the way in, a long walk back from any of the motels, should resupply not be done right then and there, a chore we all prefer to put off. And the motels? Well, not a single one is even close to the three-mile route, the nearest being a half-mile in the opposite direction down Santa Fe (the main drag). But tell you what: I had a grand time in Grants! Nayan and Archand at the neat, old Sands Motel, lovingly kept and maintained since the boom days of historic Route 66–“I get my kicks on Route 66.”–cut the old Nomad the kindest hiker trash deal, for two nights. The Grants Cafe is right next, featuring the most remarkable Route 66 nostalgia (and great food) that I can recall seeing anywhere along the old historic highway (and I’ve hiked a good ways down it). And in Grants, here are the finest of trail angels anywhere, Tom and Donna. They came by and picked me up Saturday evening, took me out and treated me to a mighty fine steak dinner, then shuttled me by Wal-Mart for a few provisions before dropping me back off at the Sands. Yup, Grants is right up there on my list of great trail towns. Thanks all!
I’ve a mile or better along Santa Fe Avenue this morning, then it’s up and across I-40 to get out of town. Whittlin’ away on the “I”-ways again. One more to go, I-10, and they’re done.
Before crossing the interstate, I stop a moment to chat with Tony Martinez. Tony’s 83 now. Been peddling apples from the back of his truck along Santa Fe since the 30s. He sure remembers the boom days of Route 66. Great talkin’ with you, Tony. Apples never seem to go out, do they!
The trail today is pretty much a roadwalk, first up Zuni Canyon (a dusty ordeal) into the Cibola National Forest, then up Bonita Canyon on a two-track.
Just after turning into Bonita Canyon, come two fellows in a pickup. They stop to chat, and I meet Roland and his son, Josh, from Grants. They’re into geo-caching and have come out to investigate a report that someone had taken a shotgun to one of their canisters, a plastic gallon coffee can. They show it to me. What did it in was an inquisitive coyote, puncture marks all over the can–amazing! Josh tops off my water bottle before they head on down to Grants. Thanks fellas!
As I near NM53 and the Zuni-Acoma Trail, the hike on down Bonita Canyon turns beautiful and park-like–the glowing green meadow, the mature ponderosa directing my gaze toward the red-rocked mountain, all presenting in peaceful harmony–below an azure sky.
I pitch for the night at the edge of the first lava field. A short but good mileage hiking day.
“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy,
if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you,
if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand,
rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
Monday–October 1, 2007
Location–York Ranch Road, near Wild Horse, north of Pie Town
Traffic was running steady on NM53 well into the night, but the highway noise did not deter me from contented sleep.
This morning I awake to the most brilliant red sunrise that I’ve witnessed in ages. The whole eastern horizon is ablaze. “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Yup, by nine, as I’m stumbling through the jagged and jumbled piles of lava rock that form El Malpais (The Badlands), the sky begins darkening over. By eleven, as I’m working my way toward trail’s end, the rain begins, just a drizzle at first, as I stop to chat with Ralph and Joan. They’re from Albuquerque, out to hike a section of the lava fields.
Leaving El Malpais the hike turns now to NM117, a paved highway with moderate traffic. Through the “Narrows,” a squeeze play between the Los Pilares cliffs and the McCarthy lava flow, and as the highway wiggles between, comes cold rain, intermixed with (oh yes) my old companion, hail.
Along, I manage decent pictures of two unique sandstone formations: First, La Vieja (the Old Lady), then La Ventana Natural Arch (the Window).
Since departing Grants yesterday I’ve been unable to replenish my water. The ranchers have moved their cattle, so the tail-guides on all the windmills are pulled back; no water in any of the tanks. I’m now down to my remaining 32oz bottle. Approaching this interesting highway warning sign, which declares “Watch for Water” (oh yes, I’m sure watching!) approaches this auto from behind. It slows, then stops right in the middle of the road. Down goes the driver’s window–and a kind voice asks if I need any water!
Folks, please, there’s no way I can make this stuff up! Honest, the guy hands me a fresh, unopened bottle of water. “Sorry, it’s a little warm.” he remarks with a smile as he pulls away. I just stand here–in the middle of the road, in the rain, looking first at the sign, then at the bottle of water I’m now holding, then back at the sign, then the bottle, the sign, the … Thank you, Lord!
As I arrive the trail turn-off, from NM117 to a mud rut, and with the rain continuing steady now for some six odd hours, I decide to keep hoofing it on down the pavement. This is one of those situations where the trail zealots can’t stand having the trail on the pavement, so they run it helter-skelter, thither and yon, no rhyme or reason, through the canyons, across the arroyos, up the gulches, down the rutted two-tracks, to ultimately return to the highway–on down. I go the highway–on down!
The cold rain persists, not the least pause or letup as I turn onto York Ranch Road, a gravel road that leads generally south some thirty-plus miles, eventually ending at US60 in Pie Town.
York Ranch has cattle, lots and lots of cattle, and they’ve stomped down most everything about, including the road. Mud, mud, and more mud. As dark descends, I look anxiously for a place to pitch for the night–any place. As if I could actually stop and pitch anyway. No way–without an absolute thorough soaking. The cold rain continues, hammering me steady. The mud seems to surround me, much as a sea, and the gloom descends to engulf me. A lady slides by, her car weaving side-to-side in the mud. She manages a free hand, and waves. I nod. I can follow her taillights only a moment as they disappear in the shroud. The black mud, the black sky, the black night. I slip and slide on.
Surely this nightmare will soon end; eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten o’clock. I stare intently, first left, then right, trying to find the least glimmer of light showing the road, the way. I’m in the ditch, on the road, in the ditch. Dear Lord, I know this must end.
Ten-thirty, the rain gives. I’m climbing now. The road soon turns from mud to sand, hard pack. I see dark forms beside me–trees! I stumble across the ditch, get my poncho off, drop my pack. Seems hopeless, fumbling with my useless cold sticks-for-fingers, trying to get my pack open and retrieve my flashlight.
Finally, I manage to pitch on a bed of pine needles, then roll in, in haste as the cold rain returns. With care, I shed my wet clothing and shoes, mop up, and get in my dry, warm Feathered Friends bag–on my dry, warm Therm-a-Rest pad. Thank you, dear Lord, thank you!
I know I’ll not believe the miles traversed this day, when I add them up in the morning.
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
Tuesday–October 2, 2007
Location–Pie Town, New Mexico, thence to Magdalena, New Mexico
A package of tuna, a cheese and bagel sandwich, some Oreos and I was out like a light last night.
First (and second) light this morning’s not so bright, as the clutter and gloom of yesterday lingers. Wet clothing, wet socks, wet shoes, not the greatest beginning for this day. But I am cheered as I remind myself that there are no bad days on the trail, that some are just the least bit better. I’m out, pack up and truckin’ before seven.
Figure I did a 37 yesterday. That should leave somewhere between 18-20 today, on down to Pie Town. I keep my soggy poncho handy but it isn’t needed. By ten, the warming sun burns off what’s left of yesterday’s storm; what a joy. And the road just keeps getting wider–and dryer.
There’s still no water to be had anywhere along the road. Referenced water sources, those noted in my guide and on my maps, are long dead and gone. By one, I’m down to less than five ounces, and the sun is doing its job on my weary head.
At the turnoff, three miles from Pie Town, three fellows, a survey crew, are working by the road. As I approach we exchange greetings. Then, as casually as I can, I ask if they might spare some water. Comes a smile, the usual questions–and a full bottle of water, followed by a Coke!
Their work finished, and as they pass me, headed for town, they stop and offer still more water.
In Pie Town now, I beat it to the post office, there to hit the jackpot, cards and letters from family and friends, and my bounce box. At The Daily Pie, one of Pie Town’s two famous restaurants, and on the way to the post office, I’d noticed the survey fellows had stopped for lunch, so I head there for a bite myself, and to thank them once more.
A week or so ago, Dwinda, my girlfriend, had called the High Country Lodge in Magdalena, some 50 miles to the east, to enquire if I might stay a night or two. I had pulled off there on my way through during my transcontinental trek in ’02. Sure enough, they’re anxious to see me again.
In The Daily Pie now, the survey guys are just leaving. I chance to ask, might they be heading east, perhaps as far as Magdalena. Hey, hey, this is my day!
No pie for this guy today, but a ride all the way to Magdalena! What a genuine stroke of good fortune.
I finally introduce myself (as Gene and Pete clear out some room for me in their truck). We load, and in a flash, we’re headed down the road to Magdalena!
At High Country Lodge, I’m greeted most enthusiastically by Kathleen. “The room is yours; you’re our guest while here in Magdalena!” she beams.
Just a few short hours. Oh yes, what a difference a day makes. And hasn’t this one been a real dandy!
“The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him.”
Wednesday–October 3, 2007
Location–Magdalena, New Mexico
Magdalena, just as I remember it, a really friendly community. And High Country Lodge? What a happy time, indeed what a joy, to return and find it much the same as I remember. When here before, I had a long, long way yet to go, across the remainder of New Mexico, all of Arizona, then Southern California. This trip, I’ve got less than two weeks remaining before reaching the Mexican border and the end of this CDT odyssey.
I had fretted about getting back to Pie Town, quite a distance west, until Kathleen volunteered out of the blue to drive me back in the morning.
So, my main task now, and all I need do, is get a good night’s rest! Ah, and that’ll certainly be no problem here at High Country Lodge in Magdalena!
“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”
Thursday–October 4, 2007
Location–Below Mangas Mountain Lookout, elevation 9,691 feet
It’s a fair ride, from Magdalena back to Pie Town. As Kathleen drives me along, as we talk, especially during moments of pause, I harken back, to reflect on memories of that day (October 6, 2002) when I hiked out of Magdalena, across the endless expanse that is VLA Valley (Very Large Array). I recall looking down at my feet from time to time, so as to assure myself that I was actually moving. When the roadway appears, to rise before you without interruption for nearly 25 miles, a distance to consume over eight hours of continual walking, you can begin questioning whether you’re actually getting anywhere!
As we roll along, to occupy time, I talk about my love of long distance trekking, and Kathleen reflects on her family, some that live back east, some in California–and how she’s torn between where to go (or stay) and what to do with her life, from this point forward (especially as to her most impressive God-given artistic talent).
Come to find she’s managed to accumulate a fairly long “one of these days” list. We pause the conversation and I change the tone a moment to recite the ditty “One of These Days” for her. The message touches on how we continually fail to grasp that “golden ring” even though it’s right there in front of us our entire life.
In Pie Town now, first stop, the post office, to bounce my bounce box on home, and to get some cards off to family and friends. A quick trip down the main drag (doesn’t take long) for a few pictures, then it’s down to the Daily Pie for breakfast.
I very much wanted to spend some time with local trail angel, Nita, and her daughter, Prairie, but it wasn’t to be. Next time through, dear friends!
Finally, and as always, that sad time comes, bidding farewell.
To you, Kathleen, and to Dennis and everyone at High Country Lodge in Magdalena, thank you so much, for your genuine caring and loving kindness. It was such a joy returning to your friendly village–thanks!
The morning begins pleasant enough as I hike on south, rolling along with the rolling hills as the road winds and weaves its way. By eleven the wind arrives, coming at me from the southwest–five, ten, twenty, finally gusting to thirty. At twelve the first wave of rain drives through. I’d been watching it drape across the barren landscape for the past ten minutes, so I stopped to dig my poncho out, put it on, and brace myself. The storm soon passes, followed at half-hour intervals by accompanying waves, each colder and a bit more intense, until finally, on the fifth wave–oh yes, cold rain intermixed with old friend, hail.
Today the trail returns to the Continental Divide, to cross it twice, first to the eastern slope, then back to the Pacific side. Certainly nothing spectacular, as were some of the previous crossings to the north. Had I not been watching my map and guide closely, I would never have known the difference between the short pops up and over the Divide, to all the other little ups and downs today.
By late evening I’m into the long, steady pull up Mangas Mountain, a 2,000-foot climb. Earlier, I was fortunate to find water at a cattle tank, and I’m lugging that along. Just at sunset I reach flat ground near the summit of Mangus Mountain.
I no sooner pitch and get in than the cold rain returns.
“If one advances confidently
in the direction of his dreams and endeavors
to live the life which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Friday–October 5, 2007
Location–NM12, thence to Reserve, New Mexico
By midnight last the rain and clutter had moved on through, bringing a low-roofed sky filled with a heavenly array of twinkling stars–shooting ones too.
Somehow, yesterday, I managed to double-jolt my right shoulder (not the least task, what with the load of water I must tote). I managed a respectable night’s sleep, but repeated nerve flashes in my upper arm and shoulder proved the least annoying. I’ve doubled up on my coated aspirin, and this morning, shouldering my pack is no problem.
Mangas Mountain Lookout is right above and I can’t resist climbing, at least part way up the tower. Views to the southwest and southeast extend to the far hazy blue; quite impressive.
The descent from Mangas, though down a graded road, is abrupt, an easy “bust-it” situation. I concentrate, take my time. The trail then sets to traversing numerous ridges as it heads generally south-southwest over an old rutted two-track. Up and down we go. Then it’s up and down some more, with plenty of rocks mixed in.
Thankfully, this is a short day, a little over 13 miles to NM12, where I’ll try hitching a ride down to Reserve for a day or two.
I reach the highway right at one o’clock, to be greeted by–silence. Hardly any traffic west; only occasional traffic east. Not good.
It’s two o’clock now. Four vehicles have passes headed west, one a motorcycle. Not one of them even slowed. Near the end of the second hour, I’m considering hiking down to Aragon, some ten miles distant, where there’s a little store. There I can at least resupply for the four days needed to reach Gila Hot Springs.
Suddenly, around two-thirty, breaking the long silence, come two vehicles, a yellow rental van–a passenger car right behind. “Here’s my chance,” I’m thinking. I thrust my thumb in the air, way up in the air. I’m standing on the road edge, nearly blocking the westbound lane. They come barreling down. Neither shows the least indication of slowing. As they go whizzing by, I thrust my arms up in total frustration. “Okay Aragon,” I whisper to myself, “here we come.”
Then it happens. This car traveling from the west slows. I recognize it immediately. It’s the one that was following behind the van. They’d gone up over the hill (the Divide), stopped, turned around, and have now returned to fetch me. What an amazing development! They’re from Albuquerque, on a long weekend trip to Silver City. Mike and Kate. Big smiles, both. “We were sure the fellow in the van would stop for you. He had stopped to see if we were okay when we’d pulled off to give the dogs a break. When he kept going, then when we saw you throw your arms up, well, we just had to come back for you.” beamed Kate. Oh my, yes, what an amazing development; thanks Mike and Kate, thanks!
The pups have no problem with the old Nomad. They move over, and I load right in with them. We’re soon rolling past Aragon; would have been a long walk–and the little store doesn’t really look like it’s even open.
Much pleasant conversation as we continue dropping from the Divide (I’m starved for conversation; can’t shut up!). I talk of my many journeys, my joy in writing, and of telling others about my adventures. They’re both genuinely pleased, happy that they’d returned to get me.
Before I know it, we’re in downtown Reserve. More happy smiles; I get their picture, thank them (and Mickey and Minnie too). They turn the corner to Silver City, and are gone. It all happened so fast. I absolutely trusted the good Lord to get me through–yes. Yet can I help but find myself standing here, in downtown Reserve, in total disbelief and bewilderment.
“We must go beyond textbooks,
go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness
and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
[John Hope Franklin]
Saturday–October 6, 2007
Location–Reserve, New Mexico
Most of my previous journeys have been done with little or no down time. On those, I just kept to the trail or the byway, and logged the miles. This odyssey has been different. Trekking this trail has been a demanding and difficult task, requiring my total strength and resolve–and I’m older now, much older. Each year I pray my legs will come back under me–one more time. And each year my prayers have been answered.
I continue to take joy in the daily journey. Each day, through renewed energy and determination, always proves a uniquely different and exciting day. And the rewards? The rewards are as sweet as ever they’ve been, but…
I take continued and increasing pleasure in writing, in the telling of my many trials and tribulations, and of the many joys. And writing takes time. It requires, also, a place to write. But mostly it requires time.
And so, now you know why I’ve been spending so many zero-mile days in apparent leisure, as my friends to the trail labor on by. Yes, I love hiking. That passion will never diminish. But writing, more as I tend to now, requires more. I must take the time, time to organize my thoughts, and to express them in a meaningful way. I hope you have taken pleasure and will continue to enjoy journeying with me. Having you along is certainly my pleasure!
You’ll recall that I recited one of my ditties to Kathleen the other day as we journeyed back to Pie Town. I’ll close with it today…
Down through the ages and down through time
As the mountains wash away,
As the rivers drown to the oceans down,
And the sun warms one more day,
We’ve all got dreams called “one of these days”
We dearly wish to do,
But ever out of reach
That golden ring to dreams come true.
There’s a way that leads to happiness,
Past the beaten path we know.
It’s on our list called “one of these days,”
But we never stop to go.
For as we whirl this merry-go-round,
Life’s always in the way.
And all our dreams, our “one of these days,”
Get left for another day.
We once were young, the list was short,
There seemed no urgency.
But now we’ve reached the crossroads
Leading to eternity.
The list now stretches out the door.
Life’s dreams have passed us by.
And with them went our “one of these days”
To greet us bye-and-bye.
Down through the ages and down through time
As the mountains wash away,
As the rivers drown to the oceans down…
And the sun warms one–more–day.
Sunday–October 7, 2007
Location–FR94, Above Dutchman Spring
Thought I’d be doing a lot of walking to get around Reserve, but it’s really a great hiker trash town. The post office is right behind the motel. Three restaurants are less than two minutes away. The town grocery (good selection) is right down the street. And the library’s less than ten minutes up the hill behind the school. Had a fine time; met some kind folks–like Suzanne, who busses tables at the mom-n-pop cafe just across. Suzanne got up early this morning just to drive me the 25 miles back to the Divide. Yup, neat trail town, Reserve. Thanks all, and especially, thanks Suzanne (and Angel), for your kindness!
This segment from NM12 to Gila Hot Springs is the longest remaining stretch without resupply, four days. I think I’m carrying just the right amount of food (not too much for a change), and water shouldn’t be as much a problem as previously. There’ll be some climbing, but nothing like I’ve had to deal with behind and to the north–and tomorrow I’ll hike above 9,000 feet for the last time this journey.
Suzanne delivers me to the Divide at NM12, and I’ve got my pack on and moving a little after 9:30. Looks to be the makings for a fine hiking day, cool, clear, just the least breeze.
In crossing NM12 I’ve passed from the Apache National Forest to the Gila National Forest, which extends all the way to near Silver City. So getting the Gila behind me will take awhile.
Within the first few minutes this morning I cross the Great Divide (again), back to the western slope, but the passing over is totally unimpressive; there’d have been no way of telling had I not looked at my map. After dropping to, then hiking through Tularosa Canyon, I make the steady (say very little pull) climb up Wagontongue Mountain. Once claiming the ridge I’m greeted with a quite distressing surprise, an active forest fire. Until I actually saw the fire, I had no idea what was ahead–no smoke to either see or smell.
For a good distance, perhaps a quarter mile or more, the fire is burning right up to the ridge crest, along where the trail passes. “Okay, here’s the deal,” I tell myself. “You either manage your way through this, or it’s back down the mountain to a maze of roundabout roads, there to spend the rest of the day skirting the mountain.” Says now the little voice deep within me–“Hike through; you can do it!”
This is scary and I am afraid, but after careful consideration (and a more thorough look–a little front scouting), I agree. So, here we go.
There’s still no wind, a good thing. The fire’s burning with less intensity, so I’ll be able to tolerate the heat. However, the smoke is another matter. To manage the smoke, I wet my bandanna (which I had the good sense to pick up in Grants), hold it over my mouth and nose, and head on through.
One of the dangers I must be alert to is falling snags. Firefighters warned me about this before permitting me to enter an active burn down in the Smokies a few years ago. So, as I hike along, holding my path high the ridge, I keep an eye out not only all around, but overhead as well. A slight breeze seems to be keeping most of the smoke moving down the ridge and away. That’s probably the reason I was unaware of the fire until I reached the ridgeline. My bandanna’s protecting my lungs; the smoke causing surprisingly little difficulty with my vision–no falling snags. Hey, I’m managing fine!
In less than ten minutes the fire line is behind me. To my good fortune, it had burned onto and across the trail in only a few spots, and the fire in those places was little active.
I’m relieved I didn’t have to back out of this. I absolutely hate backtracking. Thank you, Lord!
The remainder of the day proves totally uneventful, in comparison. I get turned around, half lost a couple of times, but that’s pretty much the game, to be expected, routine now.
Late evening the trail breaks out on FS94, an all-weather road. I find a flat spot in the oaks a short distance along and pitch for the last time above 9,000 feet.
“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz.
“All you need is confidence in yourself.
There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger.
The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid,
and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
[L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz)]
Monday–October 8, 2007
Location–Gila Wilderness, below Snow Lake, Middle Fork, Gila River/Canyon
A very cold night, hard frost this morning. My little REI thermometer reads 28. Okay, so it is nearing mid-October, and I’m perched at 9,000 feet.
Not paramount but without question, one of the things I’ll long remember about this odyssey will certainly be the frequent and recurring malady of “sticks-for-fingers,” a (painful) problem with which I’ve repeatedly had to frustrate. Most reading my journals have probably never had to ponder whether they’d be able to tie their laces, zip their zippers, or button their buttons–come morning. I long ago quit taking the doing of such simple and menial tasks for granted. Ha, and oh yes–so here I crouch this morning, hands tucked down in my groin, trying to get the “sticks” to working one more time! I’ve sent some gear home, have picked up or had other items sent to me along the way, but one thing sure: My mittens’ll be with me to the end!
I had counted on finding water at Dutchman Spring, but the cattle long ago broke through the fence that protects this place. There’s water here, sure, stomped down in the mud.
FS94 switches and drops steadily down into Cox Canyon. As the gulch deepens and the walls either side rise, a trickle of water starts flowing in the sandy arroyo. Another three miles and there are gallons of pure, clear water cascading down and I’m able to fill my bottles and drink my fill.
With the cold mornings and cool afternoons, dehydration is much less a problem. Also, with less strenuous treadway to deal with, it’s possible to get much higher “mileage.” So if need be, I can comfortably manage the remainder of this day with the two 32oz bottles of water I’m now carrying.
From Cox Canyon the trail enters Collins Park. Here in the “park” are fellows roaming all about the fields in their 4WDs, “hunting” for antelope. Season opened last weekend. So far today, I’ve seen four of the graceful animals–heard no gunfire yet.
The road (trail) crosses the Divide twice today. These crossings will be it for quite awhile as the trail continues on south through the Gila River Canyon, and the Divide moves east. We’ll not make contact again until way down at Pinos Altos, near Silver City. From there the trail will brush or cross the Great Divide only four more times before reaching the Mexican border.
The final challenge this odyssey is a final bushwhack over the mesa rim and down into Snow Canyon. Where the bushwhack begins, I stop to fix my position, then to get distance and bearings before dropping to the canyon below. Cattle and game trails interweave Snow Creek, making for easy going. I really can’t get lost, for to do so would require climbing nearly straight up, to leave the canyon. As the canyon weaves and meanders all compass points, I simply weave and meander along. The canyon opens now, and comes alongside, Loco Mountain Road. I move over from Snow Creek to the road, and that’s it for the bushwhack. From here, around Snow Lake, and all the way to the highway at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument there’ll be heavily used pack trail. So the last “get-lost” should now be behind me.
Late afternoon, and as I water-up at Snow Lake, comes this young chap popping down the trail. Big smile. He stops; we chat. “Guess those are your tracks I’ve been following,”–big smile keeps right on. I show him what’s left of my shoe tread. We shake hands–and I meet Andrew “Andy” Skurka. Andy remarks how it’s a joy meeting a “trail legend.” Folks, talk about creating a legend. At 26, this lad’s ultra long-distance trekking has become legendary. Google his name; you’ll see what I mean. Andy’s a member of Team Golite, and those folks don’t choose just anyone to sponsor and support. Oh yes, listen Andy, the pleasure of this grand coincidence is definitely all mine.
We hike along together awhile, but as dusk descends and after having slowed his pace to spend time with me, we get a few pictures–then I usher him along, on down the trail. Keep searching, Andy. We’re kindred, so I know that you know what I mean. God speed to you, and God bless you, my friend.
Just below Snow Lake, beginning the descent of the Middle Fork, Gila River/Canyon, I entered the Gila Wilderness. No time, the near-vertical serrated cliffs rise to meet the heavens, seemingly closing the canyon to anyone or anything. As the trail quickly darkens, I’m able to find a flat shelf under the ponderosa, where I pitch in a soft bed of needles.
It’s been a very successful hiking day and I am happy.
Here’s to all hearts of that cold, lonesome track,
To the life of the wanderlust, free.
To all who have gone and have never come back,
Here’s a tribute to you and to me…
Tuesday–October 9, 2007
Location–Near Jordan Hot Springs, Gila Wilderness, Middle Fork Gila River/Canyon
Not as cold a morning, so I’m able to break camp and get going with less difficulty.
I’m going to have a sore neck before leaving this place. To view all that’s here requires stopping frequently, to just look, mainly up. When I reach Silver City, I’ll mail this camera memory card to Linda, my Webmaster. I’m telling you this because there’s no way I can begin to describe what I see here. This is the way to God’s house–and here, Nature is keeper of the pathway. The pictures I’m taking now should be posted in a week or so. Please check then, to get just a glimpse of what I’m witnessing in this timeless place.
As the river works its way, does it also slam about, first against one cliff wall, then back across to the other. In order to pass, the trail must continually trade sides, some 70 times it’s been estimated. One count has the fords/crossings at 77. Don’t know how many there actually are, but sure there’s a bunch.
By late afternoon (and with soaked doggies) I near Jordan Hot Springs, but am unable to find the pool. As dark arrives, I settle for a comfortable spot on the bank just above the river.
“Nature is the art of God.”
Wednesday–October 10, 2007
Location–Gila Hot Springs, Below Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
This morning I again attempt to find Jordan Hot Springs, with no luck. The pool, which remains a constant 92F, is reported to run fine volume, crystal clear. It has been described as a very special place, and I’ve allowed almost an entire day to enjoy it.
So, this day hasn’t started so well. Finally, I give it up and hike on toward Little Bear Canyon, where I’ll climb up and out of the Middle Fork, Gila River.
In a funk, and stumbling along do I cross not only the river (yet again), but also a very different little brook cascading down from above. I stop, reach down, plunging my hands into the stream. It’s warm. No, actually, it’s hot. Could this be it? Could this stream be coming from Jordan Hot Springs? Perhaps I just misjudged my rate of progress, my location on the river. I scamper up beside the little stream. Above, some 75 yards or so, is this remarkable pool of water, crystal clear and flowing. Yes, this must be Jordan Hot Springs. I was just looking in the wrong place!
Standing in awe, do I hear someone greet me. I look up, above the spring. A fellow is working his way down from his campsite. Here, I meet Mark, the “Medicine Man.” Mark confirms that this is indeed Jordan Hot Springs. Much good conversation. We both get pictures. I jump in the pool, clothes and all. Mark then invites me to his campsite for dinner this evening, back at Gila Hot Springs, just a stone’s throw down the road from where I’ll be staying. Oh yes, a hot home-cooked meal tonight!
The climb up Little Bear Canyon and out of the Gila is a special place all its own. A little after twelve I’m on the mesa, starting the descent down to the West Fork, Gila River, where are the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
The Dwellings? Ah, and here’s another incredible place, a place only pictures can even begin to describe. So I’ll leave the telling, again, to the pictures, which will be posted soon. Please check back!
Mid afternoon, I round the corner to Doc Campbell’s in Gila Hot Springs. Doesn’t take me long to raid their pop and sandwich coolers.
From Doc’s, it’s a short walk down to The Wilderness Lodge. Dean and Jane, owners and innkeepers greet me–and invite me to enjoy their own hot springs, no less than two, one hot, the other hot-hot!
Doesn’t take me long to get settled in–and down to their hot springs. Ah, just what these tired old bones need!
In the evening, I hike the short distance to Wildwood Campground, where Mark already has supper cooking on his campfire. More grand conversation, and great food. Thanks, Mark, your kindness and hospitality have capped a perfect day.
“…joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
Thursday–October 11, 2007
Location–Gila Hot Springs
A zero-mile day. So easy at The Wilderness Lodge. The old place is roomy, homey, and comfortable. Dean and Jane are great hosts. I have certainly felt at home–pop in the reefer, homemade frozen dinners in the freezer. Ah, and the hot springs. Come check the place out sometime!
Well, tomorrow it’ll be rubber and carbide hitting the asphalt as the old Nomad bangs out a 28 to Pinos Altos. Want to make it to the post office in Silver City for a mail drop before noon Saturday. It’s ten miles from Pinos Altos to Silver City, so I gotta keep haulin’ Saturday morning.
Ah yes, back on the road again, travelin’ light and haulin’. What an abrupt change of pace, from the rocks to the road.
Under 200 miles to finish this trek now. Lovin’ it, just lovin’ it!
“If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light.
Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness, and fears.”
Friday–October 12, 2007
Location–Pinos Altos, New Mexico
A restful time at The Wilderness Lodge in Gila Hot Springs. Although I’ll admit I’m not much for Jacuzzis, hot tubs, whirlpools, etc., I did spend a fair amount of time lounging in the two hot springs at the lodge. Just what my weary old body needed. Thanks, Dean and Jane, for making my stay so restful!
Another crisp, clear morning, ideal for hoisting a pack and logging the miles. And log the miles I will today, over thirty to reach the historic little village of Pinos Altos (tall pines).
What now remains of this trek is a roadwalk, entirely a roadwalk, the old Nimblewill Nomad’s forte. It’ll be rubber and carbide hittin’ the tarmac (and some gravel) from here on down to the border, just a tad over 150 miles to the south.
Something’s been bugging me–here tis: It’s unfair (and totally incorrect) to label New Mexico as “flat and boring,” as I’ve heard some proclaim. New Mexico is certainly neither. There are some sections of trail with little elevation change for sure, but there’s always something interesting or different to nudge one’s curiosity. And we must not overlook the common, for if we cannot take pleasure in the display of beauty in common things, then our life, indeed our existence, will be flat and boring!
For example: The roadwalk I’ve chosen to take this morning, which begins here in Gila Hot Springs at around 5,300 feet elevation, continues pulling on me for the next two hours (and over six miles) before I finally top out at Copperas Vista at 7,400 feet, a gain of over 2,000 feet. Flat? No!
From Copperas Vista I’m afforded wide-sweeping vistas, back down to Gila Hot Springs, and across near the entire Gila Wilderness. Boring? Oh no!
Late afternoon now, and into another respectable pull up to a spot called Redstone, slows this little red car, to finally pull off and stop. Out hop two fellows. Across they come. As soon as the passenger fellow clears the white line, exclaims he, “You’re hiking the CDT, aren’t you!” Here I meet (again) Bertin and Jeff. Amazing coincidence–our paths should cross again. We first met in the post office way up north in Anaconda. They were up there section-hiking the CDT. Now they’re down here–section-hiking the CDT. Been at it since 1995. They’ve only a 60-mile section south of Pie Town yet to complete to finish their trek o’er the CDT. Hiking any trail in bits and pieces is the very hardest way. Congratulations fellows!
Just at sunset, I gain the Continental Divide, to hike with it (still on NM15) right into downtown Pinos Altos. Before pulling off in the pinõns and juniper to pitch for the night, I head into the Buckhorn Saloon for a grand steak sandwich and fries.
I had worried about traffic on the narrow road today, but it turned out to be no more than that–worry, as traffic was very light.
In all, a fine day, not flat, certainly not boring!
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Saturday–October 13, 2007
Location–Silver City, New Mexico
Out here on the “frontier,” in such a rural area, there’s not much going on to light up the night sky. With this factor, and with the dry climate and high altitude, do they combine to create the clearest and darkest night sky to be found anywhere in the nation. Stars appear so close and bright as if they might be plucked, as so many apples from the low branch. The Milky Way is an absolute splash of brightness, a continuing ribbon of light from horizon to horizon. I never tire of staring into the cosmos, and last night was a special front-row show, as I lay back, my tent fly retracted to stare in total awe toward the heavens above.
I hammered the miles yesterday in order to have a short-mile day today. I need to be in Silver City, at the post office before twelve, before they close, as I’ve a mail drop. So this morning I hit the road early, to begin my descent from these mountains for the last time.
Near where the highway drops from the Divide, I’m afforded a remarkable view, as the early morning, low-angle light plays such a fascinating game with the desert, which can be seen for such a great distance below. I can easily make out where I’ll be hiking, for at least the next two days. Oh, and yes, it’s flat, but I’ll wager it won’t be boring.
I arrive Silver City in good order around ten, to locate a motel room–and some breakfast. From the looks of it, Silver City is going to be a fine, hiker-friendly town. There’s a ten minute walk from the (very reasonably priced) motel to downtown, but then that walk isn’t boring either!
It’s great to be hiking the roads and hitting the towns again, meeting and interacting with the locals, a big part of the joy of roadwalking.
Less than six days remain to the conclusion of this odyssey, but there’s sure to be other times and many more roads to follow–on down the road.
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,…”
Sunday–October 14, 2007
Location–Continental Divide, Separ Road near Soldiers Farewell Hill, elevation 5,740 feet
Departing Silver City and climbing the least bit, I’m afforded my last and final view back at the ever-diminishing Rockies (at least those I’ll be climbing around in). Above Silver City, on the northern horizon, stand the Pinos Altos Mountains, southernmost of the Mogollon (Muggy Own) Mountain Range, named for the Native Americans who inhabited Cliff Dwellers Canyon from the 11th to the 13th centuries.
Framing the southwestern horizon are the Big Burro Mountains, just west of Tyrone.
When I departed the Gila National Forest near Pinos Altos, I left the national forests behind–one of my first “lasts.” South of Silver City, through the boot heel to the border, I’ll be hiking along roads, through private land/Indian reservations. I’ll touch the Continental Divide near Tyrone today, and cross it only two more times, once below White Signal, and a final time just north of Hachita. North of Antelope Wells, as the Rockies continue descending from the sky, I’ll pass the final peak (Animas Peak) that rises above 8,000 feet.
On the roads now, I’ll have an opportunity to interact with the locals, folks who have that inherent “personality of place.” Among their endearing traits, I’ve been told, are self-reliance, stubbornness, neighborliness, orneriness–and generosity.
Near Oak Grove (no grove–or anything remotely resembling a grove, save perhaps windrows of tumbleweed and gangs of cactus) I have a brush with the (man-made) Continental Divide, in the form of heaping piles of dirt and rock, tailings from Tyrone Mine, elevation, 6,300 feet. A little after one o’clock, at a wide spot in the road called White Signal, I turn from paved NM90 onto Separ Road. A ranch or two, then the gravel road turns to sand, and the power lines end–my clue to water-up, less I dry up tonight and tomorrow. So, a short detour up the dirt drive to the last place along, and as I’m fixin’ to tap on the back door, comes the lady of the house, “Saw you walking the road, whatcha need?” she asks with a smile. “Don’t know how I’ll be farin’ for water on down Separ; if you could spare some, it’d be a blessing.” I reply. As the kind lady takes my two 32oz jugs, her husband, now standing at the door, is curious as to what my walk “way down” Separ Road is about. Says they see folks passing by on motorcycles and bicycles from time-to-time, but hardly ever any hikers. “There’s a windmill that pumps water for the cattle, oh maybe five miles down, and a couple of ranches way off the road on the south end, that’s it,” he laments. I thank them both, and head into the first of countless dry, sand-washed arroyos.
Separ Road bends and weaves, working the rolling desert terrain, from dry, sandy arroyo, thence to claim a low-sweeping ridge, then right back down to the next arroyo. On one unremarkable, long-running ridge, and at a mere 5,740 feet, I hike a few miles on the Great Divide–for the next-to-last time.
Separ Road traverses a desolate, remote, and far-reaching section of southern New Mexico. Until Gilbert comes driving by, I’ve seen only one other vehicle during the past five hours. And Gilbert? Well folks, this happy and memorable exchange I’m about to share with you is not uncommon, an example of what those I’ve come to label as the “Green Tunnel Crowd” (hikers who hate roadwalking with a passion) totally miss out on.
Curiosity gets the best of Gilbert and he finally shuts his engine down–and we just talk. He has the darnedest time fixing in his mind that I’ve walked today from Silver City to where I’m standing now. And when I tell him I’ll be in Separ early afternoon tomorrow, he expresses total disbelief. Ha, then he wants to know how old I am! “I’m going up here and turn around. I think we saw some deer back there.” Gilbert points behind, in the direction I’m headed. Shortly I find out that spotting deer really wasn’t his reason for turning around. In a moment he passes me, pulls off the road a short way down, and stops again. Three folks hop out in a flash. Down goes the tailgate. Out comes the folding chairs–and a cooler. As Gilbert introduces me to his daughter, Dini, and his son-in-law, Albert, he turns to slicing tomatoes. “Albert, get the meat out. Dini, where’s the bread?” orders Gilbert. “Here, sit down.” says Gilbert. “Want a cold Coke?” In the same breath–“What ya want on your sandwich?” he asks, big beaming smile.
As we sit and chat–and down the cold-cut sandwiches, Gilbert keeps the questions coming: “Where you from? Where you going?” Then the inevitable clincher: “Why?”
As the sun drops and the chill of the evening descends, Dini expresses concern as to where I’ll be staying and how I’ll keep warm throughout the night. As they load, and as I shoulder my pack to continue on, Gilbert stops me. Gripping my hand, then drilling me straight, fixed eyes, intent, he whispers: “This short time spent with you, I’ve received such amazing inspiration, thanks!”
So there you have it folks. Oh yes, I indeed cherish my solitary journey with Nature, on the trail, up on the mountains high, but there is absolutely no way more energy and pure inspiration can be had than comes through such spontaneous fellowship.
On a high vantage, near Soldiers Farewell Hill, I end this day, washed in the brilliance of a crimson desert sunset–content and at peace. Oh, and as to Gilbert’s question, “Why?” Well, over the years I’ve managed to distill it down–best I can–to just 38 words:
It’s the people, the places, the pain and the trials;
It’s the joy and the blessings that come with the miles;
It’s a calling gone out to a fortunate few,
To wander the fringes of God’s hazy blue.
Monday–October 15, 2007
Location–Continental Divide, Mile Marker 8, NM146, north of Hachita, New Mexico
Each day now, as I continue my roadwalk on down to Antelope Wells and the Mexican border, I pause to pray for God’s grace and guidance, for continued safe passage. The daily devotional I recite is entitled “A Path by the Side of the Road.” It’s available to you here at my website, under “Ditties,” should you like to read and keep it.
This morning, and before me to the south, I can see Big Hatchet Mountain. It appears but a short distance. However, I know that to put Big Hatchet behind me will take the better part of two days. And to the west now, appear Langford Mountains. The roads I am hiking keep to the broad, flat valleys, and I will keep to the roads, save a bushwhack to cut off seven or eight miles later this afternoon, so “climbing that last mountain” is now far behind me.
For the past two days I’ve been flushing covey after covey of quail. Even when I spot them, before they rise, the sudden explosion never ceases to startle me out of my wits. Dad was a great outdoorsman and hunter, and as a youngster I loved going with him to the field. He particularly enjoyed quail hunting–and understanding why was certainly no mystery. He trained his own bird dogs, some setters, but mostly pointers. And the pointers, when on point, when they’d freeze, that’s when the excitement began. We’d inch forward behind them, then on signal, the dogs would advance. During those moments time literally stood still, until finally came the eruption, like the ground had been struck by lightning. In that instant, in a blur, dad’s shotgun was to his shoulder, and before I could shake myself from fright and get my gun up, he’d have a double. I’d invariably get, if lucky, a few tail feathers; that’d be it. Flushing covey after covey here along brings such a flood of warm memories–of the good old days, of the good times so long ago.
A lot of “lasts” are coming up. Already mentioned a couple; won’t bore you with each occurrence. But just in passing, to mention a few: last time above 5,000 feet, last unpaved road, last bushwhack, last cattle guard (and last cow patty hop-over), last map (out of some 350 odd maps), last power line, last interstate, last frozen fingers, last time getting lost, last blaze–and the last day, last mile, last step. Ah, and as will be the last step, each of the countless thousands has been taken with a glad and thankful heart.
Somewhere near Soldiers Farewell Hill, and as I pass it by, will I cross the route of the old Butterfield Stage. I had hoped there’d be a sign, but there is none. Numerous old traces and two-tracks cross along, so I know not which one it might have been. The reason for my interest? Well, the Butterfield Stage passed near where I was raised in Missouri, and traces of the old ruts can still be found today across land owned by my old school chum and dear friend, Darrell. Riding the Butterfield Stage, that would have been a long, dusty, and bumpy ride, for sure.
Above Separ now, and still some eight miles distant, I can clearly see the eighteen-wheelers plying I-10, yet are they at such great distance, nearly a three hour hike away. I’ve been told not to expect much of Separ, so I am not disappointed. Separ isn’t really a truck stop, no cafe, no showers, no phones (the lone pay phone is out of order–like that’s a big surprise). A few snack items at the gift/novelty shop. Burritos, chips, candy, pop–but no hot dogs. A couple of microwave burritos, pop and some chips, and watered-up (and some 25-odd bucks later) I’m not saddened to be past Separ.
The highway to Hachita is an unbelievable roundabout, 29 miles, a distance that should be no more than 22. So it’s bushwhack time as I take the long side across what’s pretty much a right triangle, saving the difference in the combined mileage of the two short sides. If I’m headed right, if I’m tacking the right course from Separ, it’ll save the seven to eight miles.
Ah, and does the bushwhack prove so very easy, straightforward, across open desert landscape. On taking a bearing, I simply lined up on a distant peak, then just kept heading for it. The main challenge turned out to be that of dodging cactus and all the other scrub, as everything out here has protruding thorns of one form or another, even the grass!
A half-hour before sunset I see the power lines running with NM146, my destination. With just enough remaining light from another blazing desert sunset, I pitch by NM146, on the Continental Divide (for the last time), elevation 4,520 feet.
“Pursue some path,
however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
Tuesday–October 16, 2007
Location–Mile Marker 21, NM81, South of Hachita, New Mexico
I’m up to another cool, clear morning in the southwest desert. Sitting on a rock by the highway fence, saying my morning prayer, passes the first of countless border patrol vehicles. Somehow the officer spots me, hauls ‘er down, turns and returns. Makes sense that he’d be curious as to why someone’s sitting on a rock by the fence out here, miles from nowhere. I’m greeted politely, with a curious smile. The officer asks the usual questions (the ones on the T-shirt), and doesn’t even check my ID. “I’ll let everyone know why you’re out here, so you won’t be hassled.” he remarks, turning to his vehicle (The remainder of the day, and as the parade of border patrol vehicles passes, I’m given a salute and the high-sign from all!).
Over the fence and onto the highway now, I pause, set up my camera/tripod directly on the white centerline and snap some pictures. At this spot, a gentle rise in the road, do I cross the Continental Divide for the final time.
It’s a short eight-mile trek on down to Hachita and I’m in around ten. I had hoped to resupply here for my final two day hike to the border. But alas, the gas station (with a little grocery attached) is closed down. The cafe (with a little grocery attached) is closed down. Even the saloon and liquor store is closed down! As luck would have it though, one of the locals is doing some clean-up around the old cafe. She stops to greet me with a glad hand and a happy smile; Lucy is her name. With a frown, I lament as to being pretty much out of food, and that I was depending on Hachita Grocery for resupply. I feel bad immediately for pressing Lucy with my problem, as she takes nearly five minutes apologizing for the store being closed–as if it was entirely her fault. As we talk, and as I calm and reassure her, Lucy invites me to her home for breakfast and for whatever provisions she might provide me. “I live right on the road to Antelope Wells; come on, I’ll give you a ride.” says Lucy, big smile. I explain to her that I really must walk to her house and for her to go on. She gives me directions before cranking her pickup and heading for home.
The Hachita Post Office is still in business on one of the dusty side streets. I spot the flag and head over. Vira, another civic-minded soul, and dear friend of Lucy’s, also greets me with a glad hand and a beaming smile. On hearing my story, she hastens to the back to return immediately with a cold Pepsi, a jug of Gatorade, and a bottle of Boost, a high-energy chocolate drink. “If you can wait until noon when I close for lunch, I’ll run home and fix you some burritos to take with you.” offers Vira. Explaining that Lucy has already offered to take care of me, I thank her and head for Lucy’s.
As are most the remaining (occupied) homes in Hachita, Lucy’s place is a modest little bungalow, American flags atop each gatepost. She and Vira, and a few other (of the few remaining) folks in Hachita are doing what they can to keep the little village alive–a tough proposition. Even the beautiful old Catholic church has been abandoned.
Seated at Lucy’s kitchen table now am I served two sausage biscuits. “I’ve made some coffee; like some?” asks Lucy, big smile again. During our breakfast conversation I learn all about Lucy, her husband, Dink, a WWII veteran who fought from foxhole to foxhole in Germany, now passed, her children–her family. She offers me the use of her phone, a place to stay on my return from Antelope Wells, and a ride the near-60 miles to Deming, where I’ll board Amtrak for home.
Folks, here we go again. You see, one certainly might happen upon such generosity, such an outpouring of kindness, up in “The Green Tunnel,” but I’ve seldom experienced anything like this human kindness up there, and I’ve hiked the trails many-a-mile. Only along the highways and byways, in the villages along, might one (repeatedly) meet such loving, giving, and caring strangers.
Provisioned and watered-up (thanks Lucy and Vira) I head on down the road to Antelope Wells, some 45 miles and one hour travel time distant–according to the sign just south of Hachita (Make that 15 hours for the old Nomad!).
By noon the wind comes up and lets me have it. Yup, I’m hiking south and the wind, at 30-per, is coming straight out of the south. But I’ll not have the least difficulty keeping a light and happy heart for the remainder of this journey.
The highway disappears in a dust-deviled haze, a thin-lined mirage on the open range past the horizon. The road continues pretty much level and flat, dropping only the slightest into Playas Valley. Big Hatchet Mountain is off my left shoulder and behind me now, the Animas Mountains, Chinaman and Smuggler Hills to my right.
By late evening, and as I dreamingly ponder whether I’ll ever get a ride back from the border tomorrow (Of the countless vehicles that pass heading north today, only six are other than border patrol). I am startled back to the present by a very big rattlesnake lying directly in the road ahead of me. It’s haul ‘er down time as he ain’t movin’. Never saw a rattler like this one before, alternating black and white bands around its tail just above the rattles (Lucy later tells me they’re called coontails).
By dark I’ve manage to make it to MM21 where I pull off and pitch for the final time this odyssey. I zip up my tent and close it nice and tight tonight!
“Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit
makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.”
Wednesday–October 17, 2007
Location–NM81, Antelope Wells, New Mexico, the Mexican border
Sleep was fretful last as my mind kept rewinding then replaying the five-plus months of this remarkable adventure. This journey down the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail has been one long and difficult trek (now causing me puzzlement); be it finally the accumulation of years taking their toll? Regardless, I do know this: But for the grace of God have I managed to make it to this place–where I shoulder my pack for the final time this journey, this morning. Through His grace and love have I succeeded–and will I trek on down these remaining 21 miles today.
I’m out and hiking first light, at six-thirty. By nine the driving wind returns, but it does not deter me, nor will it turn my thoughts from the joy and happiness, from the pleasant and happy feeling now descending.
During the seven hours hiked today, only two northbound (private) vehicles pass. It’s hard to keep my thoughts from wandering, to wonder how I’ll ever get back to Hachita. I manage to keep a calm temperament by simply reassuring myself: “You’ve walked here, old man; if need be, you can certainly walk back!”
At a little past one o’clock I reach the little oasis that is Antelope Wells. Picture-taking time again as I set my camera/tripod up, on the road centerline, just a few feet from the border, to get a shot or two of the old Nimblewill Nomad standing on the line–the end of the CDT.
At U.S. Customs and Border Protection I meet Tim and Ed, C&BP agents on duty. As I proceed to empty their pop machine, I mention to Tim how the good Lord would soon be sending someone across the border to give me a ride back north. Big grin now from Tim, “Quick response from the good Lord!” he exclaims. “See that white van on the Mexico side? That’s the daily shuttle that runs from Chihuahua to Phoenix about this time every afternoon. I’ll talk to the driver when we check him through; I’ll see that he gives you a ride back up to Hachita.” Another wide-faced grin from Tim.
Ah, is this not the final charm/coincidence (say miraculous event), to top-off all the amazing and miraculous events that have been so lavished upon me, of which I’ve been so blessed during Odyssey ’07!
And now, to all dear family and friends, to my faithful readers, to my steadfast sponsors, to all who’ve encouraged and supported the old Nimblewill Nomad during this journey, thanks, thank you so much!
“God has two dwellings;
one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.”
Color of the Wind