Day 28: May 21, 2019
Destination: CDT Mile 513.8
Today’s Miles: 23.9
Start Location: Cebolla Alternate Mile 1.7
Trip Miles: 402.3
It decided to snow after I went to sleep last night. I guess the gods of winter weren’t quite satisfied with their earlier performance.
I woke up and could hear it, then realized I was getting accumulation on my tent. I shook the tent walls from the inside to get some of the snow off, then went back to sleep.
It was pretty darn cold when I woke up, though I think it was above freezing. I could tell that it was not quite freezing because the snow accumulation was spotty. It felt cold because there was a strong, gusty wind blowing. I struggled to get going quickly, dealing with my wet tent (snow outside, condensation inside), and trying to postpone putting on my hiking clothes and wet socks.
Despite the foul weather circumstances, I kind of enjoyed stopping at 2:30 yesterday and just hanging out in my tent! I’ll have to do that a few times when I get to warmer weather and pretty scenery, like in the Wind River range. Of course, there I won’t be able to cook in my tent like I did yesterday. I’ll have to be on grizzly alert and cook before camp, hang my food, etc.
Speaking of, in case you’re wondering, I have slept with my food every night so far. Why would I do this? Well, for one, for a while there weren’t any bears. As it stands though now, the main pests would be rodents and black bears. That said, there aren’t a lot of trees around where I can effectively hang my food. Black bears and other pests are quite the gymnasts, and it really takes a good solid hang to effectively prevent them from getting food out of a tree. Find some videos of bears climbing trees and you’ll see what I mean. Further, I don’t camp at established campsites. There really aren’t many on the CDT so far. What I mean is, if there is a campground on the trail or a site near a road or that otherwise looks like it is popular with overnight campers or picnickers, I don’t camp there. Those are the places you’ll find squirrels that will take peanuts from your hand, and bears that will do-si-do with you for a cookie. Lastly, I don’t camp near water. This is called “dry camping,” and I do it every night because water sources attract animals. If I haven’t gotten water for 20 miles and come upon a creek, I can be sure that the creek probably supports a whole host of life - cows, bears, coyotes, rodents, rabbits, etc etc. So, I get my water and move on.
Taking these measures means I’m camping where animals are not conditioned to people and there is no water “hang out.” In these cases, I feel fairly comfortable sleeping with my food. Animals can smell me, and they can smell food, but bears are unlikely to come near me to get at my food unless they have learned that humans camping means food. Out here, bears are hunted, so they are quite afraid of humans. As for rodents, I haven’t had any issues to date, following my guidelines.
I do plan to change my practice after Colorado. That said, if I see an opportunity to hang my food I’ll take it, I just haven’t camped around any suitable trees for hanging food yet.
As I got moving and organized in my tent, I noticed the sun was having trouble poking through the clouds. I got out of the tent to use the bathroom and looked at the sky. There were still some ominous clouds floating about. It was hard to tell what the sky wanted to do. I got back inside and vowed to myself that if one drop of rain or snowflake fell before I took my tent down, I would hang out for a bit to make sure I didn’t just walk out into another winter storm. Fortunately, only the wind blew. I started walking.
I was two miles into my patchwork route. This alternate was called the Cebolla route. I would take it until it hit the official CDT, then I would hike southbound (west, really) on the CDT until I hit the Bonita-Zuni Alternate that would take me into Grants. Today, my goal was to make it close to the end of the Cebolla route.
Snow dotted the landscape and the sky was cloudy. I shivered as I walked along Sand Canyon. It was quite literally a sandy canyon. The trail was sometimes old dirt road (I don’t think it is open to cars anymore), and sometimes single track. It ran alongside the canyon allowing for me to peek down inside from time to time. The canyon isn’t super deep. Sometimes it would intersect with other canyon tributaries.
As I walked along, I saw the occasional cow, but no other wildlife except birds. There are LOTS of bluebirds in New Mexico, and I saw plenty this morning. I saw a small cabin in the distance, and it got closer and closer until it was right in front of me, beside the trail. It was really run down with no doors. I stepped inside and called out, but no one was there. It had one large room with some kind of old spring for a bed in it. I found myself wishing I knew about this cabin - I would have pushed a little farther and stayed here last night! I could have slept on the floor and kept my gear dry. Oh well, it probably has a mouse or two, so maybe it was for the best.
I hiked on and the trail wound up and away from the valley floor and sand canyon, and came out on top of the ridge that had been towering above me. Despite the cold and wind, I was enjoying the trail. The grey skies, patches of snow, and silence made me feel like I was walking through a Robert Frost poem. I kept hitting super muddy spots where the mud would glom onto my shoes, weighing them down until I could stand it no more and would scrape them on a rock. This made for slow going, and was a theme today. Lots of sticky mud, but it wasn’t overly sloshy mud that came up over my shoes. It was just sticky.
I saw lots of deer, cow, and coyote tracks in the mud. I walked down again into another valley, and last some mud puddles that had frozen over. The trail took me through a huge valley and then onto a dirt road that was fairly wide. As I walked along. The sun decided to try to poke its head out. I was so excited to see the sun! It danced out and then behind clouds again for a while. The wind had a real bite to it - I was still wearing my puffy coat, rain jacket on top of that with my hood up, and gloves.
I think I saw prairie dogs today! I saw one run to its burrow and then stick its head up out of the ground to check me out. I walked right over to it, and when I got about 10 feet away it let out a little shriek as dove down into its hole. I saw a few others like this and I’m pretty sure they are prairie dogs, or something very similar. They are pretty funny. They’re like the nosy neighbor of the fields. They call back and forth and peep up from their burrows, taking in all of the happenings. They probably have little binoculars to spy with.
I finally made it to my water source, an old windmill with a cow tank and pond. When I got there, clear water was flowing from a pipe into a cow tank full of algae and yucky stuff. I threw down my pack, got out my water bladder, and then noticed the water had stopped. Drat! I wondered if the pump was on a timer. The water was coming from a well, which is why it was clear coming out of the pipe. The sun came out for a minute and the pipe started flowing again. It got cloudy quickly, and the water stopped. I looked up and saw a solar panel and realized that the sun was powering the panels, which were then activating the pump. The cold wind was brutal here with no tree cover, but I waited until the sun came out again, then ran to fill my water bladder with the clear water from the pipe. When I had filled up 4 liters, I continued on.
I really wanted to stop for lunch someplace sunny and out of the wind, but alas, there was no such place. The dirt road took me to a two-lane highway, which I then had to walk along for quite a while. I actually walked this road all the way to a natural stone arch in the side of a cliff called La Ventana (“the window,” in Spanish). I saw a trail that went along the ridge of the canyon cliffs instead of on the road, but on the map I couldn’t tell how and where I could get down off the bluff. The trail would have been cool, bu it also would have been crazy windy up there, and I would have probably had to do some bouldering to work my way down. The land around it was private and Pueblo land, so navigating back to the road would have been tricky.
La Ventana was interesting. Apparently, during the Jurassic period this area was a giant desert like the Sahara. The sand got compressed over time into sandstone, and then water froze in its cracks and expanded, forming huge cracks over time through freeze/thaw iterations. This is what created La Ventana.
There was a bathroom and a trash can at the arch, so I emptied my trash before hiking on. I actually wanted to stop at the arch, but there were posted no camping signs. Oh well - back to the road. The thing about long road walks is sometimes I end up walking more miles than I want because I need to finish the road and get back to a trail of some type to camp.
I made it back to the CDT at the Acoma-Zuni trailhead. There was a water cache here that some kind person maintains, so I stopped to fill up. At the trailhead there was a sign informing me that I was entering El Malpais, The Badlands. This area has lots of volcanic rock, and the early Spanish explorers nicknamed it El Malpais because they were unable to get their horses and caravans over the lava flows. I chose to take this route because I thought it would be cool to see what hiking over lava fields is like. I’m going to guess that it will be really rocky....
I found a nice little camp spot, pitched my tent and ate two packets of ramen and spam, filing my cook pot with salty goodness. Spam is pretty gross, but it doesn’t taste half bad inside ramen. Ramen and spam is like a giant sodium bomb.
I enjoyed a clear evening, albeit windy. I’m hopeful that it won’t rain tonight. If I can get close to Grants tomorrow, I will hike in on Thursday. I really want to get into town early though, so we shall see. I hope tomorrow is nice and clear too!