Monday, April 17, 2006 – Deming, New Mexico
A new beginning. A new start to a new trail. Chapter one of a new life. I am very happy to be in New Mexico. We have worked a long time to get here. I am so excited to be heading back to the border to head north on the CDT again. We have so many good memories of this trail. Seven years ago we hiked the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico; now we begin our hike from Mexico to Canada. This trip will be different – a different direction, different routes, different seasons, different people. But the beauty and wildlife will be there, the freedom to choose our paths, the joy of walking as far and as fast as we want. This for me is the ultimate hike.
The path to the trail has been an interesting one. We decided that this will be the beginning of a new life for us. Jim has retired from ITT. I left my legal secretary job. We sold the house. Nine months ago Jim had surgery on one knee and was told that he will soon need replacement of the other. Strengthening his knees has been a priority. It has been a very busy and sometimes very hectic few months. After we left our jobs we did a short practice hike – 60 miles on the Susquehannock Trail in Pennsylvania. It was cold, with snow on the ground, but the hiking was easy and gave us some hope that although we aren’t in great shape, we should be all right to start our long hike.
After we returned from our practice hike, four days before heading west, we discovered that Allen, someone we knew from the internet who offered us a ride to the border, had been in a really bad bike accident and was in the hospital. I put out an SOS on two on-line hiking forums for help in getting to the border from Albuquerque and within 24 hours three people offered to drive us. After a little discussion, we decided to go with Sal from Albuquerque. It turned out to be a good choice as he was a really nice and interesting guy. Native to New Mexico, he was able to answer a lot of questions and offered a lot of information about the areas we were passing through. Although climbing is his passion, he has recently taken to backpacking. He also likes to motorcycle long distances. All in all, he is an interesting man.
We arrived in Albuquerque a bit late after a flight delay, but Sal and our friend Mara, who is starting the trail with us, were waiting at the airport. Mara is an old friend from the AT world. We’ve never hiked together, but I think we’ll do well as hiking partners. When we saw her in January at the Ruck, we suggested that since she had no plans for this spring, why not come out to the CDT? She decided that it was a good idea, after a long Massachusetts winter, to come visit New Mexico in the spring. She doesn’t know how far she will go this year. She’s not really excited about thruhiking right now, but she likes exploring new places. She drove out to Albuquerque, so if she decides that she doesn’t want to thruhike, as is most likely, she can get back to her car fairly easily.
We all headed down to Deming for the night where we ate a mediocre Mexican dinner (but good pie). The town has changed since 1999. The groceries have been replaced by Wal-Mart, and the town seems emptier somehow, less prosperous. In the morning we’ll head for the trail in the Bootheel.
Driving south, I was struck with how very dry it is this year. After seven or eight years of drought, there is very little that is green. The mesquite has new leaves and there were some yellow flowers and the irrigated fields were shockingly green, but the rest was very very brown. Rainfall last winter was about 25% of normal. Along the river we could see cottonwoods and sycamores, but mostly we were driving through creosote. As we neared Deming I was excited to see familiar mountains: the Cooke Range, the Florida Mountains, and Tres Hermanas. We intend to go a different route this time, but it felt like coming home to see those mountains. We saw some antelope and a few cows – not nearly as many as we expected, probably because of the drought. We don’t know how that will affect us. Will there be fires? Forest closures? Dry wells?
Jim: It was a long, long day - the flight from D.C., then the long drive from Albuquerque to Deming. We ate dinner and then found a room for the four of us and crashed. I was happy to stop traveling.
Deming was somewhat of a shock - it's really changed. I know - change is to be expected along the CDT, but the entire town has slipped downhill and become a little more seedy. I think at least some of it has spread out to the east, toward Walmart. It reminds me of some of the PA and WV mining towns where I grew up.
Tuesday, April 18 – 11 miles to Sheridan Canyon
We woke up early, had breakfast at the motel, and then took off about 8:30. The drive to Hachita was smooth. We dropped off water along Highway 9 where the trail crosses into the Coyote Hills. We have no information about water sources south of the Gila, so we thought we’d cache some water just in case. We brought more water to cache, but found several working windmills on the way to the border, so decided not to bother. Any water we leave, we have to carry out the empty containers. It’s easier to just use existing sources.
We are hiking a brand new official route – one that has only been partially marked and for which we had no hard information, just a map that showed where the trail will go, when it is complete. It should be interesting, because we have no information about water sources along the way. We can only assume that they wouldn’t be stupid enough to route the trail where there is no water. But then, that’s what was done in the Malpais, so we can’t be sure.
We drove the 23 miles of dirt road to the Crazy Cook Monument, our starting point, and had no problems. We weren’t sure how difficult that drive would be, but a passenger car can make it pretty easily. We made it to the border at 11:30 and stopped to take pictures – lots of pictures. There is a broken stone monument about a cook who took an axe to his companion.
Across the wire fence is an irrigated Mennonite farm. The trail starts out following roads, and there were brand new CDT signs, so we felt pretty secure starting out our hike. Sal left us and we headed back two miles to an abandoned adobe house with a windmill which had some water. It wasn’t great water in the tire tank, but it would have been useable if we needed it. We ate lunch there. The day was warm, mid-80’s, with a nice breeze. A beautiful hawk soared overhead. It had a black head, dark wings, dark tips on the underside with white elsewhere. We also saw a little red tanager. There are yellow flowers in bloom and the ocotillo are covered with orange buds. There are some prickly pear, agaves, even one hedgehog cactus. A nearby bush is covered with white poppy-like flowers. I wish I knew more of the desert flowers. It has been too long since I lived in the desert. The mesquite trees have new fine green leaves. The cholla will bloom here in a week or so. Otherwise, it is very dry. The mountains are blue and brownish red.
We walked from the border on a jeep road to a jeep track to intermittent track in a sandy wash. We were following a jeep that had been up the trail in the past day or two. The wind hadn’t yet erased the tracks completely. We think it might have been someone from the BLM as there were brand new sign posts all along the trail. All of them faced south – good for us northbound hikers but the southbounders will have to just trust that the signs are for the CDT. It was a strange feeling to be in such wild country with brand new signs everywhere. Is this wilderness, or not?
We reached the windmill in Sheridan Canyon around 7:00, just in time to eat, pump water and set up our sleeping bags in the fenced area. Bats played above the water, hunting bugs. The tank is a big one, with green water, but it’s fenced off from the cows. It is a solar well now, but the windmill is still standing. There is another nearby tank fed by hose from the big one that the cows use. The well is off trail about ¼ mile, but we were expecting the turn off so followed cow-paths to the water. Lots of people misread the map and miss the well. Since it’s the only one for several miles, that can be a problem. We’re all tired and sore, but feeling good. There were a lot of rocks in the jeep road and it was hot in the sun. As we went up the canyon there was more vegetation so we got some shade later in the day. It was a nice walk, aside from the rocks. Today’s wildlife consisted of cows, of course, a couple of jackrabbits, quail, bats and several hummingbirds at the water tank. We shouldn’t camp so close to the water, but it was getting dark when we arrived and we were too tired to move on after cooking. Watching the birds at the water has been a real treat: yellow warblers, red finches, hummingbirds . . . It’s a birdwatcher’s delight.
Jim: The "official" trail (BLM designated CDT) no longer follows either the CDTA or the CDTS route in many places in the Bootheel. The southern terminus is now the Crazy Cook Monument (Tierra Comun in the Westcliffe guidebook) and the trail is marked by 8"by 8" white metal signs on what may actually be durable metal posts. Very visible.
I brought the GPS to provide coordinates of the water sources for future hikers. Since this is at least partially a new route, neither the CDTS nor the Westcliffe guidebooks will be adequate for locating the water sources between the border and Silver City.
I don't like GPS for hiking - it gets in the way of learning real navigation skills. But I was asked to bring it and report the waypoints. So I will. But we won't be using it for "navigation". To abuse an old saw - "Give a man a GPS and he'll find his way today, teach him to navigate and he'll never be "lost" again."
We've already run into the "Bud Lite" man. He left evidence of his continued existence right at the border in the form of a dozen bottles strewn over a small area. I suspect I'll be writing a letter to Anheuser-Busch again.
Wednesday, April 19 – 16 1/2 miles to Granite Pass Road
We followed a sandy wash from Sheridan Canyon back to the dirt road we drove up yesterday. Both were hard on the feet. Jim is really hurting, but my feet aren’t happy either. The mountains were on one side, a wide valley on the other. We passed about half a mile from a ranch. We’ve seen no people so far, aside from three National Guard F16s that flew overhead. One did a roll when he saw us.
We detoured to check out an old windmill at the mouth of Thompson Canyon. It had a beautiful stone cistern but no water. Today was hotter than yesterday, or maybe just less windy. Lunch was in the shade of another metal tank. We got good water from the pipe so we didn’t have to filter. There is a mesquite tree next to it in bloom that is covered with bees. The pipe had bees too, but we were careful. I wonder if there are killer bees around here? I let Jim get the water. We didn’t linger since our presence was keeping the cows away. A few brave (or desperate) ones approached but the rest stood back and watched us. There was a really cute calf in the herd.
The afternoon felt long as we walked across flat open dry country. We hiked to a windmill near the highway to the border that we reached around 4:30. It had a huge metal contraption that looked like a railroad car on its side, which provided good shade and kept us out of sight of the birds and cows. The ground wasn’t covered with fresh cow pies, so it made a good place to rest for a while. I had washed up at lunch but cleaned up again at the tank once I felt rested. A vehicle that drove up just as I finished undressing surprised me. I ducked back behind the railcar until he left, then took my bandana bath. It felt wonderful to be clean.
It turned out that the windmill we had checked out on our way to the trailhead yesterday was a different one about ½ mile away. Both were good, so we were okay. It was confusing though because the well looked different, but it was next to the highway at about the same place, so we couldn’t be sure whether memory was playing us false or what. We had gotten out of the car yesterday to check on the water source, and none of us remembered the big metal tank. Turned out our memory was fine. We were just in a different location.
Spirits are good, but I’m really tired and sore. The wind is blowing, but not too hard. We watched some dust devils make their way across the valley. A couple of Warthogs (National Guard planes) flew over us again today. We waved at them and they waggled their wings in response. At the last windmill there were signs that it is used by illegals (i.e. cans labeled ‘cocktel de fruta’) but that is the only sign we’ve seen of them, aside from a few discarded water bottles along the road.
We hiked about 16 miles today – the most so far this year. My tentative schedule calls for an average of 16 miles a day in this section. Yesterday’s 11 lowered the average a bit, but then we started late. We have plenty of food if it takes longer, but water could be a problem. We don’t know whether we’ll find any water north of Route 9 where we have our water cache. The map shows a windmill 23 miles north of there, but there may be others. We hope so. That’s Friday’s problem. By then our food weight should be less so we can carry more water. We ate some dinner at the well, then packed up around 6:30 and moved on away from the water and the highway. We found a sandy wash a little way off the graded road to Granite Pass for a campsite. It was windy, but the walls of the wash cut off some of the wind. We slept well.
Jim: I don't like water caches either. But we left a cache at the Rt 9 road crossing because of the total uncertainty about the water sources north of there into Lordsburg. This is a "new" section of trail - and actually, it's now the "official" trail as defined by the BLM.
Thursday, April 20 – 20 miles to the Coyote Hills
All morning we followed an old jeep road that wound through the hills. It was a bit of a roller coaster with a lot of interrupting washes. Lunch was in one of them, under an overhanging wall that provided deep cool shade. The trail is still well and recently marked. The first 40 miles or so of our route has been the official trail for the past several years, with a few variations. The route in the Westcliffe guidebook is almost right for that section, except for the stretch out of Sheridan Canyon and a section near Old Hachita (an old mining town) that was routed away from the ruins and the mines either for safety or to prevent vandalism.
The trail was pretty along the base of the Little Hatchets. There were hillsides covered with blooming ocotillo. We saw our first barrel cactus too. There were very few flowers aside from the bush with the white flowers and another with tiny blossoms.
I’m worried about Jim. He’s in a lot of pain with his feet. The heat and exertion and thirst are slowing him down. He won’t eat because he feels so dry. I’m getting enough water, but he feels too parched to swallow. He is very quiet. I’m enjoying the walk, despite the rocky trail and ensuing sore feet, but I don’t think he is. Mara has blisters, but remains cheerful. We all have bad blisters. I have them on the soles of my feet – painful but bearable.
Mid-afternoon we left our well-marked dirt road for a flagged (pink ribbons) cross-country route. The former route left the road and then went back to it; we never went back to the road. We twisted and turned through the desert, adding some mileage to an already overlong day. Instead of 18 miles, we hiked about 20. The bushwhacking wasn’t difficult as it was mostly through creosote bushes, we just wound a lot. Looking for flags became a game and mostly the trail was easy to follow until we picked up the old route again a couple of miles from Route 9 and ran out of pink ribbons. There were a few old carsonite posts spaced very far apart. Mostly we followed the footsteps of the person who flagged the trail. It had to have been in the past couple of days since the tread was so clear.
We found a windmill that wasn’t on the map. It was in the guidebook though. It wasn’t spinning when we approached so we didn’t expect much, but it turned out to be an electric well that had a timer. Jim managed to get it started for a couple of minutes and we filled up. The only wildlife we saw were jackrabbits, lizards and horny toads.
From a ridge this afternoon we had a good view of the ghost town of Hachita. The trail detoured around it because of the open adits, but I would have liked to explore it. There was an old mine with several adobe buildings. We also had a really nice view of the Big and Little Hatchets.
We reached Highway 9 exactly where we had cached the water under an agave. One water bottle had sprung a leak and we lost at least a quart. There were no obvious puncture marks. There was a car accident across the highway shortly before we reached the road. We waved at the cops there but they ignored us. Mara walked over to ask if they had extra water to replace the water that had leaked. She only got a pint or so of old water, but she did get rid of our empty plastic containers, so at least we don’t have to carry them for the next few days.
From here things should get interesting. They have designated new trail from here to Silver City but haven’t built or marked it yet. We decided it would be fun to scout it out. After today I think it may be harder than we expected. On the map, today looked like it would be about 15 miles. It was actually about 20. So what about tomorrow’s planned 23? God help us.
Jim: The 8"by 8" white metal signs stopped just south of Old Hachita (NOT the same as Hachita). After that, the relocated route was marked by pink flagging up to a couple miles short of Rt 9.
We camped on the shoulder of the ridge just north of Rte. 9 - flat and open, but far enough from the highway to not be seen. We have yet to use the tent, but we'll carry it anyway - even in New Mexico the weather is too unpredictable to be caught without shelter. Last year we were caught in a sandstorm in Utah - without the tent, we'd have been in a really bad way.
Friday, April 21 – 14 miles
Last night was one of utter pain and exhaustion. We were too tired to eat. We hiked too far for only our third day on the trail. I couldn’t sleep as a result, but I enjoyed watching the multitude of stars and then the sunrise. I’m doing well today, despite the lack of sleep.
Our route this morning started out well, with a few miles of easy cross-country walking into a valley in the middle of the Coyote Hills. We found a nice cow path that took us exactly where we wanted to go, then another spate of cross-country took us to a great water tank, probably artesian, with a faucet. Another mile or so of dirt road up to a divide led to more cross-country hiking on the other side of the Coyote Hills. It is pretty, remote hiking, with an interesting rocky escarpment. We only saw three cows so far today. Clouds are building. It probably won’t rain, but the clouds cool things off. There is less wind than yesterday, so it has been warm. We found another water source – a water-filled tire. We saw the trench lined in white rocks and a meter of sorts. Finding the water was very reassuring. We were able to drink and fill up. We know of one possible water source ahead; beyond that, we’re trusting the BLM. So far, so good.
The jeep track ended, as far as we could see, at another large stock impoundment (dry) with a lot of yellow flowers. We bushwhacked along the base of the cliffs. The map-drawn route showed us crossing the ridge again, so we contoured up and around and ended with a fun rock scramble to the top. It was an easy climb. Somehow I doubt that that is the intended route – we probably went up the wrong drainage - but it was fun. We ate lunch under a juniper on the ridge looking out at a beautiful view of the valleys to the west and north. We can see a huge dust devil in the distance. We got caught in a small one yesterday that hit all three of us in succession. It didn’t hurt, fortunately. The one we’re watching would hurt, as it’s several hundred feet high. It vanishes then reforms. Earlier we passed a pink hill that really contrasted with the brown cliffs beyond. Yesterday, near Turquoise Mountain, the rocks were beautiful blues and greens of varied hues. Today we passed a mine where the rocks were mostly shades of red. The land is interesting because it is so variable. A geologist would have fun on this trail.
Our descent off the ridge was somewhat steep, but easy. We picked up another track that led to a large metal water tank. You could look over the top into the water. Inside we saw three dead birds floating on the surface, so we decided not to get water there. The map showed that there used to be a water source across the small valley and we could see a tall white tower across the way, so we decided to try our luck there. We had to squeeze under a fairly new fence (Mara’s tyvek ground cloth was very handy for sliding under the barbed wire) but found that although the white tank was old and rusty, it was still functioning. The stock tank it fed was a small one, about three feet across, and very green with algae, but it was useable. About half a mile away on a jeep road was another similar tank but its algae was both pink and green, so we were glad we had already stocked up.
We followed a road from the tanks around the base of the Brockman Hills, over the top past a big mine, across the Phelps Dodge railroad tracks to a spot in the desert looking west at Pyramid Peak and South Pyramid Peak. We stopped earlier than last night – around 6:00. We are all tired and dehydrated. Despite all the water we’re drinking, it just doesn’t feel like enough. The sun takes it out of us. Jim was feeling it especially hard today. He can’t eat, which doesn’t help. The high thin clouds cool things off a little, but we still end up taking a lot of breaks. Although we’ve done a lot of hiking to prepare for this trip, it wasn’t with pack weights like these. All the water sources help, but we are still carrying more water than normal because we can’t be sure of what lies ahead. Still, our first day on the new route went well. I enjoyed it and thought it was a good route. I especially enjoyed the rock scramble, but wandering through the Coyote Hills was lovely, despite the extreme dryness. I’d like to come back sometime when the region isn’t in severe drought. We didn’t make very much mileage, but it was a good day anyway. Finding water so frequently helped. Every water source today has been different. There was the little faucet at one tank next to a flowering tree inside a fence, the big round tank with the stock feeder and dead birds, the small round tanks with float valves, and tires. We saw few cows but some interesting birds. One looked like a very large sparrow but was a dramatic black and white. It was pretty.
Jim: Not eating isn't necessarily all that bad. After all, I DO have some weight to lose. Five years of sitting behind a desk flying a computer isn't conducive to keeping ones weight down. But this is a hard way to lose it. And it's not helping me lighten the pack.
But not drinking is bad for your health. There is water out here - but not a lot. And ALL the water sources have been developed for cattle. We've found water, sometimes four or five wells a day. But we've run head on into what we've been telling people for the last 6 years - once the cattle are gone, there is no water and therefore no trail. Because of the drought, the cattle are being moved to other ranges early this year and with few exceptions, the tanks are already turned off. One day we found 4 tanks and three were recently turned off. Cows are your friends - if they're on the range, then there's water - if they're not, then you're gonna be really dry.
Saturday, April 22 – 16 miles
The day started out cool and cloudy and stayed that way all morning. Around noon the sun appeared but then vanished again. It looked like it might rain when we got up, but none fell anywhere near us. It made a nice change, especially after yesterday’s heat, especially since we started out crossing a wide flat valley.
We followed jeep roads most of the morning. We had one planned bushwhack near a ranch, following the map route around the edge of the private property. After watching us slide under his fences three times, the rancher called out the border patrol. As we sat near a well, filling up our water bottles, a couple of very young agents checked us out, looked at the soles of our shoes and asked what we were doing there. We explained and, after confirming that we were on the wrong jeep track they left. Our track wasn’t on the map and headed southwest then west. The road we wanted was about half a mile or a mile north of us. Still the detour was good, because we found water. The water was good since the well was covered, though there were a couple of black widow spiders living under the lid. We managed to avoid getting bitten, but they were big ones. The well fed a nearby trough. There was a herd of cows nearby with several young white calves and two brand new grey ones. We spotted some cattle trucks at the ranch and wondered whether they were about to move the herd. There is nothing green out here except the mesquite leaves – no grass for the cows at all.
We headed north toward South Pyramid Peak, soon picking up the right jeep road. We could see Pyramid Peak to the north. The road winds across the hills in and out of dry washes. It was nice walking. The windmill we were looking for didn’t appear where expected. There was, however, an old mine shaft. Someone had tried to cover it, but the hole was bigger than the cover. We saw a herd of about nine mule deer that ran up the hill opposite the mine.
Aside from feeling filthy, I’m doing well. Jim is not. His feet hurt, he won’t eat and he’s not drinking enough. Result is he’s slow and grumpy. His blood sugar is sky high since all he’ll eat is chocolate and granola bars. I keep nagging him to eat more, but all he says is “No.” I feel like the mother of a two year old. It’s driving me nuts. We decided to start the trail eating cold food – snack food like meal bars, sausage, crackers, etc. – but it isn’t working. Too much of it takes a lot of water to eat. And chocolate melts the minute you get it out of the pack. Navigation was an issue too. We wasted half an hour triangulating our position. We knew where we were; it was just a question of whether we had passed the windmill. A lot of time was wasted and we’re already going too slowly. We take a lot of breaks and most of them are long breaks. Getting water takes an hour because we don’t want to move on. Because Jim won’t eat, his pack weight isn’t going down. We’re carrying about 2 lbs. a day, but eating about 4 ounces. I’m doing my part, snacking all day, but much as I try, I can’t force Jim to eat. The water we’re carrying adds to the weight since we fill up every chance we get just in case there is no water ahead.
We stopped early – around 5:00. All of us were sore and Jim was in agony. I really wanted to make more miles to ensure that we can reach Lordsburg tomorrow, but I can’t push him too hard. It doesn’t work.
We mostly stayed on jeep tracks this afternoon, except about a mile of cross-country between two roads. We got water at one shut-off well that had a very green tank, then a couple of miles later we found much better water so we poured the green water into the tank and got the cleaner water. The filter has clogged already and isn’t useable. We’ve only filtered a few times, but what we filtered was thick with algae. Using a coffee filter helps a little, but not enough. Mara doesn’t filter at all, she just uses Aqua Mira, but that isn’t practical for two people since you can only do one quart at a time and each quart takes time for the solution to do its thing.
The walking was nice today, though not spectacular. There was an interesting range of hills to the south where we turned off the road with very jagged points. Pyramid and South Pyramid are very distinctive peaks. The rest are just big mountains, at least from here. We got a glimpse of a peak to the west that looks like Rabbit Ears in Colorado.
The clouds lasted almost all day, though when we stopped for the night the sun came out. We’re still hoping for rain, though that would mean setting up the tent for the first time this trip. I love sleeping out without a tent. The wind is stronger than usual, but intermittent. It feels good. Without the sun, today felt much cooler but we still got dehydrated. It’s hard to drink enough water, especially when we aren’t sure of water sources. One windmill on the map was no longer there but there were several wells we didn’t expect. We saw at least five today. We don’t know what’s ahead. We managed to hike about 16 miles today, despite an early stop, but we started early, which helps.
We saw either two white trucks or one truck twice. The first time it was behind us as we started up a hill on our cross-country section. The second time it turned up a side road just before we got there. I don’t think the second truck saw us.
We spotted a couple of hawks, including one being chased by a raven, and a couple of jackrabbits, including one baby. There were a couple of yuccas that were about 12’ tall that were unusual. They were in a wash though, so they must get a lot of water.
We camped on a sandy bench above the wash, just in case it did rain, but nothing fell. With all the clouds there was a beautiful sunset.
Jim: There's actually been far more water so far than we had any right to expect. I've got a gaggle of GPS waypoints and it's getting hard to remember what all the water sources looked like. It's a good thing we've taken pictures of at least some of them.
Sunday, April 23 – 14 miles to Lordsburg
We started the day with about five miles of bushwhacking. Part of it was along dry washes, but part of it was along the slope of a mountain with a lot of up and down and many intervening gullies. We found four water sources during the morning hike; one generator driven, one a mile away that was a windmill that we didn’t visit, but it looked new and it was spinning, a third was solar and the fourth was another windmill. We filled up at the solar well. It was turned off, but we switched it on long enough to fill up our bottles. The last one had two good tanks, but we didn’t need more. There was a cattle truck parked next to it, but no cows. We saw a mine nearby with a derrick. The route we were following was supposed to have a couple more miles of cross-country, but we decided to follow the graded road directly to Lordsburg. It was about eight miles, and hard on the feet, but was faster than trying to pick our way across the rocks and through the cactus over hill and dale around the ranches. The wind picked up and created several dust devils and dust storms. None approached us, though the wind gusts at our back made us stagger. We were already so dirty the fresh coating of dust barely showed.
We reached Lordsburg around 3:00 and got an expensive room at the Holiday Inn after a quick stop at the gas station for sodas. We immediately jumped in the shower and happily removed a week’s worth of salt and sand. Next came laundry and things fell apart. The motel didn’t have a guest laundry. The laundromat was only a block away but had no laundry soap. Neither did the two mini-marts nearby. The supermarket was closed on Sunday and the motel wouldn’t sell us soap. I had a temper tantrum (not one of my finer moments) but then decided to run to the Family Dollar Store across the freeway to get some soap on the advice of the motel clerk. Ten loads for $1.00. Not bad. I got quarters at the car wash. Finally, at 5:00, we got the laundry started. Grrr. Aside from my hissy fit, I’m doing well. I’m tired and my feet hurt, but I’m clean, so I’m happy.
I have enjoyed the past six days. We’ve come about 100 miles so far. Amazing. No wonder our feet hurt. The walk today, except for the roadwalk, was nice as we contoured around Pyramid Peak. Seeing town and the freeway in the distance made us walk too fast but that was a good thing. We made it. Only two cars passed us on the way in to town. We passed only one ranch and a couple of derelict mines; the rest was bare desert.
We were really excited at the thought of hiking a brand new route, but also slightly apprehensive since we didn’t know how difficult it would be. Would there be enough water? How difficult would the route finding be? Would we run into illegals? As it turned out, water was plentiful, the route finding was easy and we only saw signs of illegals at one of the windmills. We had the desert to ourselves. We saw only a little wildlife, but there were hawks everyday, hummingbirds and bats at the stock tanks, coyotes calling in the night, and one pack of mule deer. The land is painfully dry, but still beautiful.
Jim: Showers are a wonderful invention. And it's been a long time since our last one so this was really welcome.
Lordsburg turned out to be a decent Trail town - it has everything a hiker needs with the possible exception of an outdoor store.
Monday, April 24 – 12 miles to Engineer Canyon
Although we didn’t sleep much, our stay in Lordsburg was a nice one. People were friendly, the hotels and laundry and restaurants in close proximity, the grocery was only a couple of blocks away and the Post Office was a couple of blocks beyond that. There were only four restaurants in town, but dinner was decent. Selection at the grocery store was limited, but they had enough for our needs.
On the way to the store we heard someone call out “Are you hiking the CDT?” It turned out to be Mark Flagler, director/producer of a film about the AT that has been shown on PBS called, “Appalachian Impressions”, who is making a documentary on the Continental Divide Trail. We agreed to talk to him in Silver City, if possible. Mara had met him previously. It turns out the brand new trail signs were put up on his behalf so he could include them in his film.
I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally writing a CDT-L post on the past week, trying to condense the experience into a short e-mail. Jim has his own ideas to add to the post. Then I got on another hamster wheel wondering about water north of here. Is there any? Then there was the ache in my feet. Another worry. It is 50-60 miles or so to Silver City. We’re figuring 3 ½ days to get there, but we won’t leave Lordsburg until noon. Grocery, post office and drug store stops take time. And then it will be lunch time. We stuffed ourselves at breakfast, so we may not need much, but I’m sure we’ll eat.
Later: At the drug store, our journey took an unexpected turn. We had stopped to pick up some lotion for Mara. She has some angry red patches behind her knees and on her neck – it looks like sunburn gone wild. When she applied the lotion, it felt like her skin was on fire – Mara was in agony. After some discussion, tears and hugs, she decided that going back out in the sun right now would be foolish. She wears bike shorts and her only alternative, black tights, would be too hot for desert hiking. So Mara decided to head up the road to Silver City to rest and heal for a few days. We will miss her as she has been fun company.
We stopped on the way out of town at a convenience store to go to the bathroom and grabbed a couple of hot dogs and sodas for lunch. We met a man at a garage nearby who asked us where we were heading. Jim explained and the man said, “You’re crazy.” Jim answered, “I know.” The man replied, “Me too.”
We were on paved road for only about two miles, passing the border patrol station and several houses with barking dogs. One had four horses, three goats and four or five dogs. A menagerie. After the road split, we left the highway to Silver City, scooted under a fence and began our desert bushwhack. The BLM route carefully tries to avoid private land, so is not exactly a direct route to the National Forest beyond. The trail zigs and zags around the private property. We think we were fairly close to the proposed trail route. It was a very, very long afternoon.
The land started as mud flats – dried out cracked ground with very sparse dead grass and an occasional creosote bush. Bit by bit, as we approached the mountains, more vegetation appeared: mesquite, Joshua trees, prickly pear, cholla, etc. We paralleled the mountains for several miles, heading east past Apache Peak and Gold Hill to Engineer Canyon. We found one good windmill about six miles out with a very curious herd of cows that dared to check us out when we stopped for a break. About five miles farther we spotted more cows, but couldn’t find their water source. There were two groups about a mile apart, and all we found was an old corral with a dead trough. Somewhere there was water, possibly a tank in one of the many gullies or dry washes we crossed. We just couldn’t see it. We also passed under a half dozen high-tension wires. One of the pieces of private land we skirted was some sort of huge power distribution station – lines went in all directions. There were several other windmills we could see early in the afternoon but they all belonged to ranch houses--no good for our purposes. Mostly the bushwhacking wasn’t bad. The early part was flat with sparse vegetation, the latter was rolling in and out of dry washes with a lot of vegetation but still passable. We spotted a couple of antelope that stopped to watch us pass by from a good safe distance. Later three mule deer left the wash as we entered our campsite for the night. As dry as it is, we feel safe setting up camp in the dry wash, though usually that is not a good idea.
As soon as the sun went behind the hill it got quite cold. It wasn’t very hot today as there was a constant breeze and some high thin clouds from time to time. We took a long break in the shadow of a Joshua tree. We ended up doing 11 or 12 miles to the mouth of Engineer Canyon, not bad given our late start, the fact that most of it was cross-country and there were lots of fences we had to crawl under. We missed Mara’s Tyvek. We’re sore, tired and thirsty but content. We leave BLM land here and will begin the route through the Gila National Forest. I don’t think they’ve done any work yet on the new trail they’re building to meet the BLM route. We don’t have a map of the connecting trail, so we’ll just have to wing it.
Jim: We spent most of the day circling private land - and still being able to see Lordsburg. Not a "great" route, and not marked at all so we can't really be sure where the trail will go when they do mark it. But it wasn't terrible either.
There was only one water source today - a windmill a few miles off the paved road. We know there ARE other water sources out there (there are cows), but we didn't spend a lot of time looking for them.
Tuesday, April 25 – 15 miles
We fell asleep listening to the yip yapping of coyotes and woke to more of the same. We slept late-–7:00-–but needed the rest. The trail followed jeep track for a while, then we headed up a wash and soon began bushwhacking along a ridge through oak and juniper. We were at about 6700’ elevation. We passed a well about ten minutes after starting out this morning and another half mile farther. Both were shut off, but still had water in the closed tanks (as well as more black widow spiders.) A mile beyond that was a windmill that looked broken but had lots of water. We had been following black hoses so it must get pumped in from elsewhere. A bull angrily warned us away from the water. A pregnant cow and two heifers ran ahead of us, but soon veered off. I felt sorry for the cow, she was so awkward. I saw a mule deer leave the windmill too.
The BLM map and National Forest map don’t agree. The forest map lies, I think. It shows FR 841 headed southeast; it actually followed the wash northeast. The new CDT route ends on top of a ridge. From there we were on our own. We bushwhacked to a road that headed back down and west, then began climbing on FR 840. It wound through oak and pinion, past big granite boulders and a couple of mines. One was small and had the remains of a tin house; the other was big, fenced off, at the base of a quartz-covered mountain where the road apparently ends. We stopped there for lunch under the cottonwoods. Water is a problem. We got water early but thought we could get more at a windmill shown on the map. The windmill has been replaced by a well, but that was turned off a couple of weeks ago. There was still some water in the tank but it was a nasty red brown – either rust or algae. We picked up one quart, for emergency use, but I hope we don’t have to drink it. A cowboy came riding by as we sat by the well. I asked if there was another water source and he said no, that was the last one. He spoke no English and my Spanish is rusty so I didn’t understand his answer to my question about whether or not the dirt road we were following continues to the highway. We’ll see.
The BLM map shows 840 continuing to the highway; the newer National Forest map shows it ending, then starting again a mile away. Both were right. You can’t drive the road any more, but it was walkable, just very steep. About a mile away it was drivable again, though signs along the way had different road numbers. At the north end, it said 840 again.
There was no water along the way. We reached the highway with about two quarts left. We soon drank those. We knew the trail passes through a campground five miles up the road and our hope was that there would be campers there we could get some water from, but we didn’t know whether that would happen. Our alternatives were to either hitch to town or start knocking on ranch doors. The roadwalk was hot and very hard on our sore feet. I have bad stomach cramps, probably from not drinking enough water, or maybe bad water. Midway on the roadwalk I started crying. I hurt, I was really thirsty and I was unhappy at the uncertainty about the water. That was definitely a low point.
A few minutes later a truck stopped and the driver asked, “Are you CDT hikers?” It was Jerry, La Zorra's boyfriend. La Zorra is a thruhiker who started a few days after we did. Jerry is acting as trail support for her hike. He was looking for the campground and had passed it when he met us. We got a quart of water from him, and then continued up the road. He gave us what he had, it just wasn’t a lot. (After meeting us, Jerry started carrying large amounts of water so he could help other hikers. So our misery wasn’t without some benefit.) Another car stopped as we walked along the highway. The driver said she had taken Mara to Silver City yesterday. That was good news.
When we reached the campground, it looked empty. We sat down to consider our next step. We heard an ATV, looked up and saw an older man, Bob, riding with his three dogs. He stopped and we chatted. He lives next to the campground and was very friendly. He offered to get us water from his well and said there was a group of folks building the trail who were camped there. The campground is totally undeveloped – just a big open area. Sure enough, at the far end, just past a dead cow, there was a group of a dozen or so college age kids from a SCC crew. They’ve been building new trail, connecting to the BLM route. If we’d known, we could have avoided the five miles on the highway. They offered us a bean and rice burrito, which we accepted, and we talked about the CDT for a long time. Then we set up our sleeping bags, got cleaned up (Bob brought a lot of water) and went to bed.
Today we experienced trail magic in abundance. From the depths of misery to happiness again in just a few hours.
Jim: I'm not sure how they'll get the trail from the point it where enters the Forest out to Rt 90, but the route we took has only one problem - it's a long waterless section. Especially since the Burro Campground has no water.
Bob (owner of the house next to the campground) is hiker-friendly. He worked on the trail section over Jacks and Burro Peaks.
Wednesday, April 26 – 18 miles
We fell asleep to the yipping of coyotes again – the sounds of New Mexico. I remember it well! We woke to the sound of the trail crew fixing breakfast. We didn’t join them, but I was offered a cup of ‘real’ coffee, which I happily accepted. We left about 7:30 on a clear sunny morning and began a long winding 2300’ climb up Jacks Peak. It was a really nice climb, first through oak and juniper, then through pinion, then up to the ponderosa pines at 8000’. There were some really nice views to the south, as well as pretty lichen covered rocks and huge old trees. It was our first bit of cut trail so far on this hike. The top of Jacks Peak had the remains of cabins and probably a fire tower ¼ mile away. We saw various antennae, but decided against the detour. Instead we headed for wooded Burro Peak where we had a glimpse of a couple of whitetail deer. Then we began a long steep descent. We got a couple of partial views of the Tyrone Mine far below. We stopped to make the 1/3 mile detour to Mud Spring – which is actually a box spring now with cold water in a small metal box. There was a lot of algae but the water was clear. Another half mile down the trail was another spring, which surprised me, given the drought. We could see green grass below, so I checked out the dammed area and found useable water. A hummingbird buzzed us. They are curious birds. We stopped for lunch under a big white pine at the parking area at the foot of the mountain. Jim lost his knife in the pile of leaves and pine needles under the tree, though we didn't realize it until dinner time. From there to Silver City the CDT is all paved road, which I am dreading as my feet are already sore after only 8 miles. A man and his son were shooting a .22 rifle at the trailhead, but they didn’t stay long. We waved at them and left them to it. I really enjoyed walking in the pines – so very different, cool and shady. The climbs were more than we’re used to, but I really enjoyed them, especially with all the views.
The afternoon hike consisted of four miles on graded dirt road past the huge Tyrone copper mine, followed by about six miles on the highway. It’s another six miles to town, but 18 miles was enough for today. If we tried to go all the way, we’d be in agony, grumpy and exhausted. It wasn’t worth it. Finding a place to camp proved interesting. We didn’t want to trespass on private land, so we found a tiny nook in the trees above the highway on the public side of the fence. Dinner will be cold as we don’t want to draw attention by lighting the stove. Besides, water is a bit tight. We have 3 ½ quarts left to get us through the night and into town. The edge of town should be in about four miles – doable. The motels are all on the far side of town, which just isn’t feasible right now. Sleeping by the highway is noisy, but it’s better than doing a death march to town.
There were a couple of interesting things along the way today. We spotted a small hawk flying overhead carrying a snake in its claws. Then we met an elderly German tourist and his wife at an overlook of the mine reclamation site which explained the history of the mine. They offered us a quart of cold water, which was accepted. Later we met groups of Phelps Dodge employees/volunteers along the highway who were cleaning up the roadside. One explained that they do it every year prior to the annual Silver City bike race. We also met a couple of bicyclists, training for the race next week. It wouldn’t have been a bad walk – the shoulder was wide and traffic wasn’t too heavy – except for the length of the road walk, the fact that there was no water, and no services anywhere along the way, and no place to legally camp except right next to the road. Headed south it wouldn’t be so bad because you would start with the paved road and then head into more remote areas before nightfall, though it is a long walk to the water at Mud Spring.
Jim: Yes - Mud Spring really does exist - and it's far nicer than the name would indicate. The alternative is the very small stream (or rather the small pools) as you descend the wash. Personally, I'd rather spend the time to find the spring - it's a lot more reliable than the pools. In any case, getting water here is a REALLY good idea. Mud Spring is also the first "natural" water source since we left the border - about 140 miles. Everything before that was a pumped source of some sort - windmill, solar, generator or electric.
There is no water between Mud Spring and Silver City. The Westcliffe guidebook claims that there's water at the intersection with the paved highway. Not so.
Thursday, April 27 – 6 miles to Silver City
We woke up early and easily walked the six miles to town before 9:00. One oddity on the road walk: one house had a driveway lined in toilets of all colors. One was a planter with a cholla Christmas tree covered in plastic fish. Funny. A strange thing happened last night: as we tried to sleep, a big light swept across the desert and there was a noise like a huge vacuum cleaner. I was a bit freaked. Was it highway patrol, looking for illegal aliens? Was it space aliens, hovering in a space craft overhead? What was that weird noise and why were they shining lights on us and moving so slowly? This morning we decided that it was probably a street sweeper, getting the road ready for the race, but it certainly wasn’t something we expected to run into on the highway.
This morning, Jim asked a policeman where we could stay that would be cheap but decent. Unfortunately all the motels but one are at the far end of town. Even the really cheap motels cost $45; Econolodge costs $80. As I remembered from a previous visit, the town is very spread out. The historic district is nice with interesting shops and cafes and a pretty green park along the river. We ran into Mara just as we entered town. I looked down a side street and saw her tall thin figure walking away. We yelled and got her attention. We went to breakfast with her, then headed for the motel district a mile away. Mara had already checked out prices and availability, internet access etc. Her sunburn is better, so she’ll join us for the next section. The post office didn’t have our box, which has our Tevas for the Gila River crossings. We mailed it two weeks ago. A man who overheard our exchange with the postman stopped us on the street to say, “Silver City is the back of beyond. It takes forever for mail to arrive.” We got a very basic room at the Drifters, got cleaned up, and then headed back to town. Jim bought some new boots at the outdoor store. They had limited inventory, but supplied our main needs of a new filter element, boots, insoles and new shorts. One customer was ranting about something environmental, which turned me off, but we got what we needed. Lunch was the buffet at Pizza Hut, dinner was a very good hamburger at La Cucina on the recommendation of the owner of the gourmet food store, after a beer at the brew pub. We spent an hour on the internet getting caught up and sending out an update to our friends. Finally we picked up a few things at the grocery store and went back to the motel, at last.
Jim’s stomach has been upset – bad water? Food? It’s holding him back only a little – no ice cream yet, which is amazing for him. I’ve been hit by hiker hunger already. Yesterday I was too tired to eat; today I made up for it, and then some.
We’re happy, despite the pain. Our feet are a real mess. Doing big miles is hard, really hard, but we’re able to do what we intend to do, most of the time. It just hurts. I think taking a day off will help. Silver City is spread out, which means long walks to the center of town, but it is a nice place with friendly people.
Jim: The foot problems continue. But maybe the new boots will help. I was using Lowa trail runners - they were well broken in, but not broken down. I think my feet were swollen because of the heat. The new boots are somewhat larger.
Friday, April 28 – Rest Day in Silver City
We enjoyed our stay in Silver City. We woke to grey skies and wet streets. It remained cool and cloudy all day with occasional sprinkles. We slept late, had a good breakfast up the street, then went to the post office where someone had found our missing box, then headed to the library to finish checking email. We had a good Mexican lunch at Linda’s, then came back to our room where we found we had missed Mark Flagler, aka Carolina Cruiser, who wanted to interview us for his documentary film on the CDT. He plans to hike about half the trail and include interviews with as many hikers as possible. So far he’s talked to about ten of us northbounders. We called him on his cell phone and he came back to meet us. The interview was fun. He’s having some issues with the filming. The government won’t allow him to film in Wilderness Areas, which comprise about half the trail, and the most beautiful half at that. He’s trying to convince them that the film needs to include the wilderness areas and that one sole camera will have no impact, but it won’t be easy.
I feel like we ate our way through Silver City. We only stayed two days, but it feels like we were there for a week. Good burgers, Mexican food, gelato, etc. It has been a treat. I am looking forward to hiking in the Gila Wilderness, which is the next stretch of trail. There is some question as to whether our mail drop will be waiting; the lodge where we sent it is closed this week so we can’t call to check.
Jim: I wasn't sure about the interview with Mark and Michael (Underdog), but it turned out to be fun.
We carried a GPS from the border in order to mark the coordinates of the water sources along the new route - no time to type all the coordinates now, but we'll try to get that out later. In fact, they'd be little use right now since so many of them will not be viable water sources until the cattle return in the fall. The GPS went in the drift box and will go home later - we don't need it any more, we just wanted to get the information for future hikers who think they do.
The desert is largely as we remembered it - just much drier after eight years of drought - and we still love it. Exploring a brand new route, using only the maps, has been a lot of fun - a lot of what we come out here to do. It's easy to follow the white metal signs - but when the signs run out, the fun begins.
We ate our way through Silver City, thanks to some very good suggestions from a local entrepreneur. The best burger was at La Cucina, best Mexican was at Nancy's. The Italian ice was also a treat, as was the Brewpub next to the outfitter.