Grants to Cuba, NM

Leaving the Sands motel from Grants we walked towards the next section of trail and stopped at a local coffee spot The CoCo Bean cafe, which, oddly was out of espresso beans. What kind of coffee shop runs out of espresso beans?

More fantastic signage in the old uranium mining town of Grants.

Passing a church a very kind woman on her way inside waved to me insisting that I come in. I explained that I had water and food after resupplying but she insisted I come in. So I did. We chatted for a few moments and she explained that as a “trail town” they were supposed to be friendly to hikers and offer any help. All this was very charming and I explained that while I was all set to head out of town I would tell others that the church offered help 🙂

(L-R) Bear Sweatz, Tuff Broad, Shadow, Country Mouse, and Twisted.

Twisted, Shadow, Mouse and I caught up with Bear Sweatz and Tuff Broad on the road walk out of town and the six of us ambled up the highway past the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility and then off to the right was the trail head. After a few minute break we climbed up nice trail  to the top of a broad mesa where a brass bell was attached to a trail marker.  After a long walk across the mesa we climbed gradually and all met up again a few hours later at a cattle trough that was recently turned on and filled.  We passed another water cache maintained by Carol Mumm and proceeded up the Mt Taylor summit alternate – a 3000’ climb over 3 miles to the peak. Twisted and I made it up first and were joined by Bear and Tuff about 25 minutes later.  Getting late, we hiked down the north side one more mile where we had a view of the fire tower and communications equipment used by the forest service on another peak. We’d done 21 miles so we called it good and camped under some trees nearby. We’d found out later that Shadow and Mouse camped near the water cache and would climb Mt. Taylor the next morning.

CDT marker and bell at the beginning of Gooseberry trail, heading towards Mt. Taylor.
Twisted near the top of Mt. Taylor summit looking southeast.
Our first steps over 10,000 and 11,000 feet on the CDT lead to the summit of Mt. Taylor.

The next day we hiked up near and around the fire tower and communications gear and slowly descended via a series of dirt roads and made our way to excellent water and took a short break with Bear and Tuff at American Canyon Spring. More road walking led us further down the mountain where we joined a short stretch of trail and stopped for a good hour and a half break at a giant tractor tire filled with water. Tuff and Bear joined us and as we were leaving Shadow and Mouse joined everyone at the tire. 13 more miles of hiking over mostly rough road littered with volcanic rock led us past a series of ancient volcanic cones.  After more than 26 miles on the day we did a dry camp leaving us four miles from water in the morning.

In the morning we hiked the four miles to a trail junction then hiked about a half mile off trail down a canyon and old mining road to another spring. Once again Bear joined us shortly after arriving and we chatted while filling water and eating a snack. Hiking back up we passed “the kids:” Nimbles, Dirt Bag, and 50, now joined by a forth hiker named Constantine. We all fist-bumped as we passed. They dropped down the water and Twisted and I rejoined the trail which was a nice stretch through a recently manicured section of juniper and small oaks. We hiked through an eerie stretch of fire damaged forest and took a break where a solo local hiker who was out doing her geo-cache thingy and stopped to chat with us. Missing my dog Buddy, I was less interested in her chatter than I was  getting some dog-love from her pooch as I let the very thirsty mutt lick my face for salt! Another section of nice trail led us to the edge of the giant mesa we’d been hiking, and a broad view opened up before us filled with more odd volcanic cone shapes but now, colored cliffs, arroyos and new landscape. I dropped the two miles  to the valley floor and came to (you guessed it by now, right?), another dirt road and an intersection to a concrete cattle trough filled with good water. I filled up but still didn’t see Twisted who, not fully accustomed to high desert heat and hiking,  tends to take more breaks in the heat of the day than I do. I walked back to the road and sat under a tree. After a few minutes he caught up and headed to the water. I dozed off in the 90+ degree weather, protected in just a bit of shade. Bear and Tuff Broad passed about 20 minutes later and after Twisted rejoined, he partook in the shade break as well.

Deep arroyos cut by massive water events.

We headed out on well marked trail up and down a few deep arroyos – huge “canyons” of sand, if you will, cut by dramatic water events. We saw yet another series of trail markings: wooden stakes sharpened at the top and painted white. With each passing mile of New Mexico I marvel at the diversity of the landscape and the randomness of the way the trail is marked. Or not. Dropping into a giant sandy wash, we climbed up the other side and the land changed again, this time transforming into a series of odd sandstone shapes marked by rock cairns. Getting late, we hiked along a fence line for several miles and ducked around a fence, then climbed a short, steep cliff side up to a rock shelf perched just below a higher cliff wall. This area offered up a fantastic view of where we’d just come from along with several enormous buttes of rock. We decided we had to stop here and camp for the night and we both admitted this was the first kick-ass camp spot we had. Now in territory I was more familiar with (in a broad sense), I pointed out the Sandia mountains and the glow of Albuquerque to the south east as we were treated to a beautiful sunset. Coyotes howled away in their frenzied feeding craziness as they snacked on the abundant rabbits scattered in the valley below us.

Sunset from our shelf campground. The Sandia mountains can be seen on the horizon on the far right.
Sunrise from the same shelf camp.

Camping on the cliff shelf was another dry night. What I mean by this is we didn’t camp directly next to a water source, so before we camp for the night we have to consider how much we’ll need to cook and drink for the night, but also how far the water source will be the next day and how much extra water to have for that morning stretch. With six miles to go in the morning to reach water, we set off early again. I tend to not need a whole lot of water in these situations when we’re within 5-10 miles of water as the temperatures are cool and we can hike 10 miles by 10 am if necessary. So with six miles to water I had a little less than one liter. Sounds scary to most, but water needs are personal and water management is a skill acquired with thousands of miles of trail hiking. I’m also well versed in high desert travel living in the Four Corners for nearly 15 years.

50 pauses to take a photo looking towards Cerro Cochino.

Twisted was hiking a bit in front of me and I stopped briefly and was caught by 50. I learned that he is also from Seattle and we had a nice chat over a few miles until we reached a surprise water cache from the Trujillo family who live in Cuba, NM. Nimbles, Constantine and Dirt Bag joined shortly thereafter and we enjoyed bottled water, sodas, snacks, apples and more. They also set up a solar shower, complete with a wooden palate to stand on to keep your feet off the sand! This was Twisted and I’s first true Trail Magic – unexpected help, food, water, etc. from complete strangers. The Trujillo’s had a trail journal that we all signed and we learned that they stop by and restock things every 4-5 days or so. We’d also learned that Micky, the owner of the Save-Way supermarket in Cuba and whom we’d meet later, donates considerably to the resources at this surprise cache.

(L-R) Twisted, 50 and Nimbles (in shade) and Constantine enjoy the Trujillo cache.

Moving along once more we came upon the water source we’d been expecting, which was a large metal tank completely dry. I found a spigot with a hose attached and found when turned on, water came up from the well. I reattached the hose which led to a float valve in the tank when I saw one of the cows that were standing nearby wander up to the tank. I could tell she was a nursing mother by how full her udders looked. She looked at me and I could tell what she was thinking: WATER. I jiggered with everything and turned on the water, hoping I was doing the right thing by beginning to fill this dry tank. I checked my resources about this source and found that the tank was full a week before. I guessed that someone had accidentally, or without much thought, turned off the water leaving the tank water to be drank by the cows and the remainder evaporated from the heat. Slowly filling, the mother eyed the water and Twisted and I, joined now by Nimbles, backed away to give her room. She arched her neck and reached into the tank, scooping up mouthfuls of water. We walked away as other cows joined her in quenching their thirst. A quarter mile later I noticed a water main and lifted a metal cover to see a valve below. I guessed that the rancher leaves the water off in the winter, turning it on again in the spring/summer to keep the tank full for the cattle.

Another wild landscape opened up over the next several miles with shelves of sandstone, reminding me of the slickrock of Moab, Utah. Hiking along with Constantine and Nimbles we covered a lot of ground before dropped to a spring hidden in an alcove with a small Pueblo-era ruin nearby. After another break Twisted and I set off again cross a broad flat a few miles long before a hard, physical climb 500 feet up a wild cliff line of very soft rock and hardened mud formations (can you tell I gave up on my geology major while in college!).

Blooming cactus contrasts with Deadman peak.

We topped out at 7pm, took a five minute break and walked along this high mesa with another incredible view. We stopped after a few minutes and another pristine camp spot with another fantastic view. The mileage on this day put us nine miles from the town of Cuba, and we would camp talking about the eggs, bacon, french toast and coffee we would gorge immediately upon arriving in town. That we did. Shortly after 6 am we were hiking again, hit the highway after a few miles on dirt road, put music on and earbuds in and walked like hell. Reaching the Cuban Cafe, I stopped to take photos I had passed dozens of times over 20 years ago.

CDT resupply in Cuba, NM… Ya know, I’ve got tons of pretty photos of mountains, arroyos, mesas, buttes, sandstone oddities, etc., but the signs, places, and people I’ve met along the way tell another story of the trail. Mickey, owner of the Save-Way, folks at the USPS, the Trujillo family’s water cache… The CDT just wouldn’t be the same without all of this as well – not to mention all the hikers I’ve met as well! I hope I can do everyone justice as I post along…More to come later today here, and at… . . . . #continentaldividetrail2018 #cdt2018 #continentaldividetrail #cdtcoalition #thruhike #backpacking #backpackersbistro #featheredfriends1972 #zpacks #hyperlite_mountain_gear #patagoniaballard #patagoniaseattle #thetrek #thruhikesyndicate #optoutside #wildernessculture #ultralightbackpacking #at #appalachiantrail #pct #pacificcresttrail #cdt #embracethebrutality #ultralight #ultralightbackpacking #wanderlust #withguthook #blackdiamondequipment

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After filling up – and some complimentary ice cream from our waitress – we stopped at the Del Prado Motel which was another old flop, but had what we required in terms of two beds and a clean bathroom – and a good price tag! The young crew showed up an hour later, Tuff and Bear after that, and Shadow and Mouse a few hours later. We socialized, ran errands, and took some well earned rest and discussed the next stretch to Ghost Ranch, then Chama. With Colorado closer and closer, there are some nerves in the air talking about snow, the San Juan mountains, what snow gear to bring and what to expect. Many folks are looking at social media where a lot of chatter about conditions. A small handful of hikers are hitting the mountains now, and there is some feedback available – but little clarity. With everyone knowing that I’ve lived and played for years in the San Juans, I’ve been cautiously answering everyone’s questions about what to expect. I feel prepared myself, but mountains are what they are: unpredictable, always changing, filled with risk. As we all consider what’s coming soon, I remind myself of all of this and prepare to respect what lies ahead.

A bleached earless lizard perches on a rock.
Our second pristine camp spot. One night before reaching Cuba.
Morning sunrise, descending town our last stretch before Cuba.
These were the final steps on trail that would lead us to the highway and a four mile pavement walk into Cuba.

Pie Town to Grants, NM and an Unplanned Zero

Waking at 6am at the Toaster House, I grabbed my pack and headed down stairs to the kitchen to make coffee and repack my food. Twisted joined me and we chatted with a few other hikers about which route to take. We decided to take an alternate route through Armijo Canyon which avoided the other option – a long highway walk. But there would be more highway to be sure… then a second alternate over El Malpais, Spanish for “The Badlands,” before walking through Benito (Spanish for “Nice”) canyon, and then a few road miles into Grants.

We said goodbye to Collin and Andrea and in a few miles down York Ranch road heading north, caught up to Shadow and Mouse. We walked about 16 miles before finding the Thomas’ property where we accessed a spigot to a spring for good water. Hiking another six miles to a solar powered cattle tank we filled up and found camp in some big winds and were treated to a fantastic New Mexico sunset.

Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.
Long roads have led to fantastic sunsets in New Mexico.

The next day was another four miles on York Ranch road before heading east into Armijo canyon where we explored some old Anasazi ruins reported to be 600-800 years old. In another few miles was another site and a rock with a small petroglyph. Leaving, we were caught up to by a group of young 20-something Nimbles, Dirt Bag, and 50, all of whom we’d met at the Toaster House a few days before.

Mouse explores the 600-800 year old Anasazi ruins in Armijo Canyon.
Anasazi petroglyph in Armijo canyon.

We climbed a short few switchbacks, descended through Sand canyon, and soon were walking out of the nicely wooded canyon into windy territory once again. We skipped a water source before reaching highway 117. A bit cranky, a bit tired, and a bit hungry, I wondered aloud why I’d gone with the group decision to skip the water, as the next source we had info on didn’t exist. After a half mile down the highway we found a solar well and great water coming out of a well via a pipe and took a break before pounding five more miles of pavement and stopping at a picnic area with four shelters and a pit toilet. We camped under the shelter cowboy style and had a nice dinner session with access to a comfortable bench to cook and relax on.

The next day we were on pavement again. Thankfully this section was new asphalt and the wind was at our backs. We passed La Ventana Natural Arch and another picnic area then made our way to the Acoma-Zuni trail head where we found a water cache maintained by Carol Mumm who I believe is in Grants. After a break we headed through The Badlands of the El Malpais National Monument.

Twisted multi-tasks as we walk the highway towards the El Malpais.

The going was slow, picking our way over ancient lava flows which are part of the enormous volcanic activity surrounding the Colorado Plateau. Much of this volcanic geology we are now hiking through all the way past Mount Taylor and eventually into the south San Juan mountains as we enter southwest Colorado in a few weeks.

Shadow and Mouse heading into El Malpais.


(L-R) Twisted, Steel, and Shadow break on the lava flows (photo: Mouse).

After three and a half hours we finally made it through the seven mile stretch and took another break where the trail crossed over highway 53. We entered Benito canyon and walked along a very nice dirt road another three miles to a huge windmill and well where we would fill up our last water before reaching Grants – a 20+ mile stretch. Soon after, Shadow and Mouse were slowing down. I had gobbled a few ibuprofen – or “Vitamin I” in hikerspeak – and felt good. Twisted took a short break and I hiked ahead. After gaining the highest point through the canyon I began a gentle decent through nice wooded forest. Around 6pm I spotted Nimbles, Dirtbag and 50 (50 also from Seattle, WA), far in the distance and I decided I’d run them down ;). After another 45 minutes I passed them as they pulled off what was now a gravel road down the canyon. I chatted briefly as they set  up camp then continued on. I passed two other hikers I recognized from the Toaster House as they were setting up camp. I hiked on. About 7:45 pm I’d had enough and I stopped just short of where the gravel road turned to pavement and set up a quick cowboy camp, cooked and went to sleep.

I knew it would happen as I said it earlier in the day: at 4am it started to rain. I reached into my pack and grabbed my tent, throwing it over me like a giant duvet cover to keep dry. After 30 minutes of sleep, then 30 more tossing and turning, I packed up and was hiking at 5:30am. I passed by some pretty shitty trailers and low income housing with chained up dogs, NO TRESSPASS signs, and several cars passing by on their way to work. I crossed over Interstate 40 at 8am, flipped the bird at the McDonalds, and continuted to First Street Cafe to eat an awesome breakfast.

7am sunrise and only a mile or two from Grants. Mt. Taylor, our first 10,000 foot peak climb looms in the distance.

After downing a hot meal I heard from Twisted who made it to the Cafe about an hour or so later. Before he arrived my waitress told me that a local patron had bought my meal. Delighted and surprised I turned to thank everyone – all four of them  – in the cafe. Twisted ate, I had more coffee and we headed to the post office to pick up some packages we each had waiting for us. We walked down Santa Fe street which was a broken, rundown shell of itself in it’s former 1950’s glory. Arriving at The Sands Motel, we entered our rundown – but friendly priced 🙂 – flop to shower and relax. We heard from Shadow and Mouse mid day who also got a room at The Sands and we all went out to a family Mexican restaurant, El Cafecito. Afterwards, we patronized The Outlaw bar where we ran into and talked with Rabbit and Leopard, the latter whom was enjoying a day off completely.

Not the roaring 20’s in Grants anymore.

In the morning Twisted and I sadly said goodbye to Shadow and Mouse. I called my wife and expected to hit the trail late day after some errands. After we ate breakfast at El Cafecito, Twisted was lacking motivation and said he’d spring for a second night at the hotel. So, not planning to zero in Grants, we took a zero day and I found the public library to access a computer (…and a real keyboard… can I get an Amen 🙂 and then went by the Mining Museum. The four of us ordered pizza and had beer at the motel, said goodnight and Twisted and I would be off in the morning heading closer towards the south San Juan mountains and our next leg and resupply in Cuba, New Mexico.

Pie Town Zero Day

After getting to Pie Town we headed straight for The Gathering Place where we were greeted by a gaggle of locals in for the same good food we were about to be treated to. Jennifer was our server, a 40-ish California ex-pat, who kindly ignored the fact we hadn’t showered in nine days and served us up a HUGE breakfast.

We headed to Nita’s Toaster House to shower and settle in. Afterwards we joined Shadow and Mouse at the RV park next door where their full-time RV-life friends Collin and Andrea made food and brought plenty of beer. We had no problem eating or drinking any of it, and stayed up late until walking back over to the Toaster House to sleep. Our zero day (rest day) was spend doing wifi “chores,” like posting photos to Instagram, and doing blog posts (myself and Mouse).  The problem was that all wifi at businesses was terrible and there was no cell service in Pie Town. This marked ten days without any cell reception. Frustrated, I created some drafts to post later once we would reach Grants in another dour days. I resigned myself to simply eat.

The Toaster House. Yep. Those are all toasters on the fence posts.
The old wall of shoes ~ Toaster House.

Eat pie. Eat hamburgers. Eat more pie.

This was made fairly simple since there were only three choices in which to eat: The Gathering Place, Pie Town Cafe, and Pie-O-Neer.

I spent a few hours at the Pie-O-Neer (see previous post), where I met the owner Kathy. Two slices of pie later I noticed a poster of Kathy and asked for the story. It was tied to Russell Lee, a photographer who documented migrants who moved to Pie Town from places like Oklahoma and Texas during the Dust Bowl with promises of work and land in California. You read Grapes of Wrath, yes? Pie Town is one of the places that migrants got “stuck” during their travels towards the opportunities that were never there.

Pie Town. Not much of one…

In the Pie-O-Neer hung dozens of photographs which would serve as propaganda pieces on behalf of FDR’s New Deal and were published in 1939 just before historic WWII. A New York Times journalist contacted Kathy to try and interview some of these migrants, most of which had died, but some survived. Many are survived by sons and daughters who are immortalized in a fantastic coffee table book by that NYT writer, Arthur Drooker, called Pie Town Revisited.


After the story and a few more hours working quietly while Kathy and her husband Stan cleaned up, I headed back to the RV park for a mellower evening with Shadow, Mouse, Twisted, Collin and Andrea and their two sons until heading back to the Toaster House again to sleep. In the morning we would be headed off to Grants, NM.

Doc Campbell’s Outpost to Pie Town

Shadow sorts his food in front of Doc Cambell’s.

After hiking 13 miles on the Gila river to get to our resupply, we only stayed at Doc Campbell’s for two hours. Long enough to eat home made ice cream, drink a few sodas, and pick up, sort, and pack our food for the next six-day long section through the Gila River Wilderness.

We left Docs at 4pm and walked four miles. I forgot my battery pack, left charging by the picnic table but luckily was only a few minutes away from Docs when I turned around to get it. I walked the four miles and caught up with everyone at the Gila Wilderness entrance.

Me in front of Gila sign.

We hiked past the ranger station and an additional mile down to the river and a small set of natural hot pools built with stones on the side of the cliff. Setting up camp, we ate dinner and Shadow and I hung out and soaked our feet in the hot springs for a good 45 minutes before turning in for the night. This would prove helpful as the rest of the hiking through the middle fork of the Gila was very physical, hard going.

Camp by hot spring.

Waking up and setting off at 6:45am the next morning I briefly soaked my feet in the hot springs before crossing the cold Gila river and passed by a few campers and tents still sound asleep. After several dozen cold river crossings we warmed in the sun after a few hours. After eight miles we reached Jordan hot springs and were met by a group of kids from El Paso soaking in the beautiful clear pools. We soaked here and made lunch, then packed up and were on our way through the river once again for several dozen more crossings over rough and rocky terrain.

Twisted goes all in and Steel (me) soak and make a lunch in Jordan hot spring.

Sometimes the trail was easy to pick up, other times it was tempting to walk along the bank hoping trail would simply show up. I quickly figured out that the trail could almost always be picked up immediately after a crossing if we headed strait towards the opposite side or cliff wall instead of looking for it immediately along the banks.
The terrain was slow going through sand, rock, reeds, over downed trees and through the river again and again. However, this alternate was completely worth the effort. Beautiful cliff walls of volcanic rock opened up before us in an alien-like landscape. Pock-marked formations, spires, caves, jagged angular shapes and an occasional ruin site all made this traveling quite magical.


The next day we hiked 19 miles and 60-70 river crossings. Twisted fell behind after I was passed by a couple and a dog heading south to the Gila ruins via the river. I waited and took a snack break but after 25 minutes I was ready to head back and look for him just in case something happened. Just as I started back, he appeared. “Just taking a few morning breaks,” he smiled and thanked me for waiting. About an hour later we caught up with Shadow and Mouse who had stopped as well and were worried someone had slipped and gotten hurt.
Hiking onward I joked that there was never any solid trail for longer than two minutes, and this was the truth! Soon we encountered some slick rock and a water chute to navigate around. Every section of trail led to another crossing and we hiked another four miles, the last two finally yielding consistent trail. We rounded a nose of land and found a nice camp above the river and stopped here.

Walking up and around the water slide.

The next morning – our fourth day in the river – was flat out brutally cold water. My feet and lower leg muscles were numb for over two hours before the sun finally hit us. Stupidly, the NRS lightweight neoprene socks I’d purchased for the Gila were in a box I sent to Cuba, NM, as I changed my mind last minute on needing them. I needed them. We took a warm up break at 9:30 am and I thought my left leg had a shin splint coming on. Likely due to the cold muscles. I put on my compression sleeves as a precaution but by the end of the day everything was fine. I decided to keep wearing them for the foreseeable future just in case.
We passed flying V canyon, then a massive meadow where I read a note on the Ley mapset that mentioned 85 more river crossings to Snow Lake. Shit. It was fun and it was absolutely stunning scenery but we all wanted to make better time. We simply reserved ourselves to enjoying the beauty and brutality of the Gila alternate. I absolutely recommend this to anyone doing the CDT! At a 180 degree bend in the canyon we were treated to some alien rock walls. Then we had lunch in a sunny spot in the pines.

Odd volcanic rock shapes everywhere.

The canyon began to lose some elevation and with it we also got break from the sun. We finally hit good consistent read for several miles making good time and came upon the bottom of Snow Lake dam. We crossed the dam and hiked up to a parking area where we said hello to a young man hanging out on a bench who told us the hikers he’d seen over the weekend. We then hiked out on road past a nesting bald eagle and through a few miles of cross-country with little trail before breaking out into a magnificent, large basin of grassy hills and more volcanic rock.

Bald eagle watching his nest (which is out of view).
Cool volcanic rock above big grass meadows.

Nearing dusk we rounded up a hill to a large stock pond where we made camp for the night. When morning came each one of us either wanted to stay in our bags or get up lightening quick and start hiking right away to get warm. The temperature dropped down to 25 degrees and my water bottles were almost completely frozen. Since I cowboy camped, eschewing to set up my tent, my sleeping bag had frost on it from the condensation released from my body overnight and the nearby pond. I made two coffees and then a third to carry in my hands and get them warm! Hiking out of the pond and up to a road we were treaded to a wonderful sun rise to start the day.

Sunrise above the pond…

This day was all about the dirt road. About 23 miles through open grassy plains and then into lodge pole pine and oak forest as we climbed in elevation.

Twisted, head down road walking.

We had to carry all our water on this day and reached Dutchman Spring about 5pm where we all filled up. We climbed one more mile to a trail head where our alternate ended and the CDT main route picked up again. Tired, we all decided that this would make a good camp and began setting up and sat down to make our dinners. Just as we mentioned that we hadn’t seen any other hikers since Silver City (five days now), a car came to the trail head and dropped off a young hiker who told us he had started only a week ago from the border of Mexico. He had been hiking the Appalachian Trail since starting in February and stopped after 1600 miles in Vermont due to too much snow. So… he flew to New Mexico and started the CDT. He said he was trying to hike the Pacific Crest Trail as well all in one calendar year! We now know he has skipped at least one CDT mile as his ride picked him up at Dutchman Spring and drove him the mile we just hiked 😉
The next day Shadow and Mouse took off a few minutes before me. I started off down the trail with the young hiker and we chatted while finding the trail which shortly headed down some steep switchbacks. Wanting to take it easy on a knee that has been annoying me some, I slowed down and the young hiker took off. After an hour I was warmed up and I passed Twisted, Shadow and Mouse on a 1000’ climb. I rested at the top and took a lunch break.

Lunch spot looking north.

After 30 minutes the group caught up with me but I was ready to go again and started hiking. Descending, I dropped through a burn area then up again past John Kerr peak. Down another burn area and past a pair of dry lake bed sand onto a dirt road. One mile later I reached Aragon tank and filled up on water – another 20 mile carry. Here I met Adrian who grabbed water and camped. I hiked three more miles onto the next trail alternate towards Pie Town and camped alone near some cattle.
The next day I got hiking by 6 am and planned on a 30 mile day which would put me within 10 miles of reaching Pie Town. The alternate was all dirt road and I dropped down through more lodge pole and douglas fir forest when I came upon a line male elk grazing 50 yards in front of me.

Male elk grazing in front of me.

He quickly picked up my scent and took off but not before I gotta photo of this 2-3 year old male. I reached Valle Tia Vinces tank which was dry and afterwards I accidentally hiked a mile down the wrong road. I cut cross country for40 minutes to reach Manga Overlook road and hiked 1500+ feet over three miles to a fire lookout tower and met Patrick who was manning the tower for the forest service. I learned there were already three fires this season all started by campers who left their area without properly extinguishing their fire.

View south from Mangas fire tower.

The still-operating tower was built in 1937 and I spent an hour chatting g with Patrick who actually lives in Puyallup, WA about 45 minutes south of Seattle where I live! Another downhill and more road up and down and up and down. As I reached about 25 miles for the day I started seeing a few ranches and reached water. I hiked another five miles and camped 10 miles outside of town. I cowboy camped again and made dinner and hit the sack.
In the morning I delighted in another incredible sunrise, then after only a few minutes of hiking, Twisted jumped out of the woods into the road and whistled at me!

Sunrise 10 miles from Pie Town with Sawtooth range as silhouette.

Surprised to see him we swapped stories of our last two days of hiking, what we saw, what we missed. We both were thinking the same thing: BACON! We trudged 10 miles and made it to Pie Town where we had a great breakfast at The Gathering Place and then headed over to Nina’s Toaster House – a sort of hostel for hikers – for the night and a rest day the following day.

Hiker hunger is kicking in. I could have eaten this twice in one sitting!


Silver City to Doc Campbell’s Outpost

The day we reached Silver City we spent a few hours in Javelina’s Coffee, a cozy shop with a friendly barista, to kill a few hours before checking in to our room at the Murray hotel. That evening I met Nemo and the three of us had dinner at Revel. Our zero day was filled with chores: laundry, shopping, post office. I stopped by the Silver City community radio station and met Kyle who was instrumental in getting the little station off the ground.

Kyle throws a wo0T for Silver City public radio!
Beautiful tile and artwork alongside a Silver City historical building.

Twisted had to find a cook pot as some of the equipment he ordered did not arrive. We picked up steaks, potatoes, salad mix and eggs, stoped by the hotel and bid adieu to Nemo then walked to our next place for the night: St. Mary’s retreat, a former convent for nuns converted to a guest retreat. We had access to a full kitchen, gas grill, laundry, wifi and a lounge area. After sorting our food resupply, I prepared our steak dinner and then we mostly caught up on life with emails or phone calls back home.

Our barista at Javelina’s Coffee
Beautiful old buildings along Silver City historical area.

The next morning we made steak and eggs and headed back out to the trail via the Walnut Creek alternate, another road walk of 7.5 miles where we caught up to and surprised Shadow and Country Mouse walking ahead!

Hooray! We caught Shadow and Country Mouse! We spent the next 6 days hiking with this awesome couple.

Walking and talking the miles went by quickly. After reaching Bear Creek and taking a break, our group – now numbering four – decided to hike to the next water source. Along the way Devils Garden, an array of odd hoodoos and spires, revealed themselves providing us brand new terrain to take in.

Mouse enjoys the view of Devil’s Garden

After passing the Garden we descended to a few puddles nestled in the volcanic rock and a hand written sign that indicated there was water another 0.3 miles ahead. Then we came upon the regis-tree:

The “regis-tree” and handmade CDT sign near Doug the Hermit.

A perfect tree stump with a mailbox, trail register and hand made CDT sign lay before us inviting the group to camp in next to its cozy confines. We dropped our packs and headed for water, then we met our host Doug, a hermit who’d lived on what we learned was a small piece of private property dropped into the middle of the national forrest. Doug gave us a tour of the property complete with garden, well, and a cabin. We made our dinner and Doug joined us while telling us his amazing story of living in isolation for 20 years! Then we were treated to a gorgeous sunset before hitting the sack.

Sunset near Devil’s Garden

We woke the next morning and joined Doug at his cabin for coffee and more stories. Before we left he gave us each a braided loop, hand made from yucca fibers with a small tin medallion of the Benedictine. We named Doug “Saint” thanked him for his graciousness and then headed out on the trail a few hours later than we usually might.

(L-R) Twisted, Mouse, Doug the Hermit, and Shadow talk over the yucca braids Doug gave us in front of his little cabin.
The rope is made from woven yucca plant fiber held together with a .22 caliber bullet she’ll. The small Benedictine medallion came from one of the local church’s. I’ve been hanging this off my pack since we were given them. I think my mom will like it 😉

The trail took us up and around the Devil’s Garden and through a small canyon filled with short oaks, lodgepole pine and past several small springs. Then we climbed 1000’ up to a saddle and dropped through a healthy stand of large pine and douglas fir. We had lunch then passed an old corral and continued over a few old roads connected with single track. We could see an amazing landscape begin to unfold as we dropped 1500’ of elevation to the Gila river, two miles down extremely rough and rocky singe track.

We hit the bottom of the canyon and the Gila river then proceeded down the trail which crossed the river again and again.

And again…

We walked over sand and gravel, mud and dry grass plains, and past beautiful cliffs before camping for the night near a giant birch tree. In the morning after a near freeze, we got up a little lazier and headed out for another 16 miles, 30-40 more river crossings, and Gila canyon terrain. The last few miles were good tread and less river crossings and we made it to Gila bridge a little after 1pm. A 1.5 mile road walk brought us to Doc Campbell’s, a small general store by the various developed hot springs areas with an RV park and campground across the road. This is where we all picked up resupply boxes of food we’d each sent ourselves for the next 6 days and 130+ miles for the next leg to Pie Town.


Myself and Twisted on the decent into the Gila river.
Our first of over 200 crossings of the Gila river.


Silver City, NM and a Zero Day

Waking from the cold night sleep in the wash north of Lordsburg, we filled water from the nearby cattle tank and waved good morning to two other CDT hikers, Rabbit and Leopard and were on our way. I passed some very protective cows and their nursing calves and then started a long slow climb up a small set of mountains and eventually on a beautiful single track trail.
We met an older gentleman from Silver City and his dog Max, out for a hike along the trail. He recommended eating at Jalisco’s, and the New Mexican enchiladas (which Twisted wound up ordering two days later). We dropped down to another solar powered cattle tank after about 9 miles and topped off water. We took a break after dropping down again to the Jack’s Peak trailhead and met an intrepid young woman with a newly converted van with her dog off on a road trip adventure. In the heat of the afternoon we climbed 5 miles to the peak up to a dry cistern, then to Burro Peak – our first real mountain climbs of the trail. A free more miles down and we reached Mud Spring around 6pm where we met Bear Sweat and Tough Broad, and made camp for the night.

Signage at Jack’s Peak trailhead
Nice roads, trails and dated CDT signs.

In the morning we chose to stay on the CDT original route and not the road walk shortcut to Silver City. It was up and down hiking on good trail combined with abandoned dirt roads…fairly pleasant walking. We had to carry water 20+ miles today to reach our next water source, and in mid afternoon after a few breaks got a bit of a second wind. I scared a pack of javelinas who were right on the trail and one protective adult male watched and sniffed for me as I stopped to show Twisted what these 25-40 pound rodents looked like. Ugly for sure!
We got a tip from CDT hiker Nemo that hotels were booking up completely so we stopped for an hour to research and book. Luckily we were in view ow a cell tower to do this task. We booked one hotel room at Murray Hotel and I booked a night at an old convent turned into a retreat which is located by the trail.

Missing the trail junction resulted in some nice views.

We hiked on, put in some music and then missed a junction which wound up adding two more miles but took us over a gorgeous set of ridges that revealed layers of mountains to the west.

A cow infinity pool…who says there is no good water on the southern part of CDT?

We dropped down through a big heard of angus cattle grazing around a muddy water hole and down again through rock formations that gave us a preview of what we’d be hiking through in a few days in the Gila. My legs were aching and I was pacing myself slowly at this point just waiting to get to water and camp.

Road walks = road signs!

The next day was a short two miles on dirt road and a 15 mile road walk to Silver City. Rabbit and Leopard passed us on the highway as we took a short break, then we blasted past them as they did the same :). We walked into Silver City via the west side of town and past Western New Mexico University where the CDT Trail Days kickoff event will be taking place about 10 days later.

Twisted pounds the pavement of NM Hwy 180 to Silver City.
Twisted in front of the Silver City newspaper.

We hit town, passed the local newspaper (picked one up), and hit Jaliscos for lunch before checking into our hotel for the night for some rest and then a zero day tomorrow (day off 🙂

Back in Lordsburg, and Continuing North

On day 4 we had had enough of the wind. Two full days of it and we decided to hike 26 miles to get to town. Twisted and I were exhausted and needed some coaxing to make it all the way back. Luckily as we rounded Pyramid mountain we could see signs of town. There was a lot of nice road walking mixed with single track and quite a bit of cross country. I liked the latter parts, scanning for posts and heading over hills. Finally we passed a large cross on a hill over looking a cemetery, hit the road and walked a mile back to the Econolodge and grabbed the very last room! We went straight to Kranberry’s, the only restaurant in town and stuffed ourselves full of bad family restaurant food. I normally wouldn’t set foot in a joint like this, but for what it was and the hunger we had and the physical nature of the hiking the last two days, any hot food was welcome. Back to the motel we went to bed and would plan our resupply and errands in the morning.

The next day after breakfast we saw Gordon who started with our group onday one. He hurt his knee on the second day and went back the first water cache and waited two days to get picked back up by Radar – the guy who fills the water caches and organized the shuttle drop off. We find out all kinds of hikers who started int the past few days had completely quit the trail already. A father-son team quit, a guy who busted up some toenails quit, a couple quit and another solo hiker all quit the trail. This put things in perspective. This Bootheel start – and the trail in general is no joke. It weeds people out who aren’t prepared, mentally or physically, right away. And sometimes stuff just happens. Gordon will rest a week or two and try again.

I shopped at Saucedos which had plenty of selection but nothing particularly good. I went to the post offfice and met Twisted back at the room to sort food and pack up our bags. We chatted with incoming hikers in the lobby who had wide eyes asking all sorts of questions of us and how things went. We saw Twenty-2 arrive and Shadow and Country Mouse. I helped them fix a busted tent zipper and shared a few laughs. I’d have love to spend more time with Shadow and CM, but theyre a bit older and moved a little slower than us. I really hope I run into them again. Just really good people.

We ate lunch – at Kranberry’s again – and hit the road at 3pm. 2.5 miles of road walk later we ducked under a fence and hit a state land trust area. Lots of “gates” on the CDT are simply you getting on your hands and knees and crawling under barbed wire. I kid you not! I kind of like it. This trail is no pristine piece of work and there partly the charm of it all.

We walked 15 miles in all up very gradual terrain that turned into a beautiful grassy plain with yucca and prickly pear cactus sparsely dotted everywhere. It got dark and we hiked by headlamp the final three miles which, thankfully, was a road then a wash. We turned and watched a beautiful sunset and waved goodbye to Lordsburg and our view of Mexico. Hiking on toward Gold Hill we reached water and met Rabbit and Leopard who wet going to sleep, then threw down our gear and cowboy camped. It got down to 34 degrees tonight.

Passing under a CDT “gate.”
Yucca and prickly pear dot the terrain with Gold Hill ahead.
Bye bye Lordsburg and our view of Mexico.

Mexico to Lordsburg

Today we started the Continental Divide Trail. Our group of hikers met at 6am for a continental breakfast – pretty lame (they did have a waffle maker) but appropriate I guess. We split our group of eight into two trucks, driven buy CDTC volunteers John and Leslie and headed to the border with Mexico.
After a hour and a half on pavement and a stop in Hachita C-store we hit dirt road. Almost three hours of lousy rutted 4×4 road later, we could see an enormous Mexican agricultural farm across from the border. We drove along the US/Mex border – a deteriorating barbed wire fence you could step right through, and a few hundred yards later we were at our destination at Crazy Cook monument:

Larry Boy and Running Bull (from France) are the young bucks on the ends. Second from left is Jay (planning to hike 400 miles to Pie Town), me (officially shortened to Steel), Twisted (Germany), Shadow and Country Mouse (full time RV lifers), and Gordon (Scotland).

We started at 10:45am from the monument and after a mile or two of single track we passed a good water source. Then the trail was all road through the first chain of the Hachita mountains, and eventually dropped to a wash. It got pretty hot by 1pm, topping out at 85 with full sun and an occasional breeze. The trail was marked well with steel posts and 8”x8” CDT signs. We hiked until 5pm, to the first water cache at 15 miles and stopped to camp for the night. Twisted, Jay, Country Mouse and Shadow camped. We never saw Larry Boy or Running Mouse as they went further, and we never saw Gordon again since departing from the monument.
Waking up at 5am on day two, everybody hit the trail by 6.

Sunrise day two.

The trail was a 6 hour exercise of locating wooden posts.

Some of the original sign posts still exist from the 80’s

Eventually there were enormous rock cairns which were easier to locate, then the steel posts again before reaching the next water cache.

It’s hotter today (88), and as soon as we reached the water the weather front we’ve been expected started rolling in. No precip, but the next two days call for high winds (gusts of 20-35 mph).

Large expanses of sand before reaching second cache of water.

After reaching the cache, Twisted and I took a long break allowing Jay and eventually Country Mouse and Shadow, to catch up. After an hour I left the group and headed onward.

Approaching little Hachita peaks.

9 more miles and a bit of up and down climbing through the hot part of the day, and I took another hour break in the shade. Jay caught up to me. I felt good and we pushed into mile 36 – about 22 in all for the day and camped in a dry wash. Twisted showed up about an hour later. It was Jay’s first-ever twenty miler day. We named him Twenty-2 (spelling will be up to him). He liked that name and we think it will stick. My trail name has been officially shortened from Steelcranium to Steel. Shadow gets credit, “Hell yeah man. One syllable – solid, man.” I’ll also credit to Mr Overhill who, on the AZT, shortened it up to that as well.
On day three we were on the trail at 6am. I’m happy that Twisted and I are on the same page in many ways. It’s a strategy I employed on the AZT as well: get up and hike 10 miles before 10 am and beat the heat! This allowed us to take more shade breaks and it turns out that wind I was talking about…it started coming at us by about 10.

Before that, however, we opted to take a cross country route off the official CDT and check out Old Hachita, an old Turquoise mining town established in 1870! The structures were amazing and numerous. They had used some native american techniques building rock walls and using mortar made with local mud, sticks and clay.

Old mining buildings at the original Hachita townsite.
150+ year old wall construction at the old Hachita mine (1870)

We rejoined the CDT and went past some mars-like landscapes. Border patrol flew overhead and we saw some fighter jets as well – likely from Monthan AFB in Albuquerque. We reached another official CDT water cache and met Scree, and older fellow from Austin, TX planning on hiking all of New Mexico. Twenty-2 caught up with us there. The wind was picking up over 30mph at this point – typical weather for the Bootheel. We hiked on and passed a dry water area with a starkly contrasting flower stand, and then took a three hour respite from the wind at a giant fiberglass water tank. It was coming at us full force- at least 30-40mph with gusts up to 55. We curled up and napped as long as possible.

Moving on at 3pm and going was slow. The wind was extremely draining both physically and mentally. We descended just below some beautiful cliffs and crossed dry washes, a few mountain saddles and dropped down into long stretch where we had a view across a 30 mile flat getting hammered by wind and blowing sand. One burst of wind brought a rain of sand in our direction for 5-10 minutes, but luckily it was the only one.

Rugged cliffs on day three.

At this point the landscape was barren with nowhere to hide. We looked for hours to camp, considering every possible wash, dip , and land feature. Problem was, nothing at all would stop this wind. At 7pm we reached a water cache box. We considered sleeping near the highway where they cut the road through some rock, but that didn’t help. I walked up the highway one mile looking for something, anything that would block wind. Eventually we decided to use the bear box itself and created a wind block. Twisted, Twenty 2 and I huddled in for a horrible night of sleep.

This was our construct camp where we sat through a night of 40-55mph wind!

We rose early but lingered in our bags for a bit before hitting the trail again and again the wind was howling. All. Day…

Everybody’s Ready, But Everyone’s Exhausted…

Here we are…one 4 hour flight to Tucson and a 3 hour train to Lordsburg, NM later. Checked into the EconoLodge (super hiker-friendly 🙂 Now for some organization and rest. Tuesday is 3 hour auto shuttle to the NM/Mex border before it’s nothing but walkin’ from there.
There’s 8 of us on the trip down to the border. We’ve all come in some similar fashion from far away states (and other countries), and everyone is a bit exhausted already from travel. On the train I shared a seat with Jan, a pretty cool 35 year old from Hamburg, Germany who is also starting the CDT Tuesday. After the train dropped us off on the side of the road (tuck and roll anyone?), we hit the motel, signed the register and spent the day running errands and meeting other hikers who will be on the shuttle to the trailhead.

Tonight I am at the red arrow below. The red line marks the CDT. Tomorrow we are shuttled down to border and start the trail in the “Bootheel”. 85 miles and five days later I’ll pass through Lordsburg again.

North American Airlines Have It All Wrong

This is what I think of airport boarding lines:


If I don’t have a frontish seat, I wait until everyone’s on. You go ahead and stand in line for 15 minutes, pal.
And some version of this always comes next, right?:
Attention Passengers: We’re only letting 8 more overhead bags on, then we will check the rest at gate…”
Why in the world would airlines not CHARGE to take a carry on bag? This would speed up flight boarding, people defending their bag size when counter agents tell people its too big, and the general “me first” mentality that, quite frankly, turns me off from airline travel in general. Just $5 when you buy your ticket would make a difference. They could make more money! At least experiment with it or something. Geesh.