Cuba to Ghost Ranch, NM

I rose early at the Cuba motel – 5:30 am – which has become par for the course for me so far on the trail, or any day really. I grabbed the items I needed for errands and snuck quietly out of the door at 6 am and headed back to the Cuban Cafe for a Breakfast Pig Out, Round Two. I checked in with calls to mom and had a long conversation with my wife Julie. I picked up some mother’s day cards from Mickey’s Save Way and filled them out while at the diner, then went to the Post Office and the Family Dollar after breakfast.

Back at the hotel Twisted and I packed up and then hung out one last time with Shadow and Country Mouse while they worked on some gear repair. Before leaving, we stuffed our faces again, this time at Subway, and then Twisted walked back to McDonalds to pick up some cheeseburgers (thru-hikers tend to love this, but… gross)!

We walked out of town then east four miles up a county road  to the San Pedro Parks  trail head and stopped at water at a creek. From the creek the trail was a sustained climb through dense woods of Doug Fir and higher up some aspen stands to a ridge. Reading the terrain and seeing how the snow runoff was affecting the small water runs off the mountain I took a calculated risk that there would be water at the top of the climb at the top elevation of 10,500 feet or so. After gaining the top and heading north at an intersection I stopped in one of the beautiful open “parks” or broad flat spots that elk, deer and other animals tend to gather. There I spotted four elk and watched them before they picked up my scent and thundered away into the woods. We hiked another two miles and camped over 10,000 feet after getting water at a snowmelt stream near the top of San Pedro Parks Wilderness.

After a 38 degree overnight we headed out on day two and descended quickly through a dense north facing stand of trees damaged heavily by beetle kill. Windfallen trees were everywhere and we were glad to be hiking downhill as we climbed over one after another. We made it 8+ miles down to a small seasonal creek and grabbed water and a break. After this I ascended fairly rapidly up a short climb and cruised through a long stand of lodgepole pine and douglas fir for six miles over relatively easy terrain. I crossed NM hwy 93 where a 3 mile climb began up Chaco canyon. Layers of different sandstone strata revealed itself as the climbing gained in steepness. It was mid afternoon and hot sun was burning down on me. I stopped every 20 minutes or so to drink and stand in shade for about a minute or two at a time. Near the top the climb was even steeper requiring me to pump my arms to keep in sync with my climbing legs – each step I thought, like a quad squat from some trendy new workout.

The line between survival and death is a fine one for wild life in the high desert. This elk skeleton also shows the course of nature in keeping the balance for all life.
Climbing up Chaco Canyon.

After topping out at Mesa del Camino, I headed toward Fuertes Spring and passed Isabella who seemed to be checking her water situation on the side of the trail. I waved as I passed and walked two miles to a beautiful spring trough where I ran into England, a hiker I’d met back in Pie Town who was taking a break. Sitting down for lunch I watched dozens of different birds come to drink water at the spring. As if reading my mind, England said, “If I knew anything about birds this would be a fantastic spot to watch them.” Small creatures of orange, yellow, green and blue stripes fluttered from the surrounding oak trees and dipped into or bathed their tiny heads in the trough and the puddles formed on the ground. About 25 minutes later Twisted arrived and joined our shady spot.

I started hiking again and after a short, steep climb up to Mesa Coral the trail followed some old dirt roads through an area that had fire damage. A fairly steep decent down multiple switchbacks led to a beautiful small stream in a sandy-bottomed wash. At a nice camp spot I saw Isabella once again, filtering water and I passed by her and England as I wound down hill towards the Chama river and alongside – but not actually in – the Chama Canyon Wilderness Area. This took the rest of the afternoon and I reached the river about 6pm. We’d thought there was a campground nearby but after checking further it was two miles west – the opposite direction. I gathered water and hung out at the other side of a bridge to wait for Twisted. Isabella passed and found camp, then England did the same. Once Twisted arrived we found a small flat spot near the river and after making our dinners it was getting dark. About the time we were ready to turn in, I heard Twisted say, “Nimbles,” and a bit caught off guard I saw the outline of his funny sun hat and his slender frame approach. He camped with us and said the rest of his group was likely hanging back a bit, camping earlier.

Panorama of the Chama River as I hiked the road towards Ghost Ranch.

In the morning of day three, with about 12 miles to reach Ghost Town we headed off on the dirt and gravel road. More great views of the canyon led about 4-5 miles down the road when I decided to look at my map and found I’d missed a cut off. Twisted took the cut off which led him cross-country with no trail over a small hill and through some brushy terrain. I decided to stay on the dirt road which then led to a two mile highway walk. We were both headed towards the same spot and his shortcut brought him to the same spot I stopped at the exact same time… not much of a short cut! This alternate route we were taking then led us to go over a barrier of a closed USA Conservation Service Range Management Demonstration area. I’d never seen or heard of such a facility and it looked like the funding was pulled and the area abandoned. We clumsily found trail along a fence line which led to an old cable and wood slatted bridge which we crossed – and terrified Twisted a bit. I laughed as I took a short video with my phone of him crossing.

Nimbles caught up and we walked cross country again then to a road which led us to Ghost Ranch. Settled in the late 1700’s by the Archuletta brothers who smuggled cattle through streams, they liked the isolation in the deep, remote canyon. As the story goes, the land was then won in a poker game and the wife of the winner named the area Ghost Ranch and established more structures there around 1928 and the ranch was sold to Arthur Pack in 1935. Aging, he reached out to conservation groups, education centers, etc and the land was established for that purpose. Artist Georgia Okeefe was intrigued by this outreach as well and a portion of the land was sold to her, inspiring some of her artwork. The ranch is now a retreat and educational center run by a Presbyterian group. It’s a beautiful place to visit and rich with history. I’d recommend a visit!

The conference center at Ghost Ranch with the dining hall (center) in the background of the amazing surrounding cliffs.
Nimbles, a history major, checks out the Ghost House at Ghost Ranch.
One of the guest houses at Ghost Ranch. There were dozens of different structures, bunkhouses, cottages, and rooms to stay at in Ghost Ranch.

We arrived at 10:30 am and had lunch in the cafeteria, [picked up our resupply boxes which we’d sent there, and hung out near the visitor center where we saw the rest of Nimble’s hiker group – they’d hitchhiked the dirt and highway roads to Ghost Ranch and beaten us there, obviously 😉 I worked on my blogs and planned on hiking out that day, but time ticked by. Eventually, Twisted and I wound up getting dinner in the cafeteria (beef stew with an awesome Hatch chile!), sharing a room with Nimble’s, 50, DB, and Constantine. Six hikers packed in a dorm style room… I didn’t sleep well and neither did Twisted. We would wind up skipping breakfast and hiking out the next day early…

This is what the hiking up and out of Ghost Ranch looked like the next morning as we headed towards the Colorado border. As soon as we reached the top of these cliffs, everything changed…!



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