New Mexico is certainly the land of enchantment ! I woke up packed my things and before 7 was soaking in a hot pool with Paperweight and Nightwatch. Remember thru hiking isn’t only about the hiking! I am exploring the country and enjoying the perks along the way. Soaking in 105 degree water was relaxing and a wonderful way to start the day. After a nice hour of soaking, we all enjoyed breakfast together at a picnic table with the Beast as well. A group of men who are out for a few days offered us fruit and to pack out our trash which was greatly appreciated. We had planned on getting an early start, but choose to hang around until Doc Campbells opened again. So a little after 10 we were eating ice cream and drinking soda at the picnic table in front of the store. I met the first woman hiking part of the CDT this year named Hippie Long Stocking. Besides the other woman I met day one I have yet to find many ladies out here. It was a peaceful morning full of good company! We also ran into a man hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail. Sounds really lonely out there and lots of bushwhacking. A bit before noon we finally left Docs and continued walking on the road towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I’m really getting used to road walking and don’t mind it all. The scenery out here is unbelievable and I am falling more in love with New Mexico each day. The four of us checked out the visitor center before continuing back down a paved road toward the Dwellings. Hiking the Gila and going to the dwellings is not part of the official CDT. I learned very quickly this is a pick your adventure type of trail. My goal is simply continuous footsteps to Canada since staying on the actual CDT is not important to me as it was on my past two hikes. We could of took the official route along the Black Range Mountains, but you miss the dwellings and the Gila. The Gila Cliff Dwellings is a magical place that is difficult to put into words. I felt like I did not belong there glimpsing into a mysterious world from 700 years ago. I envisioned the ceremonies that occurred and what it would be like to grow up there. How simple a life they lived and in such a beautiful place. They build their home in the rocks and lived out of the elements with stunning views. If you ever have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it! Best $5 I have spent so far on trail. I took my time letting the guys leave first and taking in the moment slowly hiking down from the dwellings. I could of stayed forever and will likely return someday. The crazy part is my day only got better from there. We choose to take the Bear Creek Canyon route and it did not disappoint. The sun was hot this afternoon and my pack has 7 maybe 8 days worth of food in it. Heaviest it has been in a long time. We took it easy pushing along taking a nice half an hour break staring at various rock formations. My pictures will do no justice unfortunately. The trail dips down into a slot canyon. I have never done anything like this before. A stream runs through the canyon into the Gila River. I felt like I was in another world far away from civilization even though we were a little over 4 miles from the road. There were small caves in the rocks and tall rocks formations of various shapes all around. A very humbling moment of feeling blessed to experience such a gorgeous place. Nightwatch, the Beast, Paperweight and I all camped together before crossing the Gila again. So dry shoes all day! The campsite was huge and the best part was sitting by the river staring up at the rocks for two hours eating dinner and chatting. Listening to the birds sing as the sun set along the Gila. We may not have done over 12 miles, but our day was full. As we all headed back to to our tents at least two dozen bats were zipping around our tents and heads. Another surreal moment that I have never experienced before. They were feasting on bugs and too quick to take any photos. Today will be one of those days I talk about for years to come. I love my life and exploring our country on foot. There is nothing more I could ever ask for. As I lie in my tent, it is drizzling, thundering, and lightning for the first time on trail and I am at peace with Mother Nature. I’m one lucky girl eager to see what awaits, but I am in no rush.
Today was physically exhausting and we only covered 13.1 miles. Paperweight takes too long to pack up compared to me so the bonus was I got to enjoy our awesome view while blogging this morning next to the Gila River. We got on trail around 8:15 and splashed into the river within twenty seconds. We would cross the Gila 96 times today! The trail is difficult to find at times and often you are just bushwhacking around hoping to see a cairn or a well traveled trail. The crossing are very rocky and I have no idea how anyone could hike this section without two hiking piles. Most of the time was spent moving slowly over rocks or at a crawling pace in soft sand. Also, the extra water weight in the shoes makes each step a bit harder. Sand, pebbles, mud and such seep their way in too. I do love my Solomon trail runners since they dry quickly. 3 miles into the day we made it to the Jordan Hot Spring. It is around 98 degrees we were told in town. The Beast and Nightwatch were already soaking so we joined them. Maybe the two hours spent there have something to do with the lower miles. This is likely the last hot spring directly on trail so why not soak for a while. We met two women and man out for a few days enjoying the hot spring as well and had great conversation. It was after 11 before we got moving again at a snails pace. I came out of one of the crossing and heard something slithering. It was a coral snake which I’m told is very poisonous. Scary looking guy. We also saw the largest centipede along the way too. This type of hiking is something I have never experienced. You are walking between the canyon walls with large rock formations while trampling through the water looking for a trail. You have to be super alert and careful at all times. I wore shorts today and got lots of new scrapes and cuts along the way. We also saw large trout, small fish, and lots of tadpoles. Nightwatch, Paperweight and I enjoyed a nice lunch break that lasted a bit too long. Earlier in the day I handed my camera to Paperweight to take a picture of me in the Gila and it fell to the ground. Denting the side and cracking the screen, but it still worked. I have dropped this camera hundreds of times on my past two hiked, but the rocky Gila won this time. On the 102nd total crossing of the Gila River I took an unintentional dip. It was a stupid choice to try to climb over a log to cut part of the river crossings. As I stepped down, my feet slid and I banged my knee dipping my pack under water. The worst part was my camera was not in a waterproof bag. This canon camera has been used since the start of the Appalachian Trail and capturing pictures for just over 5,000 miles of long distance trails. But the Gila River won this time. It had been acting up with sand in the lens the past few days and I think it will be retired soon unless the lens decides to magically start working again. I was so pissed at myself for a good thirty minutes! Lucky my cell phone is in a lifeproof case or I would of been in big trouble. Lesson of the day don’t drop your camera on rocks then fall into the river. I will be even lighter when I mail it home and will have to just use my cell phone as a camera for now. We were shocked when we took a break around 5 to realize we had only done 11 miles total for the day. I was exhausted and stumbling around on the rocks needing a break. I chugged a half liter of water then we got moving. Some scary moments on rocks where I decided to sit on my butt and slide. A flood occurred a few years ago washing away lots of the trail so it was tricky. Also, this section is not maintained by anyone but thru hikers. In a burn section, the guys ahead were breaking branches from dead fallen trees to make it easier for the next hikers. If I had the time, there were a few places I should of stacked rocks to create a cairn. Maybe next time. 😉 The hiking is difficult, beautiful, and worth every poke from branches or bushes. Speed caught up to as well today joining our trail family making it a group of 5 camping together. I actually ran into Speed last year in the town of Mojave,California. He looked so familiar. The trail community is a wonderful place! We all chatted until 8:20 aka hiker midnight before retreating to our tents. It smelled smoky tonight and the sky was a bit eerie. A few bats were flying around, but nothing like last night. A good day of tough hiking, a hot spring soak, low miles, and wonderful company. Day 16
It was chilly this morning and slipping on wet shoes and socks doesn’t make it any easier. We were on trail by 7:45 and within a few minutes began fording the Gila River for the final day. Today we would ford it 82 times making the grand total of fords to 236. Sometimes we forded at the wrong time only having to cross back since ours maps said we should of done less fording. This type of hiking is purely exhausting, but being surrounded by red clay canyons made the challenge worth every minute. A few of the rocks are covered in moss making it slick and a bit nerve wracking at times. The deepest the water ever got was to my hip once and only once did I stand up stream and side step across. I feel pretty confident in my fording skills now. My feet have no blisters or dead skin they are too soft from the 236 soakings. I managed to bust one of the tips on my Black Diamond hiking poles. Everything seems to be falling apart. Embrace the brutality is the CDT motto. I had just completed a ford and found myself on a dirt path with lots of greenery and large ponderosa pines. I saw what I thought at first was a dog running towards me. I did a double take to see a bobcat in the wild for the first time. It was beautiful, graceful, and moving quickly up the hill and into the trees. Paperweight saw it too, but the beast missed it by a few seconds. Amazing moment! Later we saw a huge bear print in the water the size of my hand. Three hikers got to watch a bear swimming in the river a few miles ahead of us. Next time. We took a long break again drying out my feet and snacking! The last few miles were exhausting and a bit confusing adding more scrapes to my legs. Already have more scratches then both trails combined and we are somewhere in the 200 mile range. We found our way out of the Gila one last time climbing up to Snow Lake. The lake looked a bit sandy, but it has a campground with running water, vault toilets, picnic tables, campsites, and fire rings. We really lucked out as we arrived Hippie Long Stocking and her friend Tiny Dancer were there with two trucks. They hooked us up! We enjoyed a PBR and later split a tall boy of Tacate. He let us use his propane stove to save HEET, gave us candy, chips, and then offered us to sleep in the back of his Tacoma truck on a mattress with a comforter and one pillow! Score! Paperweight built a nice fire with one light! It’s much easier out here than the AT to get one going. We met lots of new hikers as well. A total of 9 thru hikers camped here tonight. That’s a lot for the CDT! It was a nice evening hanging out by the fire and laughing! The stars were unreal as I saw one shooting star. Paperweight and I enjoyed the warmth of the truck and I loved the pillow most of all. What a tiring day and a wonderful way to top off the night.
We woke up as the sun rose looking out the frosted windows of the Tacoma. We made a big mistake last night. We brought in our Sawyer filters, but did not put them in the blankets with us so they froze. I could tell since a chunk of ice was in the top when I undid the screw. Whoops. Luckily, Paperweight has backup and Nightwatch is hiking with us and willing to let us use his filter. Amateur mistake and I should of known better. I also managed to lose my headlamp in the truck I realized at the end of the day. Good thing he packed a second one unintentionally in his down jacket that he gave to me. Truck camping is nice, but I wasn’t organized like I usually am in my tent. At least, we both stayed warm! I drank 3 liters of water at the Snow Lake campground and packed out 5 1/2 liters. So much for a lighter pack. We heard coyotes howling this morning off in the distance. I still feel strong and occasionally my right shoulder bothers me after a long uphill. This has been a common pain throughout my past three hikes. We walked away from the campground a bit before 9 hydrated and loaded up with extra water. The trail follows a gravel road before climbing under a barbed wire fence. It then leads through a canyon on rocks, grass, and sand at times. We caught up to The Beast and Nightwatch at a man made lake before climbing up and out of the canyon. It was a climb for sure with 5 plus liters. We then emerged onto a gravel forest road that we would walk the rest of the day. I have grown to love this type of walking especially when you have panoramic views. Eventually, we dipped down into a pine forest that reminded me of the UP of Michigan again minus the whole elevation thing. The four of us all took a lunch break together shivering at times. I’d guess the temperature is in the low 50s, but I have no idea. I decided to zone out during this section listening to a few Ted Talks as Paperweight and Nightwatch walked together. The view was consistent of a pine forest with ups and down and lots of roads leading to neat campsites. It finally opened up and we could see the road a few miles in each directions. The three of us pushed on going up and down the gravel road until 6:30 when we hit the stream. We set up near Halfmile and his partner quickly climbed into our tent as the temperature was dropping. It was a cold evening, but I slept in shorts to help my horrible chaffing, socks, long sleeve top, and a fleece hat inside of a 10 degree liner and my REI Joule sleeping bag I’ve used since the start of the PCT. I woke up to ice on my tent, but I was still very warm. Looks like I’ll survive this hike without needing to buy a new sleeping bag. I slept through the rain storm and was told I snored most of the time. 20.7 miles total for the day.
It was a cold start to the day as we hit the trail a bit before nine. I was wearing gloves, a fleece hat, and my rain jacket. The trail continued on a gravel road for a little more than 6 miles. Up and down all around the mountain. Lots of cows and babies wandering about munching grass. We climbed up finding the official CDT again at the point where the Black Range route comes out. It felt wonderful to be on an actual trail again. Thanks to all the maintainers and trail builders who make this type of hiking possible. I hiked off first after the three of us took a early lunch break. This area was a burn section that allowed for splendid views. At the top of the climb, the trail then dropped down for a while on switchbacks climbing over fallen trees and such. I’d compare this trail to PCT views with some AT ups and downs. I got spoiled on the PCT with the nice switchbacks for miles up and down the mountain. My legs will be in even better shape at the end of this hike. I took a break on a large rock overlooking the mountains while Nightwatch passed then Paperweight joined me and we continued hiking together. We took a 1 1/2 hour break near a pond for cows. We watched them graze along with two donkeys. We had to pack out enough water for 17 miles where we would hitch into Reserve. So we drank lots of water and I packed out 4 liters. Still haven’t need to use Paperweight’s tabs for water since Nightwatch has been sharing his Sawyer filter. The afternoon climbing was tough and I zoned out to my Ipod. As we were climbing, Paperweight spotted elk. There were three of them cautiously watching us and moving farther away from us. Beautiful creatures. I’ve already seen more wildlife on this trail than the other two and I’m not even half way done with New Mexico yet! We pushed along to two overlook points to have stunning views of mountains and desert floor. Lots of variety. We hiked a total of 19 miles for the day before finding a flat site with no dead trees hovering over us. It was warm enough to eat outside and chat for a change. The sun turned pink and the tiny sliver of the moon appeared. We are only 10.5 miles to the road leading to Reserve.